More than a year has passed of our life here in Timor Leste. We have learnt to do many things in settling into our new home. We can communicate what we want or need, most of the time. We know where to go to buy what we need, most of the time. We are getting used to heat and bugs. We’ve experienced most of the public holidays and know what to expect, sort of. As we spend time with newly arrived friends and we realise anew just how much we have learnt, experienced and become aware of in the past year.
And then it happens…. an unforeseen moment, that throws you back to the beginning of all cultural learning and makes you feel like an expatriate baby all over again…. you are invited to a wedding! What an honour and a privilege to be invited to help celebrate this important day, but as i sat with my Swiss friend and fellow invitee to the wedding, we began to wonder….
What do we wear?
The invitation says no kids to the dinner, can we take Sam to the church? Do we wear the same outfit to the church and evening celebration?
The invitation says no presents, rather an envelope with money, how much do we include?
The invitation says 10 am and 6pm for starting times of the various ceremonies. Do we really go at those times? Or if we go then will we be the only ones there for an hour or so?
Do the guys need ties? Are jeans okay or should we buy them trousers?
My good dress is black, can i wear black to a we
dding in a country where black is saved mainly for mourning?
I need shoes. I can’t wear sandals or thongs. Where do i buy shoes?
How do we rsvp?
My dress doesn’t have sleeves, is that okay to wear in a Catholic Church here?
How long will it go for?
Do we go home in between ceremonies or are we there all day?
Where is the church mentioned on the invitation?
Where is that reception centre?
So the following week was spent in consultation with our friends more experienced in Timorese culture and weddings than we are. We asked these same questions again and again, receiving slightly different answers, but some clear enough guidelines to follow, so that hopefully we won’t cause too much embarrassment to ourselves or our generous hosts. And with everyone we asked, there was always the disclaimer, “Don’t worry, if you do something wrong, people will understand because you are “malae” or a foreigner!”
The next step after all our questions and answers was to make sure we had everything needed for the event itself… time to go shopping! I mentioned before that in adapting to life in Dili we have learnt where to go to buy what we need… most of the time. But shopping for wedding clothes, shoes and accessories was new territory for us, we needed more advice, this time about where to go shopping. More questions were asked of our wise friends and numerous shopping trips were undertaken between the three MAF families. Lucky for us Jason and I are the same height as our Timorese friends, so i didn’t think it would be too difficult to purchase trousers for Jason in the local market.
On a Saturday afternoon, my newly arrived friend from Australia attacked the market for plants for her garden and clothes for Jason, with four children tagging along. The adventure of hunting for treasure in tarpaulin covered stalls is fun for awhile, you do feel a little like Ali Baba in his caves of loot, until the sweat starts building and before you realise it your look and feel like someone has thrown a bucket of water over you. You are wet through, skirt, underwear, shirt and hair are dripping. Eeeeghhhh! Such a gross feeling! But the treasure is found after a little hunting, two shirts and two pairs of trousers for $16. The risk of these clothes not fitting was high, as most had no size labels attached, or used a system of sizing unfamiliar to me. But thankfully my friend had her trusty tape measure in her bag, allowing us a little more accuracy in our selections. Proud of my purchases we returned home, 100% success with the shirts, both fit Jason well. Trousers, not so good as only one pair fit, oh well, I guess that is what he is wearing now!
Yesterday, my Swiss friend Deb and i tackled the shops again, this time looking for shoes. A new area of town i had never visited before was our destination to hunt down wedding style shoes, so i wouldn’t be attending this event in my thongs (flip flops), sandals or running shoes. I had driven down these streets many times, but had never explored the contents of the stores. Little did i realise that inside these stores is a treasure trove of clothing, shoes, bags, sunglasses, and more. Ladies shoes with heels as tall as Mount Everest are common here. Bling, diamontes, skulls and cross bones and dinosaur like studs were all found frequently on the shoes we looked at and even tried on. While i will likely never find clothes to fit me here, my tiny feet (Thanks Ma!) meant show shopping was a simple task. The challenge was to find something my uncoordinated self could balance and walk in, rather than what would fit.
In the course of our two hours of shopping, we encountered many friendly Timorese shop staff all eager to help us, especially after we got out the dictionary and learnt how to explain that we needed shoes for our first Timorese wedding. We posed for a photo with the shop staff in one location, as the photo was a bargaining tool to lower the price of the shoes i wanted to buy. We discovered that the bargain bin in some shops contained shoes and bags that were disintegrating they had been there for so long. We found padded underwear for ladies with small behinds, something that looked like bulletproof vests and very cute three piece suits for little boys. (No excuse to buy one this time as Sam has been invited to a friend’s birthday party tomorrow and so will skip the wedding this time.) Mission accomplished. Wedding shoes purchased. Dressy handbag purchased, wasn’t sure my normal back pack bag would suit the occasion, new shops discovered and so many fun, laughter filled conversations with the staff we met.
Today has been a day of ironing and hemming Jason’s pants, in between the power outages, baby sitter booked, so let the celebrations begin….