Wedding day! The team arrived at two in the morning with somewhat of a chaos as to who stays at the house and who goes to the hotel, amidst dozens of boxes and suitcases. Then I asked them all to be here for breakfast at 8:30 so they could arrive at the church by 10:00. I’m surprised they didn’t put a snake in my bed. Thankfully our jetlagged crew rose to the occasion, dressed beautifully and went for the adventure of a wedding in Uganda. Surprisingly, we have five team members out of 18 who have never been to Africa. And the first thing they do is jump into someone’s wedding, I admire that sort of adventurous spirit.
I left before everyone else to reach the church and do an hour worth of test shots so I could get my bearings straight on measuring light, and focal length abilities. A bus arrived to deliver the team in time for the wedding. All through the wedding people continued to arrive, walked around, toddlers nursed, and children got rambunctious. This was all acceptable. We should have brought Kira! Part of my fun was to experience what’s acceptable and what’s forbidden in these ceremonies as compared to ours. I was shy at first to walk around, but since I saw everyone else getting in the way I figured, don’t be shy, and just go for the shot. So I did. I enjoyed most of the wedding sitting on the steps of the stage right in front of George and Irene photographing their expressions and soaking in their joy. I think I had the best seat!
There were three events at the wedding much different than ours. First of all, the groom does not get to kiss the bride! How disappointing. There was no tinkling of the glasses at the reception to see another kiss. He is invited to give her a full body hug. I asked them why and Irene said, we are a shy people(Ugandans) and we never kiss in public, if we did, it would be in the news. Never mind, while photographing them in the gardens I said, “you have an American photographer, my job won’t be complete if I don’t have a photo of you kissing.” So George waved off all the other photographers who were in the gardens with us and I photographed one sweet kiss. I’ll show you all privately because I wouldn’t want to make “news” for them.
The second tradition I loved and might suggest to adopt in weddings everywhere is that after they were officially married the Pastor invited all family members to join the kneeling couple on the stage and lay their hands over them, huddle around and pray. What occurred was the most beautiful symphony of prayer I have witnessed. It shifted my heart and stirred the spirit within me to remember I wasn’t just working at this wedding, but I was witnessing a sacred event and God was heavy in His presence.
The third tradition that surprised me was when the wedding ceremony was complete the couple was escorted to a table where they sat and officially signed the documents of marriage. It was part of the sacred ceremony and not something done in the court house prior to the event. Just before the couple were invited to walk towards the table, I noticed a puddle of urine exactly in the path of the bride. I panicked and asked someone to go find a mop to clear it or her dress would be spoiled. Just a moment before, and as they were walking towards the table, a woman with a mop cleared the accident. Whew. Later when I mentioned to Cindy how I rescued Irene’s dress she said, “Oh I just thought the mopping was part of the ceremony!” So there you go. A child can pee on the floor at a wedding and it can be seen as part of the ritual.
After the wedding George and Irene invited me to sit in the front seat of their car as we drove to the studio where formal photos were taken. (I hope they like mine better) After that we went to the gardens of Speke Hotel, which is partly owned by President Museveni and some Indian investors. Let’ just say it is paradise and we were not the only wedding party there that day. The photos there were my favorite because this couple is really in love, so relaxed, and ready to have a lot of fun. I didn’t have to pose them at all, nor did I have to suggest a thing for them to do. They simply went for the fun of the occasion and the photos reveal their joy. I realized this morning while I looked over the thousand plus photos I shot that it is beneficial for the photographer to be friends with the wedding couple. They are relaxed with me, we could play, and every time they looked slightly weary my own smile rejuvenated them.
After the gardens we got lost through back roads in the black Mercedes decorated with blue ribbon and bows as we avoided the traffic jams on the main road. I took this opportunity to take a little nap. When we arrived at the reception (which began three hours after the wedding ended) Irene said a couple of times, “Mama Kira we have arrived.”
The reception was wild. They had invited five hundred people who had to produce a card to enter. People arrived all through the night. To announce the arrival of the couple fireworks shot out of two flower arrangements. And later when they cut the cake two maids shook a bottle of champagne for ten minutes or so before exploding it along with throngs of confetti. There were three hours of long speeches in Lugandan before we were able to eat. My poor team did their best to have some fun, and some took short naps. But I worked up a twelve hour sweat. The food was delicious and it was a great introduction for the team to traditional Ugandan food. Chicken is the main ingredient for the celebration, and it is accompanied by matooke and gnut sauce, three rices, yams, green beans, peas, beef, cassava and fried whole potatoes. We were stuffed as our plates were beyond American sized portions. A French man would be horrified and say one plate was enough food for five people, and in my case it was, but I was famished and I nearly cleaned my plate, leaving the horrible dry cassava among too much matooke.
When it was time for George to give his speech he broke down in an emotional outburst. He really was overcome, and had a good cry right there in the arms of his bride. It took about ten minutes for him to recover, and meanwhile the crowd laughed both in surprise and with appreciation as this was culturally a most uncommon occurrence. This however is exactly why I love this couple, and what drove me to be present and available to photograph their wedding. When Irene took the microphone her first words as a married woman were at the top of her voice shaking the crowd, “Alleluia!” And that’s why I adore her. She always praises God first.
They cut the cake way before dinner as an appetizer. After dinner guests line up and offer their gifts. This confused the mzungus at first because we couldn’t find the gift table. After the gifts are given they have their first dance, and then they dance all through the night. My team needed to go to bed, so I decided I must leave before their first dance. I feel bad about that, but I was playing two roles at once, and this was the decision I needed to make. George is a photographer himself, and one of his friends, Dennis was my partner all night long using George’s camera. I asked him to make sure he got good photos of the dance. It was the best we could do.
The whole experience was interesting and a good introduction for the team into Ugandan culture that they never would have been able to have and we count it a privilege that we were able to join the happy couple.
Something happened just before Craig pulled my arm out the door. Every guest had been fed since the gifts were lining up. There were poor and dirty little children lining up out the door trying to get a plate of food. The ladies serving gave it to them, until someone chased them out. I saw them all hovering ferociously over one plate demolishing the food. My heart broke. I know if George and Irene knew these kids needed to eat and there was food left over, they would have wanted them to have it. I was just about to be bossy and tell the person who chased them away to change his mind and give it to them when Craig pulled my arm and said, “the team is on the bus”. It just reminded me why we were here on this continent, it is about the children who would otherwise have been chased away, but instead we come to serve them and raise them high as the children of God they are and to provide them the opportunity to explore all of who they are as God made them to be. I could only comfort myself after seeing the poor hungry children chased out by believing we can’t help every single child here, but only one at a time. God willing there will be ripples of compassion and generosity that will reach every hungry child. Oh God, I beg you.