Friday, September 16, 2011

Three Churches and a Wedding (June 2004)

This actually happened and in this order.
It seemed like a good idea at the time—getting married that is. Going through this whole marital experience once in a lifetime is enough, having to do it twice within the same week is a bit off-putting, even more so if you are trying to organize this in a foreign land called Kuwait. Last week, we had the 'civil marriage' in the Ministry of the Public Notary which went off without so much of a hitch except when witness #1 Professor Arthur Bukowski hedged on which Christian faith he adhered too. The Madame Judge insisted—
Catholic or Protestant.” She asked ready to tick off the corresponding boxes in the wedding form.
I turned to Professor Arthur—“Well which one?
He mumbled to me—“I’m Lutheran.”
The judge looked sternly at me for an answer, so rather than rehash the "Great Schism" again
He’s Protestant.” I said.
I smiled back at her before Art could protest further. This seemed to appease the Madame Judge who duly carried out her duties and when I bent over to give my wife, Gracie the ‘wedding kiss’, Madame Judge reassured us that “no kissing is allowed”. Acting like a pair of teenagers who were caught making out, Gracie and I sheepishly shook hands like do boxers before their match.

Next, we had the brainwave that we would have a typical church wedding after all at the behest of the good Pakistani Episcopal reverend Father Christopher Edgar. Father Edgar was a decent chap who sounds more British than Pakistani. Prior to the blessed marriage, there was much paper shuffling which involved getting a "Free to Marry" letter from the CDN embassy (11.5 KD=$35US) which proved that I hadn't been previously married. Quite an odd situation as usually you have to have something to show that you are, in fact, married, like a ring. How you prove that you are single is quite another thing and a tad preposterous if not downright silly. At any rate, I had to play the game here even if the rules were stupid. Having procured the authorized "Free to Marry" form the embassy, the form then had to be translated into Arabic at another cost. After which, it had to go back to the CDN embassy where it was then re-authorized as a good translation company by the CDN embassy (11.5 KD=$35US). This is then submitted to the Kuwaiti Ministry of Public Notary who then authorized and sanction the marriage.

We still wanted to have a marriage in the kanisa or church. After subsequent arrangements and another rendezvous with the good Father, we finally worked out a date at the church. Unfortunately, trying to round up bodies at this time to be ushers, flower girls, maid-of-honour and best man was a daunting task since everyone at GUST had bolted for greener pastures of their summer vacations. I was able to enlist Roxanne's husband Ray as the best man and Robert Ankli as photographer and his lovely wife Lena as the maid-of-honour. Then there was the problem of the wedding dress. We were in Kuwait and the wedding dress was in Nairobi. No problem/hakuna matata—we would have it sent by courier from Nairobi. Not a problem if you are anywhere but Africa where there is no competition for courier service—little did we know. I had asked the DHL people in Kuwait how much it would cost for sending a package that might weigh between one to one and a half kilos—they assured me that it should cost 12KD=$40US. OK, I could live with that. We went ahead and instructed Gracie's brother to send it but first we would have to send money by Western Union to Fred in Kenya.
We sent a bit more money to cover the costs and his taxi fares to and from DHL in Nairobi which amounted to $266US. It turns out that it cost more than that—to the tune of $333US for a kilo and a half package—blimey the bounders! I did call DHL to vent but to no use as they told me that each country can set its own rate—airway robbery! Profit is one thing gouging is quite another. It seems fair to say the Nairobi needs another courier service to be competitive. What got our goat was the fact that the courier service cost more than the actual making of the dress. Who knew?

