Last night, I went to one of the engagement ceremonies for my best friend from high school—the presentation and acceptance of the calabash. Her fiancé is from Sierra Leone but he and his family have lived in the States for years. My friend’s mother insists on an American wedding, though she’s agreed to “suffer through” many of the Sierra Leonian matrimonial traditions. I was honored and, honestly, rather excited to participate. As best as I can, I want to share what happened—and, of course, what I thought of what happened.
She was at first told that she couldn’t have any of her friends present at the ceremony. Then the night before, his mother bended and said that she could have a few of us. So the day of, she asked if I had plans because she wanted me to come so that she could have lots of her loved ones there too. I cancelled my dinner plans and went. Because I love her so much and there’s only so much time left before she gets … attached … and is no longer a single entity.
When I got there, Uncle Kwame opened the door. He is actually a friend of the groom’s family who volunteered to stand in as the male head of my friend’s family. Her father lives out of state, her brother, whom I have been in love with since I was fifteen years old, is a bit of a recluse, and her uncle had to work. So, we needed Kwame because, obviously, her mother and two aunts couldn’t be expected to represent their family. They have no penises. No, it was actually nice to have Kwame there for us. He was very attentive and sweet. And since I’d known her longer (of the other friends she had invited) I got to be one of her “family members.” Us family sat in the living room where we received the groom’s family representatives. After we gave them a hard time and finally let them in, that is. It was such a time-out-of-life experience, that is, it was such a part of life that one might never get to see if one was interested in only living the kinds of lives we are told we are supposed to want to lead in this country—as guided by American Eagle catalogs and Lifetime, Television for Women, made-for-TV movies.
Approximately fifteen people from the groom’s family came to the house to bring the wedding calabash, which is a goured filled with all the things a bride-to-be will need to make her marriage a success, to be made ready to be received into her husband’s life. They knocked. We ignored them, though we were sitting in the living room directly off the front door of the house and they could see us waiting through the large glass windows only covered by almost completely transparent white curtains. It was all very symbolic and for show. They rang and rang the doorbell. We let them stew. They sang a song so that we might better hear their entreaty for us to acknowledge them. Finally, Uncle Kwame went to the door to ask who was there.
Groom’s Uncle: A friend.
Uncle Kwame: What do you want here? We are in the middle of a family celebration and I’m sorry but you’ll have to come back some other time.
Groom’s Uncle: My friend, I’m sorry to interrupt, but we would like to come in.
Uncle Kwame: We? Who is we?
Groom’s Uncle: Myself and my family are all here.
Uncle Kwame: Why have you come? What do you want? As I said, we are in the middle of some cherished family time and we are not receiving visitors right now.
Groom’s Uncle: But we have a gift for your family.
Uncle Kwame: Ah, a gift? What kind of gift?
Groom’s Uncle: We can show you if you let us in.
Uncle Kwame: No, no, no you cannot come in. We are busy, but you may leave your gift on the porch. We thank you.
Groom’s Uncle: It is very cold out here and we have come about something we have seen in your garden.
Uncle Kwame: My garden? Well … what of my garden?
Groom’s Uncle: Friend, may we talk inside?
Uncle Kwame: (Opening the door about two inches.) Wow, there are a lot of you out there. And some young ones, too, I see. First, I have to talk to my family to see if we will consider receiving your gift.
(He closes the door and converses with my friend’s mother, aunt, and I.)
Aunt Betty: How big is the gift? Does it have keys? They can just throw the keys in the door and come back later.
Uncle Kwame: (Back at the door, opens it two inches again.) My family says you may pass the gift through the door to me tonight, but as for receiving your party … I am sorry but you will have to come back tomorrow.
Groom’s Uncle: Oh, friend. But the urgency we feel about the flower we have seen in your garden will not allow us to waste one more moment. We beg you to let us come in tonight to talk about this flower.
Uncle Kwame: Weeeell … so we have come to it. You want a flower from my garden, eh? Well, that’s fine … go right over there and pluck one from the ground and take it. Take it and go!
Groom’s Uncle: But the flower we seek has already blossomed. I believe, my friend, that you have taken it inside the house because of its singular beauty. May we come in?
Uncle Kwame: You seem determined to come in tonight, my friend, even as I have told you of the special time we are spending together as a family this night. Perhaps we can allow a few of you to come in for a moment or two … family?
(Turning to my friend’s mother, aunt, and I.)
May we permit a few of these strangers inside?
(We all nod solemnly.)
Uncle Kwame: All right. Slowly, now, slowly. Starting with the child, I think. Yes, the child may pass inside first. Then, the rest of you slowly come in … we have chairs here, for the ladies, and I think we may have just enough room for you all.
Part 1 | (Part 2)