Diary of a professional bridesmaid
It is very uncommon to begin a review with a definition of ‘terms’. This is usually associated with academic papers, but this review is dealing with an unusual subject that is dealt with in an unusual style. Therefore, it is only proper that it begins in the character of its ‘unusualness’. The key word in Memoirs of a Professional Bridesmaid (Kachifo’s Prestige Imprint, Lagos; 2017), authored by Nneka Ijeoma, is the word ‘memoirs’ which the 2010 edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines as: “a written account of somebody’s life, a place or an event written by somebody who knows it well”.
In interrogating the subject of this book, it will become apparent why some thought would have to be paid to the word because often it is associated with accounts by an expert or better still, what the dictionary describes as ‘somebody who knows it well.’ Others might argue that instead of dealing with ‘Memoirs’ it is the tag of ‘professional’ that the reviewer should be interested in. How much of an expert is the author on issues of weddings and specifically ‘bridesmaidship?’ Is the author engaged in this activity as her main paid occupation? Except it is a recent phenomenon, it is strange in our clime to hear of a ‘professional Bridesmaid’ when such an appellation is used, it isn’t often quite complimentary. But life is all about change. Who says this can’t be just another profession? Reading through Nneka’s book therefore is as much a challenge of this ‘received opinion’ as it is an attempt at bringing to public consciousness issues that are glossed over, but yet define relationships and our reality.
What used to be a pastime is now almost ‘profession’ because there are people, as it is said in our local parlance that ‘have seen a lot’ and so can be described as authorities on the subject. And so it is with our author who was six times a bridesmaid in less than a year! What she has put together in this book of 146 pages is therefore the result of out of the box thinking, which makes the book a compelling read especially for young ladies, bridesmaids, brides –to-be and the various vendors who are integral to the value chain of the wedding industry as an event (as opposed to marriage that is an institution). Men who also want to know the reasons for some of those ‘annoying’ things that happen on wedding days will also find the book interesting. Even those who think less about the intrigues that go with wedding cannot but enjoy this piece of literature that is both humorous and therapeutic. The author sometimes simply pokes fun at trivial issues that have assumed epic dimensions and expose why sometimes what we perceive as a significant change is really not so significant, and vice versa. Predictably, she raises concerns about social values that have been turned upside down in the name of civilisation.
Without a doubt the author though forward looking and in sync with social trends, is worried about the extent to which weddings have now assumed a dimension with focus on a ‘wedding of the year’ instead of ‘marriage of a life time’. The book, therefore, is not just an account of her personal experiences, but also some lessons for young women who would soon find themselves as brides or bridesmaids. Each chapter in the book either begins or ends with nuggets on the do’s or don’ts of a successful wedding. Some examples: “Parents are not your ATM”; “Know when to say NO”; Delegate, especially if you have a large train”; and “To thyself be true” among others. From Nnnena to Wura, Tinuke, Fatima and Doyin, the author takes the reader through different trajectories of a modern day Nigerian wedding ceremony. In these accounts, the reader shares with the author, moments of excitements, disappointments doused with wits and humour.
Fatima’s wedding provides an interesting proposition in which the bride’s desires are in conflict with the norm. The author describes her as ‘The Last Minute.Com Bride’ who leaves everything to dying moments, including her final fitting, which she left to her friend not minding that things could go wrong! Fati also chooses to have about 25 on her train without a Maid of Honour because “I didn’t want to put any friend over the other. I love all my friends equally so I will not have any Bridesmaid of Honour.” While she is lucky that her dress fitted well, the author is strongly against having such a large number of people on a train without a Maid of Honour. “No Maid of Honour is a bad idea! You need someone to veto certain decisions without other girls getting offended. You also need someone to coordinate and make sure everything is attended to….” The result of too many cooks is that no one is really in charge. It is little surprise therefore that the train gets late to the evening reception.
As desirous as a Maid of Honour is, the author however cautions on overbearing and overzealous Maids or those she calls ‘Zilla’ who constitute themselves into independent governments barking orders on others yet they are the ones that often let the group down when it matters most. This is evident at Tinuke’s wedding. Bisi who messed up negotiations with the designer and ‘who had been organising all the girls’ was at the most critical moment, the last to get off her feet.
Doyin is the opposite of Fatima. She started planning her wedding in good time and is regarded as extremely organised yet, a glitch happens because of her not taking into account the infamous ‘Nigerian factor’. Four out of seven bridesmaids missed the walk down the aisle because she did not understand the character of the society in which she operates. Things taken for granted elsewhere are serious issues in Nigeria. Think of power failure and traffic snarl among others.
