My last post was titled ‘The Dowry Has Been Delivered’. I intended to write lots between then and now, but between our schedule and our internet (slooowww), that hasn’t happened. So I will now write about the wedding (for which the dowry was delivered), and hope to catch up on other stuff ‘soon’.
Sukala. He’s been a part of our family since we moved to Niger in 1997. That means he’s been friends with Trae and Tanika since they were little kids. Tobi too. Here they are now.
Trae, Tobi and Sukala
Over the years, through ups and downs, ins and outs and thick and thin, Sukala (his real name is Ibrahim), has maintained a place in our family, referring to us as Mom and Dad. Neal’s parents are Grama and Grampa, and rightly so.
Though I could digress down several different roads (some paved, some full of potholes) with lots of stories, I’m going to do my best to stick to the big wedding. But no guarantees.
As I said in my last post, we met Rakiya last year right about this time when she interviewed for an assistant teaching position in our school. (Well look at that, I’ve already veered from strictly wedding writing). Though a tiny slip of a girl, she had a great personality and presence about her. She was someone who obviously loved children, but had a level of confidence and sophistication that I really liked. Though respectful, she wasn’t intimidated by us (Neal) =). When she left our house I said to Neal something along the lines of, “This is exactly the kind of girl Sukala needs.” You see Sukala isn’t just an ordinary guy. He loves Jesus with all his heart, is a musician, is great with kids, has lots of other gifts, is hard working, very generous, can do about whatever you ask him to or will figure out how, and is part man and part boy. He’s spastic and I’m convinced he’s an ADHD personality that is heading in the right direction. Most of the time. Not the kind of guy for just any girl.
Other than expressing my thoughts to Neal and Erin, the missionary/teacher she would be training under, I mentioned this ‘match made in heaven’ to no one else. Erin agreed with me and even tried to get them in the same place at the same time whenever Sukala would be helping at the school. Rakiya would have none of it.
We left for our ‘world tour’ in March, (which I’m still not done blogging about !), and soon Erin left for the US for the summer. Sometime during the summer, we talked to Sukala by phone and he informed us that he was interested in a girl.
“Who”? I of course asked.
“The teacher at the school”, he said.
Hopes raising I asked, “Which teacher?”
I maintained my composure on the phone, while grinning very loudly to Neal. I still said nothing but that we were happy for him, and gave him a few other words of ‘advice’. “Thanks Mom”, said he and we hung up. I was quite excited and I told Neal so. And I offered a prayer of thanks.
The next phone call included the explanation that they wanted to get married. Wow. That really was fast. In spite of the appearance of spontaneity, we were in agreement. The only stipulation was that it could not be during children’s camp. Sukala is a huge part of our camps, and to do them without him would be really challenging. A hardship really. It was currently July and the camps would be the first 2 weeks of September.
We arrived back to Niger on July 22nd and officially congratulated the happy couple. The date was set for September 21, and wedding plans were under way. As well as TTC drama team plans and CLC children’s camp plans. When I asked Sukala what specifically he wanted me to do, he told me that he wanted me to walk him down the aisle, just like I did with Trae. I said I would be happy and honored to do that, but also explained that in fact Trae was walking me down the aisle. But who’s really ‘counting’?
The day quickly arrived. Friday night, the plan was for Tobi and Sukala to spend the night with Alfred, the ‘other’ best man. Sukala had been busy all day. Well, all week really. One of his biggest responsibilities was to secure a house for he and his new bride. Sukala has been living in a room on our compound for almost 3 years. We offered for them to continue living there post-wedding, but Rakiya preferred to get their own place. Understandably. So before camp started, Sukala found a place and even paid 4 months rent. Monday before the wedding, (we had just returned from camp in Maradi), he went to get the key to his house to begin preparing it, only to find that the landlord – or more likely the guy that is looking for a renter for the owner – decided that he would give the house to someone else while we were gone. Someone else had already moved in. Downright mean. He did get his money back. Sukala was stressed and the house hunt was on once again. Wedding: T-5 days. Having a house was a requirement, because what happens culturally the night of the wedding is that the bride is brought to her husband in the house that he has provided for her. More on that later…
Long story short and lots of blood, sweat and tears later, a house was secured. Sukala threw up a paint of coat and we (Neal and I) convinced him that he needed to install a fan in at least one of the 3 rooms. He argued that he didn’t have money and we argued that we would help. It was HOT and it’s amazing the difference a fan makes when it’s that hot. I was actually thinking of Rakiya and didn’t want the memory of the first night in her new house to be all about sweating! The ceiling fan was purchased (this is on Friday) and Sukala asked someone to install it. Check that off the list.
So Tobi and Sukala were headed to Alfred’s on Friday night. Here they are just before they left.
And here’s the next time I saw them – Saturday morning. Sukala is nervous and Tobi is tired!
