That’s strange, Chelsi thought to herself walking on to the compound of the prov house. A pile of bags and furniture was stacked up by the door. Perhaps one of the new kids didn’t make it to their site, it was a reasonable enough assumption. Chelsi kicked off her shoes and went inside. The tile was cool under her feet. She threw bag down beside the long common table and continued out on to the back porch.
“Hey Chelsi,” Chelsi looked about startled by the voice.
“Oh hey Tom, how are you? When did you get here?” Thomas was a fellow volunteer of her intake, but Chelsi rarely saw him, seeing as he lived in the farthest reaches of the province and didn’t often make his way toward town.
“I’m fine, fine. We got here a few days ago. Because did you hear about what happened at Janelle’s site?”
Chelsi shrugged. She was usually last to get news. “The Mwini crew doesn’t usually keep us Kaondes informed.”
“Well, one the kids that Janelle worked with went crazy.”
“Yeah, he went crazy,” came Janelle’s mousy voice from the kitchen off the porch. “Thomas? Do you want mustard on your sandwich?”
“What?” Tom cocked his head toward the kitchen, “oh yeah, yeah, that’s fine. Yeah, apparently he got in this motorbike accident and hit his head pretty hard, probably gave himself a concussion. And after that was acting kind of strange, and Janelle was telling him, you know ‘just follow advice of the clinic worker,’ and he was telling her that the other people in the village were telling him that he needed to go see the witch doctor. And she was telling him not to go, but of course he went anyway.”
“Naturally,” Chelsi nodded a long with the story.
“Right?” Tom shook his head in agreement of the feeling. “And when he came back he went to Janelle’s house and started telling her that she was a savior, a reincarnation of Christ, and that she needed to sacrifice herself to save him…”
“Oh dear,” Chelsi let herself fall in to the adjacent couch, just as Janelle was emerging from the kitchen, balancing two plates in her hand.
“Yeah, he was coming to my house, saying things like ‘Oh I am suffering, but you, you were sent here to save me. You need to sacrifice yourself to save me.’”
“Yeah, and he was making threats against her life, like if she didn’t kill herself, he would have to kill her…”
“So I called Safety & Security, and they were like, ‘a yeah, you can’t stay there.’ So I pulled from my site.”
“Oh, so that’s all your stuff on the porch?” it was all coming together for Chelsi.”
“Yeah, and yeah, so now I’m here…” Janelle let out a nervous chuckle and took a bit of her sandwich.
“It’s really sad too,” Tom continued. “This kid was like, super smart. He was one of the boy Janelle brought to Camp ELITE. He was doing really well in school, spoke great English…” Tom took a bit of his sandwich.
“Well, what do you think happened? Do you think it was just a traumatic brain injury?”
“Yeah that could be part of it.” Tom said, chewing. “We think though too, it might have been something the witch doctor gave him. You know some kind of drug that messed with his brain.”
“Sure, especially if it was already in a fragile state from the accident.” Chelsi leaned her head back and closed her eyes, typical. “So what now? What are the options?”
“I’m trying to move in with Thomas!” Janelle piped up with a smile.
It makes sense. They’ve been together for more than a year and a half now, they’re in the same language group. “What does Admin think about that?”
“Cleopher doesn’t mind, but it’s really just up to the Country Director,” Tom clarified.
“Have you been able to talk to him at all? What does he say?”
“That if we want to live together, we have to get married.” This was said very matter-a-fact-ly.
“Because the alternative is that they give Janelle interrupted service and send her home, it’s too late in the game to be moving her to a new site,” Chelsi added mimicking the somber tone. They couple in question shook their heads, mouths full of sandwich. “So, does this mean we’re planning wedding?”
“We’re going to go the city council office this afternoon and find out.”
Though the circumstances were unfortunate, Chelsi was rather excited by the idea of a wedding. It’s a good reason to make a cake, and splurge for a bottle a sparkling wine… She was so excited by the thought it was difficult for her to concentrate on her work that afternoon. So went Thomas and Janelle returned from town she was jumped on them for the verdict.
