After a restful afternoon, Sam was set up watching Mr Bean with Emily, our super babysitter, and eating Burger King for dinner. While the invitation said the evening began at 6pm we were doubtful that things would begin at that time, we thought we clued in well enough to Timorese culture to know that much. But just what would be the best time to arrive, well, we just weren’t sure. I was a little anxious that we would somehow get it wrong, but with nothing to guide us, we just guessed. We left home about half past six, to pick up our Timorese MAF colleague, Aldo, his wife Julia and three month old son Achilles from their home. They didn’t want to ride late at night on the motorbike, so we offered to be their taxi. On our way, we received a phone call from our MAF colleague to say the groom had called him to say we needed to be at the reception venue by 7.15 and seated by 7.30 for things to start. Again the groom was looking out for us and making sure we knew what to do. Feeling good that we had judged the timing correctly, we collected our friends and arrived at the venue at about 7.
There were many people already there, so we went inside, signed the visitor’s book, were given a glass memento and gave the people there our envelope with money, in lieu of a gift. An usher then showed us into a large ballroom and indicated that we should sit in the front row of a bank of about80 seats. The centre of the room had a carpeted walkway, a large table with a huge wedding cake, surrounded by champagne bottles, with more walkway, leading to a stage ornately decorated and with some chairs spaced along the area. In one area was a band, food tables were around the room, some with main course type foods, other with desserts. And there we sat.We people watched (the dresses, high heel shoes and hairstyles were quite amazing), we played with baby Achilles, i struggled with my Tetun knowledge trying to chat with Julia, we made faces at Achilles making him smile and waited. The two other couples of MAF staff arrived and we sat and waited some more. Took photos. Looked at photos on our phones and cameras. People watched. Chatted. Jason and Aldo passed the time by trying to guess when the dinner would start. People continued to arrive in groups. Until most of the seats were filled, at an estimate we guessed there was about 700 people in attendance.
It was about 8.30 when the bride and groom arrived. Just like in weddings in Australia, the important family members and guests were introduced as they entered. I couldn’t understand most of what the MC was saying, but he had the audience in fits of laughter often. The official part of the evening began with speeches, cutting the wedding cake, surrounded by special guests popping champagne bottles and the bridal waltz. Everywhere the couple went they were followed by people videoing and photographing the special moments on phones, cameras and notebooks. One little girl of about 7 or 8 stood with her IPAD like device videoing the whole bridal waltz from about a metre away, her little face totally captivated by what she was seeing and perhaps dreaming of the day she would get to do the same thing.
After grace, at a little after 9pm, it was time for dinner. As the foreigners in the front row we were told to go first, an honour i felt reluctant to take up, but i was really hungry, so the need for food forced me to obey. A buffet table bursting with pork, chicken, meatballs, fish, vegetables and various unknown items sat before us. The pork, pulled off the whole pig with head still intact and looking at you, was beautifully cooked. I wanted more! We ate and chatted with the people in the row behind us who wanted to know who were and why we were at the wedding, in Dili and where we we were from. A trip to the bathroom was an adventure, weaving through groups of people, through the kitchen where food was being prepared to the outdoor bathrooms. I couldn’t help but notice ladies sitting on the ground surrounded by dirty plates, scraping scraps into buckets and beginning the process of washing perhaps over 700 plates. I hoped they didn’t have to do it by hand, but at the same time knowing that jobs are difficult to find in Dili. It seemed in stark contrast to the glamour and party atmosphere inside the ballroom.
Then it was time for the dancing. We had been told that it was rude to leave before the first dance and we found this to be true. The floor became packed with dancing couples. I stole baby Achilles and sent Aldo and Julia out onto the floor. I remember life with a newborn, so Jason and i entertained baby Achilles, with many odd looks from passersby, while his parents enjoyed a dance. We noticed people lining up at the stage and realised to say goodbye you needed to go to the stage and greet and thank each person there. It took some coordination to climb over the flower arrangements in high heels, but we greeted each person, thanking them for allowing us to celebrate with them and experience our first ever Timorese wedding.