“Ibu – how old is your daughter? She has a really cute ass.”
10 days earlier…
We got hitched in the great outdoors in Greolieres, France – a teeny tiny mountain top village in Provence near our then home, about an hour from Cannes. It was a very relaxed, small wedding. We paid for the whole shebang ourselves so we invited who we wanted and gave the rods to ‘the done thing’. That’s not quite how it goes down in Bali. A traditional Balinese Hindu wedding happens over several days. And when the eldest daughter of our lovely housekeeper, Ibu, got married earlier in the year, we were honoured guests.
My time keeping is shite. And having kids has only made it worse. I used to make excuses but the truth is I’m just that person. If you want me there at 2.30pm, you better tell me 12.30pm. But then we moved to Bali and now I’m always ‘on time’. Because the only people that are later than me, are Indonesians. Time means nothing here. Just come when you’re ready, they don’t give a shit. So when Ibu said ‘be there for 2pm’ (they don’t piss fart about with formal written invitations here), we heard ‘be there for 3pm-ish.’ Yeeeeaaahhhhh, it turns out the exception to that rule might be weddings. The only way you can stand out more as the only white folk at a Balinese wedding is to be the only ones walking in late to a Balinese wedding. Now, before you start hating on me, it wasn’t quite as bad was what you have in mind. They’re not quite as formal as western weddings. Christ, the guest I sat down next to (on a step) was smoking a Marlboro and scrolling Snapchat, oblivious to the formalities taking place on the other side of the courtyard. However, upon our arrival Ibu got up from her place behind her daughter, the bride, and came to welcome us and show us to our seats. Ok maybe you can hate on me a little, I did.
Day 1 of Balinese weddings takes place in the family compound of the bride. The ceremony of ngidih, meaning ‘to ask’, is when the groom and his family visit the brides family to ask permission for the marriage. Obviously, they’ve met and agreed permission beforehand – otherwise a ‘no’ would be super awks! – but it’s an important ritual of the wedding. When two Balinese people marry, they don’t just marry each other, they marry the whole family. Like the Sopranos. But with more God. Once they are married, the bride leaves the family home and moves in with the husband and his family (parents in law, brothers in law, sisters in law, grandparents and everyones offspring). Now, me and my lovely mother in law get on like a house on fire but if we all had to live together, I’d set the fucking house on fire! If she didn’t beat me to it that is. All I can say is, thank fuckity fuck that my Indonesian hubby isn’t Balinese! Dodged a bullet there.
Bules (foreigners) in Bali aren’t rare but most villagers don’t expect to see them at local weddings. Arlo and Eia get treated like rock stars here because (a) they are kids and the Balinese adore kids and (b) as soon as they learn they are belasteran (mixed) Indonesian, they get elevated to god status. Arlo knocks their socks off with his sandy hair, golden skin and two languages and Eia melts them every time with her white blonde hair and blue eyes. So it was marginally awkward to be at someones wedding and have several of their guests lean out of their seats and peer round each other to gawk at the little bule Indonesian kids. I met the bride later in the day while we were eating. She looked absolutely beautiful and was extremely welcoming and gracious although if I was her I’d have been thinking ‘your brats stole my wedding thunder be-atch, I wanna stick your fork in you face’.
The traditional dress consists of many different colours and gold, symbolising happiness and celebration. The bride wears some serious gold headgear as part of the payas agung – ‘the greatest’. Payas agung is luxury clothing, originally worn by nobility and the royal family, but its worn nowadays at weddings by those that can afford it. In the west, there’s a big hootenanny around the garter which is stripped from the brides thigh in the teeth of the groom but in Bali they are a little bit more S&M. In the middle of the brides outfit, about the height of her waist, there is a small triangle to represent the sexual part of the bride – her vulva. Yes, I just said vulva. But I say fuck all the time so get good with it. The groom wears a sword on his back to represent his manhood and after the wedding, the groom can cut the triangle, symbolising sexual interaction. Pretty hot stuff eh. Obvs, he doesn’t use the sword for real – ouchie! – it’s just a metaphor for his actual sharpie but the sword is also a symbol of protection and loyalty towards the woman. Aww…
After the ceremony, theres no boozing or drunk uncle dancing (boo!). Everyone just chats a little, eats their food package and heads home. On the second day, the families ask the gods for their permission for the couple to marry. I think it involves the brides family making offerings at the grooms home and purification of the body and spirit with holy water but I’m not entirely sure, we weren’t there for that but but we came back a few days later for the last day. Its an emotional one because this is the day that the bride leaves her family home to shack up with her new husband and his family. The bride’s father, Pak Ketut (our lovely gardener) was especially upset and crying at the thought of losing his baby girl. It was so touching and sad. We hugged and I’ve never felt closer to this man that has become a part of our family. His poor daughter was crying too but I can’t blame her. She was going to live with her inlaws. The last day of the wedding took place during the week and Hardin had gone back to work by this point so I was flying solo with the kiddos. He shouldn’t let me out alone. I’m still learning Indonesian and Ibu speaks very little English. Our friendship is one of few words and awkward silences but I try my damnedest. To put what follows into context, I have to explain a long standing joke between Hardin and I. In Jakartan banter, a funny comeback to ‘fuck off, you’re crazy’ is muke lo gila (your face is crazy) or pantat lo gila (your ass is crazy). On this emotional last day of the wedding, I found myself standing next to Ibu desperate to make conversation to fill the teary silence. I told her how beautiful her daughter looked and I should’ve just fucking stopped there because my nerves got the better of me. They marry young in Bali and I wanted to ask was how young her daughter was since she had the face of a teenager but I apparently got confused between muke (face) and pantat (ass) and instead of saying ‘‘how old is your daughter? 24? No way, she has a really young face!” I said something that roughly translates as “how old is your daughter? She has a really cute ass.” FFS! And the worst part is, because she’s too sweet to correct me, I didn’t even know I’d made the fuck up until Hardin came home THREE BLOODY DAYS LATER and I was bragging to him about my stellar Indonesian and he said “hold the phone, you said WHAT???!!!” Apparently she saw the funny side and knew what I was trying to say but its not the first time he’s had to bail me out of a language faux pas and it probably won’t be the last! I’m such a dumb muke……I mean, pantat….fuck!