My mother always told me that in my twenties I would attend a lot of weddings. If she had told me my first wedding would have been in Sri Lanka, I would have laughed… One of my goals for my year in Sri Lanka was to attend a wedding, and I’m happy to cross that off the list. I’m sad to say though my expectations of a Bollywood style event were unrealistic, but it was a great experience.
On Monday my afternoon class was pushed back a few hours, unbeknownst to me, as there was a wedding to attend. One of the Sarvodaya staff members was getting married, and the entire office was set to attend. We piled into a van, squishing and squeezing to fit everyone in – the air conditioner was on the fritz. The women were clad in their best saris, rich colors that were bedazzled. The men wore simpler button down shirts and slacks.
Once we were on our way the staff realized that they had left the gift for the groom in the office, we turned around and headed back to the office. Envelope in hand, we were on our way. The driver was going quickly to make up for lost time, and a traffic officer pulled us over for speeding. A short while later we were pulling up in front of a two-story hotel in the heart of Trinco town.
Hotels in Sri Lanka rarely have rooms to rent; they’re more akin to restaurants. In Sri Lankan English a hotel means anything from a shack of a restaurant to a fairly upscale establishment. Places that rent out rooms are generally called guesthouses, save for the five-star locations that also go by hotel.
When we entered my head was adorned with gold and red tilaka. We then climbed upstairs and started eating. Saffron rice was served with chicken curry and an assortment of vegetables and salads. We ate, and the staff laughed as my face turned red from the savory, but spicy food. The swelling of my lips kept pace with my intake of chilies and curries. After I finished eating my lunch, a kind soul brought me some vanilla ice cream – which soothed my enflamed mouth.
Once all the staff was finished eating we headed downstairs, and entered the queue to have our picture taken with the Bride and Groom. In an assembly line fashion groups of people were shuffled in an out, arranged in symmetrical order around the newlyweds, and their pictures were taken. It was a surprisingly efficient and well coordinated effort. After we had taken our pictures with the couple, we were on our way out the door.
Near the door stood a beautiful wedding cake, but it was not edible. Wedding cakes in Sri Lanka have a core of styrofoam, and are intricately decorated. If you want your cake to last all day, and stand up to the heat and humidity of this nation, it can’t be made out of something as flimsy as a mixture of flour, milk, and sugar. Instead, when you are leaving you get handed a prepackaged portion of cake – about the size of a deck of cards. It’s called Rick Cake, something similar to fruitcake. Delicious.
The issue of a love or arranged marriage is a peculiar thing. In the West, youths are left to their own devices to find mates. While in the East, many marriages are arranged. And this term has quite a wide definition. Arranged marriages could be anything from a simple introduction, where two families decide to get their kids together. Or it could be something as formal as your parents placing ads in the calendar, detailing your looks, age, qualifications, income, dowry (or inheritance), and horoscope. From what I can gather the institution is more like a partnership, or business. And please don’t take that to have a negative or cold meaning. I’ve met several couples that did not really know each other before they were wed, and they seem incredibly happy. The marriage is set up for one goal, to produce a family. The husband and wife have different interests and goals, but they have joined together to raise children to the best of their ability. My friend who got married wasn’t quite a product of an arranged marriage, but he didn’t meet his wife on his own. He seemed really perplexed about how I was supposed to find a wife; he viewed it as a huge burden.