Eslin, the 21 year old shopgirl that manages the cooperative store, got married on Saturday. Eslin is the instant friend type. She is one of those bright, welcoming treasures anyone in a foreign place is lucky to find. We have become close over the past three months since we spend a good amount of time just hanging out together at the Cooperative’s store. What’s great is that she is patient with my Spanish. She translates for me when visitors to the store talk to fast or use words that I don’t know. And she has a knack for politely shooing bolos (the town drunks) which comes in handy on slow weekends.
For the past month the wedding plans have been all the gossip at the store. From the invitations to the wedding dress to the drama over dama (bridesmaids) dresses (her damas wanted to buy their own material after she had already picked out the “perfect” fuschia fabric in Chiquimulilla), etc. With each new description Eslin gave about her wedding I would get more and more giddy. Especially when she talked about her gown. She was going to have a 16 foot train (oh my!), a pouffy hoop skirt (yeees) and wear white netting gloves to her elbows (truly amazing).
We arrived at 3:30 to Eslin’s house. The wedding was taking place in her backyard and the invitation saide 3PM but when we walked in the palm tented space was nearly empty (standard Guatemalan tardiness). We took our seats and I entertained myself for the next hour by taking pictures. Pictures of the dove decorations cut from white paper plates hanging from the palm thatched roof. Pictures of the wedding cake, a five cake masterpiece composed of a three-tiered cake topped with plastic bride and groom connected to a second two-tiered cake by plastic staircase with plastic bridesmaids and groomsmen lined up on the steps a-la prom picture.
During my impromptu photo shoot the church band was doing a mic check (instead of “check, one-two, one-two” they used “Gloria Dios, Hallelujah”) and warmed up the crowd by singing church songs. The guests slowly filled the empty plastic chairs and by 4:30 the ceremony began.
First Marvin, the groom, walked down the aisle and took his place with his parents beside the priest. Then came the damas in their fuschia dresses accompanied by their respective caballero. Each couple carried two white staffs connected by a party streamer. The 9 couples lined up along the aisle making a tunnel with their staffs. Next came the “Lady” or maid-of-honor with a pair of scissors cutting the connecting streamers as she walked down the aisle. Then three sets of little kid couples. The first represented the bride and groom and were dressed in miniature bridal dress and tux, the second were the ring bearers and the third carried a bible and other representative trinkets. After the kids, came the flower girl who tossed tiny white styrofoam balls on the pine needle strewn dirt floor. Finally, the wedding march came over the speakers and down the aisle walked Eslin with her parents on either side followed by two girls holding her 16 foot train. She looked beautiful- radiating happiness. This was her moment to shine.
The actual wedding ceremony with vows, ring exchange and kiss took about 30 minutes. After the priest announced the couple husband and wife they were given two chairs to sit in- a sign that we weren’t going to be diving into that carne asada I could smell on the grille anytime soon. The sermon and singing were next on the agenda. The priest and his church ensemble must have come as a package deal. There was a full band at the makeshift alter, two back-up singers, two trumpeters, a keyboardist and a drummer. The priest intermixed his sermon with Evangelical Christian songs. Those in the audience that were Evangelical sang and clapped along, the Catholics just sat there.
An hour later I had exhausted my ability to distract myself from my growling stomach by taking pictures of my friends daughter Ruth who was sitting next to me. I spent the next 15 minutes staring at the flickering lightbulb hanging from the palm ceiling above the priest’s head. He was using so much energy that every time he became vocally animated the light would pulse in sync with the rise and fall of his voice.
When at last the church band had sung their last song, the bridal party marched back down the aisle in the order they had arrived and the crowd began grabbing plastic tables that were stacked on the perimeter of the yard. The backyard was transformed into the reception area in five minutes flat. At about 6:30 dinner was served; the standard party fare of carne asada (grilled beef), escavech (pickled vegetables), two tortillas and pasta salad. All elements of the “party” meal make sense to me except the pasta salad. Its reminiscent of they mayo ridden pasta salad dishes found on buffets in the states and every time its served I curse the person who introduced the recipe to Guatemalans.
The table we were sitting at was tucked away in a dark corner so we had the misfortune of being the last ones served. Luckily, however, my friend Kiera called my cell and was a welcoming distraction while I watched women pass through the sea of tables carrying trays of steaming food. After the meal we were among the few guests still around to watch the cutting of the cake. Its completely acceptable for people to skip the ceremony and just come to a wedding for the dinner and leave after they clean their plates- as long as they bring a gift.
At 8:00 we left the wedding in a tuk-tuk.