Memoirs of a Professional Bridesmaid is not all about what could go wrong. Chapters 8 and 9 are particularly humorous as he author highlights some of the ‘highpoints’ of weddings that sometimes defy logic. The chapter titled; “Thou Shalt not struggle for the fittest Groomsman” is about bridesmaids struggling for hook-ups with some of the groomsmen, which often end in disaster. The author was once a ‘victim’: “I danced into a reception with a guy who whispered to me, ‘I guess I’ve finally met someone who is a worse dancer than I am.’ If I were Caucasian, I would have turned beetroot red.”
Here comes the Next Bride is about the ritual of catching the Bride’s bouquet which is believed to go with it some luck. This in reality is nothing but a mere ritual. A friend of the author seems wiser than most: “I don’t understand all your excitement, I caught this bouquet seven years ago, and still I am here….” Even for the author, her experience is not any better: “The MC had anchored two other weddings at which I was a bridesmaid so he knew me quite well, which was even more embarrassing as that would be the third time he would call men out.”
Vendors are another group of people who play major roles at weddings and often a Maid of Honour does a lot of interfacing with them. Vendors are meant to make things easy for the couple and quite a number of them do but then there are those the author calls ‘Vendors from Hell’ who cannot but live true to their name. For them, cutting corners is the name of the game. These are to be avoided and the only way to do so is ensuring that one does proper background checks. Imagine a vendor takes your money, would not show up but sends an apprentice who was not there when the details of assignment were discussed. And to make matters worse, she switches of her phone on that day!
One of the overarching themes of this book is that it is not so much about amount of money spent that makes a wedding tick but the quality of preparations. She impresses on the importance of being realistic and sensitive especially on making demands on friends and relations. It is better to be consistent and meet your expectations than set yourself up for failure by taking on too much.
Dress and style are important components of a wedding and a big issue among prospective brides and their girls. It is not surprising therefore that Nneka dedicates three chapters to discussing this. Everybody wants to look their best on that day but the definition of what is best is as varied as the number of people involved. Sometimes the bride allows members of her train to ‘democratically’ choose their dress and style but the author warns this is a recipe for chaos.
Ladies won’t agree on whether it should be long or short; flowing or fitted; sparkly or matte. This is no fault of theirs. Tastes just differ and each person has reasons for her preference. So what’s to be done? The author says this should not be open for debate. The bride should think about the concept and a dress for the girls.
The author has also had her own dose of disappointments at weddings when things won’t just go right sometimes for reasons she says were her own faults. But there was one that she cannot but recall. That was when she was dropped by Chinwe, her sister’s friend, from her train! The reason is simple; the bride had a friend that she could not disappoint and the groom would not want an increase in the number on the train so a choice had to be made and she was dropped. Painful as this was, she saw the bright side of it by ensuring that she came out as beautiful as she could! Another lesson for would-be bridesmaids- things will not always go your way. Always see the brighter side of every situation. From a denial in 2004, the author has become a ‘professional bridesmaid!!!!
As much as the author tries, she can’t answer all questions in this slim but important book. One must, however, commend her boldness, creativity and ability to see a story where many will see none. She has in the process provided a book that many will find invaluable as they confront the arduous task of either planning their own weddings or those of their friends and relations. But for the general reader, this is a hilarious work only comparable to A Wedding Party, a recent flick that illustrates some of the issues raised in this book. For Nneka, nothing too trivial to discuss and the most serious issues are discussed in a light-hearted manner without glossing over the lessons to be learnt.
Another strength of the book is its wide appeal to both men and women, young and old and those who want to have an insight into what goes into the behind-the- scenes- character of a modern Nigerian wedding.
The language is crisp and racy and the introduction of dialogue brings the various experiences to life. Subsequent editions will, however, benefit from a check on the few typos in the book. Nothing wrong with the narrative being laced with some dosage of ‘Nigerian English’ but for a book that seeks a wider audience, expressions that are ‘Nigerianese’ would require explanations in endnotes. Like every work of art, Nneka leaves a lot unsaid about certain experiences but that should be expected because it is also in her own interest to protect her herself and her friends. After all, whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!!! These, however, do not in any way detract from the import of this work and like most good books; it is one you would be caught reading again and again because it is such a good book.