“Would you like to come to a party tonight?” my colleague asked me at the end of the working day. I was in Dar-es-Salaam, finishing off my assignment before heading back home to Cambodia the next day. “Sure, why not”, I said, glad of the chance to get out and about on my last night in Tanzania’s capital city.
“It’s my wife’s sister’s daughter’s sending away party”. I did the mental arithmetic. My colleague is married to a Tanzanian, and African extended family relations can sometimes be a little complicated. “You mean your niece’s party?” “Yeah, that’s it” he replied, surprised that I had simplified it down. “Though my wife’s sister is same mother, different father”. He was making it more complicated again.
“Sending away party?” I asked, changing the subject away from his convoluted family history. “Yeah”, he said. “My niece is getting married on Saturday. But there is a party tonight so that her side of the family can ‘send her away’”. I later learn that this is the second party already this week. The weekend before was her ‘kitchen party’ where her female relatives ‘taught her how to be a wife’. The woman is 26 years old and has already been to university. Tanzania traditions however must still be religiously observed.
The place was heaving when we got there at 7pm on Thursday night. Everyone was in their glad drags, with sparkles, short skirts, sequences, and stiletto shoes. I hadn’t packed any dresses in my travel bag and stood out like a sore thumb in my dreary work attire. But no one seemed to mind. They were here for the bride… and the free booze.
The party was incredible. Over 200 guests were at the place. They had hired a DJ and an official master of ceremonies. There were speeches from father, mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. There was present-giving and cake-cutting. My colleague gave a rice cooker and a microwave oven. At 9pm the food was laid out, with the finest of African fare. All this whilst the male members at the party were trying to catch the latest Euro 2012 game on the bar’s TV screen without their female spouses noticing.
Finally at midnight we staggered out of the place. “What’s the wedding going to be like if this is just the send-off?” I asked. My colleague looked at me wearily. “There’ll be a lot more people. And it will last a lot longer,” he said. He looked tired before the wedding had even started.
I on the other hand had a flight to catch the very next day. So I was up and out the hotel door at 6am to do a quick run before getting on the plane. I took the road that led to the sea and one of Dar es Salaam’s many sandy beaches. It was perfect for clearing my head after all the drinking and carousing the night before. “Maybe my colleague should try to get a run in himself” I thought, knowing that on Saturday he would probably hit the wedding marathon wall.