Monday, February 18, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 7

Nearly a dozen years ago, Dups gave me one of the most remarkable few days of my life when I attended his citizenship ceremony in Ottawa. Days of celebration with friends cumulated by watching him bounce across the stage at the Museum of Civilization to become a Canadian citizen. I've always cherished that event.

And now he's given me another memory to cherish for the rest of my life. Because, honestly, I've never experienced anything quite like February 11, 2013, the day he and Jenna got married. It was a remarkable day. Those of us in attendance kept looking at each other as if we couldn't believe we were actually in Sri Lanka and experiencing this.

My day didn't begin as early as Dups and Jenna's did, but I was up at 6 am, just in case he needed any help. Besides the plan was that most of the men would meet up in one of the hotel rooms and get changed, plus to give Dups any support or help he might need.

It was a fun hour or so. Lots of jokes and moments of cracking up. Dups running out of the bathroom and asking if any of us had any hair gel. Let's just say that of the men in the room at that time - me, Mike, Eddie and Tushar - gel was not something we felt compelled to pack for the trip. We concluded prolonged exposure to Dups could cause hair loss. When I think about it, I believe I did start losing my hair right around the same time I met him.

Later, when Dups was getting dressed he discovered that perhaps you should take your new dress shirt out of it's packaging sometime sooner than two hours before you get married, so Tushar was doing some frantic ironing of shirts.

But the moment things hit home was when Dups asked Niall and I to run upstairs. Niall needed to get some photos of Jenna and Nuala. He needed me to grab Jenna's dad's cufflinks, which he wanted to wear when they got married. So Niall and I got an early preview of how the bride and her maid of honour were going to look.

Breathtaking. No kidding, I've been to a few wedding and seen some stunning brides. But I've never seen anything like what Jenna and Nuala looked like. I think all I managed to keep saying was "wow." Although I'm not entirely sure how they managed to breath in either dress.

I remembering bringing the cufflinks back to Dups a short time later and telling him "try to remember to breath when you see her." I wasn't there when that happened, but by all accounts it took him a moment or two to remember.

After getting dressed, everyone began making their way to the main lobby of the hotel to meet before the wedding. I was wearing a suit, but a couple of the guys - Niall and Eddie - opted for more traditional Sri Lankan men's clothing. Most of the women either went with saris or tunics. We were actually hanging out in the lobby for about 15 minutes or so with Dups and Jenna (they had a bunch of photos taken before the ceremony) so everyone got to see them together. They actually were pretty calm, I must say. Although Jenna and Nuala were the centre of attention. People were either asking permission to take pictures, or trying to sneak one in.

Now, here's the weird thing...we didn't actually know what was going to happen. Dups Sri Lankan family did, obviously. But the western contingent didn't have a clue what was about to happen. Hell, even Dups and Jenna were a touch in the dark about aspects of what as to come next. They had made a number of changes from the more traditional ceremony. There would be no foot washing of the groom, for example. They cut some other aspects of the ceremony Dups was not comfortable with for personal reasons. So everyone was curious about what was about to happen.

Dups and Mike went ahead to the main hall. Most of us stayed with Jenna. Because Dups had so much family in the country, we decided to be Jenna's family. That meant at the appointed time, someone came and told us it was time. Jenna, her mom and Nuala went first. The rest of us followed behind, a little uncertain but going with the flow.

Outside of the banquet hall, we were greeted by men in traditional Sri Lankan dress. That's when they began singing, dancing and playing drums to escort the bride and her family into the hall. I keep using the word "remarkable", but it was. It was so full of energy and life and joy. You couldn't help but smile the entire time.

The timing of everything was also important. The duration of the celebration escorting Jenna in was dependent on her being at a specific place at a specific time, as I understand it. They had their horoscope read months earlier, so much of the timing of the ceremony was based on that. The drumming, singing, dancing and, eventually, acrobatics, lasted about 10 minutes. It could have been shorter, it could have been longer.

Throughout all of it we were encouraged to be as involved as we wanted. There was no problem milling around and taking photos and video of the festivities. There were seats, so if you wanted to sit down, you could. If you wanted to be up close and take photos, you could. There was a very specific ceremony and ritual happening going on, but it was also quite relaxed about how involved the families could be. It was fantastic.

After that, it was a ceremony. Dups and Jenna had to step on a special hand made dais at a specific time. The priest performed a ceremony that I think caught Dups a bit by surprise because he was not speaking Singhalese; he was speaking Sanskrit. It's basically the equivalent of a Catholic ceremony being done entirely in Latin. There was a moment when the priest handed both of them some leaves. Dups thought they were supposed to hold onto them; Jenna thought they were suppose to drop them on the floor.

For not the last time in their marriage, Jenna was right.