We had originally planned to get married in Kenya but after some thought on the matter and Gracie's mother consent—we decided that it would be cheaper to do it in Kuwait—or so we thought. Okay, there was the usual running around between government agencies, Father Christopher Edgar, GUST, the Canadian embassy and on and on ad nauseum. The dress eventually arrived and we hadn't really thought much about the dress until three days prior to the wedding. The English dept secretary, Aisha said that we should take it out of the box and have it ironed. She also warned me to tell the OK Laundry dhobi-wallah guys not to burn the dress or they would have to make a new one—tssk, tssk I thought! Seemed like a good idea at the time and we were further shocked to see a bill for 3500KSH ($45US) stuck in the box as well, a reminder that Gracie's brother Fred had also kicked in more money to have it dry-cleaned and ironed in Nairobi prior to sending. We thought, okay now we don't have to send it to OK laundry after all. We looked at the dress and it looked presentable but to our horrors, we unraveled the veil only to find that the laundryman wanker in Nairobi had melted the bottom part of the veil. The veil is more like a mosquito net than anything but the swine had done his best to screw up the veil. When Gracie tried it on it was lopsided and not symmetrical—bloody great! I was so furious I told Gracie that the laundry guy was lucky we weren't in Nairobi or I would have throttled him. I told Gracie even I could have done a better ironing job. Gracie told me to be quiet about it as her brothers would go and put the boots to the laundry man back home in Nairobi. Gracie could only laugh at it but I found no laughter in it—how did Aisha know that laundry guys don't know how to iron a wedding veil? Moreover, how does one iron this plastic veil? I thought it was supposed to be taffeta or maybe lace but this was plain old plastic mosquito netting. What to do? We eventually took the dress to OK Laundry to get ironed nonetheless and the chaps there couldn't believe their eyes either when we showed them the veil. My favourite guy, Babu told me that they should have used a steam press and not an iron. One other guy said that he could fix up the rent garment and cut off the fried section along with the silver trim. We thought that these guys knew what they were doing. They also told us that there were many wedding shops nearby in Hawally and that we should go there as well. We took a side trip over to there trying to avoid getting killed by the Kuwaiti populace whose cars seem to be martyrs to their cause. No wonder car bombers are prevalent in the Middle East, the Kuwaitis and Indians/Pakistanis/Bangladeshis here drive like they were in prep school for it. We chose the shop called Valentina. There was an Indian couple running the place and they duly told us that wedding dresses rented from 150 KD to 200KD ($500 to $660US) or have one made from 900KD to 1000KD (~$2,970US to $3,300 dresses). Their showroom was full of the gaudy stuff—too rich for our blood but we had already paid in excess of 200KD what with shipping and such for Gracie's dress. The tailor Babu said he could fix our veil so we hurried back to our OK Laundry guys who were busy trying to mend the veil. I told Babu that I wanted the veil and the veil flowers—I gave him a half KD for his trouble. We raced back to Valentina showroom and presented our chopped up garment. The owner hum and hawed for a moment and said it was polyethylene—isn't that just a fancy name for plastic? He said he would use a better grade of plastic, sew on the flowers and Gracie would have a decent, long-flowing veil after all. I would cost an additional 35KD ($90US) with a deposit of 10KD but in the end he said it would be a rental. We told him that we were getting married on the 21st which was only three days away and he assured us that it would be ready by then. Gracie then mentioned that she needed wedding makeup, pedicure/manicure and help with putting on the veil. The wife told us of a saloon nearby so we hopped in the car to go there. The tailor's wife brought along another Bangladeshi woman to ride shotgun—god knows why? Did she think I was going to rape the wife or something? We drove past the hurly burly of Hawally and got to the saloon—men are not allowed into the saloon! Gracie went in with the tailor's wife and later they came out. The bodyguard remained curled up in the back seat and I didn't realize she had been there. Gracie came over and said that they wanted 70KD ($240US) to do her makeup, manicure, pedicure and fix the veil. I told Gracie that we didn't want to buy the store. Earlier, Gracie had got her manicure and pedicure done for 5KD at a nearby Bangladeshi saloon so we decided to go back there. I guess the Kuwaitis have so much loot that 70KD is nothing to worry about. As I have been trying to tell Gracie—money is no object to the Kuwaitis. In fact, the higher the cost: the greater the prestige.
The Wedding Day
I made a mental note:
  • need to pick up veil,
  • wedding dress,
  • drop off translated marriage form to be authenticated by the CDN embassy,
  •  get Gracie a pedicure and manicure,
  •  get saloon  to do Gracie's makeup and arrange her veil for her,
  •  pick up film,
  • get corsage for Gracie and me.
I took Gracie to the nearby saloon at 9:30am and she said that she will need two hours and a half to do everything so I dropped her off and headed off to do my own little errands. The wedding was at 4:30 in the afternoon. I raced to Sultan Centre to get film and the corsage made. I dropped stuff off at home and headed back out to the CDN embassy. It was 12 noon when I got inside the office, took my number and noticed that other people are also waiting to find out about 'visitor visas' to Canada. I suddenly got a brainwave to ask more about the "Temporary Resident form" that I would have to fill in for Gracie's visa to Canada. I went back to the information part and enquired again about the form and if there is any additional information/documentation that might be required. The receptionist asked what country my wife was from—I told her Kenya. She then said that it would take 10 business days. I was flabbergasted as I had had the form for more than a month and it said in black print—5 business days. I was dumbfounded—why had they changed it just out of the blue. She said this was the busy period and they have to allow for this more time. Great! Would this be the same in Kenya if I apply for a visitor visa from there, I asked? She couldn't confirm. Lovely, now I was really pushed for time on the visa to Canada and getting residency for Gracie in Kuwait. If this was the case, then we couldn't go to Kenya after all as we only had 8 days there to sort out a visa to Canada. Not only that, I would have to cancel the Kenya flight and hopefully be able to change our return flights to Canada for 10 days after July 5th not easy here in Kuwait given that all ex-pat staff will be flying around this time. What a to do? All this to think about plus getting married—what next I thought?

