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Published: March 1st 2011
When last you heard from me, I was fired up with Resolutionary zeal!! Two months later, I have yet to implement a single one of those Resolutions. Although there's a long, dreadful story
about why this is so, I will forgo narrating my egregious last two months for the time being, and instead start implementing my Resolutions. I think I can start with Number Five--the most important one--updating my readers about the Khmer Wedding I attended in December.
I tell you what. Even if I hadn't been indisposed for the last two months, I would still have sat in silence on this issue for a long time, just trying to find words for it.
I went primarily out of loyalty to a friend who had no one else in his family attending the wedding and didn't want to be the only white person in Cambodian redneck territory. I am still paying for my act of loyalty today.
The wedding was way out in the provinces, close, I think, to the border of Thailand. It was a 6-hour drive from Phnom Penh to the village, so we had to leave around 6 am. We piled into the car--my friend Steve, his
fiancee Lyly, Lyly's older sister, two little girls from the village who were both very ill, and me. The girls were both hacking and coughing in my face the entire time; one of them had a fever and a rash and both seemed quite miserable. I mention this not by way of complaint, but instead because it figures rather significantly into why I haven't blogged for two months.
Well, how do I begin the tale? Khmer weddings are traditionally divided into multiple parts, over the course of multiple days. In between ceremonies, we visited various archaeological sites, and logistically, the story becomes rather difficult to tell.
I suppose I will start at the beginning. We arrived in the village and checked into the local guesthouse, which was rather basic (no electricity, no mosquito nets, with giant beetles that would commandeer the floors at night) but not too bad. Surrounded by red earth, jungle, and banana plants, I quite enjoyed its mellow atmosphere.
We visited the family of the bride for dinner that night. I who have given public parent-teacher conferences through an interpreter, taught kindergarten and preschool with the moms looking on, habitually walk around in elaborate
I didn't understand this part, but I was still expected to participate.
Gulf Arab-style clothing and pink hair, and daily spend six hours in front of an audience, all without blinking an eye, suddenly found myself feeling embarrassingly awkward in the presence of a badly intimidated Khmer family.
"They're more scared of you than you are of them," Steve assured me, which only served to make me feel worse. They were too afraid to try to talk to me or otherwise acknowledge my presence, but I did get to eat a lot of good food on their porch.
We all turned in early, because the real hard part was to begin the next day.
I told you that Khmer weddings take place over the course of days. This could be seven days, it could be three. I think in olden times, the wedding could span weeks
. I guess we were lucky that our wedding only spanned two days. The first day consisted solely of the bride and groom posing for photo ops with various family members. I put on a Khmer wedding outfit and sat on the porch to be gawped at by the village while Steve and Lyly changed into dozens of outfits and posed for hours straight.
Both returned to the guest house early in the evening, exhausted, only to have to get up at 3 am for the ceremony the next morning.
Somewhere along the line, Steve, Lyly, and her sister had somehow communicated to the village that I was Steve's younger sister (despite the fact that he is twice my age) and that I had flown in from Australia to observe the ceremony. Given that I am also older than the bride by a couple of years, I have now become her "older sister" and have permanently been appended to the family and the village. Not bad for one American's random act of loyalty eh?
HOWEVER--this also meant that, as a member of the family, I was expected to participate in the ceremony and take a position of honor in several key rituals. Imagine having to participate in a ceremony while performing rites that you know nothing about! From hair cutting to water sprinkling, from my position in the wedding procession to my blessing of the bride and groom, all of it was a source mystification to me. Never quite sure if I was doing the right thing, I bumbled my way through the rituals to the merriment of the entire village!
I felt quite uncomfortable and humiliated about this for some time. But then I figured any culture where people laugh when the groom pretends to eat smoke from the incense is probably cool with my general bumbling.
We went home in the afternoon for a nap; the real party was to start that evening. At this point, I had thoroughly had enough "culture", and I declined the party by staying in the guesthouse where it was safe!
Either I missed the better half of the celebration (as Steve told me) or else I didn't miss much but an overheated hassle (as Lyly told me). My only real disappointment is that I didn't get to wear my second Khmer party dress which I rented from the store for a great sum of money.
But I did gain a Khmer family. And family is all that counts on this green earth.
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