Part I: Rooster can't get a crow in during Cambodian wedding season

Posted: Friday, April 04, 2008

At 4 a.m., the reverberating hum of the cicadas is interspersed with the solo performances of frogs crooning in the early hours of morning. An occasional bat will let slip a squeal of delight as it dives down for a meal while geckos both in and out of the houses make their tell-tale clicking noise. Rats scurry across the corrugated metal roofs adding percussion to the nighttime serenade.

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Courtesy Of Michael Kohan
Courtesy Of Michael Kohan

Before the rooster can announce a new day coming, nature's rhythmic sounds are muted by vociferous broadcasts drawing attention to a wedding party that was celebrated the night before.

Winding through a network of coconut trees surrounding the new wife's home, tactfully placed speakers blast karaoke dance music in the early morning to wake the community announcing the good times that were had at the celebration the night before. The repetitive alarm of Khmer remixes of the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" and Los del Rio's "The Macarena" is expected to be endured during Khmer wedding season. The rooster's crow is simply an insignificant call.

Through having my senses assaulted (don't even get me started on food or the temperature), my idea of a halcyon lifestyle in the countryside corrupted, and attaining a new awareness of human nature, I would say that my experience in Cambodia thus far has been a successful assimilation into the culture that is Khmer. Being a student for the last year to the religious traditions and festivals, national holidays, culturally sensitive behavior, community dependency, educational practices and the innate ability to live off the land, I am drowned in the rich and proud way of Cambodian life.

After the last scythe is hung back in the shed and the last grain of rice has run through the rice huller, the harvesting season is declared finished. Small chicken houses are filled to the brim with millions and millions of grains of rice. As rice is the staple food in S.E. Asia, this small sea of rice will sustain a family's diet for the rest of the year. Of course with the end of harvest also comes a time of stability and a well deserved rest from the brutal manual labor in the field. What a better time than to celebrate what is known here in Cambodia as wedding season.

Last year during this time period (roughly January through the end of March) I was completely lost. Alien to the customary practices and schedule of a wedding I would view each wedding as a challenge. The finish line was when I could fall into a dreamless sleep in my little room that served as my sanctuary. This year, however, I have come to appreciate the cultural intricacies of the three-day ceremony.

It all starts with an invitation. I hold the status of teacher, foreigner and adopted daughter into a well-known family. On a weekend, there might be five or six weddings my host family will need to make appearances to. Although my family might be the winner of the popularity contest, the real outcome of the stacked up invitations is the money that must be given to each wedding party. When a breakfast of noodles or rice at the market sells for 25 cents, giving each wedding party the customary five or ten dollars begins to add up.

With all this spending my host family has found a business to help off set all the costs. They rent supplies for hosting weddings at the bride's house. The arrangement is to have a karaoke system, speakers, tables, chairs, pots, bowls, chopsticks and decoration transported to the house the first day of the wedding while the wedding party is at the temple receiving a blessing from the priest.

Since January, it has been completely hectic, with multiple family members (my host mother has nine siblings) helping to pack up supplies, unload supplies, clean supplies and repack for another location. Once the equipment and supplies are all set up at the wedding's location, the family can regroup and plan which wedding to attend.

• Michael Kohan, of Juneau, is a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia. She can be reached at michaelleeann@gmail.com.



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