I knew I wanted a small and intimate ceremony, a modern affair with a hint of tradition. As big proponents of local business, we sought to utilize as much locally sourced goods and services as we possibly could. I wanted to use local designers, tailors, vendors and even local menu options – there was no champagne at our wedding, but plenty of palm wine (locally known as mnazi)!
The one thing we in the Control Freak Sacco fail to admit (to ourselves and others) is that we can’t always do it all. We have this notion that if we don’t -in some way or another- have our hand in each and every aspect of something, it will undoubtedly fail. In most cases this is true, however, I will concede that for peace of mind and home, relinquishing some control does some good. And so, as I started planning my traditional (African) wedding I quickly realized that I was ill equipped to do it by myself. This was the first of many lessons I learned when planning my wedding under the African sky.
In addition to the obvious thousand mile obstacle between the location and myself, I didn’t have the faintest clue of where to start. I had been away from Kenya for years and therefore out of touch with what was happening in the local wedding scene. I had every confidence that the DIY affair I planned for our American wedding three years back would suffice, but reality was quick to correct my naivety.
I am going to share some few tricks and lessons learned while embarking on this journey. Some more obvious than others but my hope is that they will help someone else have a magical wedding when they come back home.
Lesson 1. Get Some Help, Any Help
Start online, social media, or word of mouth. But no matter what, get some help. Now i am not trying to plug my own page here, I may not be what you are looking for anyway. My goal is to lend my experience to others so that their weddings may be successful. You can call me the helpful romantic!
Social media has made it easier for people to find options available to them. It has changed the way people conduct business in Africa and it’s remarkable! Do not try to Chuck Norris your way through the planning (yes, I used that reference- you can’t be mad at that beard, it’s a powerful beard!). Having someone else run after vendors locally will be most helpful. Being able to delegate the task of seeking out, vetting and approving vendors removes considerable stress from you. Additionally, it will remove the worry of being overcharged due to being abroad/ calling from abroad. This goes on the presumption that you can trust the coordinator to act on your best interest and not the other way round.
And if you are like me, you hate to inconvenience people. I have such a hard time asking for help, fearing that I am putting someone out, that I forget that most people are happy to help out whenever they can- especially if they love you! My mom had to remind me to put her to work and have her help out with the planning as well. So don’t shy away from asking for help especially with small tasks that shouldn’t require your/or your wedding planner’s constant attention, the worst they could do is say no.
Lesson 2: Know What You Want
Be sure to communicate with your planner exactly what your vision for your big day is. I almost ended up with fish bowl centerpieces because that is what the decor vendor thought was classy. Not that I have anything against a watery centerpiece or fish for that matter, but if you do not communicate what exactly you are looking for, you’ll end up with someone else’s dream wedding and you footing the bill.
It is easy to get carried away with everyone else’s vision of what YOUR wedding should look like or how it should be. Whether it’s a superstition here and an omen there, people will be trying to influence your choices or second guess a decision. It is OK to take suggestions but always have a clear and assertive mind to know where your limits are.
Since you are far away and possibly hiring an event consultant, it is easy for you to miss tiny details that might eventually ruin your big day. So be clear and concise on your vision to avoid any disappointments.
Lesson 3: Book Vendors as Early as Possible
Make sure your vendors are booked early enough and confirmed. Against my better judgement, I waited till a month or two before the wedding to finalize with crucial vendors. I regret allowing the delay of finding a décor vendor till the very last minute. Each one with whom I shared my vision seemed intimidated by it. They kept going back to the tired tents and the colorful cascading fabrics you see at every other ceremony. I wanted something different and that made find someone willing to execute in that short time very difficult.
I was left scrambling for décor vendors up to 2 weeks prior to the wedding and being force to settle on one whose work I hadn’t seen before and had to trust that they would be able to execute all the Pintrest ideas I had in mind. My wedding was beautiful (but do I say), but if I had to do it over, I would have secured all my vendors earlier than I did!
Lesson 4: Budget Makes the World Go Round
And I do not mean the wedding budget. If you are in the diaspora and planning to have your wedding in Kenya, then chances are you have already set an amount aside for your big day. It is important to consider that there are additional costs to you such as plane tickets to and from Kenya, accommodation for you and any family or friends that accompany you from abroad and even medical services – just in case your “majuu” body has forgotten how to keep away a bout of malaria. In my case, all my husbands immediate family traveled to Kenya. We were a total of 9 family members traveling together, with 3 more friends joining us later on. I had to plan for accommodation and food for the week before the wedding.
I am lucky that I have an amazing mother in law who planned for the portion after our wedding – that’s the activities, including safaris and accommodation. So if you are planning to bring additional people, you might want to look into presenting options for them to keep themselves busy while you are finalizing the wedding plans or enjoying your honeymoon.