It all started when Alyssa and I asked Lucy (our language helper) to teach us about ndoa—marriage—in Tanzania.
And out of that discussion, we learned about The Kitchen Party.
The Kitchen Party is called Kitchen Party in Kiswahili. Yeah—not so hard to translate that one. Except you say it with an accent—Keechin Pahty. It's sort of like a Bridal Shower and sort of like a Bachelorette Party--sort of.
As she was telling us about this, suddenly she brightened. “My neighbor is having a Kitchen Party next month. Do you want to come?”
Umm….but we don’t know her.
“That’s okay! She will want you to come anyway!”
So we got our Required Clothes. Friends are to dress alike. So Lucy bought us our dresses, so that we would all match.
And last Wednesday, we were off.
We decided to take a taxi. Neither of us like to drive at night here, and neither of us knew where we were going. So we found a taxi, and handed the driver my phone with Lucy on the other end, who told him where to go.
We ended up at a little hall in a neighborhood that is mostly poor, completely full of life, and definitely not a place you see many white people. We were, to put it bluntly, the talk of the neighborhood.
The invitation said the party would start at 6; we arrived at 6:30. We poked our head into the hall. Large piles of trash were being swept up and decorations were being hung. Not a single other guest was there.
We teased Lucy about this, since she is the one who told us to arrive on time. "This is Tanzania!" we told her. "Why did you think it would start on time?"
So we found a bench and waited for an hour or so. We took selfies and told ourselves that we would only speak in Kiswahili that night (which was mildly successful). After a while, we attracted all the neighborhood children, who stared at us and pointed and practiced their English. "Good morning. What is my name?" they would ask us. And then giggle until they fell down.
At about 7:30, we wandered back over to the hall. The decorations were up, some guests had arrived, and the DJ had his music going at one level: LOUD. However, the Bibi Harusi--the bride--had yet to arrive.
But everyone was dancing. So we did too, trying to be inconspicuous.
We realized very quickly that being inconspicuous wasn't going to happen. Perhaps we were clued in when at least half dozen of the guests asked to get their picture taken with us.
Then, the MC approached Alyssa on the dance floor. "I like you," she told her. "I am looking for someone to open the champagne. I want you to do it."
First of all, you should know Lucy told us that everyone thought we were sisters, and that Alyssa was the dada (older sister) and I was the mdogo (younger sister).
I was perfectly okay with this. It allowed me to hide behind my older sister while people asked her to do things like open the champagne.
Alyssa, however, was horrified at the idea of opening the champagne, considering that it was a ritual we knew nothing about, and because the one and only champagne bottle was perched in front of the Bibi Harusi's throne. Oh yes, it was indeed a throne.
Alyssa begged Lucy, "Please don't let them make me open the champagne!"
Lucy ran off to take care of it and came back satisfied. "Don't worry. I told her you are mshamba and you don't know how." Mshamba--literally means 'farmer;' colloquially means 'backward.' Um, okay. If being mshamba means getting out of opening the champagne, go for it.
Finally, at 8:00 (two hours after the scheduled start time), the bride arrived in all her splendor.
And she was indeed beautiful. By this time, I think there were about 80 women in the hall.
After the MC introduced everyone, she said, "And now I want to call up Mama Alyssa."
Alyssa and I looked at each other in absolute horror. Alyssa turned white as a sheet. Lucy whispered, "Oh yeah, when I told her you couldn't open the champagne, I suggested she ask you to pray. That's what she wants you to do."
Zombie-like, Alyssa got up from her seat. Lucy added, "Just pray in English."
But that amazing friend of mine got up there, took the microphone and prayed....in Kiswahili. She had no warning, yet she totally rocked it. Oh yes---I will gladly call her my sister.
The next part of the evening was the "advice giving." Various women got up and advised the bride on all sorts of matters pertaining to marriage, including the X-rated parts. Which could be considered a little amusing in this circumstance, considering the bride already has two children and is pregnant with a third.
After each woman gave her advice, everyone came up and danced. There was a lot of dancing.
Which brings to me to my favorite part of the evening: the presentation of the gifts. Seriously, American women, we've got something to learn from these ladies.
Lucy had instructed us not to wrap our gift. "If you wrap it, they'll just think you have a tiny present in a large box," she told us.
Oh no...no wrapping allowed. Because when you present a gift in Tanzania, you show it off. Just like this:
I even took a video:
And what had Alyssa brought as our gift? Knives. Oh yes, my friends. She knew we would have to dance with our gift, so she bought knives. That's why I like her so much.
So there we were, two white women and one Tanzanian woman, all wearing matching dresses, dancing with knives above our heads. I'm so sorry you weren't there to take pictures of us.
Since there were quite a lot of women present, and each gift was presented with quite a bit of fanfare, this went on for a while.
At 10:30 pm, dinner was served. Lucy whispered, "They don't serve the food until the end so that everyone has to present a gift before they can eat."
The professional photographer, who had taken our picture with all those strangers earlier in the evening, had run out, printed them, and was now selling them to the ladies for 60 cents each. We tried to buy one of the pictures with us in it, but they had already all been sold. Our picture is now on unknown ladies' walls all over Dar es Salaam.
We left for home at 11:00. Our taxi driver was asleep in his car while he waited for us.
It was a completely fascinating and fun experience. Lucy was incredible to take us, and she took such good care of us. And Alyssa--well, there's no one I would rather do life with here than her.
The next day, Lucy came for my Kiswahili lesson and we talked all about the evening. I told her about American bridal showers. I didn't bother telling her about the game where you win safety pins by catching people with their legs crossed, because she already looked a little bored. I don't blame her.