My plans were to go to Africa for my 62nd birthday. My intent was serious, so six years earlier, I had opened a special bank account to save for the trip. I intended to visit the slave states of West Africa, where most African-Americans are said to come from. I received a telephone call from my sister Barbara in January of 2002 that altered my plan. My nephew Akil was getting married to Margot, the young lady he had met two years earlier while in Cape Town, South Africa as an exchange student. At that time, there was no word on the date and place of the wedding.
My nephew Akil Cornelius, then a 21-year-old college student, met Margot Moses at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, a few hours' drive from Cape Town, in the summer of 2000. A romance blossomed and the next summer Margot came to Florida in an exchange program. The romance intensified and by the end of the year, Akil had graduated from college, entered the Army, and made another trip to Cape Town that deepened their relationship.
Margot tried to return to the United States, but after 9/11, it was impossible, so they met in London for Christmas in 2001. That Christmas Eve, Akil asked Margot to help find his dog tags. “It’s all about the element of surprise,” Akil said.
“I got to the room and on the bed was the Army tags and on its chain, the most beautiful ring I ever saw,” Margot says on their wedding web page.
While our family awaited word on the date and place of the wedding, I secretly hoped it would be in Africa so that our family would have a fundamental reason to (as we from the 60’s say) return to the Motherland. In March, Barbara made another round of calls. The wedding would be on December 12 in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s late spring there in December. A wedding party of family members formed and began the search for plane tickets and places to stay in Cape Town. The wedding party consisted of Barbara and Roland (Akil’s mother and stepfather), his sister Kamilah, Ted and Geraldine (Akil’s uncle and aunt) and their daughter, Rashida, my wife Gussie and me, and Alexander Cornelius, who is Akil’s father and Barbara’s ex-husband.
Traveling from different parts of the country, we all arrived in Cape Town within a few days of each other. The first night that we were all in town we assembled, along with the Moses family, at the Green Dolphin, a well-known jazz club on the waterfront in downtown Cape Town. Akil and Margot glowed as they watched the two families warm up to each other over music, wine, and great food. There were 20 of us in all and we were at the most joyous table in Cape Town that night.
The two families were eager not only for a successful union between Akil and Margot, but for a thriving alliance between the two families. The families remained inseparable during the days leading up to the wedding. Alfonso and Delphene, Margot’s parents, helped her to plan every hour of their new American family’s day. We went to the Cape of Good Hope, on safari, to Robben Island, and to Table Mountain. We shopped at every outdoor market in Cape Town and at the Pan-African galleries, a six-story building bustling with African art objects. We visited museums and historic slave churches and saw the horrors of the townships.
Robben Island is a popular marriage destination for many young South African couples who want to start their lives together on that sacred ground where ex-president Nelson Mandela and officials of the ANC were imprisoned. There are many churches on the island that were established to minister to the souls of the lepers who were once discarded on the island. This island and its churches, once the habitat of confinement and misery, now bolsters hope and happiness.
My nephew’s wedding was held on Thursday, December 12th at Langverwagt Farm, a three-century-old family-operated winery nestled among the lush vineyards and ancient oak trees of Zevenwacht, a village 35 miles from Cape Town. The farm’s gardens and architecture are an idyllic and romantic setting for a wedding; and, indeed many are performed there during the wedding season. There is a historic wine cellar that seats 150 people in quiet ambience. The wine cellar is usually sparingly decorated with huge ceramic vats that once housed olives from the high country; it now serves as the banquet hall. For the wedding, Margot and her family had transformed the hall with hanging beads, and the tables were decorated with beads and flowers.
That evening Akil stood soldierly solid out in that lush setting awaiting his bride-to-be in an olive suite with a Mandarin collar and flapped patch pockets. I was honored to be master of ceremonies and began my duties by greeting everyone as they were seated.
In time, Margot arrived adored in a dress that she designed and nurtured through its many stages to the moment she appeared on the flower-petaled walkway to matrimony. “I am a color fanatic, and the more I pored over bridal books and websites, the more I became convinced that my wedding dress has to be colorful,” Margot told me. In a window of a shop in Cape Town she saw a dressthat caught her eye because of its painted lilac morning glories. She tracked down the dressmaker and commissioned her to make her dress. “Every week I went to her with beads, raw silk, flowers, paint samples, and a new idea. She was wonderfully understanding.”
When Margot had decided on the grade of raw silk she wanted, she found out that “Painting on raw silk is a specialized art form. I spent one month trying to find an artist who would take on the job.” The project was turned down by several artists as being too delicate and risky. Then the dressmaker remembered an artist friend and put Margot in touch with him. “His name is Freddy Fernandes, he is a Portuguese artist and sculptor and a real colorful character. The problem with painting on raw silk is that the paint bleeds. I had to buy several samples of raw silk for Freddy to use to experiment with his paints. After three weeks, he worked out a consistency that would fix the paint on the silk.”
The next step was to select a flower to be painted on the dress. Margot used the library to research variations of the morning glory family because she liked their shapes. “They were big and busty, and bold. I didn’t want to have any leaves on my flowers, but Freddy exploded, ‘YOU CANNOT HAVE A FLOWER WITHOUT LEAVES.’ So much for negotiation – we worked on the placement of the leaves. In two weeks I received samples of the flowers on the raw silk and was overwhelmed with joy.”
Although Margot kept the details of the dress shrouded from everyone, she wanted her family’s involvement, so she assigned each a strap to bead for the back and shoulders. “It was great because on the wedding day, everyone was identifying with their strap and feeling even more connected to the event.” The entire project took six months to complete. "I had one goal in mind in creating this dress and that was to see the look on Akil’s face when he saw me in it. I must say that his look was worth all the hard work. Throughout the wedding day, he was gawking at my dress and…at me."
And she was a beauty to behold, as a hundred or so family members and guests were seated under the clear South African sky, with the birds chirping and the leaves gently rustling, to witness the ceremony performed by the Reverend Gordon Oliver, a Unitarian priest. During the ceremony, Akil beamed and tears flowed sweetly from Margot’s eyes. Barbara was proud and happy; we were all touched.
Immediately after the ceremony, I guided everyone to the fountain and flower garden area for champagne and hors d’oeuvres while the banquet room was being readied for dinner. The fountain is stocked with tropical fish and the garden was lush with a variety of flowers and fruit trees. There was a good mix of people and everyone mingled and took pictures. When the banquet hall was ready, I was informed that I should move the guests there to be seated. In the banquet hall, I greeted them:
My name is Horace Mungin. I am the oldest uncle of the groom.
Today it is my most pleasant duty to bid you all greetings on behalf of the Moses family and the Lewis/Cornelius family – on this very special occasion – the joining together of two families from distant parts of the world.
This is a momentous achievement in itself – but not nearly as consequential as the fact that two young people have offered each other their eternal love before us all and God.
After dinner, the bash was on and the guests romped and celebrated long into the night. The bride and groom spent the night in the wedding suite at Langverwagt Farm. The next week, when the rest of us had returned to the United States, the couple went on a two-week honeymoon at the Misty Beach Hotel in Hermanus, a whaling town off the coast of Cape Town. “We spent our days at Hermanus giggling and going for long walks,” the 23-year-old bride recalled some months later. For her new American family, it was a trip and a wedding we shall always cherish.