We arrived at the church at 9am for the 9am wedding. Lots of other people were there too, but it wasn’t yet full. Weddings are chronically late but there’s nothing fashionable about that when it’s 150 degrees. Ok, it’s not that hot, but when you’re wearing lined lace that weighs a ton, it sure feels like it!
Since I was going to be walking Sukala down the aisle (remember, it’s what he wanted), I went out to see him when he arrived and that’s when I took the above picture. I asked him how he was doing and he just sort of nodded as a tear ran down his cheek. I don’t think he will mind me sharing…
The sun was hot (have I mentioned that?) so I opened the door, he moved over, and I got in. A church member loaned Sukala this really nice vehicle complete with driver for the day. It had AC. And God bless the driver for letting the vehicle run while we were sitting there. Waiting.
Waiting for what? And why the tears? Well first, lack of sleep. It’s no mystery there that missing major chunks of sleep over a week will make you feel a bit more emotional than normal. And normal for Sukala is already emotional. Because Sukala is almost always ‘up’, he can’t hide it very well when he’s not up. He can’t hide it at all. Up and bouncy are also his normal. Unlike myself. There’s not much variation between my high, medium and low. So one may not quickly perceive my mood. But with this guy, it’s easy. He was fighting tears and feeling very emotional. And waiting for the bride to show up was not helping. There were several phone calls back and forth. They were on their way to the church in two vehicles, one of which apparently had ‘broken’ on the way. I heard Sukala insist that they leave the broken vehicle there and just come – ‘that you are the one everyone is waiting for.’ I correctly assumed he was speaking to Rakiya. More time passed, people continued to come, the church started to fill up. I told Sukala some stories from my own wedding to pass the time. I think Tobi was sleep sitting. I checked to see if the AC fan in the car was on high. He was getting agitated because he knew that everyone was waiting for this thing to start. I assured him that everyone was fine. Look, people are still coming. And today, this day, was about Rakiya and him. People don’t mind. Finally she showed up – I honestly don’t know if the 2nd vehicle came or not – and he started to loosen up and cheer up. Relief.
We waited still longer for our cue to begin our walk up the aisle. My best guess is that so far the wait had been about 30 minutes. The guests had been singing the whole time.
The time had finally come for this guy to get married!
The car had started to feel pretty warm, but when we stepped outside I realized that comparatively we had been enjoying a refrigerator.
We began our walk into the church compound, took a left and proceeded to walk to the back of the church, from the outside. Even though the guests were inside, we did the traditionally slow walk – even outside. Well, Sukala did. I took off at what seemed a hare’s pace (in spite of my heels sinking into deep sand) when compared to the expected snail’s pace. Sukala reminded me to slow down. I then remembered all the weddings I had been to in Niger where the betrothed walk down the aisle with their supporters at a painstakingly slow pace. Not exactly sure the reason but I say let them have their day!
I was doing my best to keep time with Sukala and reminded him to smile. I told him in the car that if he walked in all somber like is traditional, I would walk away. That’s not the first time he’d heard me say that. There’s a cultural thing here, even among Christian weddings that I dislike very much. It stems from Islam. First, the groom comes in with a group of his friends escorting him. And even though they may be excited, throwing confetti and spraying perfume, the groom looks like he’s walking in to a funeral. The same thing happens with the bride. That’s one area that we have tried to change in this culture. Wedding’s are a joyous occasion and should be celebrated as so. We’ve been told that they walk in with such somberness as a sign of humility. Anyway, both our bride and groom agreed that they wanted to walk down the aisle in a non-traditional way – smiling.
Here are Sukala and I, finally walking into the church. Followed by lots of supporters. The best men are behind us. If you look closely you’ll see some white specks in the photo. Those aren’t spots on the lens, it’s the traditionally thrown confetti, thrown by the supporters. Perfume is liberally being sprayed everywhere!
And now for the big moment. Here comes The Bride! Waiting expectantly.
Finally! Time to Praise God and rejoice!!
It was during this time that my wardrobe issues started. After leaving Sukala, I walked up to sit down in my seat next to Neal on the platform. As I sat down, I felt a sudden breeze rush down my back. My pretty lace top, that zips all the way down the back, came unzipped. Completely. Now as refreshing as that breeze felt, I’m pretty sure wearing a backless dress for the wedding would be severely frowned upon. My mother-in-law to the rescue. She’s one of those people that will always have whatever you need. Thankfully she was sitting right by me. She had a scarf and quickly helped me get it around my shoulders. I then backed over to her and she began working on the zipper. It took a couple of tries but we were finally successful. Fortunately there was no one behind us, and no one else was really paying attention to us anyway. I don’t think. I was back together and trying to be careful with my every move so as not to irritate the zipper again. When I wore this lace in the US, the same thing happened, but with the skirt. But in defense of the tailors in Niger, (and in my defense as well- it wasn’t too tight!) their sewing isn’t the problem, but the materials they have available. Inferior zippers.
