Note: This post is part of a series on Bali. To start at the beginning, see The Bali Diary: Day 1.]
It was a short walk to Wayan’s family home, but the steamy air poached us quickly in our sausage-wrap getups. By the time we arrived at the walled compound, Chris was mangosteen red and I was beginning to understand the merit of being half naked from the waist up.
Nyoman 1 led us through a passageway flanked by monkey-monster statues meant to keep out the evil spirits, and as the door closed behind me I took in the environment before me. Other than the minivan and motorbikes, the family compound looked unchanged from ancient times. Nyoman 2, Wayan’s father, greeted us immediately and led us to the bale sakenam, a pavilion used for important family ceremonies.
Sitting regally in the first row of several plastic chairs was Wayan in full ceremonial dress. Her hair was piled high atop her head, with the help of a hairpiece, and crowned with a garland of small pink roses. Unfortunately, the heat and humidity had had its way with her makeup, and her heavily powdered nose was starting to resemble melted cookie dough. I felt bad for her having to sit alone, on display, trying not to wilt.
When she saw us, she broke into a wide smile. “Please, sit,” she said and patted the chair beside her.
“Is it OK?” I asked. “This seems like seating for the important people, family,” I said nervously.
“No, it’s OK. Please, sit,” she answered. Her father beamed and looked out at the other guests, then pulled the chairs closer to Wayan. His eyes were glassy, and I wondered how much he’d already participated in the day’s festivities.
“Well, you must be so nervous. It’s a big day. Today you go to live in your husband’s home!” I said. Wayan looked down then leaned into me. “We had to do this soon,” she said. “I am pregnant.”
“I never noticed,” I said. “You can’t tell.”
I wanted to ask her if she loved her fiancé, or if this was a shotgun marriage that would trap her in misery for the foreseeable future. Was she ready for how her life would change? Did she want to run? But those were questions for a best friend. And probably not even her on the day of her wedding.
“You look beautiful,” I said.
“Thank you,” she replied and stared ahead.
We sat in silence and I looked around the compound. To the north were a coterie of women feeding a large Hindu shrine with offerings of flowers, burning incense, rice, and fruit in palm-leaf trays. Nearby, teenage girls clustered in a closed-off building, their colorful shoes flung willy-nilly outside the doorway. Toward the back of the garden other guests sat on crates, gossiping and fanning themselves. Men huddled in one group, women in another, and children, dogs, and chickens scampered around the feet and legs of everyone. I was relieved to see that nearly all women in attendance were wearing lacy blouses like mine, even the elderly ones with their backs hunched into C-curves, shuffling around with plates of food and even more offerings for the gods, their shiny pink, red, blue, and black bra straps defiantly falling from their shoulders. At least they’re wearing tops, I thought. I’d heard it wasn’t always that way.
I tried to make eye contact with Chris, since he hadn’t overheard Wayan dropping the bun-bomb; but he was too intrigued by what was happening in the bale sakenam directly in front of us. There on the pavilion floor sat a group of men in a trancelike state. Women brought out juice glasses filled with a brown, milky substance and placed one beside each man as he listened to the priest read from the pages of a plastic folder.
“Do you suppose they just drank some of that psychedelic stuff TamSun told us about?” I asked Chris. My friend back in Montana had spent a good deal of time in Indonesia while working for the University for Peace in the early 2000s. And she’d warned us that some folks in Lombok (a tiny neighboring island) like to greet tourists with a cheery little sip of psilocybin. Magic mushroom milkshakes, they’re called.
“I don’t know,” Chris answered. “They look like they could be tripping.”
“Or maybe they’re just praying,” I said.
Nyoman 1 reappeared and led us to a buffet. He explained each of the dishes, and I listened carefully for references to deep-fried dragonflies and sago worms, two of the more unusual culinary delights of Bali that I’d read about. Beside the buffet were three folding chairs, and Nyoman motioned for us to sit. Everyone watched us, including Nyoman. “Is anyone else going to eat?” I asked. “Later,” he said. Chris and I looked at each other and slowly picked our way through our platefuls of food, sweat dripping down our face, neck, and back.
