If all marriages started out with an engagement like Big Nan’s, no one would ever get divorced.
‘Big Nan’ is my nickname for one of my oldest and closest friends, Nana Koranteng; because she does everything big: House real big, cars real big, grades real big and now wedding real big. I’ve always known that Nana comes from a royal family, but you’d never suspect it because she’s so very humble.
When I pulled up to her house, it was a sea of BMWs, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, and a hundred other indistinguishable shiny black cars. Two very uncompromising men in dark suits stood guard at the gate. They looked at me unsmilingly.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
“Do you have your invitation?” one asked me, not returning my greeting.
I quickly pulled it out and watched the pair of them look for my name on the guest list with no success. I was certain they were going to bounce me (from the gate of one of my best friends’ house!) and I’d be left to find my way back to Adenta in a taxi with my two kids in tow. Two minutes after standing at the gate, they found it. Akos, Nana’s big sister met me at the driveway and informed me Nana was up in her room, feeling really nervous.
“Then I must go crack some jokes to loosen her up!” I proclaimed. It suddenly occurred to me that Mamissa (this really, really crazy girl that is part of our group of five fast friends) was already up there doing the job of bride/wedding jester.
“You remember the way don’t you?” asked Akos.
I found Nana up in her room, looking resplendent and regal in plum and raspberry color kente. She had a gold ornament in her hair and was decorated with beads the like of which I’d personally never seen. I said my hellos to everyone in the room and informed her that her guards at the gate nearly sent me home. She furrowed her forehead and seemed further distressed. I wasn’t helping much. So I reintroduced my kids before they could scatter everything in her room and worsen her mood. Nana loves kids. I looked around the room, thinking it felt really small. Much smaller than the last time I was there as a teen. Before parties we’d huddle around her mirror to put on make up and afterwards 3 or 4 of us would sleep on her twin sized bed and fight for sheets and space. Yesterday, the whole crew was back in that room 18 years later watching our girl get married.
Part of Ghanaian tradition is that the bride must wait in house until she’s called out to join the festivities. The groom waits outside the compound of the house until he’s called in as well. Each is heralded by their respective family’s okyeame (spokesperson), drums and/or a piece of music of their choice and surrounded by a gaggle of friends and family who escort them to the wedding festivities. I would joined Nana as she danced her way to meet nanaanum, but Mamissa bullied me into holding her video camera so that I could catch her on tape dancing and swaying in Nana’s bridal procession to the beat of massive fromtom frontom drums. Nothing had changed from the time we were all 14. Nana looked simply amazing, gracefully doing adowa dance steps she had just learned 30 minutes early.
Hmmm. These Nigerians.
Before her arrival to the court yard, they brought tings paaaa! There is no other ways for me to describe it. To honor the bride’s family, the groom’s family will generally come bearing gifts. A crate of minerals (soda); a few bottles of gin; a few envelopes of money. By the time I dashed outside to get a glimpse of their offering after someone shouted “the Nigerians are coming!” I’d missed half of the show. Women clad in he most amazing purple jewel toned fabrics danced in unison behind suitcases upon suitcases of gifts. A stack of parcels wrapped in vibrant orange paper were ferried in by at least 4 young men. A 3 man team of percussionists heralded the family’s arrival. When all had gone silent, the informed Nana’s family that they had come with “so many gifts and pound sterling”.
“As you can see,” said their spokesperson, “your daughter will not lack. She will be well taken care of in the Soniake home. She will go from glory to glory.”
I’d frikkin’ say so.
Uncle Paul smiled broadly.
Ohhh, and Afolibi! – her groom. When he was summoned, he danced with vim and vigor of a 10,000 man marching band. His feet screamed joy, his eyes shone in delight, the posture of his very back was arched in gleeful expectation. He swung his pale blue garments like a king celebrating victory. He danced like I imagine David might have danced before the Lord. He was coming to claim his bride!
After the clergy from both countries led us in a prayer and a hymn sung to Jesoss (Nigeria)/ Jezess (Ghana), they blessed the engagement ring and Afolabi spoke a few words.
“Nana, I promise to love and care for you; and I promise to work hard to support you, and to support everything you do.”
