Lori’s desire to visit Africa was realized when she was a young girl; over the years, her connection and passion for Africa’s wildlife and people grew more intense. “I’ve been listening to Lori talk about Africa for all 20 years of our marriage,” joked her husband, Mark. So for their 20th wedding anniversary, Mark surprised Lori with a Tanzanian safari, which they would enjoy the following year. For Lori, the surprises didn’t stop there!
Over the course of the next year, Mark secretly made detailed plans with our staff and the local Maasai community for a very special event on the eve of their 21st anniversary – a wedding vow renewal ceremony, Maasai-style. Mark was very diligent to make the ceremony as authentic as possible. “We are in their home, we are their guests and I wanted the ceremony to be authentic and true to their culture,” he said. The events of the ceremony and the traditional garments they were to wear were crafted well ahead of their visit to Tanzania.
On the day of the ceremony, the Thomson staff told all of the guests at the Nyumba camp they were invited to a local wedding. “I thought we hit the jackpot,” said Lori. “How lucky are we to experience something unplanned like this? So few people get this kind opportunity!” Lori immediately, and very excitedly, told Mark that she wanted to get to the ceremony site early to sit in the front row. Mark, who was instructed to keep Lori in their tent until preparations were finalized, searched for excuses to stall her. “Maybe you want to freshen up first…? Why do you want to sit in the front row, we don’t even know these people…? I don’t want to be the first ones there…” Mark kept struggling with reasons to keep Lori from leaving the tent.
Fortunately Mark was able to divert Lori’s frustration with his unsubstantiated excuses when he heard Maasai chanting in the distance; this was his signal the ceremony was beginning. He was finally able to reveal his plans to his very shocked wife, “The wedding that we are going to…it is not for a local member of the Maasai village, it is for us. We are getting re-married in a traditional Maasai wedding ceremony.” Lori was overwhelmed with emotion. “I had no idea what was going to happen next and I wanted to be present in the moment and take it all in,” she said.
A group of chanting Maasai warriors approached their tent and collected Mark and Lori to prepare them for the ceremony. Lori was escorted to a group of eight women who dressed her in the wedding garments they made for her, which included a dress and a beaded headpiece. “The garments and the jewelry were elaborate and so beautiful, we were touched by the amount of time and work they must have put into making them for us. It really meant a lot to us.”
There was a flurry of activity encircling Lori; Mark could barely make out what was happening through the blur of the women’s hands as they prepared her for the ceremony. He was able to see a special moment as young girls smiled proudly as they adorned Lori’s ears with beautiful beaded earrings they had made for her. He will never forget Lori’s face, in the midst of the excitement, beaming with pure emotion.
The ceremony was held around the fire at the camp and began with four elders giving their blessings. Mark presented a photo from their wedding day, which was almost exactly 21 years prior, and began reciting his renewal vows. As Mark’s vows were being translated into Maa, he watched the translator’s eyes widen — this was a bit of culture shock! “In the Maasai culture, the bride and groom don’t really speak to one another during the ceremony,” Mark explained, “so for Maasai guests to hear us sharing emotional and heartfelt words and deep expressions of love for one another was completely foreign to them.”
This was one of the many moments the couple describes as a true cultural exchange with the Maasai. “We learned about their culture but they also learned about our culture. The last thing we wanted was this to feel like a show they put on for their American guests. The Maasai were so warm and welcoming and they really seemed to embrace and genuinely engage in the whole experience.”
The Maasai were as moved by the experience as Mark and Lori. “We are honored to bless this wedding and host you people from America,” said one traditional elder and spiritual leader. “Any of your family or friends or anyone is welcome to have a beautiful celebration like this one with the Maasai of our village.”
Since they’ve returned home, Lori and Mark are still relishing in the experience. “It was the convergence of a meaningful and spiritual place with a deeply emotional moment,” said Lori, “It was the perfect combination to make this experience a once in a lifetime event for which I will forever be grateful. I was so blown away with my husband conceiving of this idea and planning every last detail, and pulling it off without a hitch. Honestly, I have no idea how he did it. I am also so appreciative of the Thomson staff and their willingness to help plan this event and create such a unique memory for us. They were amazing. Asante Sana!”