2009.01.16: January 16, 2009: Headlines: COS - Cambodia: Blogs - Cambodia: Marriage: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Cambodia Life... writes: A wedding!

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cambodia: Peace Corps Cambodia: Peace Corps Cambodia: Newest Stories: 2009.01.16: January 16, 2009: Headlines: COS - Cambodia: Blogs - Cambodia: Marriage: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Cambodia Life... writes: A wedding!

By Admin1 (admin) ( on Saturday, February 14, 2009 - 5:23 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteer Cambodia Life... writes: A wedding!

Peace Corps Volunteer Cambodia Life... writes: A wedding!

So we sat in rows and rows of chairs to watch the ceremony: the wedding singer dancing up the aisle with a pretty lady by his side, the Khmer equivalents of the flower girl and ring bearer in front of them, collecting bits of fruit in a basket along the way so that when they reach the end they will have something to eat together and taste as a sort of prelude to the adult festivities. The boy asks the girl what she would like to eat, and she chooses, and with both sets of hands somehow holding the fruit she bites, and he asks, “Is it sweet?” And she says, “Yes, it’s sweet.” She does the same for him, and a song is sung.

Peace Corps Volunteer Cambodia Life... writes: A wedding!


A wedding!

Caption: Happy Wedding by Poorfish Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

“Sister, sister, get up!” I finished tying up my mosquito net and reluctantly folded my blankets to set them at the foot of my bed. The wind was shaking the house and I pulled a jacket on over my long sleeve shirt because I was shivering in the grey light of dawn. I unlatched my door and pushed the double doors open to find my younger sister Rosa sitting on the porch, make-up boxes in front of her as she carefully applied eye shadow to her almond eyes. She flashed me a quick smile and I stepped down the wooden stairs, feeling more and more chilled from the surprisingly icy wind as I brushed my teeth and splashed water onto my face in the bathroom.

We were in a bit of a hurry – in less than a half hour, all of my young female family members, and even the handsome 25-year-old cousin I call George and the younger 14-year-old cousin Kdompy who adores his every move, would be lined up with more fruit than any single family, no matter how extended, could ever eat. They told me yesterday that we would be carrying fruit for the wedding of an acquaintance, one of the many ceremonies wrapped up into the wedding event of the Khmer people. I could barely contain my excitement; the groom is an American returning briefly to the country, and it is always a thrill to meet someone who understands my accent and the culture that I was raised in. My other sister Lita zipped up my lacy purple shirt and I fastened my new tailored skirt and rushed out the door to find more relatives beginning to pile into a little white Camry, a typical taxi.

But today the taxi was full of family, 7 pretty women in lacy and satin and silk, 5 squeezed in the back, 2 in the front with the driver. Myself the only one in flip flops, all the rest in their highest heels which, while it made them considerably taller than normal, they still were nowhere near reaching my own 5’10” height.

The rumor was that this is basically the wedding of the year – a fact which I still cannot doubt. The bride is a young 20-year-old from one of the richest families in town. My own family is well off, with a pretty wooden house, traditionally modest with a tin roof but modern in the conveniences of generally reliable running water and electricity; we have healthy meals every day, fruit and vegetables and meats with our daily rice, and my host father brings home nice snacks when he comes back from the city on the weekends. No one goes hungry and there is usually something leftover to give to the stray animals that lurk around and look pleadingly up at our table as we eat. But this bride’s family, their wealth, stands out among the town that surrounds it.

Their house is a tall mix of concrete and shiny tile, with pale green paint and a porch with shiny pink banisters. A grey satellite dish sticks out from the otherwise polished exterior and their immense yard on the main road is usually filled with men waiting to work or huge trucks piled tall with red bags of rice. I’ve ridden past it at least 4 times a day, on my way to and from school to teach, usually avoiding the stares and calls from the group of men but constantly curious about the building. I imagined that it was just a stopping point for the rice, that the building had an office in it, never realizing the wealth that lay in the property and the family that owns it, in the business of rice distribution for a district and province known just for its proximity to Thailand and its production of the staple food of the country.

Today we were dropped in the middle of that lot, though today there were no dust-covered trucks, no men in grubby clothes, and little space; a huge bright wedding tent filled with flowers and chairs covered in mock-silk transformed the usually bare space into a banquet hall, a chapel, a shrine to love and family. The huge doors of the house were open to reveal the living room which was covered with wedding paraphernalia: flowers and squares of bright fabric with fancy Khmer script noting the special day, painted landscape backdrops and umbrella lights for photos, the many plates of fruit and food wrapped up with bows and saran wrap lined neatly on the floor. To one side, members of the band dressing in their shiny white jackets, to another, the crew working on perfecting the wedding decorations and setting up the sound equipment for the presentation. The other half of the lot was filled with cars, some familiar taxis, others recognizably important. Even the spirit house, a miniature palace on a stand, was decorated with bright flowery wreaths and extra offerings of food and drink for luck.

