Friday, December 24, 2010

Haiti: Wedding

Two days before Christmas Eve, I attended a wedding. The bride is the head nurse at Fondasa Haiti, one of ESF’s partner agencies.

The wedding was in almost all regards exactly like a standard American Christian wedding. Even the beauty parlor where we went beforehand to so my boss could have her hair straightened and curled was eerily similar to any Black American beauty salon in the States (I suspected, she confirmed). There were, however, a few striking cultural differences. First, I was surprised by the timing. The invitation said 4:00. Though we were running late and arrived at 4:20, we were the first guests. More striking than that, the lack of guests did not stop the ceremony from beginning about five minutes later when the limousine carrying the bridal party arrived: the music started, and the bridesmaids paced down the aisle of the virtually empty church! The guests arrived over the course of the next hour or so, such that the ceremony concluded to a full house. I assume it’s to make up for the lack of initial audience that the reception began with a complete repetition of the wedding procession.

Second, people not only took pictures throughout the ceremony, but in fact got up out of their seats to crowd around the happy couple at the front of the church, snapping close-ups of them saying their vows, exchanging rings, etc. At times the participants were completely obscured by the profusion of waving cameras and mobile phones. Their special moment is very well documented indeed.

It was a lovely wedding. Selfishly, I enjoyed having an excuse to wear something other than scrubs. I also appreciated the opportunity that the wedding afforded to reflect on the kind of arresting juxtapositions that you only find in circumstances such as those in Port-Au-Prince today:

• The experience of being all dressed up in dainty gold high-heeled sandals and a silk sundress, picking my way over concrete rubble to climb into a dented and much-abused four-wheel drive;

• The image of the somewhat worse-for-wear limousine crawling through the crowded and narrow third-world street, and coming to a stop in front of the church opposite the sagging, folded concrete slabs of a house that remains as it was when it collapsed in the earthquake almost exactly a year ago;

• The view of a teenage boy and his kid sister, dressed respectively in an immaculate formal suite and a pristine white first-communion dress complete with white floral headdress and veil, stepping carefully around the muddy drainage ditch in the otherwise dusty road, making their way past piles of rubble and a herd of smelly marauding goats;

The reception was held in a nice hotel in a wealthier residential neighborhood. The houses were large, with gardens and green trees, and surrounded by high cement walls with iron gates. Despite the fact that most of the houses in this neighborhood appeared intact, the vast majority of them seemed uninhabited. The darkened windows by themselves didn’t necessarily imply an empty house, since here even large and fancy houses usually lack electricity. A stronger clue was the presence of tents in the front yard, the driveway, or the street in front of the gate. Buildings that look sound are not necessarily so, and my colleagues tell me of people with sound houses who are nevertheless too scared and traumatized to live in them.

(Apologies, these pictures are not up to our usual standard: the next batch will be better)

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