But where were we?
Oh yes. First a message was preached by Rakiya’s pastor. Her ‘home’ church is not the same as ours. In fact one of the great things about this wedding is that it brought 3 large ministries together and everyone had a part. After today, Rakiya is officially a part of Vie Abondante though, and we’re happy to have her!
I couldn’t find a picture of her pastor preaching – though I thought I took pictures of everything. Unfortunately I wasn’t as organized as I like to think I am and my camera batter was flashing empty. I thought about it the night before and was sure the battery was charged. Think again. No worries though, isn’t that why I carry a spare? Insert spare and it too is flashing…empty. So I was conserving the time I had the camera on. I spied an extension cord in front of the pulpit and at first dismissed the idea of trying to plug in my charger during the service – right there in front of everyone. But this was a big event and I wanted pictures. So as carefully and discreetly as I could (not very, remember I’m wearing lined lace complete with fragile zipper), I plugged my spare battery in.
After the message, it was time for the vows, the ‘daure aure’ (Hausa). Our very own Pastor Nelson was the director of the whole event and he did an incredible job. He called Neal up to do the knot tying.
“Who gives this woman…” This is another interesting cultural difference (different from American culture). The father isn’t the one who does the giving. It’s a representative for the family. In the case I think it was an uncle. Here he is giving Rakiya to Sukala. Check the packed out church!
Neal is asking Sukala to move the veil back so we can see her face. Often we have found that they like the veil to stay in place til the end, but when Neal does a wedding he always asks for it to be ‘opened’.
What a beautiful bride! You think Sukala is pleased?
Repeating the vows. Neal did the vows in Hausa and I thought he did an excellent job. He was later told that our Hausa pastors were congratulating him on how good his Hausa was too. I was right! The Big B guy is hold a mic so they can be heard.
Rings. A tradition not always followed. But it seems to be getting more and more common. I’m glad. Sukala purchased silver bands for both of them. Notice the henna tattoos on Rakiya. This is very traditional here.
‘You may kiss the bride’. Another thing that would be a rare find during a Niger wedding ceremony. Remember, typically there’s not even a lot of smiling done, let alone looking at each other. This wedding was unique in several ways. What isn’t rare though is the whooping and hollering that is done by the guests after the vows are said. So you can imagine the whooping after the kiss! (I should note that it was a kiss on the cheek).
Next, the newlyweds kneeled down and all the pastors that were there came up and laid hands on them and prayed. Check out the paparazzi!
Neal then asked Sukala if he wanted to sing. That’s one of his many gifts. He certainly did and quickly grabbed the mic and began to sing – leading the guests in some praise.
While singing, another cultural thing occurred that I realized would be foreign to a foreigner. When people are enjoying the music/musician, they will come to the front and ‘press’ money on them. By that I mean one would take coins or paper money and press it on to the person – usually onto the forehead. Usually that person is sweating (Niger being the Sahara desert and all), so the money will stay put for a second or 2, then fall to the ground. Someone designates themselves to collect the money and give it to the ‘performer’. That’s what the woman in this picture is doing.
It was now time for the happy couple to make it all official like and sign their marriage certificate. Here they come up on the platform. So happy that they are so happy!
The Certificate. It was signed by several pastors.
One of the choirs singing. They were great. There were choirs from 3 churches that sang.
Here’s the official wedding party.
The bride and groom and their friends presented.
The guests were invited to come up and greet the new couple and bring an offering. Sorry about that pesky fan in so many pics, but believe you me, if you were here you’d totally understand that the fan was a necessity. No, a requirement!
The final prayer prayed by our very own Pastor Mercy. Habibou is interpreting and Pastor Nelson is on the right.
Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahim Sukala! Spray confetti and perfume filled the place!
This would be a good place to talk about names. It’s all rather confusing really. A person is given a first name when they’re born. Typically there are no middle names. Their last name becomes the first name of their father. And when a woman marries, she takes the first name of her husband as her last name. For example, our son Tobi would be ‘Tobi Neal’. And my name would have changed from ‘Danette Don’ to ‘Danette Neal’. Simple enough. However this is Sukala we’re talking about and nothing is ever really simple. Sukala’s name is really Ibrahim Ismaila. Sukala’s father was our guard so was around us a lot. His name is Ismaila but his nickname is Sukala and he was referred to by both names. When our Sukala was young, we typically called him Ibrahim, but Ibrahim (Abraham), is a really common name here – something akin to ‘John’. So when referring to our Ibrahim it was usually followed by someone asking, ‘Ibrahim Sukala’? Because of that, we just started calling him Sukala, to make things ‘easy’. Yea, right. Now there is also the name ‘Mailiou alou’ in the mix. I honestly can’t figure out where that came from, except as a form of Ismaila. So officially, at least according to the marriage certificate pictured above, Sukala’s name is “Ibrahim Mailou Alou”. Sukala isn’t even there. But he asked Neal to present he and Rakiya as “Ibrahim and Rakiya Sukala. So, figure that out! I have no idea what name their kids will take.
