I never wanted to get married, that is, until I met Kjetil. I didn’t think it was for me. I remember many asking me how can you not believe in marriage. You just haven’t met the right guy they’d say. I guess they were right.
I still don’t think it is an essential part of a relationship. I think it is a choice and if you choose it, you make it what you want it to be. So many people live by expectations of what marriage should be. I hope Kjetil and I will always be lucky enough to remember that marriage stems from our relationship.
Any girl that’s ever gotten married will know this – once you announce that you are getting married your head spins because there is not only so much excitement but also bounty of expectations on how this day should happen. As a friend said to me once when I was complaining that so and so in the family wanted this and that in the wedding he said ‘you still think this is your wedding?’ It belonged to my mother and family he warned.
Kjetil and I postponed our first wedding date. As a Liberian immigrant told me coping in Norway ‘depends on your spirit’ and my spirit was not for Norway. It is a long story but it was the first time I recognised that some of the people I called friends were not. Some people were harsh and did not hide their glee with comments like ‘whatever happened to your big ol wedding.’
I had quit a promising career in Cape Town for a job in Oslo that turned sour real quick and led me into unemployment to date. When I’d left my job, many said what a fairytale it was, there I was off with my foreign guy to a foreign land (read: off you go with your rich white man).
But there was kindness too. I will never forget Tammy’s note to me upon finding out the wedding was postponed: ‘It’s also always good to listen to the voices so good for you for being brave and doing just that.’ And there was my brother-in-law Chris who told me ‘well it’s none of their business Bree’ when I told him I felt pressure to answer all the questions. My sisters of course were champions at handling it and reminded me marriage is not about a wedding and it is about the two people who choose to get married.
Quite miraculously, Kjetil and I found our way back to each other and decided to do it. But this time we were broke. Thanks to years of fighting the machine that is Norwegian immigration, thousands went down the drain not to mention the numerous plane tickets bought to try to spend precious weeks together during our long-distance period. Living on one income compounded the problem.
My in-laws let us have their home as a venue and money to help feed our guests.
There was no professional photographer to capture my family and I get ready – this is what pained me the most because I love photographs, they capture people in a moment that can always be revisited when looking at them. On the day two of Kjetil’s friends took seriously the task of capturing as much of the day as they could with great results.
We had no pro to play the music so it was a lot like a house party scrambling through playlists, ha ha. We borrowed speakers from a friend and to our horror they broke at the end of the night. There was not enough for flowers. I did my own make-up, curled my own hair. And we’d spend our wedding night in my in-laws basement.
At first only my sister Nancy and her three kids were coming as she lived close by but then it turned out Michelle on her way to Oz got her visa in time and made one helluva detour to Melbourne, then a generous donation bought my mum’s ticket.
There was just my maid of honor Sam. Late one night a few short weeks before the wedding, Sam sent me a text in the middle of the night saying it didn’t feel right to not be coming, she had spent hours turning the internet on its head searching for flights and found a cheap one with connections through three cities. She has just started working in her first fulltime job so I know how deep she had to go into pockets.
Nancy had just lost the father of her children a few weeks before the wedding how she and the children managed to smile that day, I will never know. It is a testament to her strength; she was present for me and celebrated with us all.
When all were coming I didn’t care about all the trimmings. I was a wreck because they all needed to apply for visas to enter Norway and there was that ghastly Icelandic volcano whose name I can’t pronounce wreaking havoc so I didn’t even know if they’d be able to fly.
To top it off, poor Kjetil had to guarantee to Norwegian authorities that my family were coming for the wedding and would leave after so he was back and forth at their offices plus he had to squeeze in two work trips in the weeks before the wedding.
The weeks prior the wedding, I longed for the Cape sunshine, for my friends who’d known me and supported us in so many ways. The friends who dragged me out for a night on the town or a quiet coffee somewhere picturesque when I was missing Kjetil.
My big sis Michelle had weeks before comforted me in my anguish reminding me to be gracious and accept what I could not control.
It is Michelle who painted my nails the night before and buttoned up my dress that morning, my mum ironed my dress and supplied the something old and something borrowed and my other sisters and eldest niece Khadija were there to shower me with lots of ‘you look so pretty’ comments that every bride deserves. It’s a little like prepping a wrestler for the hype of the match.
So on that day I smiled all day long because my ‘dream’ wedding was nothing compared to having some of the most important people in my life share that day with me.
But the days leading up to the wedding were even more special, my only nephew Jonathan turned a year old. My mother was seeing him for the first time since his birth. The next day he was baptised with us all there. It was like old times when we all lived under one roof in Cape Town. We told stories each night and laughed and laughed.
