MY BIG, FAT GUATEMALAN WEDDING
Don’t worry. It wasn’t my wedding. I was invited by my host father, Carlos, to his youngest brother’s big day (back on 29-Oct). It was my first one while being here in Guatemala, and there was no lack of intrigue. For one, the ceremony was not held in the Church even though my host family and their relatives are all devoutly Catholic. So, surely, something was amiss. Being the incorrigible gossip that I am, I asked various family members why the wedding was not being held in a church.
“Too much money,” some said. “The groom decided it was better to have a civil ceremony,” others replied. When I saw Berta the Bride, I realized it was indeed going to be a big, fat Guatemalan wedding. She was six-months pregnant.
Guatemalans are not known to smile much in pictures, as a general rule. Since this was more-or-less a forced wedding, Maco the Groom looked especially grim. (See attached photo.) I took 139 pictures at the wedding. In review, I found only one picture where both bride and groom were smiling (see second attached photo). Unless obligated, they did not hold hands, hug, or kiss. They were just newlyweds, but one can already tell this is going to be an affectionless marriage.
The family members made the best out of it. Maco the Groom’s mother and aunts all slaved away in the windowless, smoke-filled kitchen to provide a steady flood of home-cooked food and warm Rosa de Jamaica (hibiscus tea). The brothers and father worked together to build a huge canopy to house the reception tables. A DJ and a huge sound system were hired. The decorations were appropriate, although they were as economical as possible since the groom pays for everything in Guatemala. No amount of decorations, however, could have covered the fact that the bride and groom avoided each other for the rest of the night.
There was plenty of cheap, hard liquor to drown the obvious. Once everyone was sufficiently tipsy, the tables were cleared and dancing commenced. To my dismay, no one danced salsa, only merengue. Not that it mattered, anyway, considering the number of empty Venado bottles. Being the only gringo at the party (and a chinito to boot!), I brought many laughs when I danced. Although I had no shortage of dance partners, I found that I could not dance with anyone my age. Guatemalan women are usually married by the time they reached their early twenties and I didn’t feel comfortable dancing with the teeny-boppers. The last thing I wanted to do was enrage a drunken husband or father. Or worse, a father might fancy to marry off his 14-year old daughter to an American.
So, I was stuck with the 50-years-and-up range. After dancing with one inebriated matron, another husband would stumble over and slur something at me before shoving his wife’s hand into mine and point to the dance floor. I wasn’t bothered by the pointing and giggles. Years growing up in public school as a lanky geek with glasses and cowlick hair would thicken any man’s skin. I just enjoyed the dancing where I could get it.
I did learn something while dancing with those mature ladies. Never spin a Guatemalan mother when they’re drunk. They would grab onto your wrist or thumb for dear life and either give you an unforgettable Indian burn or break off your fingers. When there is a height differential, it is best to bend down a little and keep your hand on her lower back. Otherwise, you’ll find your arm trapped in the crevice between her heavy arm and matronly chest. At the end of one dance number (which, in Guatemala, goes on for about 15 minutes), I pulled out my arm to find the sleeve of my dress shirt mottled with her armpit sweat. Good times.
Being Chinese, what some people may consider strange food should be as normal as white rice and black tea to me. Nevertheless, I was a stranger to bull’s balls. My experience wasn’t like that episode of “Fear Factor” where the contestants had to scarf down three baked, hand-sized, varicose-veined bull testicles. It’s a travesty to bake bull’s balls here. No, I had to eat mine raw. Ceviche, ladies and gentlemen: a fine delicacy here in Guatemala.
“This is your lucky day,” Carlos said to me. “We’re making ceviche with not just bull balls, but with fish and shrimp, too!”
“Raw?” I asked. He gave me a look that said “Of course.”
As if the prospect of eating raw testicles mixed with raw fish and raw shrimp wasn’t daunting, there were also flies everywhere. One of Carlos’ brothers must have seen my look when he said, “Oh, don’t worry. They’re attracted to the smell of the raw fish.”
Uh-huh. I figured as much. Right-ee-o, then. Give me a big soup bowl’s worth.
Fortunately, I was armed with Kendra’s Remedy: after any suspicious meal, swallow two or three whole garlic cloves. You may experience a funky gurgling in your stomach, but at least you’ll avoid explosive diarrhea. Works like a charm.
Oh, yeah. I had sliced cow’s tongue pan-fried in a blanket of scrambled eggs, too. It tasted pretty good as long as I did not think about French-kissing a cow.