Monday, August 30, 2010

Kidnapping the bride (Cont.)

"No...I don't." Ami stuttered. She was shaken by the stern voice a few seconds. Suddenly, gaining her usual zing, she shot back.
"What if I did?"
"If you do, you need to bring her back immediately!'
She looked at her friends gathered around her and listening in. Rolling her eyes, she replied to the voice she now recognized as the no nonsense aunt of the groom. Ami is never intimidated though.
"Auntie, I don't have her. I'll let you know If I find out anything about this." She added:"Allo, allo...allo." Then she clicked off.

The girls burst out laughing at this mischievous trick. All knew that this was not the end of it. Amy wasn't phase by the threats. Everyone knew that the bride is never returned without a ransom. They were still talking and laughing away when the cell rang again. It was the aunt, less threatening this time because she too was caught off guard by Amy's boldness. She knew full well the communication did not end earlier because of poor reception.
"Ami, my daughter. I have serious reasons to believe that your friends and you have the bride. We need to have her back. The sun is going down and I don't think you want to bring shame on your family for the being the reason why this wedding didn't happen today. Daughter, do the right thing, bring her back."
Ami wasn't going to give into the guilt trip and also she was a little ticked by this lady's patronizing speech. She wasn't a little girl and intented to go into serious negotiations with the search party but not until they stopped treating them like a bunch of gullible teenagers.
"Auntie, I don't have her. I don't know what you're talking about. I'm getting upset because you're accusing me of derailing a wedding. I'll hang up now." She closed her pink flip phone and laughed, twirling in her cute wax print maxi skirt set.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kidnapping the bride (Cont.)

The kidnapping of the bride is part the local custom. It is the way the bride's childhood friends express their feeling about this friend who is getting ready to leave their circle and step into adulthood. They are happy for their friend so it's not a sign of any ill feelings; rather, it's a way of temporarily jerking the groom and his family around and laughing at their expenses. It's a sort of power trip because they remain in control until the ransom is paid and the bride is returned to her in-laws to proceed with the rest of the wedding ceremony.

Ami's aunt welcomed them with open arms and a good breakfast. They gobbled down the "cafe au lait" and buttered bread plus a delicious creamy wheat porridge in the living room unbeknownst to the morning crowd headed to the market. For the rest of the day, they would have to be careful not to be seen from the road outside the gate. Once their hiding place was discovered, they would have very little leverage and might have to surrender the bride without getting paid the ransom.

Ami's uncle made them promise they would by his silence. A third of the ransom was what he wanted. He was just teasing. He left for work sometime around eight. Soon after, Ami's aunt followed, leaving her maid to care for the girls in her absence.

Ami's aunt was a rarity in the community. She had been to school up to tenth grade and successfully passed the end of grade test. Her parents were reluctant in sending her to high school because the facility was in the nearest city. Girls were usually allowed to go away from their parents sight so she had stop her education and get married. She was almost 18 and at her that age she was considered an old maid around there but a very envied one, she was. With her middle school education and her husband's connections, she was hired as a secretary. As a beautiful, educated woman working in an office, she was the canvass for Ami's life. Ami wanted to be at least like her. 

Once her uncle and aunt left, Ami started gathered her friends. The plan was to have some fun until around 1 or 2 o'clock if no one found them until then, she, Ami and another girl would go out and let themselves be found. If they couldn't be found, they couldn't negotiate, neither collect any the ransom.

"Ready for fun," Ami harangued.

She turned the radio and began dancing. A couple of the girls followed. Soon Mariama shed her shyness and joined in. They danced and laughed for a while then started a conversation about man, marriage and dating. In a society where girls are required to remain virgins until marriage, each girl sounded as ignorant and down right childish as the next girl. They were aware of their naivete and poked fun at each other for trying to sound expert on a matter they knew they only had wild guesses. The sole TV channel in the country transmitted from 12 noon to 2 and from 6:30 to 11:00 pm. They watched the midday news and musical show that followed. It was right at the end of programming that Ami's cell phone rang. They later found out that in exchange for a few coins, a neighbor's little boy had told the search party he'd seen Ami with a girl that resembled the bride-to-be.

"Ami, you Mariama, don't you?" An angry voice asked.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kidnapping the bride

At dawn, Thursday morning four of Mariama's mates enter her family home. It's still early and everyone is whispering so not the awaken the rest of the household. Furthermore, this was a secret mission and it was important for all involved to take the utmost care not to be discovered, at least until close to the of the day.