There were other moments. A coconut was lit on fire and cracked in half with a machete (it actually kind of exploded. Smoking coconut shrapnel hit several people). That was supposed to symbolize virility. Not terribly subtle, now that I think about it. But it's bad luck if it doesn't go well. The signing of the registry and saying the vows, which is a moment where I think it kind of sank in finally that they were getting married. There was also a moment where they had to light some candles around a bronze stand. I confess, I wasn't really paying attention to all the details of the stand at the time, so I missed the initial joke.

You see, we'd spent days at this point making fun of the national bird of Sri Lanka. It's the jungle fowl. In Sinhalese it's called a Fire Bird. In reality, it's a chicken. It's a jungle chicken, but a chicken all the same. So we've spent days exaggerating how fearsome the jungle chicken was ("Did you know the jungle chicken is the only natural predator to the elephant. It takes about 20 years of pecking, but he eventually wears him down"). It was reaching Monty Python-like proportions. It was a good bit of fun at Dups experience.

On top of the bronze stand was the bird. So when Dups and Jenna finished lighting the candles, they walked by and whispered to Lori and I, "Hey look. It's a fire chicken!"

I nearly lost it. Just a perfect little moment in a perfect ceremony.

After that, there were elements you would find in a lot of weddings. The newly weds were brought to a sati where people went up and offered congratulations and had their pictures taken with them. They went around from table to table and spoke with family and friends. There was yet another astonishing Sri Lankan meal. The food in that country is unreal.

And then, well, there was some milling about. You see, they weren't allowed to leave until a certain time. Nor were the guests. It would be bad luck. There was music playing, but of Dups brothers was in charge of the music for the wedding. He loves 80s karaoke. I'm not kidding. And they were playing it loud. However, no one was really inclined to get up and start dancing to it. Oh, and there was no alcohol.

There were still a few more amazing moments to come, however. One was that Dups family felt comfortable enough around us that they went up and started singing traditional Sri Lankan songs, which was amazing. What's more amazing was that Dups father joined them and sang as well.

Dups dad had fairly serious surgery back in December. The fact that he was well enough to attend the wedding was almost a miracle. That he was up there singing along with his family...well, you'd have to be inhuman not to be touched by it.

His dad also said a few words at the end of the ceremony. I'm glad I got the chance to meet him. I wish I had met him when he was healthier. He was amazing at the wedding. From speaking to Niall, Rebecca and Mike, who had met him years ago, he was even more amazing back then. Plus, he has one of the great laughs. It just fills a room. You can't help but smile when you hear it.

And then that was it. The bride and groom headed out, with all the family and friends following. Jenna arranged a vintage car to pick them up and carry them away (they were back at the hotel 10 minutes later).

After that, the rest of the day feels kind of anti-climatic. A group of us went out on the upper deck of the hotel and had high tea. Nuala joined us. She'd changed out of her bridesmaid outfit, but kept the hair, which was like concrete. It didn't move an inch for the rest of the day. She told us later it took soaking her hair in conditioner for about 30 minutes before it even began to loosen up.

Later in the evening, we all headed down to the beach and ate supper. Dups and Jenna even joined us for the evening. It was just a nice night of hanging out with friends, talking about the day and enjoying each other. It was the last evening we were all going to be together. Exhausted, we all headed back to the hotel around midnight...

Assorted Bits
1. We briefly entertained the idea of going up and singing a song or two ourselves, but we had a hard time trying to come up with a song to sing. It was nearly "Barrett's Privateers", but we thought that wasn't exactly cheerful to sing at a wedding. It was noted that there are not many sing-alongable and cheerful Canadian songs that do not involve lots of drinking. We'll figure something out before the Kingston wedding.
2. Mike was considerably nervous before the wedding. He was the best man, but Dups kept him in the dark about what he was supposed to be doing. We never did figure out if that's because Dups didn't know what was going on, or if he just wanted to torture Mike. I think Mike was the most relieved once the ceremony was over and discovered his role was fairly minimal.
3. Both Jenna and Nuala had considerable amounts of make-up added, which darkened their complexion. Nuala, in particular, seemed to frustrate the make-up folks. She's Irish and has freckles. They seemed very determined to get rid of them. Thankfully, they failed...
4. Rebecca and Janius both wore lovely saris, but it was a near thing. They had been fitted for them a week earlier, but the tailor apparently tossed out the measurements. They didn't fit and it took a morning of frantic adjustments to make the saris work.
5. When Dups first bounced into our lives, nearly everything he wore was purple. In honour of that, Lori wore a purple tunic and I wore a purple shirt and tie. Which was fantastic, but it cracked up my my wife when she saw the pics. "You guys look great, but it looks like you're going to prom together..."

1 comment:

John, Perth AU said...

You should have gone with the traditional outfit. You're drawing too much attention away from the bride in that photo. ;)