My Experience at a Mayan Wedding (or, Why I Travel)
In 1997, my husband Bob and I were managing a remote rainforest lodge in Belize when we were invited to a Mayan wedding as guests of the bride’s family. We climbed excitedly into the lodge’s Isuzu Trooper, and traveled the greater part of a day to the end of the rutted, potholed Southern Highway.
The bride’s dowry was parked outside. It was a school bus full of corn, the perfect Mayan medium of exchange. According to the Mayan creation myth, the first time god made man he used earth, but when the rains came his creation dissolved into mud. The second try involved wood, and that didn’t go so well either. Finally, he used corn and it was a success.
I thought back to our own wedding gifts, the most notable of which was a Fry Baby. We sure used the heck out of that deep fryer, but it would be useless to this young couple living off the grid.
Before sunrise the next morning I woke to the sound of movement in the kitchen. One of the girls (she couldn’t have been more than eleven) was making stacks of flour tortillas on a comal. It was the reverse of my childhood, in which my mother opened the kitchen every morning.
Next, I noticed women walking towards the river to bathe. I wanted very much to join them, but held back. By the time I got up the nerve, the men had begun drifting towards the river. Sighing, I realized I’d missed my window of opportunity. I dipped a wash cloth into a cup of water, and dabbed at my fragrant parts.
We all headed to the church, the bride and groom seated regally on white plastic chairs in the back of a pickup truck. I watched in suspense as they negotiated a small stream without a bridge.
We all headed to the church, the bride and groom seated regally on white plastic chairs in the back of a pickup truck.
Inside the church, we were surprised to find a gringo priest towering over his flock like a tree. Nobody paid attention to the brown dog snuffling around their feet. When the knot was tied, everyone filed outside except for the priest and the newlyweds who were to receive marital instruction. We huddled and sweat in the shade of the trees for about an hour.
Finally it was time to celebrate with the groom’s family and I found myself holding a cold bottle of beer and a paper plate piled high with food. Both families and their friends had spent days butchering chickens and pigs and were likely up all night cooking and baking. I drank my beer, set down the bottle, and was immediately handed another. I downed three beers before I wised up and started carrying around my last empty.
After stuffing myself, I looked for a trash can so I could free up at least one of my hands. There was none to be found, but I noticed there were empty plates accumulating on the ground. Reluctantly, I dropped my plate.
The wisdom of this method was revealed when the dogs moved in and took care of most of the scraps. After they lost interest, the chickens took their turn. Only then did someone pick up the plates, all pecked and licked clean.
Naturally, those three beers made their way to my bladder, so I went nosing around in search of an outhouse. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust inside the privy, and another to realize I should have brought a tissue. I ran my finger along one of the corn cobs piled in a corner. The texture resembled a soft-bristled brush, but in the end, I chose to drip dry.
When it was time to move the party to the bride’s house, they loaded up the generator, the sound system, and the newlyweds. After partying there, we headed over to an uncle’s. It was dark, and the Trooper was loaded with people, sitting on the roof and hanging out the windows.
I reached for a can of beer, and realizing it was warm, quickly retracted my hand. I hoped no one noticed that I was too spoiled to drink warm beer.
Upon a wooden table sat a bowl with two loaves of wonder bread and another with canned Budweiser. I wondered if this was their usual fare or were they trying to please their white guests? I reached for a can of beer, and realizing it was warm, quickly retracted my hand. I hoped no one noticed that I was too spoiled to drink warm beer.
Dancing ensued. The music was traditional Mayan. We gamely joined in, using moves we had learned from our staff. The problem was, the room was Mayan-sized and we kept bumping our heads on the ceiling beams. But my dance card was full, and I dared not deny the laughing men elbowing each other for a dance with the big white woman. I looked over and saw that Bob was facing a similar challenge.
Bob and I climbed the steps to our room at the end of the evening. It had been an extraordinary day. We lit the kerosene lamp, and got ready for bed. I looked outside at the stars, music still ringing in my ears, and knew I would never forget this day. This, I thought, is why I travel.