Mariama was already dressed and waiting in her mother's room. She wore a beautiful new wax print skirt set sewn by the tailor around the corner and a pair of plastic sandals. Her mother ushered her to the steps and with tears in her eyes she watched as the group of young ladies walked away shrouded in the early morning fog. One of the girls handed Mariama a red flower-patterned scarf to cover her head and shoulders and shield her identity. With felted but determined steps, they walked back to the street towards a destination up to that moment, unknown to Mariama. They were headed to a house owned by one of her companions' aunts. The companion's name was Ami. Brandishing a cellular phone, she explained that she'd called her aunt on her cell phone the night before and obtained the green light to hide the bride at her house.

Ami was a leader and that was always obvious to anyone who met her in a group of her peers. Like Mariama, she was 16 but shrewd beyond her years. She had never set foot in a classroom, didn't A from B that didn't seem to be an obstacle for her. She had her feet planted in traditions but her head swarmed with sounds and colors similar to the ones poking every western teenager's brain. In addition to a cell phone, she carried a "made in China" iPod full of western music and stars. One would expect her to be a trouble maker but she wasn't. She had about her something foreign to this place.
"I know what I want in life, you don't. I do things on my own terms," she'd often say, laughing at her friends.

The girls walked twenty five minutes and finally sneaked into a small beautiful villa on the outskirts of town. Ami's aunt was waiting for them.

To be continued...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Henna Night

Mariama couldn't believe this. All her unmarried childhood friends were gathered in her "little mom's" room. Little mom is the nickname given to the second or any subsequent wives or one's father. In a corner, half a dozen teenage girls were making music with an overturned calabash filled with old clothes. They were pounding on it with their closed fists and singing songs for the occasion. The best voice led the songs and the rest accompanied her with very rhythmic claps and a joyful chorus. One young lady held another calabash in both hands. The item was decorated with multiple cowry shells attached to three to five inches strings. She'd throw the calabash in the air twirling it three to four times clockwise and one time the opposite way. Her very coordinated hand tricks added a distinguished beat to the musical performance taking place.

Although some of the songs were about how the young bride would miss her teenage life and her family, Mariama was happy. She had butterflies in her stomach thinking about her new husband. Her hand was given in marriage a year before. Now 16, she couldn't wait to start her new life. The marriage was prearranged as was the case most of the time in her culture, but unlike most brides she knew her future husband. She had at least since him physically around town before she was informed she'd be marrying him. Also, in accordance with the rituals, in the past three months he visited her every fourth Saturday. They always met with a circle of his and her friends around tea and delectable braised meat prepared for the occasion. Any one on one exchange was under the watchful eyes of others.

She liked him. He was 23, unmarried and handsome. She couldn't believe how lucky she was. Most girls she knew went into marriage with their heart bleeding in silence, forced to live with someone they did not choose and whom they did not like when they finally got to see physically.

Sitting on a grass rug right on the floor of the now packed and noisy room, Mariam extended her hands and feet one after the other to a young lady who was creating intricate patterns on them with thinly cut adhesive strips. Once both palms and feet were covered with this artistic tapestry, three other young women joined the first one. Each one took a member and started applying thin layers of the henna paste prepared with henna powder, water and a little bit of sugar -someone suggested the sugar to add intensity to the color. When the application process was done, the ladies covered her hands and feet in plastic wraps, loosely tied strings at each wrist and ankle to secure the wrap, then slid oversize socks over them. She was then helped to the bed were she'd spend the night trying not to smudge the henna work by keeping her palms open and not moving too much during her sleep.

Outside, the street was blocked off. Dozens of mostly women family members, friends or simple acquaintances formed a big circle, some sitting on benches rented for the occasion, some standing. Two drummers energetically beat their djembe (pronounced jay'm'bay). Beside them a wood fire was burning. This was used every half hour or so to warm up the leather part of drum and sharpen the sound of the instrument. A professional singer was hard at work singing family praises and historic feats while women spontaneously entered the circle and danced. The singer was rewarded with a deluge of banknotes for the public. All the while, young girls walked around and served sweetened ginger juice refreshments and cookies made by Mariam's family.

The celebration went on until midnight. It was around 1:00 am when the last of the spectators dispersed. The same thing will go on again on Wednesday night before the big day on Thursday.

To be continued...