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   what it's like to marry an African drummer
Thursday, December 26 2002

The power came back on at about six this morning. When it did, all the lights suddenly blazed and the radio (tuned to WKZE) played loud static, waling me up.

This afternoon our old college chum Kristen Ma$$on was to be married to her man Mustafa, a drummer from Senegal. Gretchen's involvement in this wedding was, as usual, the baking of the wedding cake. My involvement, as usual, was to tag along. I'd never been to a real wedding before moving in with Gretchen and now this would be my third.
After some careful driving, we'd made it to the Kingston church where the wedding was to be held. Only then did I remember that I'd forgotten my camera, so I had to drive home and get it. First, however, I made sure to integrate two sets of plastic forks, one of which was black and the other of which were clear. As I did so, Kristen's mother and father talked to me briefly and I mentioned that I'd actually attended Oberlin with Kristen for the one year she was there. Later I exchanged a few brief words with Kristen's friend Jen, with whom I had a one time non-Platonic encounter back in August of 1989 (while on a Northeast hitchhike adventure). She's both married and pregnant now.
At least an hour past the appointed time, the ceremony began. It was presided over by a decidedly non-charismatic white holy man from some sort of Christian denomination. After he was done with most of the usual pronouncements (you know what I mean), several African holy men came up and did some kneeling and made some pronouncments that, though probably Islamic, were nonetheless a complete mystery to me.
At this point a highly-energetic African dude (who later took off his shirt to reveal his finely-developed upper-body musculature) seemed to take over as best man and master of ceremonies. He said a few things and then passed out kola nuts to any who wanted them (particularly me). Finally the non-charismatic Chritian holy man said that Mustafa could kiss the bride. From then on, everything was swallowed up by the sound of African drumming, relieved only occasionally by the high wailing voices of a handful of genuine African women. This was a loud, relentless sort of drumming, the kind that normally requires ear protection (which was available). It continued on until the cutting of the cake, some two hours later. I wasn't in an suitable mood for such an aural assault, though I tried my best, chewing stimulant kola nuts until my heart beat had me frightened.
The food was of a pot-luck nature, and reflected the various talents and preferences of those who had brought the dishes. In keeping with the Muslim nature of the ceremony, there was very little alcohol available. I'd wisely brought my little flask of Christmas brandy.
Most of the people there were Kristen's friends, who were mostly white. But the ceremony and festivities had a heavily-African cast. Interactions between the bride and groom were mostly restricted to the brief ceremony itself.
Also at the wedding were several of Mustafa's male African friends who, like Mustafa, play drums all the time and are married to white women. In west African culture interracial marriage seems to carry none of the stigma that it does in American white and black cultures.
Gretchen and I left soon after the cutting of the cake. With this unusual cultural crossroads still ringing in our ears, I told Gretchen that we should get a string quartet as the music for our wedding.


From left: Suzy (Ray and Nancy's visiting dog), an unknown neighbor dog, and Sally playing in the snow earlier today.

The wedding cake Gretchen made. Note the integrated forks.

Someone else's polaroids from earlier in the day.

At Kristen and Mustafa's wedding: Those fishnets belong to Melissa, Kristen's erstwhile housemate. Also note the various white people dressed in African garb.

Getchen and I.

Kristen and Mustafa receive nuptials from a decidedly non-charismatic holy man.

The African women at the wedding. They looked straight up church-going urban, but once they started singing I knew they were African.

The best man whips around after administering kola nuts to the assembled.

Endless kola-nut-fueled drumming while white people nod their heads to the rhythm. Where are those earplugs?

Kristen cuts her cake.

A demon child radiates eye beams while Gretchen cuts the cake.

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