Rwanda violence altered couple’s wedding plans
Some husbands give their wives jewellery for their 20th anniversary. Some take them on cruises. But for one man and his wife who have survived genocide in Rwanda, those gifts just seemed insufficient.
So Stanislas Bihomora, known as Stani, opted for an even bigger gift for his wife: the wedding they should have had the first time around.
Yesterday, at Christian Fellowship Church in west Columbia, Stani and Marianne Bihomora renewed their vows before a joyous, multicultural crowd of hundreds of friends and relatives.
Marianne was followed down the aisle by her 11-year-old daughter, Sifa, who held her train. The bride just couldn’t seem to wipe the grin off her face.
“This is a special day. Hallelujah” she said softly before the nuptials.
It was sweeter still because the day has been such a long time coming. In 1989, the couple was impoverished and could afford only a ceremony with a justice of the peace in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
They exchanged vows, signed paperwork and began their lives together, always planning someday to hold a larger celebration.
Then life intervened
In 1994, a campaign of fear launched by the ethnic Hutu-dominated Rwandan government and its state-run media incited Hutus to kill an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in brutal fashion.
The bloodshed lasted about 100 days. Before it was over, the Bihomoras, who are Tutsis, had lost many close family members.
Stani didn’t care to speak much about the loss of his mother, three brothers and a sister that year. He quieted Marianne when she tried to discuss the genocide. It was still too raw.
“We have to forgive and forget. I don’t want anyone to talk about this because some of the friends we have here are from different ethnic groups, but they are still my friends,” he gestured out at the crowd of well-wishers, which included people from Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania.
“We don’t want to keep talking about the past. It’s too much. It makes somebody feel bad.”
At the time of the genocide, the Bihomoras and many thousands of others became refugees in Kenya, where they spent two gruelling years.
Then, with the help of his sister, Bea Gallimore, who is an associate professor of French at the University of Missouri, the family came to Columbia.
Stani got a job as a janitor; Marianne works in day care. They had two more children, born in the United States, bringing their family size to six.
Life was good, and after four years, the family saved up enough money to buy a house, putting down roots in the community.
But Marianne still wanted that wedding. And early this year, when her 70-year-old father came for his first-ever visit to this country, they decided it was time.
“I’ve been after him for a long time to do this,” said Carolyn Rutayisirie, an American-born woman who is married to a Rwandan and served yesterday as Marianne’s maid of honor.
“He can’t back down now because I have the ring,” she added, laughing.
The event went off without a hitch. The bride walked down the aisle to the driving drumbeat and rapid hand claps of traditional Central African music.
The words, including the couple’s chosen reading, Psalm 23, were translated deftly from English into Kinyarwanda — the Rwandan national language — for the crowd.
And there was barely a dry eye in the house when Marianne’s father was asked whether he was prepared to give away his daughter and he nodded in affirmation.
“This is what we wanted it to be,” Stani said before the ceremony. “It’s not just American or just Rwanda or Burundi. It’s a global, African wedding.”
The Columbia Daily Tribune