JOHANNESBURG - Marriage. In these socially distanced times, even the ceremony itself can’t always bring couples -- and their families -- together. In Africa, some digitally savvy couples are finding virtual workarounds to get them to the altar, including weddings where the bride and groom are thousands of kilometers apart.
Fifi and Emmanuel Egbebu got married last month.
But in these difficult times of coronavirus restrictions on travel, they resorted to a modern solution: they did it virtually.
She was in Nigeria’s southeastern Enugu state, dancing herself down the aisle for their traditional Nigerian wedding.
And he was in Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic hub, where he works as a musician, watching it all online.
The bride says her special day was no less special despite the absence of the groom.
“On that day, he was, like online, and we're talking every second," she said. "So, I didn’t feel like he wasn't around. I actually felt he was with me, like, he was with me, really, just that he wasn’t there, present, you know. I’m sure people will be wondering, ‘Why is this girl dancing and laughing and having fun?’ I was just I just felt he was really there. It wasn't any different to me. I didn't feel different. I felt good.”
Egbebu notes that a close friend of hers did the same recently, virtually marrying with the groom in England and the bride in Nigeria.
They’re among the countless couples across the world kept apart by the pandemic.
But even those who are together can’t celebrate in a traditional way because of pandemic restrictions on large crowds.
It’s crashed the business of Johannesburg party supplier Molebogeng Gulwako.
She supplies weddings and engagement parties with “champagne walls,” transparent shelves of filled glasses in front of an ornate wall.
Gulwako, herself a newlywed, says it may take some cultures on this side of the world a while to accept virtual celebrations.
“It's going to take a very long time. Because remember, we also grew up in big families," Gulwako said. "We always had people -- at least a minimum of seven people -- around you for your seventh, eighth 15th and 25th birthday and so forth. So, it's going to be very hard to unlearn, celebrating on your own. I'm not sure about the Western culture, because maybe you can just do a dinner with one other person and that's OK. But that's not us. That's not me.”
While some couples are delaying their weddings until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the Egbebus didn’t want to wait to declare their love and commitment.
“I felt bad that I couldn't make it there in person. At the same time, when I saw her dance, I was smiling. It kind of gave me confidence I needed, that she's happy," said Emmanuel Egbebu. "So at least that's something to hold on to.”
The Egbebus plan to reunite in South Africa when flights resume.
For now, these two -- and countless others -- will have to have and hold each other virtually.