Friday, December 24, 2004

Stop the Presses -- Wedding Bells Are Ringing!!!!

Happy Holidays to all our friends out there, from Tom and Bintu:

Many of you may have been wondering why you haven’t heard from me or Bintu in many weeks now. We have both been so busy setting up house that we have had virtually no time for socializing at all. Right now, with snow and ice keeping us homebound, we definitely aren’t doing much socializing. Keep in mind that Bintu has never in her life braved cold like we are now having – when she first came to Memphis she was cold all the time. It’s remarkable how well and fast she has adapted. Yes she gets cold just like the rest of us, but is handling it pretty well considering.

The big news here is that Bintu has finally made an honest man of me. On Dec. 22nd we went down to Judge Blancett at the Juvenile Court who performed a very sweet and short wedding ceremony for us. So we are officially hitched at this point.

We kept this on the down-low for a number of reasons. First, we had to play a numbers game with Immigration who insist, upon deportation threats, that if you bring someone over on a fiancé visa you must marry within 90 days. If someone is from a third world country, which Senegal is considered despite its cosmopolitan flair, he or she cannot come to this country unless they are: a student with tuition pre-paid, a visitor here for a very short and specific limited time, or as a fiance. The U.S. does not grant long engagements, but we took advantage of our timeframe and settled in together as best we could before the official day. The government putting a gun to your head is not exactly my idea of great romance, but we are making the most of it, are very happy, and when the judge told us we could seal the marriage with a kiss (and of course I didn’t pass that up) Bintu broke down in my arms and cried great tears of joy. Me being the manly man I am of course I shed not a tear. (You do believe that don’t you?).

Although Bintu is unofficially working, we now have many more things to do. We must get her re-classified as a spouse, re-fingerprinted, and send in her application for a green card. Total: about $550.00. I’ve got to get her medical insurance, get her enrolled in driving school, begin looking for a nice used car cheap (anyone got one?), send in her forms with translations for her beautician re-certification which probably means she will have to go some to beautician school here, get her more winter clothes, enroll her at Mid-South Community College, which is a perk for us teachers, and so on. My mom and my daughter Allison both know that we are in the process of marriage, but we are waiting until after Christmas weekend to make our announcement to them just so there are no surprises at the dinner table carving the turkey. So, they know but they don’t know.

The past few days Bintu has spent getting in touch with her African friends and family to tell them the good news about us. You would not believe how happy they are for us both. As I have told you before in these narratives, they ALL believe God/Allah is responsible for the two of us being brought together. I cannot argue with this. To show you how seriously we are taken in Senegal and Sierra Leone, I learned something very heart-warming from our friend Mohammed who is a Sierra Leonean transplanted to Dakar after the civil war. He is the young man who, like hundreds of other people during the war, had both of his hands chopped off by machete by the rebels, many of whom were children who were kidnapped from their homes and villages and jacked up on drugs and turned into the most vicious killers imaginable. Mohammed is a handsome young man and his pretty wife, Fatmata, is expecting their first child. Mohammed told me from Africa that if the child is a boy, it will be named after me. If it is a girl it will be named after Bintu. I’ve spent 39 years in this world (yeah, it worked for Jack Benny, so maybe it will for me too) and this is the first time anyone ever bestowed such an honor upon me. I cannot tell you how deeply honored I am. I hope it is a boy. But don’t tell Bintu I said so.

My African connections are deepening as well. Not only are our ties strong in Senegal and Sierra Leone, but the African community in Memphis is rapidly becoming a new world to me too. Of course I already had many African acquaintances here and abroad, but I am now a real part of this community. Already next weekend we are invited to not one but two New Year’s events hosted by our African friends. It is rare when Bintu doesn’t get at least a phone call a day from an African friend or relative. At a recent Sierra Leonean naming ceremony (for a child) we were subjected to the loudest deejays I have ever heard, playing all manner of African music (and they threw in the Electric Slide/Cha-cha for good measure too). One song had an African rapper/singer who sounded like a cross between Howlin’ Wolf and the late zydeco growler Beau Jacques. I WILL find who he is and WILL get his CD.

As has happened to me so many times, when I got on the dance floor, all eyes were upon me. I have been the lone white ranger on the dance floor too many times to count. All my black friends know that white people, men in particular, cannot dance. White men on the dance floor are waiting to make fools of themselves. But somewhere along the line I learned to walk and chew gum at the same time and can actually dance with some soul. A white boy that can dance is something to marvel at and at the African party no one said a word (unlike the juke joints where I have literally been yanked from my seat to dance) but they all KNEW. Bintu, of course, thinks this is pretty hilarious. She tells me all the time: “Tom, you know you are not white. You just look that way.”

Many weeks before Bintu came over I went to the Saro African market in Hickory Hill to pick up a few grocery goods I knew she would want, like that nasty Nescafe the Senegalese love so much. Naturally they wanted to know why I, a Memphis white boy, was wanting to buy things like cassava leaf. In the course of conversation the shop owner told me that a Sierra Leonean couple were at the front of the store and I should speak to them. Knowing it would be extremely rude to decline, I struck up a conversation with the couple and they were beyond nice. They insisted that we contact them again after Bintu arrived and the lady gave me her card with her phone number. When I told Bintu the good news she reacted very coolly. Well, actually she reacted heatedly. She was incensed that I had allowed a S.L. woman to give me her phone number. It seems that S.L.s have a reputation throughout Africa as husband stealers and Bintu would have none of that. After Bintu came she reluctantly called Teresa, and they have become great friends. And Teresa hasn't stolen me yet.

Last but not least of the news: Bintu and I are planning a REAL wedding celebration on Friday, March 18th. That date is very special to us. It marks the anniversary of my coming to Dakar to be with her. The day we first got together for real. We will be sending out invitations and we plan on having the full ceremony, African style. Our plans are to have a traditional but African wedding where we dress up, have an African reverend officiate, repeat the traditional vows, and then have one hell of a party afterwards. I am not too fond of long, boring ceremonies myself, and I promise this one won’t be. And if you miss the reception, well, you’ve missed the most fun you will have had for a long time. I can promise a mix of great music, a mix of great food, a mix of great people, a mix of dancing the likes you’ve never seen, and the tallest married couple in Memphis.

We have much to do and much we want to accomplish. We hope to hear from each of you, and you will all be hearing from us too.

Love to all,
Mr. Thomas Alan Graves and
Mrs. Bintou Ndiaye Graves


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