30 July 2012

How the Congolese Military Almost Ruined My Sister's Wedding

I wrote this a few weeks before we returned to the States for the summer. Now that these dresses are officially done and we can all exhale, here's the tale...

Mama Youyou's been making all the bridesmaid's dresses for my sister's wedding. I have to confess I've lost more than a little sleep counting the weekends -or as I think of them "sewing days"- left until we leave for the States with, presumably, dresses in hand. I casually remind Mama Youyou of the countdown when it "naturally" comes up in conversation. And it "naturally" does not often, so I think Mama Youyou is on to my pagne driven anxiety.

She is ever so reassuring in what has come to be a familiar "settle down white girl" tone of voice. I try not to count the dresses vs. days in my head (6 bridesmaids + 2 baby dresses divided by how many more days?...ugh). Oh and did I mention that just as she was finishing my dress I decided I wanted a totally different dress. Twice. Yep. I'm that person. So a large part of this nervousness is thanks to no one but me.

In this, the final week, she's been pretty quiet. "How are the dresses, Mama Youyou?" I nervously ask as if they're her sick children. She keeps saying she's finished with all but one. But she won't show them to me. She wants to bring them to present to me all together. I guess for the drama of it. I'm not really sure. But I'm getting suspicious.

So then this afternoon things got serious. She said we needed to talk. And she started talking so fast I had no idea what was going on. Remember we're working in French here. Second languages for both of us. I kept hearing the words "military" and "raid" and "sorry it's gone."

After a few deep breaths she told the whole story. She had been working in a little shop that belonged to her friend because it had reliable electricity. She was down to the last dress when overnight the military came and raided all the neighborhood shops. They took the dress and her sewing machine and other much more important things, I'm sure.

This wouldn't be such a problem, but remember bridesmaidzilla (me) and the changing of the dress design two times? We're down to very little pagne here. Not enough to make another dress. So Mama Youyou said she took the scraps that were leftover and trudged up and down Ave. de Commerce (which combines every African street I've ever been on into one special piece of hell) asking shopkeepers if they had this style of pagne. They did not. So she panicked. And then got down to work.

The sewing room at Jill's house.

She then presented me with the last and final replacement dress. She used those leftover scraps and added them to black satin and made what I think is a very beautiful dress. Kaitlyn, I hope you agree. Oh. And some Congolese military wife is off enjoying your J.Crew inspired dress. Just so the dress doesn't look too different from the others, Mama Youyou will use her last hours before we leave making other black satin accents for the rest of the bridesmaids.

So take that military men. The Congo-inspired, rural Virginia wedding must go on. And Mama Youyou proves once again the gumption of a Congolese woman up against the man.

Mama YouYou


  1. What a story! What a dress, too. ALL the dresses! My hat is off to you, Mama YouYou. You are indeed amazing and you did such wonderful work with the dresses. Bravo!

  2. This wonderful story underlines just how African women are incredibly resourceful!

  3. those dresses came out kick ass- Congrats to your sister :)

  4. these are nice looking military dress and every female military are looking nice.
    Military Bridesmaid Dresses


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