Nana smiled the broadest and sweetest of smiles. If you had a fine-behind velvety chocolate man looking you dead in your eye making you promises in the poshest of British accents, you’d be smiling too. I looked at all the women in the crowd, and indeed we were all grins. Yes, we were ‘jealous’. I wanted to get on a plane and remarry my husband all over again.
Rap to me the way Afolabi rapped to Nana! I’d say.
As they kissed quickly, we all shouted “Eiii!!!”. The Nigerian okyeame teased them making smooching sounds. Eh mweh mweh mweh mweh!, she puckered into the microphone. The pair of them ignored us, and seemed oblivious to the presence of the 300 people gathered on the lawn as they embraced each other like long lost friends. He hugged her like a man hugs a cool drink after walking in the heat for days.
Yes, there is a day 2, because not only were these two Africans getting married, but two African royals!
The next day they were married in church at Christ the King. Their nuptials were presided over by an Irish priest with a Ghanaian accent – with hilarious local jokes.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I was late arriving, but got seated just in time to hear them exchange vows. I was immediately informed that there were no ushers, and I would be joining a vigilante team to collect an offering. This was the day I had burned my dress in the post I mentioned recently. Still, I was proud to be an official “money getter” at one of my best friends’ weddings. I was amazed as a flood of 20 and 50 cedi bills filled my basket. I prayed such anointing would fall on me! (God, I dey wait ohhh…)
“Did you steal any of the money?” Mamissa asked me.
“Nah. Not today.”
Those who had flown in from abroad were ferried (in a chartered air conditioned BUS) to La Palm for the reception. And what a reception. No attention to detail or luxury was spared. Each table sparkled with the finest crystal and silver. And my God…the food. I mean, what did you want to drink? They had it. And what did you want to eat?!? They had it! Prawns, chicken, beef, plantain, feta cheese, plump tomatoes, the best jollof rice ever boiled and seasoned known to man…they had it!
Again, I was given another post as an official guest seater; and I performed my duties with pride…in my burned green dress.
Nana Henewa, Kemi and Mamissa looked like Grecian goddesses in their green toga inspired dresses as they danced into the reception hall; but it was Nana who stole the show. Never one who could claim the gift of dance, she kicked it old school and twirled her bouquet around her head. She was breath taking in her iridescent white dress, but she needs to take lessons from her hubby. He danced in like he was auditioning for the lead role in Breakin’: Electric Boogaloo.
No reception is complete with a boisterous MC, who after cracking a few jokes informed us we would soon be cutting into their “immaculately configured cake”. Before we were served, Mamissa gave a lovely toast to the bride and groom. As she told her version of how she and Nana met, I recalled that I had met Nana first and Mam stole her from me. That bully. In her toast, Henewa called Nana “the most selfish person she knows”. She was devastated as the whole reception laughed uproariously. Of course we all knew that she meant ‘selfless’, but while the rest of were briefly amused by her Freudian slip, she grieved over it for most of the evening. She so desperately wanted to honor our friend properly.
And then this Afolabi again.
After feting his family and celebrating their many achievements, he redirected his speech to address how he had met and courted Nana. He completed his monologue by turning to Nana, looking her in her eyes and saying resolutely:
I conquered!!! we shouted in completion.
He shook his head.
And I was surely conquered, he finished in the most soothing baritone I’ve heard to date.
The whole room erupted into wicked applause.
“Heeeeeyyyy!!!!”, we screamed.
From the opposite side of my table I heard an obviously impressed man (who otherwise also had a very British accent) say “Chaley, I no hear some before oh!”
We danced until their was sweat and champagne on the dance floor and the DJ played the last song.
“Thank you for staying out so late Malaka, especially with a 3 month old baby at home,” said Nana. “You’ve forced oh!”
“C’mon girl. You know I love you more than my kids. I’ve known you longer.”
My dear Big Nan: Love real big, smile real big, and in a few years, I’m sure a really (really) big family crawling with ten adrini little Soniake’s. Like I said, if all couples started off like these two, there would be no divorce. Their success will not as a result of all the stuff (although as a guest I certainly enjoyed it) but in the quiet but confident way Afo showed us all that he loves my dear friend, and in the quiet way that shes willing to let him.