Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Awkward Dance of Culture

I've heard culture described like an onion: full of numerous layers, difficult to get to the core and sometimes, stinky to deal with (ok, I added that last part). Culture is complex. Some days I feel as though I’m fitting into Ugandan culture whereas other days it’s like dancing the wrong steps in a dance.

Oh wait, that sounds familiar.

The bride and groom!
My good friends Chris and Kevin (a girl’s name here) are getting married soon and a few weeks ago they had their kwanjula, the traditional wedding of the couple. Bride prices are a part of the culture and the night before the celebration, the groom and his family come to bring the price that the bride’s family has given. If the bride’s family accepts, then the party can go on as planned. After the kwanjula, the couple is traditionally married but law in Uganda requires a church wedding as well.
Lonnah and I waiting in the bride's room, dressed in a gomesi. Check out those shoulders!
 I was honored when Kevin asked me to be a part of her bridal group for the kwanjula. Well, honored and uncertain. Though I’ve been to many Ugandan weddings, I had never been around for the kwanjula. The only thing I knew about the day was when and where to be.

The dearest of friends: Lonnah, Dorothy and I waiting for the festivities to begin
 The bride and her girls were hidden away most of the day until it was our time to bring out the bride. I think it was then that it was casually mentioned that we would be dancing our way out.

Dancing? Not so much my “thing”. Dancing in front of a few hundred people? Oh man. I tried to reassure myself that all I would need to do was to sway a bit to the beat…while walking…and smiling…and holding up my gomesi (seen above) so that I wouldn’t fall. No. Biggie.

And then it happened. Every one else started dancing the same choreographed dance…a dance that I didn’t know. Panic started to rise and I fumbled, attempting clumsy moves.

Kevin and I
In that moment, I felt so out of place. Sometimes living in a different culture is like awkwardly dancing a dance that everyone else seems to know the moves to besides you. We all want to belong and yet, some days, living in a different culture makes you feel like you never will. When everyone else knows the dance of living in this culture and you stand out, making the wrong steps with language and misunderstanding cultural meaning behind things. Uganda is home to me but my skin color will always make me stand out, no matter how many years I'm here. There are some discouraging days when my being a foreigner is just so obvious. It’s a difficult thing to trudge through. It’s awkward. It’s clumsy.
And, as there are those days, there are many others that balance that out.

Later on in the night, the bridal party sat on a mat on the ground while the groom’s family danced and brought gifts to Kevin, welcoming her into the family.  The music was loud. The beat was infectious. In a line, the family danced in, smiles so big and cheers so loud that it took over the whole place. As each family member brought their gifts, everything from fruits and vegetables to crates of soda and more, they danced, cheered and celebrated. In that moment, I struggled to hold back my tears. I felt completely humbled and honored. True, I’m a foreigner. I’m not from here. Yet, I have the dearest of friends that open their culture and lives to me. They open up themselves and let me in. They extend their love and friendship to me. They see all of my missteps and awkward moments and guide me. They answer my millions of questions. They love me.

Georgina and I, the best of friends
In that moment, I felt so honored to be a part of that day, awkward dancing and all. What an honor to stand by two of my dear friends at such a big day in their lives. What an absolute honor to not only live in Uganda but have dear friends who are willing to share their dance moves to a crazy white girl.

A most beautiful bride and friend
I am seriously blessed.


Chris Greever said...

I love reading about your life in Uganda. Your writing makes me feel as if I am there sharing it with all of you. You look beautiful in all the pictures, even with the one with the fullback shoulders. The Lord is using you so there and I thank the Lord for the work you are doing.

Shannon said...

Love your analogies...your transparency...i am moved to tears each time i read your posts. Prayint that you "keep dancing" backewards, forwards, sideways....just keep dancing. HE is your music!