Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I’ve had a number of weddings and one funeral lately. Two different couples from my life group got married. I went to a wedding 2.5 weeks ago in Sedgefield, a small coastal town half way between Cape Town in the Western Cape and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape along the Garden Route. Sedgefield is surrounded by three other towns—Wildnerness (seems even smaller), George (a big town), and Knysna (a big town that has won “Best city in South Africa” many years).

So I stayed there in a house-rental or hire. It seemed like a time-share type of house. A domestic worker comes in and cleans it. It was a nice holiday to take even though I had to do Sunday School on Sunday. I had excused myself but I didn’t know that Michi and Ray (the couple who got married half a week ago whose wedding I missed) needed to come back to Cape Town so early. We actually had to leave the reception at 11 at night. And the driver Ray was falling asleep while driving. I decided, after his second pit stop this time for coffee (first time for Coke), to stay awake and talk to him to keep him up. I was a bit too scared to fall asleep and wake up in an accident. So we talked. It worked, but he claims it was the wonderful Wimpy (closest thing to Denny’s in the U.S.?) coffee. Oh well.

The wedding was on the banks of a lake at Jade’s uncle’s lake house. His lake house was so nice it did not look like it belonged to anyone. It looked like a rental. It had a living room outside (it’s summer time right now). It was quite amazing. The guest rooms looked like honeymoon suites with entrances and exits into a small guest room garden for yourself. There was a small mote at the entrance with fish that looked like they wanted to eat you. Exiting out the back wall-length wall-height glass doors of the living room onto the porch and outside living room, you could see the lake expand before you across to the other shore. But directly before you on this dark mahogany outdoor living room porch was what appeared to be a fountain when you stepped to the ledge of the porch. There was an overflowing fountain below you on a level below. I was told this was not a fountain but a pool. If you moved to your right there were stairs going down to the lakeside that allowed you to pass the dark pool on your left. These steps were huge wooden steps fitted with lights that made a nice feel when the sun went down. When you reached the green grass before you was a huge tent set up for the reception. Turning left to pass the tent on your right, you came to the left side of the tent where chairs were set up overlooking the water. There was a bridal canopy under which the bride and groom stood placed at the water’s edge so the minister’s back was to the water. We sat in those seats and watched and participated in the ceremony with the large tent to our right and the house up hill behind us. It was stunningly simply. My friend, Leana, played cello on the grass and she emoted facially as much as her cello did acoustically. Inside the tent were round tables with name cards and a buffet style table set up for food. There was a cash/open bar (open for non-alcoholic drinks, cash for alcoholic drinks) and a smooth polished wooden-planked dance floor built by the brothers and father of the bride.

It was lovely.

Everything about the wedding seemed like it was cheap yet elegantly beautiful. This does not include the tent which I was told costs a lot. But the fact that the uncle owned the property (though it looked rented), the fact that the family built the dance floor, the fact that the band was only two people (the guitarist and bass player would play a CD track with the drums and keyboard and auxillary instruments while they sang and played), the buffet instead of waiter-style service all mean it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been. So it was very nice. I was thankful to be there and be a part. I was, of course, out of place wearing a purple suit, but some loved it. I was the official ice water holder for the bride and groom after the ceremony before the reception as they took pictures on the grass. Being one of only a few Black people I stood out so the parents (maybe it was the purple) came up to me to ask who I was (both sets of parents). It was a good time.

The next wedding was last Saturday in Limpopo where I gave the youth HIV/AIDS talk. I missed Michi and Ray’s wedding because I was traveling to the States. I did get to take Ray shoe shopping last week on Monday. Apparently, Michi saw my shoes at Jade’s wedding in Sedgefield and asked me to take him shoe shopping. Michi doesn’t know I don’t buy shoes; those were bought for me the last time I was in the States by my mother (I think I got 2-3 pairs of shoes; I was bought another 3-4 pairs of shoes this week. Oh my!). Ray and I shopped for shoes and found them, and we also shopped for shirts for the groomsmen and himself to wear with their suits. The option was to have the groom wear orange and the groomsmen black, vice-versa, or everyone black. He’s not as daring with colors as I am so he didn’t want to make too bold a statement. Given that the bridesmaids were wearing orange, I suggested that the groomsmen wear orange. So we found shirts for them (I hoped it matched the bridesmaid’s orange) and found him a nice pinstripe shirt to wear. We then had coffee and I later went back to work (HIV/AIDS counseling work).

But before that on Saturday (1.5 weeks) ago we had a bachelor party. These are Christian (not nominal, but the kind that tries to live out their Christianity on a 24-7 basis) guys so it’s a bit different. No strip clubs or anything like that. And it was a day party! The parties here in South Africa among young Christians are ones of embarrassment. So what happened is that Ray had to go to a pharmacy and explain to the pharmacist that he was getting married next week and needed help choosing the right condom. He had to ask all sorts of crazy, innocent questions and really act like he needed help. Most of us would act like customers in the vicinity. If any of us could not hear him, we were allowed to say to a fellow customer “I can’t hear you” loud of enough that Ray could hear the comment and know he had to repeat or speak louder. Anytime that happened, he was required to find an extra person to talk to about condoms (perhaps a customer). The problem is that none of us could really hear that well because the conversation wasn’t that loud. And I wasn’t even next to one of the other guys (there were 12 of us) to even ask someone to speak up. But it was funny.

