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Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Family Wedding

I am sitting at a table in the home of a nurse from Baylor Clinic in Maseru. She has just fed me breakfast and now we are discussing HIV rates and Mother-to-Child transmission in Lesotho.

Baylor University funds several pediatric HIV clinics in Lesotho. In the last few years, they and other NGOs as well as the Lesotho government have stepped up their efforts at PMTCT or Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission.

The family at the wedding.
As a result, pregnant women are the only people in the country who are automatically tested for HIV (as opposed to the voluntary testing and counseling that others can do for free at any time). They are also the only ones who do not have to wait for a specific CD4 count to start ARV therapy. These two things along with increasing education and ARV adherence are, according to my new friend, making a difference. She expressed joy that they clinic has stepped up children’s testing events and rural outreach programs but looks like it will still fall dramatically short of its goal of 150,000 new pediatric patients in the fiscal year because so many of the children are testing negative.

This may seem like an odd conversation for a Sunday morning with a woman I just met; however, it is par for the course in my Peace Corps service. And besides, this acquaintance is family. She is my host mother’s cousin. While we may have only met the day before at a family wedding, the Basotho are quick to offer hospitality, so I along with two of my cousins spent the night in her home.

As our conversation draws to a close, she leaves to get ready for the post-wedding party and I reflect on the adventure of attending the wedding.

Check out this video of the wedding. It's fun. 

My grandfather, mother, aunt, two cousins, two brothers, and I left Butha Buthe for Maseru early the day before. When we arrived mid-morning at the mother of the bride’s home, we were immediately fed and given seats in the shade. We participated in formal greetings as other guests arrived; each time my grandfather proudly introduced me as his daughter.

Before the bride came out of the house, a brass band got the party started. My aunts, uncles, mother, and grandmother were quick to lead the dancing procession.

Soon, the bride and her attendants posed on the porch. Photos were taken and we were all piling into cars to process to the wedding venue.

Queen 'Masenate and King Letsie at the wedding.
Once there, we danced out way to the door, following the bride and the band. Then, we were quickly ushered into seats so the wedding could begin. Everyone else was already seated, including the bride’s famous uncle and his wife: King Letsie and Queen ‘Masenate (Wait, my Mom’s cousin is related to the King?!?!?!).

Although this wedding was what the Basotho would call a “white wedding,” following the traditions of a Westernized Christian wedding, it still maintained many aspects of Basotho culture—especially dance. As the wedding party entered, there was no walking down the aisle. They danced.

The wedding itself was quite similar to most church weddings in America. It was conducted in English with Sesotho translations. The three differences that stood out to me were that the bride and groom said their own vows and then repeated formal vows from the pastor, the pastor stressed that the marriage needed to be strong for the couple, the family, God, and Lesotho, and the signing of the marriage certificate occurred as part of the ceremony before the couple could be announced as husband and wife or kiss. The danced their way out, met again by the brass band. We again followed, right into cars for a processional to the Alliance gardens for photos. Sadly, our arrival at the gardens was timed perfectly with the onset of a tremendous thunderstorm.

After the photos, we headed to the reception. Like all Basotho ceremonies, this one began with speeches. Not one or two speeches, but more than ten, including a second message from the pastor. Finally, well after nine (the wedding had begun at 2), King Letsie spoke, toasts were made, and the buffet began.
The bride and her brother before the wedding.

During all of this, we were occasionally instructed to get up and dance. The tables were spread out enough that there was plenty of room for these energizing moments. When it came time for the toasts, I impressed my extended family with my ability to open champagne and use a corkscrew.

After dinner, there was dancing amidst the tables and photos with the bridal couple. Gradually people departed, with us heading back to the mother of the bride’s home just before midnight. An hour or so late, my cousins and I were headed to my new friend’s home for quiet respite as the party would continue for a few more hours and we country  girls were exhausted!

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