Both Gracie and I had said that we would be happy when this day was over but it was just beginning. Just then I got a text message from the best man asking—“Were there any last minute changes?” I thought to myself—Where does one start? I went back to the apt at 12:30 pm and phoned Gracie at the saloon to see if she was finished. They don't speak English so I had to ask for "Memsahib Africa". Gracie came on the line —“I thought you were picking me up?” So I rushed back in the a/c car to get her and she looked like something between a carnival and catwalk—was this my wife? Gracie got in and looked in her hand mirror and said, “I think they overdid it?” No comment from me especially on our wedding day.

Next door to the saloon was the OK Laundry so I got out to get the dress whilst Gracie rearranged her facial makeup. As I approached the door, I noticed there were two huge strips of red tape with Arabic script plastered over the door indicating that they were sealed. Great Caesar's ghost—now what? Great, the wedding is in a few hours and now we don't have a dress! I went to Gracie and told her the place was shut. Funny because these OK laundry shops are rarely closed—these poor beggars work 24/7 and get a bit of Friday off. Some guy saw me and I muttered—“they've got my bloody wedding dress inside!” He motioned to me to go around the corner for Babu. I did so and found my laundry guys sitting on some stairs with their cellphones. I was yelling—
Babu—I’m getting married in an hour!” He just looked at me.
What’s going on? Where’s my bloody dress?” I yelled at him.
At this point, I was fed up with the wedding, the dress, the heat and they just smiled and laughed. Babu told me that the baladiyah (municipality) had shut the place down. Shut the place down, what for, illegal dry-cleaning, bootleg steam irons, oh wait— money laundering. I was livid. Babu took me back to the door and I saw some bricks nearby and told him—
If you don’t open this door, I’m going to throw a brick through it.”
I actually grabbed one of the bricks and motioned that I would get the bloody dress myself (actually much stronger words than this!).
He said –"Oh bloody Krishna, don't do that!" and said—“you will be waiting for half hour when the owner soon coming.”
All that Gracie could do was laugh—I was ready to cry—maybe we weren't supposed to get married today after all. Luckily, we had the 'civil marriage' a week before. No doubt the Kuwaiti laundry owner didn't pay his baksheesh to some police guy—hence the laundry lockdown. Neither Gracie nor I were impressed. I wasn't so sure of this and told her she would have to wear another dress for the wedding. This was unbelievable. At this point, I got a phone call from abu Khaled at GUST asking me about my residency for Gracie and the wedding. I told him of the predicament and all he could was laugh about the laundry being shut down and on my wedding day no less.