The woman at the desk was a bit older. I only heard about two comments.
“Ma’am, can you help me. I’m getting married on Saturday, and I don’t know how to use these things. What do I do with them?”
“I don’t know what why you are asking me all these questions. You’re younger than me. You should be telling me about all this stuff.”

Blah blah blah

“Ma’am, what about the different flavours. I’m not sure which flavour is the best to get. Should I get strawberries and cream? And how do flavours enhance the lovemaking experience in marriage? Can you help me, please? I’m really confused!”

“Why do you want get flavoured condoms? That doesn’t even make any sense. Just buy some strawberries and cream and just dump them all over her. That’ll be much better.”

At this the guys wanted to laugh. Really hard.

We then went outside to the street corner of the mall (we were in a pharmacy in a mall). Ray had to dress up like a gumboot dancer. He had to paint his face black (which shoe polish) and put on the rubber boots and a construction hat. I honestly could not tell if the shoe polish was to make him Black or to represent the soot in a coal mine. Either way, no one seemed offended (that’s what I was worried about). Passers-by either stared in incredulity or laughed. Then we would play the conga and he would have to dance. He made about R18 in 20 minutes. Not bad.

We then played music on the guitar and he had to request women to salsa dance with him. It worked! Two middle-aged women were nice enough to laugh and play along (we had a sign saying something like “Please help me. I’m getting married next week and I want this torture to be over.” The danced with him. One taught him how to waltz. Two girls we know stopped by (they were shopping at the mall). One knew how to salsa so she salsa’d with him. It was quite funny. Then I had to go into the middle of the street with him and play the conga and have him dance to it. It was a rousing finish. But then security came and asked us to go in a very nice and understanding way (you’re not allowed to play on the corner at the mall). She kept say “Silly man.” I later asked her why he’s silly. She asked me how hold he was. I said he was two years out of university so probably 24. She said that’s too young and repeated “Silly man.” But she was good natured about kicking us out.

We then went for a barbeque (braii in South Africa) during which he had to answer questions about his fiancée that she had already answered in advance. He did well, actually, but the questions were not good according to the best man. We ate and laughed. And then he asked if we could end it soon because his fiancée was coming into town from a soccer tournament and he wanted to see her. I was shocked. We told him that he can see her for eternity. Right now it’s us. But we ended it a few minutes later by 5 in the evening.

My friend Ross’s mother passed away. I met Ross when hiking in the eastern part of the Western Cape last year in December. At that time she was not sick. But she went on a trip to Brazil with Ross’s father and had a stroke. Ross’s dad was afraid she was going to die then. It took them 3 days to rearrange the flights to come back early But they made it back to South Africa. It became apparent, as the doctors explained, that she would deteriorate slowly as she had an inoperable brain tumor. Ross and Dean (Ross’s brother) had a third brother, Andrew, who took a semester off from studies in Canada to be with his mom; he’s doing a PhD in economics.

Well, it was a Tuesday when I got the message that his mom passed away that morning. I went over to the house with Melissa, his girlfriend (I introduced them), and I was surprised to find out the body was still in the house. She was still in bed. The two hospice-like nurses (one was a sister-nun) were at the house. People were sad. We talked and chatted and ate a bit. I had been holding my bodily functions for awhile, but finally I asked to use it. Right when I was in the toilet, the funeral guys arrive to take the body. Ross knocks on the door to check if I’m alive. I assure him that the pain I feel guarantees that I am alive. He says that they are moving the body and because her bedroom is very close to the bathroom door I needed to stay inside because I would be in the way. Well, later on I finally finish and wait with in the bathroom. There is a pleasant smell (I have this medical condition that makes my functions smell like cologne). There is a knock on the door, and I think they want to come in. I open it, and it is the domestic worker (remember most SA people outside townships have people clean their homes for them) who wants to go in. I let her in and realize they have NOT yet moved the body. So I’m in the hallway against the bathroom door trying to leave them room to get her body on the bed and wheel it out. I’ve never been that close to a body that just died so it’s a bit strange. The family was hidden away in a room because they couldn’t bear to see her face.

Well, she left and the family came back out and we laughed and cried. I thought it was quite interesting. One son seemed to cope with jokes; one wanted to be very business like and handle all the business. The other was the passion-man along with the father. The father could be laughing with you at one moment and then just interject “I can’t believe she’s gone,” and the mood changes immediately.

She was a school teacher at one of the top Cape Town schools, so her funeral was packed. The church seats 400 but they had to leave the doors open so that people outside could seen the screens with the words for the songs. The overflow seating outside was filled, too. So people stood going all the way back to the street curb. She was well-known and well-liked. The tumor was a completely surprise, so she had been teaching all the way through the end of the 2007 school year (our school year goes with the calendar year here).

I think when I die, I would like to be remembered like she was. She sounds like a great woman. And Ross often laments to me how he wishes I had met her before the deterioration of her mind. Through the words and memories of family and friends, I feel I have.

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