Nathasha's Wedding 2010

21 April

I was very worried my flight would not happen as I had been watching the previous days flights all canceled to Amsterdam due to volcanic ash that started five days earlier.  Luckily, I made it Philadelphia early and was able to make sure the overbooked flight with lots of upset folks waiting for days to travel didn't get my seat. Had I not made the flight on that day it probably would not have been worth the trip as I had already missed the "staathuis" (State House) wedding, what I would probably call the civil ceremony with celebration following and all the western style activities in which I am familiar.

My trip was focused on my "niece's" traditional eastern Indian multi-day wedding ceremony. Niece was quoted because Natasha is Irma's cousin's daughter on her father's I am not technically her uncle. The title proved to all be irrelevant as I was considered family and bestowed the title of "zwager", which means brother-in-law, by most all the family...basically I was just another member of the large family. Considering I don't speak Dutch well and no Hindi, and live across the ocean...and don't know the Indian customs...they overcame many typical barriers to welcome me.  But it was on our visit in the summer of 2009 where they had originally welcomed me so much and Natasha invited us to the wedding that caused the desire to make the trip and enjoy these very special few days.

After a little sleep in the overnight flight (thank you Mr Johnnie Walker for the help), I arrived safely at Schiphol airport on the first flight in 6 days for that route.  Irma and her uncle on her mom' side, Oom Jien (Oom is "uncle"), picked me up from airport - I hadn't seen Irma in a week so that was a happy reunion.  We went back to Oom Yien's home not too far away and I got to visit with him and his wife Tante Lita (Tante is aunt).  Irma and her mom who travelled with her the week prior had also been staying there. We gathered our things after the visit and walked to the train (extremely convenient!) for the hour trip to Rotterdam. It is amazing how smooth and pleasant the train was...and reasonably priced - the US could take a lesson there, but the Dutch need a MUCH easier way of purchasing tickets for the infrequent traveller.

Irma and her mom caught me up on the past weeks activities on the trip up. Turns out it was a very good thing I got a little sleep on the plane as there was no time to rest when we got to Natasha's family home in Rotterdam. They were all in process to start the evening festivities when we arrived.

I freshened up, got changed and was quickly ushered out of the house with the males of the family as the men and women were to have separate festivities that evening.  And no, for the American men reading - I found out previously that it was not an American type of a bachelor party (it is Holland after all, so I quickly envsioned all sorts of crazy things when I heard boys night). Natasha's father, uncles and brothers took me with them to her husband Shashi's family home.  There, the priest (Pandit) and Shashi had already begun some portion of the ceremony with everything decorated so colorfully.  Lot's of things were happening that I still don't understand - sugar, plants, milk, fire and of course many spoken words I did not understand.

Even without an inherent knowledge of what was going on, it was all very full of energy and wondeful to witness.  Rajkumar would endulge my occasional question, I had many more but did not want to be disrespectful and talk too much.  Fairly early in the ceremony, a man came around with a small pot holding some brown/orange paste in it with a qtip that he was using to apply the paste to all the men seated in the home. Oh yes, just to make the point that this was all taking place inside a home similar to a townhome where it is connected to others. The flames that would jump from things thrown into the fire and accompanying smoke and such from the real wood fire all took place inside a home. There was occasional beating of drums, blowing of a seahell (amazing loud), ringing bells...all in a closely situated neighborhood.  Coming from a place that treats people as too stupid to even manage a real Christmas tree in any public place for fear of fires - having a real flaming fire in a crowded family room was amazing.  Not only that, but through all of the late night parties in homes for two nights - no neighbors complained, nobody was injured, no police is wondeful the type of freedom and acceptance the Dutch land has created.

So back to the qtip with the colored paste - I am accustomed with seeing Indian women with the familiar red dot on their foreheads but couldn't recall seeing the Indian men with something comparable. Imagine my concern as I did not know what to do or expect - I was likely the only man in the place who didn't speak the language or know the customs...and also the only one without brown skin.  I sat in almost the back row and watched the man makes his rounds through the rows of men. He got to my row and as natural as could be, leaned it without a perceived second thought that I should also be a recipient of this part of the ceremony.  Keeping in mind, as a Christian but Protestant, I am accustomed to not being allowed to partake in a fundamental Christian practice such as Holy Communion when I am in a Catholic I would not have thought twice nor been offended had I been skipped over, and to be honest had thought that would be the case.

