something borrowed, something new

Bring something old, something borrowed, something new.

You can leave the banana beer at home.

A flower girl or two will be a definite plus, but you won’t need anyone to carry the traditional agaseke full of seed to represent a new life.

A cow exchange can probably wait, but do throw the bouquet. Rumor has it, the girl on the receiving end will be the next to marry.

Even before the wedding it’s different. Out that way, long negotiations full of fanta, riddles, and family meetings often take place before a bride can really have permission to marry her sheri (lover). Over on this side of the pond, some men ask the bride’s father’s permission for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Some don’t.

In our country, weddings might look like this:

In Rwanda you get a little more of this:


I found myself at a wedding last week, giving a speech in front of 273 people (or something like that) thinking, wowThis is different.

It wasn’t just any wedding either; this was LAUREN’S wedding. You know, Lauren, one of my best friends from college. Lover of all things St. Louis, dedicated fan of a plethora of super heroes, and an old field hockey teammate of mine back from Hendrix. It was an honor to be there – an even bigger honor to witness her become a wife and support her on the big day. I mean, just look at this happy, gorgeous girl.



The thing is, I hadn’t been to an American wedding in oh….well, a long time. I was overjoyed to see those American wedding traditions that I sure did miss. The ring exchange. The father-daughter dance. And the entire experience that is the reception. Of course, every wedding is extremely different, but American weddings tend to have some overarching themes that tell us a lot about our culture.

While I’m entering something like month 5 of being home, the context for a wedding was yet another adjustment.

Every wedding that I have been to in the last couple of years – and trust me when I say there were many – involved at least three separate and distinct ceremonies (civil, religious, and traditional), intense family involvement, ceremonial gift-giving, and often some kind of reference to a cow. Yep. Cows. In fact, the music video above – from Rwanda – is a song all about the cultural representation of the familial exchange of cow and bride. It’s a big deal. You can note 2:02 in the Rwandan wedding video above – it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Lauren’s wedding didn’t have a cow, had only one marriage ceremony, and while family involvement was key, I am pretty certain Lauren and Stephen’s families did not sit formally to meet each other multiple times, sharing “riddles’ to engage in a dialogue to negotiate the terms of uniting families. Somehow, I just don’t think that happened.

And so, as I stood front and center with Michelle to give our maid-and-matron-of-honor speech, I couldn’t help but just take it all in for both the similarities and differences. Somehow I had gone from this:

IMG_5553 IMG_5744

to this:


in the span of a year.

The dresses, food, music, ceremony, vows, order, and atmosphere are completely and utterly different from each other.


Nothing quite captures a village wedding, but really, it’s equally hard to explain what it felt like to stand by my best friends and send off one of our hey girl hey girls into marriage.

It was special.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re taking part in Rwanda, America, or another random part of the world, weddings are always fun (well, I should say usually), important, and unique for that bride and groom. Maybe that’s the best part of them – you bring in so many variances of culture and values while also coupling this with your own personal tastes and relationship that create a day that truly is your own.

I attended something like 15 weddings in a couple years in Rwanda, and so I feel pretty well versed in the topic. Now that I think about it, it’s quite possible that I attended more weddings in two years in Rwanda than I had previously my entire life back home. That’ll blow your mind a bit, won’t it?

I love weddings. I think I always will. And if wedding season from my last year in Rwanda is any indication, well then I’ll be in for quite a ride this go-around back in the US.

And if you’re even more curious, here’s a little more of a look – from real weddings I attended in Rwanda – into what the wedding thing kind of looks like in a different part of the world.






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Heather Newell Oglesby

Hi! I'm Heather. I am a writer and counselor in-training. I share stories so we can keep the magic of being human alive. I spend a great deal of time going on long walks with my wife, rollerblading, learning, and traveling to find new adventures. By day, I work as an Education and Employment Specialist for Jefferson Center for Mental Health, working with adolescents who have experienced their first episode of psychosis. A Colorado native, I love dark-roasted coffee, sunshine, and succulents. Enthusiasm, passion, and possibility: that's me at my best.

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