“Well, well, well,” Chelsi pushed them excitedly.
“Well,” Tom started, sounding optimistic, “one of the things we were concerned about was the cost. We were able to get a hold of Hannah and Rob,” the only two other volunteers to get married during their service, so as to be able to co-habitat they knew of, “and they said they ended up having to spend like 800 dollars, not kwacha, dollars and their marriage. And if it was going to be that much, we just weren’t going to be able to afford it. But apparently getting married in Solwezi is super cheap; a speedy wedding’s only 150 kwacha.”
“A ‘speedy’ wedding,” Chelsi asked. “As opposed to a ‘not speedy’ wedding?”
“A speedy wedding,” Janelle chirped. “it 50 kwacha more, otherwise it takes three weeks to have your wedding!”
“Are you sure it’s not just, you know, a bribe?” Even after Tom and Janelle explained the difference between a ‘speedy wedding’ and a conventional wedding, calling it a bribe, to Chelsi, still sounded more reasonable.
“If you don’t pay the extra 50 kwacha,” Tom explained, “ then the city council would take Janelle’s picture and biographical information and post it to this bulletin board of engagements at the office, where other men would have three weeks to bid on her and try to break up our engagement.”
Yeah, that’s a bribe.
“Meanwhile, I” Thomas continued, “have to get a letter signed by my father saying that I’ve never been married before.”
“Well, there’s no more honest work than spending an afternoon forging official documents,” Chelsi jested.
“But really…” and the group laughed at just the one more absurdity of living in Zambia.
“So when’s the ceremony scheduled to take place?” Chelsi needed to know how long she had to plan the reception.
“Tomorrow. It’s too late to go back there this afternoon, but the guy at the city council office today said the guy who does the ceremonies will be in tomorrow. And I guess we need to call are families if we can,” Tom added turning to his fiancé.
“Yeah, you need to call my father and ask his permission!”
“So what kind of cake do you want?”
That evening passed quickly in a bustle of commotion. Tom and Janelle spent the evening getting hold of every relative they could. Chelsi, Rider and Molly, the only other occupants of the house that week, were set putting all the requisite wedding materials together. Chelsi crafted the top tier of the cake, a spongy strawberry, Rider the bottom, a dense pound cake, and Molly artfully crafted rings from copper wire.
The next morning, there a small to do about what they groom should wear. ‘Is it better to wear kind of dirty kakis or clean jeans?’ After the jeans were decided upon, a cab was called and the wedding precession began.
“Probably not exactly how you envisioned your wedding day, huh?” Molly commented while the five of them, struggled to shift around in the sedan, without ripping their finest cloths.
“I think Janelle and I will have another ceremony for our families when we get back to the States.”
“Will you still be considered married in the State?” Rider asked. This really was the question no one seemed to know the answer to.
“We know that Norway doesn’t recognize Hannah and Rob’s marriage,” Tom said, “but we don’t know anyone who go Zam-married then moved back to America. So we really have no idea.”
They small reception continued to discuss this point at the city council office until the master of ceremonies arrive. It turned in to a long conversation too, because he never arrived. After hours of waiting the party stormed the office and demand that someone be found to marry their friends. Within five minutes a man was found, handed a binder and the proceedings began.
On their marriage certificate, Thomas and Janelle’s occupation was listed as volunteers. The city council office readily accepted Thomas’s letter of consent to marriage from his not father, and Chelsi and Rider, the maid of honor and best man, respectively, signed as witnesses to the ceremony. The man from the city council office fessed up right away that he had never done a wedding before, and though he had a script to guide him, still more than once look around at the witnesses asking what came next. Copper rings were exchange, with a comment on how it was the love in their hearts, not the material of the metal in the rings that mattered. And Thomas Strong and Janelle Horstman vowed to have and to hold each other; at least till they returned to America.
“You know, for a proper wedding, with our families in a church.”