Ok. Now that we have that all figured out, lets get to some more pictures. I had intentions of trying to take some nice ‘wedding party’ pics, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.
The crowd followed Mr. & Mrs. Sukala out and EVERYONE wanted pictures with them. So every time I’d try and ‘set up’ a picture, a bunch more people would photo bomb it. So I just took as many as I could with as many as I could. It was quite joyous really. Except for the heat. That was nasty. Especially in my lined lace. I wore that lace outfit in the US this last summer almost every time we were in a church (a lot), and never had a problem with it. The skirt just zips up and there isn’t really a waist band or anything. So it sort of slips down, but it wasn’t a big deal to pull it up every so often. Today was the first time I wore the lace in Niger (heat). Churches in the US are freezing and I often wish I had a blanket. But pulling up that skirt when when you’re soaked with sweat is a different story. Not trying to be gross – just telling it like it is. I couldn’t pull it up with just one hand because the lining was stuck to me. So it was like trying to pull up something that was glued on. That was a problem because there was never a time that I wasn’t carrying something and I only ever had 1 hand, and sometimes no hands. I started to feel like I might be looking like a gangsta with my skirt riding way low on my hips. Fortunately my top came down far enough to cover any indiscrepencies – as long as I didn’t move in a way to make the zipper break and cause everything to come flying out. And I can assure you, people would be paying attention this time.
Here we are with the happy couple, me showing no sign of how uncomfortable that skirt really was – well, maybe just a little. (Note to self: only wear lace during cold season).
I should mention here that though Sukala’s Dad wasn’t able to make the loooong trip from Maradi to the wedding, his mom was here. She used to be a cook in our Bible School year’s ago. Sukala started calling us Mom and Dad quite some time ago, since he really was part of our family. But this is his mom and we were so thankful she was able to be there. As you could see with Rakiya’s family, the parents traditionally don’t have much to do with the ceremony. But they’re busy behind the scenes.
Pastor Hasimu. He’s not only been Sukala’s pastor for many years, he is a regional director in Vie Abondante. So happy he was able to be at the wedding, in spite of the long, hard journey. And look who’s photo-bombing this one!
Pastor’s Moctar and Mercy and their family. Pastor Moctar is Sukala’s pastor here in Niamey, and is the other regional director for Vie Abondante. However, he isn’t in this photo because he had a previously scheduled trip out of the country that prevented him from being there. But he was quite involved up to the wedding.
Pastor’s Nelson and Rose. They are missionaries from Nigeria and are on the Vie Abondante leadership team. They have been a huge part of Sukala’s life since he was a boy.
Here are Jessica and Erin, also missionaries that work with us. Jess – on the left- works at Sahel Academy (the missions school here) and Erin works in our primary school. Rakiya was Erin’s teaching assistant last year and she’s the one that was working behind the scenes trying to get these two together.
Oh, and all he matching outfits? Another tradition here is for the bride’s family to pick some cloth and the groom’s family to pick some cloth and give the guests an opportunity to purchase the cloth and have an outfit made with it to wear to the wedding to show their support. I got to be the designated ‘cloth-picker’ and looking at these pictures I think I did a pretty good job! I was trying to pick something that would favor all skin shades.
More friends! Nate, Justin, John and Phil.
Another friend who jumped in to have his picture taken and is obviously enjoying himself!
This is a candid shot I snapped but didn’t see the flower girls off to the side until I later looked at the pictures. Those looks are priceless. They are missionaries here with another ministry and are quite close to Rakiya’s family.
Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.
And a few more of our handsome groom and beautiful bride.
Rakiya. Though it’s been much more popular in recent years, the ‘western’ type wedding gown isn’t what’s traditionally worn here. Typically they will pick out cloth and have something sewn specifically for their wedding, but it wouldn’t resemble a gown. It would be more like a skirt or wrapper with a matching top. The white wedding gowns have become much more popular now, but there is no such thing as a bridal store. There are a few people that have started businesses that rent wedding gowns. That’s what Rakiya did. And it was surprisingly more expensive than what I would have thought. If memory serves, she paid about $80 to rent her dress. It is beautiful!
Are we really married??!!
Yep! It’s real.
The getaway car! No, not really. It is however the vehicle that took them to the reception that was held at our primary school. That story, and what happened the rest of the day/night is going to have to wait for another post. It was all quite fascinating to me. I’ve been to lots of Niger weddings, but I’ve never been as closely involved as I was with this one and I can tell you I learned a thing or three!
God Bless Sukala and Rakiya – truly a match made in heaven!!