After we’d finished eating, Nyoman escorted us back to our other seats. But this time we insisted that we sit behind Wayan and her fiancé, who had just shown up. Dressed in ceremonial garb to coordinate with Wayan’s, he was an attractive young man, even in full eye and face makeup. I watched them smile and whisper to one another, giggle and hold hands. Then at last they were called up to the pavilion by one of the elders.
“Here we go,” I said to Chris as I watched Wayan stand to her full height. Her sarong showcased her belly like a ring setting shows off a gem, and I realized she must be at least eight months along. She leaned over to us and thanked us for coming, then said we could leave if we’d like, that this part might take a little while. “Oh no,” we answered. “We’d like to stay and see it all, if that’s OK.” We’d been there for three hours already, so we figured some sort of grand finale must be near. Wayan nodded, and the two took their seats on the pavilion.
Another hour passed as we sat and waited and sweated and dreamed about a dip in the swimming pool back at the villa. “How much longer can this take?” Chris asked. “I am seriously sick from this heat. I think I have heat stroke.”
On the stage the priest spoke in hushed tones to Wayan and her husband-to-be while the other men quietly wrote on pages inside the plastic folder, which they passed around.
“What should we do about our little gift?” I whispered to Chris.
“Not sure,” he said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. He rearranged his blangkon on his head then suggested we give the cash wrapped in notebook paper to one of the women sitting on the porch. “They seem to be the gift receivers,” he said.
“OK, you take it. I’ll wait here,” I said.
“No, you take it. Only women can go over there.”
“But we’re Western, the rules don’t apply to us.”
“Yes, they do.”
“No, they don’t.”
We went on like that for about another half hour before I finally got up the nerve to walk over and hand one of the women the note. “For Wayan,” I said. The woman took the note and nodded, and I scurried back to my seat, all eyes upon me.
“What’d you give it to her for?”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s not the mom.”
“Sure it is. She looks just like her.”
“That is not the mom. We met her and that’s not her.”
“So you mean to tell me that I just gave a month’s worth of wages to a stranger, in cash?”
“Oh, wonderful. What are the odds Wayan’s ever going to see that?”
I plopped into my wobbly chair and we sat there mute while a toddler squealed at his handheld video game. Its chimes and dings and boings had Chris poised for intergalactic flight, and he began to make vague threats under his breath about what he would do to the toy if he got his hands on it. Meanwhile, I empathized with a dog passed out on the pavilion steps. No doubt he felt the same way about his hot black fur as we did about our thick cotton sarongs. The poor thing couldn’t even be bothered to act like a hunter and chase the chickens around.
“You know, I’d give ten dollars right now for a Kleenex or a handkerchief or anything to mop up all this sweat,” I said. “I’m dying. What are they doing up there? When is this over?”
Chris just stared ahead. He was starting to look like the dog.
“Maybe we should leave. We’ve more than made an appearance.” Neither one of us wanted to be the one to say it, but what was the point of trying to stay to the bitter end if it meant a trip to the ER later? Still, Chris wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. After all, we could miss the highlight of the entire event if we left now.
So we stayed. And waited. And sweated. And watched.
Then, as if some invisible master of ceremonies had made an announcement, the people began to rise from their seats and slowly form a line behind us. I turned around and surveyed the crowd.
“What are they doing?” I asked.
“Getting in line to eat, looks like to me,” said Chris.
“So that’s it?”
“But nothing happened. He didn’t even kiss the bride. They didn’t even stand up. Are you sure?”
“Well, the guests are getting in line to eat, aren’t they?”
“What a rip! That’s the longest, most anticlimactic wedding I’ve ever attended in my life.”
To read more about Bali, see “Dolphins at Sunrise.”