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I’m Done With Weddings, and Weddings Are Done
I will not marry my English wife anytime soon. Yes, folks, the bandwagon of boisterous wedding ceremonies (four are no longer in operation) screeched to a halt for the Easter weekend. Readers of this column will remember that in an article entitled “Four Weddings End” I wrote: “Nevertheless, I owe my parents and my home village two wedding ceremonies, a traditional one and a white one.”
No, silly, I didn’t have all the other great wedding ceremonies at the weekend – all at once, but something Shakespearean in scale (except it wasn’t a tragedy) happened while I was visiting my family in Zululand. Let’s just say that my family is no longer waiting for two great wedding ceremonies. Don’t get ahead of yourself and say that maybe reason has taken over. I have learned to be extra careful with my parents.
This is how the story went. We spent the last Easter weekend with my parents in Ulundi in the northern part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The town of Ulundi, in the heart of Zululand, is nestled among the majestic hills and rugged valleys of the White Umfolozi River. The former capital of the Zulu Kingdom, Ulundi is on Route 66 between Nongoma and Melmot. We arrived on Friday afternoon. Our trip to Ulundi was a routine courtesy visit to see my family. Behind me was an English wife, a mixed-race daughter, and a son born to a Xhosa-speaking mother. Now my village is used to seeing a white woman among them, so it is no longer an event worth gossiping about.
However, as a well-mannered Zulu boy, I sent some money to my mother so that she could buy the ingredients needed to brew the traditional IsiZulu beer known as Umqombothi. It was a small gesture on my part to my ancestors to acknowledge their presence in my life. So what better way than to give them something to drink and have fun with. There was no ordinary slaughter of a beast or a goat. This visit was to be as routine as possible. It turned out to be anything.
First, on Saturday, my wife entered the Mncube kitchen for the first time with the sole intention of playing makoti (bride), and so that meant cooking for relatives. It took her about 16 long years. A week before our visit, I decided that this was the time and place for my wife to break with tradition once and for all. You see, in my family tradition, unless the bride has been formally introduced to the ancestors through the slaughter of an animal, she cannot perform the duties of the makoti, including cooking. Despite the spirit of defiance on my part, there was another catch. A total of 16 mouths had to be fed.
Nevertheless, my wife took to cooking like a duck to water. After an epic six-hour cook with a faulty electric stove, the food was delivered to everyone. I gave her a pat on the back for a job well done. My parents stayed mum to break tradition. For the past 16 years, my wife has been treated like a guest who is served food at an appointed time. I had to repeat the cooking on Sunday. Of course, now it was a daily routine for my wife.
But something monumental was brewing. While I was sitting near one of the huts and passing the time joking with my mom, other family members and hangers. Suddenly, my father joined us. He looked wary. I swear I witnessed the sweat running down his neck. He immediately demanded that all my family members be called to where we were sitting to join us. I offered them a reprieve to say that my wife and daughter were busy cooking. My mother also intervened, saying that there was no need for that. My father wouldn’t want any of that. He shouted my mother down. Everyone had to come because he wanted to do something very important. Feeling like I wasn’t going to win the battle, let alone the war, I ordered some random guy to go and summon my wife and daughter. Our son was already sitting with us. They immediately went down to the place. I didn’t look my wife in the eye for fear she would ask me what was going on. I was none the wiser.
My father, in his inveterate manner, did not engage in small talk or exchange pleasantries. He got down to business. He bluntly announced that he was already late for his assigned task of talking to Amadlozi about my side of the family. In the Zulu language, Amadlozi means ancestors. We refer to Idlozi (singular) – Amadlozi (plural): This means the human spirit or soul of the deceased. As he didn’t want to do that, he moved a few meters away from us to be near the Isibai (kraal) and started like a house on fire Ukuteta idlozi. Ukulanda idlozi literally means “to scold”. Zulu historians argue that, from a linguistic point of view, Ukwanda idlozi gives the initial impression of an aggressive relationship between ancestors and their descendants. In practice, this is not the case. The literal English translation is misleading. Ukulanda idlozi is an expression that implies something different from cursing – it is a prayer to them (not to be confused with a religious prayer), it is similar to the prayer of a senior lawyer before a Judge. In its traditional meaning, Ukulanda idlozi rather refers to communication between ancestors and their descendants. Basically you tell them what they need to know and maybe make special requests. We treat the dead like the living, except that we place more value on our relationship with them. We are Zulus, this is how we roll.
After a beautiful rendition of Izithakazelo, which means praise attached to a particular descent group (in this case the Mncubes), which also mentions the ancestors of the clan, my father proudly informed you, “I report to you MaZilakatha (Mncube’s praise name) that uBhekisisa , son of MaMlambo (my mother’s maiden name) is now married. He has two children. I am asking you to protect and protect his new family. We pray for their strong health, wealth and peace. I apologize for telling you this now. It happened some time ago.”
My father had to perform this Ukuteta idlozi ritual in 2008 when I got married. Still, the eagerness with which he took on the task, even after nine years, made me smile. He even broke up the tradition of burning impefo, a type of small, sweet-smelling evergreen (Doke et al 1990: 658). Impefa is used for burning as an offering to the spirits of the dead. It opens communication with the ancestors and makes any request, report or offering acceptable. It is usually the precursor to Ukuhanda idlozi. I could care less. I was happy to hear my father say the words, “uBhekisisa is now married.”
So, dear reader, it happens that the famous English wife, Professor D., has now officially joined my Zulu ancestors. Apparently, the message to the ancestors was accepted. Simply put, this means that my wife was accepted as a bride (Makoti) by the Mncube clan after the official report by Amadlozi. And this despite the fact that there was no sacrificial slaughter of the animal and the subsequent traditional wedding. As you, dear readers, know: my wife refuses to have anything to do with a wedding ceremony where poor cows and goats are killed willy-nilly. Since my father relented and introduced my wife to Amadlozi, that means she is officially considered a daughter of the Mncube clan. Now she can milk the cows, cook and basically my family sends her on errands as a proper marriage. Unfortunately, in reality this means no prospects for further wedding ceremonies.
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