Near the end of the trip, Irma had asked me my favorite part and after a short recall answered that the first day with being made feel so welcome and a true part of the family was the best feeling of all. Back to the non-bachelor party men's celebration...another man came around towards the end and spooned out some sweet milk into the palm of my hand.  Having watched those receive before me, I knew to put my hand out and and then drink it from my palm - happily I didn't spill it or make a huge mess.  I am still curious to know if the rubbing of the hands that were just drunk from through the hair of the men was part of the ritual or just something many of them did. For me, I was able to drink most of it and then just used my pants to dry off my hand...most of the men have this dark black thick hair - maybe a little of that sweet milk every so often helps to keep the gray away but hair cover there!?

The men that were already at Shashi's house, I believe family and his friends, served up food to groups of us in the back of the home. While I passed by a very nice modern kitchen to get there I later saw that the cortyard in which we ate had another kitchen on the other side - that was the "real" kitchen with an outdoor atmosphere for the type of cooking I had seen many times in Suriname.  I didn't have the chance to watch anyone for this part, but fortunately had Indian food many times before with family.  They were hard core - no utensils and no meat - traditions were to be followed.  I managed OK without a spoon but the hard part was keeping the men from piling on more food!  This wasn't a completely new concept but I am more accustomed to it from grandmothers...not sure if the men cooked the food but they wanted to see it eaten. For those who know me, they might feel sorry for me because it had no meat - but the meal was delicious!  We hung out for a bit while the others finished eating and then went back to Natasha's home.

On the way back, I got to witness what the women were doing - and I couldn't believe my eyes...and if I understood Hindi I probably wouldn't have believed my ears but I won't go telling stories on those crazy women.  Through downtown Rotterdam this large group of women were being led by a lady who definitely does not look or act her age (I was told to guess layer and was waaayyy off) - she carried a two-sided drum that she was playing loudly as she led the other singing and dancing women.  You could hear them laughing and singing a mile away...I hear that as they passed by, women would join for a bit. Again, compared to the often intolerant area in which I live where we would probably have to get a permit for such an activity and promise to keep the volume down...this was a real treat. 

The other thing that I noticed early on and was consistent throughout my time there - the older women were the wildest and craziest of all.  Where I am accustomed to seeing the quieter older ladies reminiscing how they used to be like the younger wild ones they watch - here it is almost as if the older ones are saying "hey, you girls, watch how to have some real fun".  We all arrived back at Natasha's about the same time and then the evening party started with her family and friends.  In her apartment home, it was yet another case of neighbors of all ethnicities acknowledging the special event and not having any issues with us.  There was to be no alcohol in the home, so I was brought out into the stairwell where there was my good friend Johnny Walker being given out my the men in the family...and I shared a cigar or two. Fortunately, many of her uncles speak English as my Dutch is very limited and I had a wonderful evening with them all.  


We stayed at cousin Rudy's home which wasn't currently occupied so we had the basics we needed provided by the family - water heater, coffee, sugar and creamer...everything else beyond coffee, sleeping and showring was to be done with family so nothing else was needed.  After the trip, partying late, chatting with family after that...I slept well, and late.  Om Beta picked us up (Oma, Irma and I) to go to Hoek something where there is a nude beach.  Again, just to tease me as it was way too cold for that.  Nonetheless, it was a beautiful drive to get there accompanied by the neverending crazy chatter with the family. We got there and walked out a long earthen kind of pier which went just beyond the beach off to one side - it was windy but the sun was shining and beautiful there.  On the other side from the beach was a very industrious port - huge.

The ride to and from, despite taking a different way back, was covered with enormous greenhouses.  It must be interesting to see from an airplane as it must have covered many hundreds of acres.  Seems as though the Dutch want to be self sufficient year round by growing their own food no matter the weather (which is often damp and rainy it seems).

- lunch in Centrum with Irma then Raish came to entertain me (frites / french fries) and walk a bit while Irma went back to have her henna put on.

- Roni dancing with me then falling asleep...bringing the cot as expected to happen