Many in Oslo went on and on about how my family fit in that two-bed flat of ours. We’d been through worse in our lives together so to share modest dwellings for a happy occasion was just us kicking it Richmond style. And Kjetil was nice enough to stay with his family during this period – what a guy huh!
The night before the wedding Sam and my sister from another mother Maren stayed up late in her flat telling stories until 1am and forced ourselves to bed. But I hardly slept, so I wrote place cards and my speech. Washed and curled my hair and wrapped it in a scarf, it was time to get to my in-laws to set up. I walked into the chill of the morning and wondered if Oslo would give me a sunny day, just for today I asked the gods.
To add some excitement I had to print my speech, Kjetil dropped me off at the internet cafe and went to run another errand. It was not open at the time it was supposed to so I sat on the step my curlers covered in a huge scarf. It eventually did and the rest is history.
I was not nervous at all until the moment Kjetil dropped me off back at the flat. I looked at him and was overcome with emotion. He looked at me and said ‘there’s nothing to be nervous about, see you later,’ he smiled at me.
In our flat, little Olivia and Jonathan were sitting around being cute and my sisters and mum (in a self-made dress) gorgeous as ever. From that moment on, it was a rush.
Kjetil asked his friends who very kindly obliged to collect friends from out of the country Maria and Sarah Hull (what special women) and of course drive my family to the court house. Everyone was sorted out except for Michelle, I don’t know how it happened except we were about to go into the ceremony room and I found out she was not in any of the cars.
So we waited for Michelle who was on the other side of town being sped through by Kjetil’s friend whilst playing classical music I was later told.
The judge entered and it was time. I don’t remember a word he said, they tend to lay it on so thick with how serious a commitment it is.
According to all the regular trajectories of life in Norway and my birth country Zambia, Kjetil and I were not supposed to even have met but we did. I never feel he is different from me because he is not African, the differences between us have boiled down to the way our families raised us. For instance, the Richmond’s are vocal and will even have it out even at the dinner table but my husband’s family not so much.
But there was honestly the one huge moment in my relationship with him where I felt perhaps our cultures are vastly different. It was when it came to dancing. He of course loves music and has always gone dancing with me. But this night I missed the ululation that comes with celebrations in my family’s circle and the dancing. South Africans love to dance. The only people to dance at our wedding were my family and the handful of friends who had spent time in South Africa and much to our surprise Kjetil’s niece Sara.
But it was not that they were not happy for us. They just didn’t understand our spirit.
The morning before the wedding I went out buying some last-minute things, I was excited that I told the cashier I was getting married the next day. To which she wished me the best with a huge smile and said ‘don’t forget it’s the most important day of your life.’ People love to say this and I know it comes from a good place. But the most important days in my life have been the days I have opened my mail to find a letter granting me a visa to live
with Kjetil for at least the next year.
Even simpler moments are when he indulges my desire to discuss song lyrics, gets coaxed into slow dancing with me to Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden or Dirty Dancing’s theme song ‘Time of my life’ in our living room, lying on the couch at the end of a week, the good morning kiss we always exchange when together and the moments when I look at him sitting next to him and think this guy is alright.
We spent our first anniversary in Bethlehem – a surprise getaway planned by him – what a treat. This summer we look forward to drinking the champagne bought a year ago for this occasion by Annchen and Rasmus, one of the few couples we know who have endured similar visa struggles to us. Some people don’t understand how we manage our relationship with all the visa drama and distance, some call it not a proper relationship or ask us when we will settle.
To them I say this is our life as it is right here and now. If we were both Norwegian maybe we’d have a nice house in the suburbs, be saving for a cabin in the mountains, skiing in winter and swimming in summer. But this is not a Norwegian story. It is a story of a blue-eyed boy meeting a brown-eyed girl trying to beat the odds of having different passports. All there is, is this reality for us and not what people think our marriage should be.
In one of my favourite songs by The Killers they sing ‘he doesn’t look a thing like Jesus but he talks like a gentleman like you imagined when you were young.’ I never dreamt of being married as a child but I dreamt of meeting a great person who’d understand my spirit and love me with freedom (not jealously). Forget all the Jesus business but he is in so many ways the guy I imagined when I was young.
It is not easy what we have to do to be together and many nights I wonder why should we suffer this fate. ‘No one said it was easy but no one said it would be this hard,’ says Coldplay in The Scientist. We need a break is what I think.
Of all the things that don’t work in my life right now. I am only sure of two things – how much my family loves me and Kjetil’s love for me.
I don’t know what will happen on our journey where struggling for visas to live together is a recurring theme but I sure hope we’ll be dancing together right into the afterlife.
written June 8, 2011 at 1:59am