Tinsae carries her beauty in that seemingly effortless way all Ethiopian women seem to do. They all look like movie stars or international models to me. It’s possibly the light skin. This view must be a leftover from my growing up years where light skin was always considered beautiful and to be envied, even if we had to help it along with a tube of fair and lovely cream!
It could also be on account of her hair. Blessed as I am with a headful of afro kinky – long and straight hair was the stuff of dreams when we were growing up. We would take turns in helping each other’s dreams come true on the eve of a special occasion such as a wedding or on Saturday evenings in preparation for going to church the following day. The magic wand was a metal comb heated on a stove. Running it through your hair would give you straight and long hair for a time. Without the precious hot comb, you made do with a tin especially prepared for this job. You hammered holes at the bottom, filled it with hot charcoal, and proceeded to run it up and down your hair. Neither smoke nor the smell of charred hair or small burns from the occasional brush of tin with your ear would stand in the way of our dreams.
Back to beautiful Tinsae who does not need a hot comb to straighten her glossy locks. A year ago, you would have found her in the accountant’s office in one of the hospitals of Addis Ababa. She would possibly have been flipping through invoices, punching numbers in her calculator and making the occasional telephone call to follow-up on a logistic. Occasionally her mind would drift and she would indulge in a daydream or two. Featuring would be pictures of the dreamy wedding gowns her sister had sent her from America – they were glorious! Other times her mind would drift to her fiancé, tall and handsome – they were about to embark on a whole lifetime together. Other times to the planned décor hoping the florist understood the little details she wanted. You see in four months’ time she was going to get married.
Covid-19 was the farthest thing on her mind and she had no idea how much it would affect her life. On March 13, the dreaded disease was finally confirmed to be in our midst in Addis Ababa and what followed next was surreal. One moment people are going on with their lives, planning meetings, greeting with the traditional handshake, hugs, and three kisses, suddenly they were masking, sanitizing, and holding back from hugging and kissing.
My wedding! Tinsae thought. It had been four years since she met her dashing prince in the bridal party of a mutual friend. After two years of planning their wedding, they were looking forward to their special day. For this baby from a family of 12 siblings, it was going to be a big wedding just as she had always dreamt. Furthermore, it was also going to be a double wedding! Her sister would fly in with her groom all the way from USA and they would have the event of a lifetime.
Before long the government declared a state of emergency, a limit on the size of gatherings and flights around the world were being cancelled. Fear and uncertainty continued to mount on which way the covid tide would go. After listening to all the news especially from the hospital where she worked, Tinsae wondered whether their big event would ever take place. And then in a light bulb moment, it struck both of them that there was no point in waiting. They both agreed that it was likely they would have to postpone the event to when gatherings would be lawful and safe. They decided they did not have either the energy to wait or any other particularly good reason. In any event, nobody knew how long they would have to wait. Within a week they decided to move up their wedding and immediately hold a small ceremony with only their immediate family attending.
As you can imagine the news did not go down well with family and friends. The couple however was resolute. They managed to thaw the resistance from their parents and by the end of the week, they were promising each other to have and to hold till death do us part.
As they approach their first anniversary they have had time to reflect on the choice they made and are convinced they made the right call. The year has not been without its challenges. Their quick small wedding did not accommodate many dearly held traditions. This resulted in strain and isolation from dear ones who were offended and could not move on beyond what they felt should have been done and wasn’t.
Despite the cultural pushback, this new family is happy that instead of postponing they brought their wedding forward. They ended up saving a significant amount of money – which they did not have anyway – and started their married life together on a firm footing financially. Sheltering together in the initial days of Covid-19 was a definite bonus and they were able to set up a business together. They have also been able to reflect on what is the true meaning of marriage and what is really important for them. They are more confident in their ability to stand up for what they believe and win others over to their way of thinking. Their parents have come round and acknowledged that the quick wedding was a good decision. By planning a wedding in a week on a shoestring budget they accomplished what a year ago would have been called impossible.
It’s amazing how much the world has changed in the last year. I can’t help but remember one former workplace where we would spend a fortune on work-related travel. Every so often the idea of video conferencing would come up and it would be promptly strangled with words like impossible or impractical. Of course, there were travel allowances at stake too. The last year has put that discussion to bed once and for all. On a personal level we have our lessons too. May we take a moment on this Covid-versary and garner these lessons and take them in, heeding the advice of Winston Churchill, never let a good crisis go to waste!
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