I searched the crowd and saw faces I recognized: some of my students from various grades, some important people I met in my first few weeks here – the police chief, an officer of the district branch of the government, the wife of an education official, a few relatives that have stopped infrequently at my house for a visit. More and more people showed up, men in dress shirts with shiny belt buckles, younger guys with their hair immobile from styling, girls in every color of the rainbow, women with satins and skirts completely mismatched to my eyes. There was a rush of color as we all piled into the house to grab a plate of fruit – like someone pushing around a bowl of skittles.

There was some commotion beyond that. I kept hearing 200 meters, 300 meters… wondering what they were talking about. Well, since the groom lives in America, we can’t follow the tradition a purely as possible, by carrying the gifts of fruit and beer and snacks from his home to hers. Instead, we all just walk some small distance away, pair up with a person of the same produce, and walk back to put the fruit where it all was in the first place. That is the ceremony. And that is what we did. Though, it was a bit grander than I had expected – the average wedding will have 60-100 plates of fruit, if you’re on a budget, 30 is acceptable. This particular wedding had 300 plates. 300. We were one long line of gifts.

Of course, there is a bit of expense wrapped up in 300 plates of fruit; this is only one part of the wedding ceremony, which means that the other ceremonies and the more important reception are completely separate expenses. For 300 plates, you first need, well, 300 plates of fruit, beer, snacks, noodles, and so on, and since it is winter, most of the good fruits will be out of season and more expensive than usual. You need decorations and bows for the plates, and you will most likely buy extra fruit so only the prettiest fruit goes on display and you will have considerable extra because you only can use an even number of plates for each fruit. Then, you will likely want to reward the people who wrap all of your fruit in said plates and sarans and bows with a meal or…anything really. And then, you will have to consider getting all of these people to your wedding, seating them for the ceremony (there is a program after the carrying), paying them a small fee for their kindness, and finally feeding them breakfast (all at once) before anything else begins. And, you’ll need the prettiest clothes to wear in front of them…

So we somehow all lined up, all 300 of us, having found out fruit buddy and somehow withstanding the still icy winds blowing our hair out of place. I realize that icy is a bit overstated, but it is like being caught in a tank top on the first cold day of fall, with no shade and a huge breeze from the north. And the band played, and we walked, and the photographer and the videographer, and the various spectators still in their sarongs and jackets took special notice of me, the girl with white skin who happened to be towering above the heads of every girl around her (the boys walk in the back for the most part, because they aren’t as pretty in their normal clothes as we are in our spectacularly colored, beaded, appliquéd, flowery, excessive, decorated ones).

And we went back to the big house – the groom with his groomsmen carrying his shade umbrella and some pretty matching girls carrying some flowers leading the parade on the main road, which is to say, the only road that doesn’t dead end in a village or rice paddy, And through the traffic, we delivered the groom’s offering to the bride’s family.

So we sat in rows and rows of chairs to watch the ceremony: the wedding singer dancing up the aisle with a pretty lady by his side, the Khmer equivalents of the flower girl and ring bearer in front of them, collecting bits of fruit in a basket along the way so that when they reach the end they will have something to eat together and taste as a sort of prelude to the adult festivities. The boy asks the girl what she would like to eat, and she chooses, and with both sets of hands somehow holding the fruit she bites, and he asks, “Is it sweet?” And she says, “Yes, it’s sweet.” She does the same for him, and a song is sung.

The groom does the same walk, giving some symbolic thing to the parents and assembled family members who are seated at the end of the line. The bride makes her appearance, led by an older female family member (a position which may have been offered to me for my sister’s future wedding), her bridesmaids trailing behind her. The bride and groom go up and down the aisles, led by photographers and videographers and the emcee who are all giving instructions and worrying about the placement of the frill on the umbrellas.

There was lots of chaos with all of the cameramen, which in this wedding was a bit exacerbated with the groom who is American in many definitions of the word. My family tells me that his Khmer (we never had the opportunity to speak with one another) is at the same level as mine, which is to say that deep conversations about thoughts and feelings won’t be first on the topic list, and that the bride’s English is… well. The emcee even made a joke about it while someone was trying to get him to turn his head just so; “Say it in English, maybe he’ll understand…”

I was the only one who laughed out loud. Which, then, put the attention on me – and the emcee began talking about the groom’s ‘fellow American’ who looked so lovely in the traditional Khmer shirt and skirt.

When it was all over we put the food back where we found it and went out to the tables at the side of the house. They were under tents, but given the wind still blowing cold, we moved them out into the sunshine to enjoy the rice porridge with bean sprouts and beverages. Our table had Coke and Fanta, though I saw some all-men tables with whisky and beer – I couldn’t think of a reason not to drink at 8:30 either.

And that was it…we piled back into the taxi and went home, various stolen drinks and fruits in our hands, and enjoyed the rest of the Saturday.

Side note: despite not eating the seafood in the rice porridge, I still got terribly sick from something that I ate that morning, with a bacterial infection or amoebas or something, and it was not fun. But, fear not! All better!!

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Headlines: January, 2009; Peace Corps Cambodia; Directory of Cambodia RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Cambodia RPCVs; Blogs - Cambodia; Marriage

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