Wedding Party

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The tents of the wedding party glowed against the darkness,
illuminating the beads of falling rain and the sparkling headdresses of the women.
The main tent was festooned with pink and white polyester, and large bunches of ripe bananas hung amongst the swags like jungle chandeliers; every once in a while, Felix reached up to pick some and pass them around the table. The Bintang-large bottles of Indonsian beer-was flowing, and a huge buffet was on, with fragrant mountains of rice, chicken and mysteriously exotic dishes heaped on banana leaves. At each table was a plate of traditional Javan wedding cake-gooey dark squares made of palm sugar, rice flour and spices.

Donna and I were at a wedding at the house of Felix's brother Budi. It
was the end of the night, our last together in Bukit Lawang. Their
sister-in-law's wedding had started at 9 am-an event that lasted about
ten minutes before the real celebration began. The house is next to an
empty field, but tonight it was filled with tents, and entire families
were camping out; it looked like an outdoor rock concert. In the centre
a band was set up, playing Indonesian music-and La Bamba, for good
measure-almost loud enough to split the eardrums. With kreteks hanging
out of their mouths, Felix and his friends, most of them jungle guides,
filled the air with the scent of clove smoke as they danced, snaking
their hips and moving their hands in traditional Java style, fingers
spread apart and flowing to the rhythm. Two Swedish girls were with us
as well, guests from the Jungle Inn, chain smoking and looking dubious,
legs and arms folded. Near our table was a platform with an empty
golden loveseat, set amid green veils and potted plants, where the
couple had presided before disappearing into the house to begin their
married life.

Weddings are a common sight here; we'd already seen several held at the
side of the road. One wedding near Coconut Island held up traffic and
went well on into the night, echoing over the rice paddies. They're
usually pretty pedestrian affairs, with tents and plastic chairs set up
and a large board announcing the union
of bride and groom in bright
plastic carnations. Unlike people in the west, everyone here is
expected to get married and have children. Sex is a big taboo before
marriage, so best get married quick and let the baby-making begin, and
many do so at an extremely young age-as young as 15. It's considered
completely normal here; in fact, if girls aren't married by the time
they're 25, most people think there's something wrong with them. For
men, the pressure is on at 30-an age Felix and his friends are fast

One of the first questions an Indonesian will ask you here is, "Sudah
kawin?"-"Are you married yet?" It's not impolite; it's just a form of
conversation, though sometimes a bit of a come-on. I've tried being
honest and answering "Bellum" (not yet), but am usually met with gapes
of disbelief: why on earth not? Aduh, westerners and their
strange ways! So I asked Felix why he wasn't married yet. His answer:
"I am no longer a virgin. No Indonesian girl wants to marry me now." No
double standards in this country; both men and women are considered
unmarriageable if they dally before the big day.

At least Felix's sister-in-law was married off safely. So, led by
Felix, we kicked our shoes off at the entrance of the house to offer
our congratulations and present our envelopes of good luck money. The
house was full of people; overtired children were sleeping on their
mats, attended to by their mothers, and the groom was milling about in
his pyjamas. The mother of the bride, Budi's mother-in-law, greeted our
procession; I took her hand and touched my heart in the traditional
way, said "Selamat" as she
smiled and accepted my envelope. The
bride came out of the bedroom in her nightgown to greet us; she was a
beautiful girl with the face of a china doll, still perfectly made up.

I wondered how the couple would get anything done in this house full of
people, but since they were ready for bed it looked like the party was
coming to a close. So we traipsed through the muddy trail back to the
Jungle Inn and danced ourselves into a lather in a small outdoor
restaurant that turns into a nightclub after dark. When the sun goes
down, up goes the little swirling disco light and on comes Gwen Stefani
and Sir Mix-A-Lot...night clubbing, jungle style. It gets so hot that all
the jungle boys take off their shirts and dance until their dark bodies
glisten. It seems a bit gay at first, but they dance mainly with each
other because the local women, unfortunately, are at home protecting
their virtue or taking care of their children. Dancing, drinking and
playing pool are the luxuries of western women, who are exempt from the
local customs as long as we keep our shoulders and knees covered. Even
the Swedish girls let loose, which made me proud. We may be considered
a bit corrupt here, but what some consider corruption, others view as
freedom. I prefer to call it freedom. And we worked it to the fullest
on the dance floor, enjoying every minute of our last night in Bukit
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