The Thursday after my debut as a Senegalese bridesmaid was the night when close family and friends accompany the bride to her husband’s home and involves much tradition and festivities. I arrived at the bride’s house just as she was being prepared to depart with a shower and two foulards (big pieces of fabric) wrapped around her. Her two suitcases of cloths and a giant supply of cooking equipment waited on a mat spread over the dirt court yard. But as the older women lead her out of the house their way was blocked by the bridesmaids who sang and clapped while demanding money from the groom’s family. The price started at 15,000 CFA then dropped to 10,000 but they ended up having to make due with 5,000.
Finally the bride made it to the middle of the mat where she sat by her little sister. I could not see their faces but their bodies shook with silent sobs. Everyone gathered around as the griot spoke about how difficult but necessary the move was. At this time I was motioned by a friend to follow her. We piled into a car overflowing with girls and were rushed off to the groom’s family’s home in anticipation for the bride. Her arrival was signaled by the honking car horns and four cars jammed packed with people and the bride‘s possessions pulled up in front of the house.
A new blockade was created this time preventing the bride from entering. It was slightly raid like as the men of the house threw screaming girls aside until they succeeded in getting the bride to her new bedroom. When this happened the roles were reversed and I watched as a my host mother hurled herself at the men with hysterical laughs mixed with loud cries in determination to enter the room. As the mosh pit grew I found my self pulled forward by a little girl and miraculously lead through the men’s barrier into the room, no screaming or even talking involved, to find that I had been summoned by an old woman who wanted my to watch their traditions.
First, the bride’s feet and face were bathed. She then crawled around on her hands and knees in a circle with an elder woman. This was followed by millet mixed with peanuts and beans being poured over her head and hands. Next a bowl of lax was brought in and for the first time I realized her husband was in the room covered in a woman’s prayer shawl. They sat on the mattress under a blanket feeding each other lax only to be interrupted every couple of minutes by my host mother who liked to peek her head in and giggle at them. When they were finished there was a stampede for the court yard where big platters of lax were brought out for everyone. I was pulled down to a platter and found my friend instructing me how to stick my hand into the mushy millet blanketed by warm milk and slurp the pudding like goo from my dripping fingers.
It was midnight when we finally made our way back through the maze of sandy streets guided by starlight and the beat of a distant drummer.