Africa meets the U.S. at Caroline & Kaocen's interfaith bilingual three-part wedding

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Photos by Kali Lu Photo (San Diego) and Ali Heller (Niger)

The Offbeat Bride: Caroline, Head of Programs for an international non-governmental organization (NGO)

Her offbeat partner: Kaocen, Finance Manager for the same NGO

Date and location of wedding: The San Vicente Resort in Ramona, CA and the groom's family home in Niamey, Niger — August 9, 2014

Our offbeat wedding at a glance:

I'm an American bride who has spent seven years in West Africa doing development and humanitarian work, marrying a Nigerien groom who studied in Arkansas for seven years before returning home and getting a finance job for a nonprofit organization. We met at work and wanted to have a wedding (and marriage!) that blended the best of two great worlds. We tried to incorporate our faiths (Christian and Muslim) and languages (we’re both fluent in English and French, but some of our family members and friends only know one or the other) along with the traditions that made sense to us.

Happy newlyweds
First ceremony
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Second wedding in San Diego
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Third wedding in Niger

Our first wedding was a simple Muslim prayer (fatiha), the second wedding was an American ceremony and reception (with our own twists), and the third wedding was a Nigerien celebration that incorporated traditions from the groom’s parents' tribes (Tuareg and Yoruba) with plenty of music and dancing. It was offbeat in Niger for both the bride and groom to attend the prayer ceremony, as they are usually represented by their families but not physically present, but we (and our families) felt strongly that we should both take an active part in the ceremony. We also skipped some traditional practices that didn't resonate with us, like the groom paying a “bride price” and the ceremonial trip taking the bride from her family home to the groom’s home.

From the third ceremony in Niger:

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In the US, we had table runners and favors from Niger, and released tables to the dinner buffet with a quiz about us.

From the second wedding in San Diego:

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Tell us about your reception:

In the US, we started our first dance to Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," which was one of Kaocen’s father’s favorite songs, so it was a subtle tribute to him. Only our DJ knew what was to come in the lineup. We cut to a choreographed dance to Bob Marley’s "Could You Be Loved," which we had learned from Just Dance 4 on our Nintendo Wii! It was so much fun to let loose and dance while our audience started clapping along and cheering for us. See the video here.

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Later, during open dancing, Kaocen’s family carried out the West African tradition of “making it rain” by throwing tons of dollar bills at us on the dance floor, sticking some to our faces, etc. Enough of the guests had spent time in Africa that they were able to explain to others this was a sort of “money dance” and everyone got in on the fun. Dollar bills were flying everywhere!

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From the third wedding in Niger:

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In Niger, the third celebration included a Tuareg rite of passage which involved wrapping the groom's head in a turban and presenting him with a sword. We had a great Touareg band playing and people danced. Then I put on two different Yoruba outfits (his mom's, then his grandma's) and we danced to Yoruba drums. Finally, we all ended up in matching "uniform" outfits, eating large piles of corn "pate" or rice with okra sauce, mutton in tomato sauce, and onion sauce.

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What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? Any other advice for Offbeat Bride readers?

Our overall biggest lesson was that we saw how well we worked together when overcoming the challenges of planning a wedding in the US from across the world, on a slow internet connection, in six months with just one eight-day visit in the middle. We didn't have time to drag out our decisions, and we never second-guessed them. That's what advice I would give to other readers: don't take home the cake or the menu or whatever else to think about it and decide later if you already have opinions. Just decide together and move on to the next task!

From the first ceremony:

Saying the fatiha prayer

It is done

Family photo

However, our biggest challenge came two months after we got engaged, and just two months before our planned celebration in Niger, when Kaocen’s father was hit by a truck and passed away a few days later. We were obviously devastated, and shifted from wedding planning to mourning. We had to push back our Nigerien celebration until September, after we would return from our American celebration in August. But just days before we left for the US in July, a decision was made to hold just a simple religious (Muslim) ceremony, with no “celebration” because it was still during the official mourning period, and to have the traditional celebration as re-programmed in September. We ended up with three weddings, the first of which happened with only three days’ notice! It ended up being a fun, stress-free event with no expectations and helped us feel more relaxed for the other two events.

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  1. Condolences to Kaocen on the loss of his father, what a terrible thing to go through. Congratulations to both of you on your marriage and thank you so much for sharing your beautiful celebrations with us.

    14 agree
  2. So much beauty going on here… and I'm in love with these two cuties:

    13 agree
    • We're so happy that everyone enjoyed seeing our weddings! These adorable flower girls are our nieces, and their grandma made their dresses for the occasion. 🙂

      3 agree
  3. Love, love, LOVE the combining of cultures with the different ceremony!! Also that dress for the US wedding, swoon worthy in my opinion!!! 😀

    1 agrees
  4. The photos are so joyful and totally capture the different atmospheres of the different kinds of unions! How totally wonderful to witness.

    5 agree
  5. I had tears in my eyes looking at all the beautiful photos!!! All three weddings looked spectacular and everyone was so beautiful!! I especially like the photo of the groom and his men running towards the camera. May you have a long, happy, blessed marriage!

    6 agree
  6. I'm a few months behind on my National Geographic Magazine reading, and I just finished the issue which had a feature on Lagos in Nigeria. It mentioned the popularity of matching outfits at weddings and I love, love, love the purple and white pattern of those outfits! Gorgeous.

    2 agree

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