This afternoon, one of our site operators got married. Jean Baptiste, or JB, as we call him, is twenty-two and works both the day and night shifts at Kigogo. He had invited us to his wedding within the first few days of our arriving in Banda. Unfortunately work at Nyiragasigo kept us from attending the morning religious ceremony at the church, but we headed to his and his wife’s new home for the reception.
We lugged twenty-four glass bottles of Coke, Sprite, and Fanta, purchased at a store on the way there, as our gift, as Pete had told us that it was customary for soft drinks, not alcohol, to be served at weddings. As soon as we arrived, we were given seats in the front row, right across from JB and his bride, Clementine. Despite the choir’s energetic singing, coming from a row over, the newlyweds were stiff and hardly made eye contact with each other, let alone with us. For the first portion of the reception, we worried that his inviting us had somehow only been a formality and that we, as muzungus, were not actually welcome at this sacred event. JB doesn’t speak English, so we’d never been able to speak to him without a translator, but our interactions each time we’d worked with him at Kigogo had been overwhelmingly positive. Despite the language barrier, his smiles and his proud and correct responses whenever we asked him technical questions had given us confidence in our partnership.
I even worried for a moment that JB and his wife was an unhappy marriage. But then I remembered that some customers had complained to us that JB was not always at the site and accepting batteries because he was off with his fiancé. So this wasn’t it.
We were given plates of food, which we gleaned from watching the other guests that we were supposed to only partially finish. The leftovers went to children that stood at the fringes of the ceremony. Eventually, JB and his wife went into his new house as a traditional part of the ceremony, and a small television set with about a square-foot screen was turned on to our left. A Rwandan music video started playing, and the kids wove through the crowds of chairs and people to form a tight half-circle around the screen.
As with the music at the church, the television set and associated speaker system were powered off of a single Chloride Exide battery, charged at our sites.
Far to our right were an even larger speaker system and a two-person band. One man played the keyboard while another played the electric guitar. They wore matching John-Lennon style glasses and accompanied the choir’s singing. Later, when I got up and started walking around the edge of the reception, I noticed that their electronics were powered entirely off of a large generator. Batteries can only carry so much charge, and the speaker system would most likely have drained the batteries far too quickly. It was a reminder of the limitations of our battery-charging system.
As I passed by the musicians’ booth, JB came out of nowhere and stopped me. “Welcome to home,” he said, and I thanked him, thinking that he was welcoming me to his reception. I then heard my name called from his house, where Pete was gesturing for me to come in. JB smiled at me and escorted me inside.
In the first room I stepped into, the rest of the DHE members were sitting on a bench across from Clementine, who looked up when JB stepped through the door. She’d changed out of her white wedding dress and into traditional Rwandan attire. When he sat down next to her and started talking to Pete for him to translate to us, his body language toward Clementine changed drastically from when we’d been outside. He held her hand and cheerfully explained how he’d courted her while Clementine giggled and looked embarrassed. Pete joked that if he had met Clementine first, he would have stolen her away from JB, to which Clementine covered her mouth and laughed even more. Unsurprisingly, JB was happier than I’d ever seen him.