Our first Ghanaian wedding, billed as the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony on the wedding invitation was anything but solemn. What we experienced was a long ear-splitting affair complete with karaoke graphics, humor, dignitaries, bible readings, microphone feedback, backup singers, a long sermon, cacophonic music, fabulous hats and a sermon delivered with rabid fervor. Fifteen minutes into the service I took Jeremy’s lead and wadded up some tissue and pushed it into my ears.
While the service only started ten minutes late, we did not have the stamina to stay for the whole programme. Bob, Jeremy, Eric and I slipped away after three and a half hours leaving Justin and Miki behind so he could fulfill his champagne-pouring duties. We felt like defectors but Justin, true to his nature never mentioned it. We had made it through the Opening Prayer, Praise and Worship, Bridal Procession, Exchange of Wows, First Offering, Presentation of Certificate, Song Ministration, Sermon and Second Offering, walking to the back of the church to place our gifts on the table and continuing on out to the car.
We had seen our opportunity and taken it, choosing to miss the Choreagraphy, Cutting of Cake, Popping of Champagne, Proposal of Toast, Vote of Thanks, Closing Prayer, Photographs and Refreshment. We made our way through a thick crowd of people lining the stairways, halls and parking lot. We later found out that by the time Justin was filling cups with champagne or rather non-alcoholic celebration drink there were an estimated five hundred people.
The six of us arrived at the Living Waters Chapel ten minutes before the “9:00am prompt” service time stated on both invitation and Wedding Programme. Following Eric’s lead, we seated ourselves in the third row on the right half of the church. At 9:00am there were only a dozen guests in the church, the three hundred folding chairs looking expectant and a bit lonely. The groom and his best man came over to greet us, looking sharp in black suits and gold vests with orange highlights and then took their places at the front of the church, the best man using a handkerchief to wipe his friend’s face.
We looked idly around the room, feeling a bit sorry for the small turnout, taking bets on when the service would actually begin. Guesses ranged from 9:10 to Eric’s estimate of ten o’clock. We felt he should know because he was the only person in our group who had ever been to a Ghanaian wedding. In fact, he said he’d been to well over one hundred. A woman lingered in the doorway wearing a Minnie Mouse tee shirt. Frimpong (Eric) picked at the gold ribbon on his programme and eventually took a call on his cell phone.
I was bemused by the banner with the words “He so loved the world he gave” and an image of a trussed lamb superimposed over planet earth. A banner reading “2013 The year of exponential growth” stretched behind the movie screen showing an animated GIF of a cascading waterfall. I pondered the relationship between these two banners and hazarded a guess that the giving was essential to growth. I thought of the Catholic Church my Aunt and Uncle used to frequent. The one he nicknamed “Our Lady of Perpetual Collections.”
At 9:10, the Master of Ceremonies announced that, since there were “white people” in the audience they were going to begin on time. “We are not on Ghanaian time today.” The pastor delivered the prayer and as the musicians fiddled with their equipment, three women walked to the front to stand behind the microphones. Without bothering to strike a beat, the musicians and singers launched into amplified mayhem. “I forgot my ear plugs.” Jeremy said, so I passed him a tissue. Within half an hour Bob and I each had wadding in our ears too but it barely muffled the sound.
Taken individually, the lead singer, back up singers, keyboard player, drummer and guitarists were all doing an excellent job but at least for the first song which lasted nearly thirty minutes, they failed to sync. Imagine a freight train without the clickety clack. Is that a cell phone in his hand?” Bob whispered. After a scrutinizing look at the red object in the lead singer’s right hand, I nodded my agreement.
At this point, I began to take notes. Bob took the notebook from my hands and wrote “I feel physically assaulted.” Indeed, the music was thumping through the floor and walls, the shockingly irregular beat pumping through my chest. “If I was wearing a pacemaker this would surely give me a heart attack.” I whispered into the tissue in Bob’s right ear while the words “Our God is an awesome God” popped up on the screen, superimposed over a silver microphone with visible sound waves rippling outward like a pulsating halo.
The room was full when the father of the bride, wearing a richly-patterned white fabric draped over one shoulder, walked up the aisle with his beautiful daughter on his arm. The bride and groom had fun ad-libbing each other’s names during the vows which made the audience roar. Both were accustomed to public speaking, the bride’s voice dripped with languid honey over the words “I take you to be my lawful wedded husband.”
A couple of songs later and I was on my feet, swaying to an irresistible beat, one of two white women in the room. In fact, the MC singled us out, saying “I see there are some people with different colored skin here today” and asked us to stand up for a moment. I looked around the room and it crossed my mind that we five obronis might be the only guests who don’t eat with the fingers of our right hand and wipe with our left.
An hour and a half into the service I was amazed that people continued to arrive, seating themselves in plastic chairs on the wrap around porch. The room now smelled like moth balls. I amused myself by rubbernecking at the fabulous hats, lavish, wide-brimmed, yellow, orange or black affairs that would have been envied at the Kentucky Derby. A woman passed in front of us wearing an outfit made of material stamped with a framed portrait of what appeared to be an American president. Both Bob and I thought we recognized Ulysses S. Grant.
“There are two laws in this church,” the pastor was saying: No spraying of anything, especially perfume on the bride and groom. He told the story of a bride having her eyes damaged by a well-wisher. And no wiping of tears or sweat from the faces of the bride and groom by anyone but the best man and the maid of honor. The best man dabbed dutifully at the groom’s face to emphasize this last point. Bob later heard that this was to prevent someone from loading up a handkerchief with bad juju and hexing the happy couple.
The ceremony was a welcome oasis of subdued reverence at lower decibels, romantic and refreshing. Although the pastor’s pronunciation of the word ‘her’ threw me more than once.’ “Will you love hair, will you comfort hair?” I especially enjoyed the ‘unveiling of the bride’ sequence in which our friend repeatedly attempted to roll up his bride’s veil and retreated, turning his back while his best man wiped sweat from his brow, steeling himself for another go.
The 36-minute sermon also had its charm but was unsettlingly punctuated by loud bursts of emphasis on the words “YOUR WIFE” and other key phrases. The bride’s face seemed frozen as the pastor lectured them on the concepts of obedience, sacrifice and faithfulness. The groom was cautioned to forsake all former friends (a.k.a. lovers) from his home town.
We tried to imagine these words coming from an American pastor’s mouth.
As we walked to the car Eric said, “That was horrible.” According to Eric, not all Ghanaian weddings are as exuberant as this one and yet, we felt like the odd ones out in more ways than one. We looked around and saw that the other guests were fully immersed – swaying, singing and praying.
All in all, we were happy to be part of their momentous day, grateful for the experience and glad we left when we did.