The big day has arrived, part three of the journey to matrimonial success. Part one (the asking), and part two, (the dowry party) are here and here. Only Tom's name is on the official invitation as I am bound by obligation to be present. We spruce up for the event, Tom in a collared shirt, and me in my conservative best. I don't want all eyes to be diverted from the bride to my bare thighs.
We rock up to the church at 10.00am as indicated, and the place is deserted. A phone call to the groom's sister-in-law tells us they decided to change it to 1.00pm. Just like that. Great, thanks for letting us know. Back home for a cuppa, hang up the dress and into the work duds for a few hours.
I am summoned to the bride's house at 12.30pm to photograph the bride and groom leaving the house. There is a short blessing ceremony before they travel the 500 metres to the church in a silver van, together with the flower girl and two bridesmaids. The flushing bride fans herself with what looks like an orange feather duster and clutches her plastic flower arrangement. It is all very 1980's suburban dream - flounces and lace and frills.
There are only 15 people at the church, the remainder of the extended clan are busy slaughtering pigs and weaving the fat onto skewers for the reception dinner. Preparation for the wedding began at 3.00am and over 250 people are expected to turn up for the feast. Weddings are a rather fluid affair - you invite as many people as you can afford to feed, they turn up whenever they feel like it, eat, then leave. It is very much about keeping up with the neighbours and outdoing them if possible.
Plastic chairs are shrouded in ikat cloth, a hint of tradition in the kitsch surrounds of the church. Last year's Christmas decorations still hang from the ceiling and the priest booms his message of love and devotion from the bow of a ship. It is hard to contain a fit of the giggles, so after taking a few photos we sneak out the back door.
We arrive at the reception on sunset, sign the official guest register and receive a slice of tasteless cake, a cup of water and a hideous bombanerie: a tiny boot, covered in sand and ribbon and containing two toothpicks.
Hundreds of plastic chairs are set up inside a boundary of rope and coconut fronds. The deceased don't miss as the family graveyard is inside the compound and offers extra lounge seating. The host tries to usher us to the front row and we gently decline in favour of an outside seat for a subtle getaway when the formal proceedings are over. These events have a habit of dragging on way past my bedtime.
Cold fluorescent bulbs set the mood, and the bridal party sit front and centre on a stage framed by fake flowers and badly draped curtains. The majority of the extended family are out the back preparing dinner and having their own behind the scenes party, leaving the distinguished guests to suffer through the speeches.
The banquet table is set with a water-cup dome sculpture, cutlery wheels and stacks of plates with single ply napkins the thickness of a tissue.
What's a party without a few hungry dogs?
There's an outbreak of typhoid in town and we seriously question the idea of dinner, with an unknown number of hands involved in its preparation and presentation. We figure the vegies have been boiled to within an inch of their life and as we are avoiding the more questionable meaty offerings we should be ok.
And to the highlight of the proceedings - the cutting of the cake. I find it sad that they follow such a stale western model of weddings at the expense of any traditional celebration. Long live the dream of the princess bride.
Despite the fact that pre-marital pregnancy is very common, the big kiss moment in public is painful to watch. It begins with the local custom of nose rubbing, then to the roar of the crowd the groom steals a quick peck. Definitely no tongue. It is like seeing two primary school kids fumble behind the lunch shed. The bride looks like she is about to faint. The youngsters look on from the shadows with a mixture of awe and disgust.
The cake is cut and the night reaches its crescendo. The groom takes a small forkful of sponge and feeds it to his new wife, then goes in for the seagull swoop and attempts to eat it from her mouth.