I was in northeastern Laos and having one of those over-the-top travel days when my guide asked if I’d like to go to ‘a veden’ for lunch. He assured me it would cost nothing. I had no idea what he was talking about and feared it would be outdoor stall food, which is something I usually avoid. But we were having a good time and I didn’t want to spoil the mood so said “Sure.”
A “veden” was actually a wedding, a Buddhist one, and the bride was the cousin of the driver. When I spotted the greeting party I really questioned if this was a good idea for I was wearing hiking boots and dressed in casual, somber clothes whereas they were dressed in their finest. “I can’t go in there!” I said but my driver and guide just laughed and indicated that no one would mind.
And indeed I was welcomed very warmly, with lots of bowing. Then I was handed a small glass of homemade whiskey, pinkish in colour. “Drink it all at once,” whispered my driver, who had gotten married the week before and knew firsthand the role whiskey had in these celebrations. So I threw it back, found it to be rather strong and sweet, and kept my composure.
We were escorted to one of many tables under a large open tent and others soon joined us, probably instructed to make the (badly dressed) foreigner to feel welcome. Soon members of the bridal party were coming around, offering beer and whiskey and expecting each guest to match their drinks.
Lunch appeared in many small containers for those at our table to share. A woman who seemed to be in charge of our table gestured for me to start but I didn’t know what to do since there were no utensils. So she took the lead, showing me how to roll some sticky rice into a ball and use that to scoop up the other food. I quickly caught on.
There were small kabobs, chopped meat mixed with lime juice and lots of coriander, papaya salad, and long spears of asparagus that we ate with our fingers. Young women kept bringing container after container of food. The mood was festive and obviously getting louder. The least shy (usually men) would come up and greet me and then introduce me to their wives and daughters. Everyone was welcoming.
The bride and groom looked splendid, she dressed in the traditional Lao silk skirt and blouse with her hair tied up in a gold decoration, and the groom in a white silk shirt. They made their way around the room, taking time with every guest, toasting each with a shot of whisky.
In Laos, a wedding usually takes place in the morning because it is considered the best time for a joyful celebration whereas sad ceremonies are held in the afternoon. I was surprised that no monk was there and later learned that a local authority officiates at weddings in Lao and not a monk.
When the music started and people got up to dance I knew it was time to get going for they were doing a circle dance, making their hands and fingers move in unusual ways, and were urging me to join in. Too many cameras around to risk that! Besides, the driver was getting a little too comfortable and would certainly have enjoyed tossing back some more of that whisky.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012