To experience pure joy, be a guest at a Burundian wedding.

I had not attended a wedding in years. When my friends and relatives were young, there was a flurry of weddings. I’ve even been a bridesmaid three times. I have been to informal and formal weddings, simple and fancy. But this time, I didn’t know what to expect.

Bienvenu had been a student of mine in a public speaking class. I call him one of my “Burundi Boys,” an affectionate title bestowed on first Clifford, then Tonny and Billy, all of them former students – and young.

Wearing traditional clothes, he had given a presentation in class on Burundian drums, a loud and powerful one. A member of a band of drummers, he entertained and impressed us by his skill. And he was so proud of his heritage!

So when my invitation arrived for me to be a guest at his wedding, he added a note, “There will be Burundian drums.” How could I refuse?

I did not attend the civil ceremony, but there was a traditional church wedding at Philadelphia Church on Park Avenue in Portland. Bienvenu and Natacha exchanged vows, after a group of women sang beautiful songs.

The reception was held at the Italian Heritage Center. There was a head table and round tables for the guests, so I joined a table of people. I didn’t know anyone, and I don’t speak French, so there wasn’t a lot of conversation. I did remember a few words from my high school days, so I could say a phrase or two. Looking around, I realized for the first time in my life I was in the unexpected position of being in the minority. But the African people were welcoming and accepting.

There were a lot of emotional speeches and beaming faces of the male relatives who spoke of the newlyweds. We all listened attentively. But when the band of drummers, named Batimbo, dressed in traditional clothes, came in and played their drums, that’s when all the guests’ expressions showed pure happiness. But that wasn’t all. After that, a group of female dancers, also in traditional clothes, performed. And both Bienvenu and Natacha gave a brief performance. Music and fun and joy!

Food was plentiful, an Italian buffet, but not the African food I was hoping for. And a leisurely occasion, as the party had been going on for three hours when I left. It’s difficult to imagine the sadness and pain many Burundians have suffered back in their country from the civil war when you see a celebration like this. But a happy occasion brings with it hope.

I often think of that special wedding and how honored I was to have been invited. I don’t want it to be my only African wedding. When I see my Burundian students, teasing, I remind them I want to attend another Burundian wedding. Laughing, they go on their way. But I will keep waiting.

— Special to the Telegram