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A Rwandan Wedding in Botswana: How Travel and Dance Bring Us Together

I went to a beautiful cross-cultural African wedding.  Bride from Botswana and groom from Rwanda.  Amazing love story.  Initial apprehension on the part of both families due to not knowing or understanding the other's culture, but the couple's love won them over.  I can truly relate.  Crossing borders and boundaries for love is universal!

A little background:  I love weddings! I mean really love them! I've attended the wedding ceremonies of various ethnic communities in the U.S. - African Americans, Arabs, Italians, Malinkes and Susu from West Africa, Sudanese, Habesha and others - as well as ceremonies around the world on 4 continents.

Another important fact:  I LOVE to dance. I'm attracted to rhythmic body movement.  All movement that is an expression of spirit and culture, beauty and creative force feeds my soul.  I love to watch, but mostly participate in getting my dancing groove on!

AND, if you couldn't guess, I love inter-cultural exchange.  In other words, I am delighted when folks from different backgrounds mix it up and learn about each other's history, lifestyle, values and beliefs.

So, imagine my surprise and elation when my new and closest friends here in Botswana, a Rwandan couple from the U.S., invited me to a weekly women's tea gathering that the Rwandan community women hold every Sunday.  It just so happened that I started attending at a time when the women were in the process of learning and practicing their traditional cultural dance.  They were preparing to perform at the wedding of one of the Rwandan brothers here in Botswana.  As a show of sisterly support, they were going to represent Rwandan culture for their brother who was marrying a Motswana woman.

That's right, as destiny decreed, I found myself in the midst of an evolving cross-cultural marriage ceremony.  The best part: I had been invited to join them in the dance!!  My friend told the women about my African dance background and love of the cultural arts, particularly rich African traditions. Suddenly, I found myself attending weekly rehearsals, listening to CDs, watching videos, picking out fabric designs, being fitted for outfits and choosing accessories (shoes, jewelry, headbands) for our performance at the wedding reception.  I was in heaven and deep in my element.

Those colors!

There are about 15 Rwandan families here in the Gaborone area.  It's a small, but close and supportive community.  Many of the families have been here for 10-20 years and have deep ties to Botswana - own businesses here, have raised their children here, and in, some cases, hold Botswana citizenship. My friend commented to me that the Rwandans here are tight-knit and eschew separation based on ethnicity, religion or other historical or social divisions. Interestingly, there is a significant number of Muslim families in the community and the imam at one of the local mosques in Gaborone is Rwandan.

Dance, Dance, Dance

So, what about the dance, you ask?  Rwandan dance is simply BEAUTIFUL.  Some of the most graceful, elegant and hypnotic I have seen.  The music, dancers' long, artful arms, and calmly intricate footwork combine in a seamless collage of dreamlike movement.  The arm motions in particular are meant to imitate cattle which are plentiful and respected in traditional Rwandan culture. To get a small snapshot, watch this video which captures some of it.