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18 years later, a dream wedding

Jackie and Alfred Tamba laugh during a ceremony to renew their wedding vows. Married in war-torn Liberia, their wedding was a simple affair for about 15 to 20 close friends and immediate family.

Cottage Grove residents Alfred and Jackie Tamba wed 18 years ago, but it feels like they celebrated their nuptials only yesterday ... probably because the wedding of their dreams was just last month.

On June 12, the couple had the wedding they couldn't have when they were married in war-torn Monrovia, Liberia, in 1992.

"It was horrible," Alfred said. "The whole country was in tumult."

The couple put off marriage due to a war from 1989 to 1992, and then had a small ceremony with about 15 to 20 immediate family members and friends present, he said.

Unrest continued in the country after their marriage, but the couple was trying to rebuild their lives, Jackie said. Rebels had burned down their home during the war, leaving them displaced.

"You come back and the building has no bed, no nothing because they have looted everything," Jackie said. "If you have a little sheet, you spread it on the floor and you and your kids sleep there."

After war broke out in the country again in the late '90s, rebels again burned down their home, she said. In 1998, Alfred left for Cottage Grove after a cousin already here bought him a plane ticket, and Jackie and their children fled to Ghana. The two were apart for about two years.

"Going away from the family, it was hard," Alfred said. "The church family kept me going with prayers and support until my wife came."

Alfred filed for political asylum and was able to start working right away, he said.

His first job in America as a factory worker in Hastings was quite different from the managerial desk job he previously held working for the Liberian government.

"When I used to come home from work, my whole chest was hurting," Alfred said. "My cousin would give me Tylenol to get ready for the next morning."

Members of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Cottage Grove helped the family pay for a plane ticket for Jackie to come to the United States two years after Alfred arrived, and also helped pay the legal fees necessary to file immigration paperwork, he said.

Their five kids came to the United States shortly after, in 2001, they said.

Both Alfred and Jackie became U.S. citizens in the last year, they said. Jackie is studying to become a registered nurse and Alfred now works as a certified nursing assistant.

Alfred said he has not been able to further his education because he must keep working to support his family, but he hopes to give his children -- two of whom were born in the U.S. after the family moved -- the opportunity to further their education.

"Where I did not reach, you could reach there," he said he tells his children.

One goal the couple has reached, though, is to have a big, traditional wedding.

More than 200 people attended their wedding festivities, which included a ceremony and reception followed by a honeymoon in Las Vegas.

Church members helped plan, decorated the church, cooked and even washed dishes until 11 p.m., Jackie said.

"They made me feel like a real princess," Jackie said.

Having the ceremony was an important symbol, she said, to show their children and grandchildren the significance of marriage. That's why she insisted on doing it, despite Alfred's suggestion they postpone the event because of the cost.

"I said 'No, I have to do it,'" she said. "'If I have to drag you down the aisle, I will do it.'"

Dragging wasn't necessary, though.

Alfred especially enjoyed that their children were able to be in their wedding party, and both said that being a good example for their children is the most important reason they renewed their vows.

"I wanted to get married to tell my kids that marriage is a good thing, and we love each other," Jackie said. "They can go forward and know that marriage is a good thing, and find a partner and live happily."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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