I wake up in the early hours of morning light with the host family downstairs already hustling and bustling about the room. It’s not yet 6:30 a.m. but the day has come. Wedding day.
It started about four months ago but no one knew. So maybe it started when I knew: one month ago. I found out not from a family member, but from a gossiping teacher at my school. She whispered to me, “So do you know your cousin is going to have a baby?” Wide-eyed, I looked at her and thought, “My 17 year old cousin? The one I rode hard last year about wearing condoms and practicing safe sex with his girlfriend? The one our family pulled out of a deep drug addiction and coddled with love until his suffering finally ceased? The one I’ve watched grow over my months of living within the close walls of my Thai family? That one?” Silence.
The wedding was announced one week ago. How is that for an engagement period? Quick and to the point.
On a different day, a different occasion, I implored about the wedding only to get whispered replies. Another gossip-prone teacher said under her breath, “You see, something wrong has happened and we have to make it right.”
One morning, trying to uphold her pride, my host mother, and the aunt of my cousin, said, “This isn’t normal. Normally Thai people aren’t like this.”
I looked not at her but the road ahead of us and said frankly, “Yes they are.
It happens in America and it happens here, too. People don’t want to think teenagers have sex, but they do.” She continued to lament the good past and times when things like these never happened. I don’t recall such a past. It just wasn’t talked about.
Over the next two days I saw something remarkable happen. I saw a community of people come together, put their judgements as far aside as they could manage, and pull off a wedding ceremony and celebration for hundreds of people. I’d escaped numerous Thai weddings over my Peace Corps service, but this was one I didn’t want to miss. It was my first. Let me share with you this beautiful wedding experience that came at a much-needed time in my service. A time in which I needed the love of family, whether it be the one I have in America, or one of the many I’ve been adopted into here in Thailand.
At 6:30 a.m. I readied myself for the day and attempted to make myself as beautiful as possible, at the discretion all the family females. “Most beautiful! Most beautiful!” they’d say to me. I went downstairs to wait for my host father. My host mother had said that it would be a very small wedding, just close family and friends, maybe only 60 people unlike traditional weddings where it is hundreds and elaborate planning goes into it. However, I glanced over at my neighbors and saw not only my host father’s car, but my uncle’s car, the neighbor’s car, and a rice workers car filled with people. I started to get a feeling of pitter-patter excitement in my chest. This was going to be fun.
On the way to the wedding, with me and 3 women in the backseat and all the teenagers riding in the trunk-bed of the truck, we drove not even a kilometer before we pulled over to someone on the side of the road. My uncle leaned out and asked, “Are you going to the wedding?? Hop in!” So much for a small wedding.
I arrived to find well over one hundred people filling the plastic chairs. Hundred of shoes piled up at the entrance of the house as people went inside to pay respect and best wishes to the married-couple to be. The following was the beginning of the wedding ceremony. The community created a wedding line and walked the groom to his bride. The groom’s name, my cousin, is Ma Yom, and his bride-to-be is Euree.
The next video has a funny back story. Before we arrived my uncle looked at me, excited, and in English said, “Yodeling. Do you know?”– “Yodeling?!?” I asked. Yes. Yodeling and banana tree leaves to gate the soon-to-be-husband. Here it is. Take a moment to appreciate the massive amounts of happiness and laughter the women share as they dance around the groom. I laugh every time I watch the video.
This is a photo of the offerings carried by the wedding line:
The following is a photo of a modern-day dowry in Thailand. Traditionally, the male’s parents make a monetary offering to the female’s parents, they prefer a modest lump sum. I’ve heard as little as 50,000 baht up to 250,000 baht in rich families ($1,500-8,000). In villages, however, many volunteers have noted that the families have an agreement where the male family makes a big public display of the dowry presentation with a large sum of money, then behind closed doors, they return most of it and decide upon a more reasonable amount. The money is largely for show, in some cases.
Below, I pour ceremonial water on the hands of Ma Yom and Euree. Unfortunately, I do no have much information on this specific traditional practice. I know that it is to offer your blessing and best wishes to the couple. I added a special message to each of them. To my cousin I said, “Stop being naughty and disobedient now.” We both laughed. To Euree, the bride, I said, “I love you the same as a sister. I am happy that you are family forever now.”
Below, please click through some of the gorgeous shots I captured throughout the day. There is everything from a pig leg feast to heartwarming family photos. Some of my favorites are moments I captured of my aunt. She’s a very special woman to me and I’m so happy I had the chance to see her joy that day. **CLICK AN IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW AND TO VIEW EASILY IN GALLERY MODE**
P.S. Peace Corps Thailand group 126 invitations are now being sent out. Please feel free to contact me and touch base to get a firsthand experience of what the next two years of your life will be like, especially if you have questions related to serving as a LGBTQ volunteer (email: julia.schulkers[at]gmail). I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions. Or, head to my Twitter @JuliaSchulkers for daily updates and photos of village life. Get ready for a life-changing experience.