I wasn’t planning on it. It was evening in Lushoto, the “main city” of the area we were hiking in, in northeastern Tanzania. When I say big city, I mean the place that sometimes had electricity (obviously not when we were there) and the potential to have running water (again, somehow not when we happened to be there).
Needless to say, the roads were not the best. Taking no heed of this, I walked down the side of the dirt path which was one of the main roads, concentrating on sending an SMS on my local phone. I was walking with my friend, who suddenly noticed I’d been swallowed by the earth. I was right beside him one moment, and the next I was falling down a two meter ditch. The fall was long enough for me to think, “where the hell am I going?” and then foresee the future: I became covered in muck – mud, bits of garbage and a distinct smell of shit. I don’t know if it was the sewer only because I don’t know if Lushoto has a sewage system. But I am sure there was stuff in there that does not belong all over my arms and legs.
Unfortunately, I was wearing my best clothes. Don’t worry, they were still clothes I wouldn’t normally want to be seen in. But still, I had a wedding to crash and I was about to get into two friendly strangers’ car.
In the ditch, I allowed myself two seconds of absolute shock at the wetness and the stench and the realization that I was swimming in it, before I started howling with laughter. I was not alone in my embarrassment. Ten men flocked over immediately to help me out. Every person on the road (and that’s a lot) turned his head to look at the stupid mzungu who’d fallen in the ditch. But for some reason I was the only one laughing.
That’s when I decided I liked Lushoto. People really cared about me, said “pole” which means sorry, and hardly laughed. A few people suppressed smiles but that was only once they’d seen I was laughing.
I didn’t notice yet how much my neck hurt from the whiplash, so I continued walking down the road laughing, saying “Thank you Lushoto! Don’t worry…” and wondering how long it would take until people stopped staring at me. And then the headlights of our ride flashed at us.
I tried in broken Swahili to explain what had happened, and that they should just go to the wedding without us, but they insisted on waiting for me while I got washed. Which was quite a problem considering there was no running water.
Ten minutes later I was in the car, with a light aroma of crap and soap, in hiking clothes and muddy sandals, on my way to the wedding of Mohammad and Aisha.
I’d always wanted to crash a wedding. The perfect opportunity fell into my lap that afternoon, when my friend and I shared a corn on the cob on the side of a road in Lushoto. We were sitting on wooden beams near another group of people who were also just sitting. That’s the main activity around here.
But we noticed they were wrapping a present and seemed to be excited about something. I gathered my Israeli Chutzpah and started chatting with them about something. They liked my camera. I told them I’d be their photographer if they took me to the wedding.
“Okay!” Really? “My brother who is supposed to go cannot go, so you can go,” said the man. I looked at my friend with a dopey grin. “Wow! You sure?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t change his mind. He told me where and when he would pick us up. I was ecstatic.
Although I was little smellier than I would have liked, the wedding was fantastic! After days of feeling sorry for all the poor people in the villages, we got to see a different side of Lushoto: Long satin gowns, sparkling jewelery, a five piece wedding cake and lavish decorations.
Our hosts took care of us as if we were the angels who’d just visited Abraham. The woman held my hand I was walked into the auditorium, and the man gave us running commentary throughout the four-hour ceremony.
No hurry in Africa. But eventually we did eat, and how.
There were a few moments of embarrassment, for example the train of dancing and giving of gifts – they really do that. Or the saying of blessings. I said “Mazel Tov” but didn’t even receive a hint of a smile from the bride or groom.
Oh, what a night!