 Just before going back to the apartment, Gracie said we should go pick up the veil. So off we raced again. It was about 1pm by now and very little traffic on the road. As we drove over, it just dawned on me that the store might not be open as it was Kuwaiti siesta time! Sure enough we got to the door and it was closed for the afternoon break. I was mad, Gracie was not impressed. First it was the dress and now the veil! I realize now why the groom is not supposed to see the bride prior to the wedding. I also told Gracie that usually this is the bride's family responsibility and that I had far too much to do today. At the very least, the laundry and tailor guys knew we were getting married today and could have had the decency to at least phone and tell us that we would neither have a dress nor a veil for our wedding. They have the annoying habit of taking cell phone numbers for everything and then don't use them. We quickly raced back to the apartment to find the down payment bill for the veil but when I phoned it was only a fax number!! Crikey! I told Gracie that I would pick up the blessed veil later on and bring it to the church. We quickly gulped down some lunch and waited to phone for the dress at OK Laundry. They eventually re-opened so we went to retrieve the dress and then I drove Gracie over to the maid of honour's place. Lena was from Hong Kong and was married to Robert Ankli—Economics Professor at GUST cum wedding photographer. It was now 3:15pm. Gracie asked if I could pick up the veil and bring it to Lena's place but I said I don't think the store opens till 4pm besides I still had to have a shower, get dressed and the wedding was less than two hours away never mind having to fight the afternoon traffic. Gracie would travel with Lena and Robert to the church. No sooner had I shone my covered shoes, shaved, linted the suit jacket, gathered my faculties than Robert phoned to say that they were at the church area already. I said that I would meet them there and told them how to get to the church in Kuwait City.

For some reason, the Filipino Catholic and Egyptian Coptic churches are at one end of a huge mile long square and the Protestant: Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal and Presbyterians are at the other end. I still hadn't showered so had a quick, not refreshing hot shower as there is no cold water in Kuwait during the hot months. The only way to get a lukewarm shower is by not turning on your hot water geyser; the cold water tap is linked to the water reservoir on the roof which has scalding water.
I quickly grabbed the flowers, camera and all the documents for Father Christopher and bolted for the church via Valentina's wedding shop. Drove much like a Kuwaiti and my dad would have been proud of my kamikaze techniques. Got to the shop as they were just opening it but neither the Indian owner nor his wife were there-gadzooks! I told the Filipino lady that I had a veil here and that I had a wedding in 20 minutes! She didn't know of any order nor was there a veil in sight—it did not avail itself! She said she would phone the owner but I told here if she didn't have it now I was leaving. She phoned and the owner said he would be there in 5 minutes but I threw up my hands and said "Forget it, I'm gone". You can appreciate that I was slightly perturbed, just slightly at this juncture. OK, 10 days for 'visitor visa', no flight to Kenya, a shut down laundry and now a veil-less bride. Gracie will really be impressed now and to top it all off— I would be late too! Where was Stanley Holloway when you need him—"For god's sake get me to the church on time!"

It was 4:05pm. Slightly pissed, I bolted for Kuwait City highway and broke all land speed records for Hawally to Kuwait City (the photo speed tickets will follow later). Got to the church and headed through the Christian enclave to the pokey little church where we have had communion with Father Christopher. Lena was trying to hide Gracie from my view and I had to break the bad news about the veiless bride to Robert. Father Christopher was not present and Robert then said that there was a Bible study group planned to have a Bible study at the same time as our wedding. My heart sank. Father Christopher had assured me that the smallish church was empty so why were these Indian guys laying out stacks of metal chairs—there were only 5 of us in the wedding party?

Blimey! I felt sick. I realized that maybe the good Father was at his other church, St Paul's in Ahmadiyah—a church that I had never been to.
Why don’t you phone Father Edgar?” asked Robert.
Okay, so I reached into my suit pocket but no phone. In my haste, I had left the phone in the car. Back out into the blinding sun and 48C heat to get the phone. I passed the best man Ray.
Where’re you going?” he asked innocently.
I forgot my phone.” I hurried past him in the heat.
 I retrieved the phone from the hot car. Of course, I had never saved the good Father's number and had to go back through my calls to see if I could remember the number. I guessed at one and phoned it. It was 4:30pm—the time of the wedding!
Father Edgar—how are you?” I asked.
Yes, where are you?” he answered.
I thought we were getting married in Kuwait City.” I told him.
I’ve been waiting here for an hour.” He sounded slightly perturbed.
I told him we were at his small church in Kuwait City.
I’m so sorry but I assumed you would have the ceremony at St. Paul’s.”
The only St. Paul’s I know of is in London.” I joked.
It will take 45 minutes to drive back to you.” he added.
I was busy talking with other about this when he interrupted—
Do you want me to drive back or will you drive here?” he asked.
Besides, I’m already in my gown and the church is empty down here.” he added.
We’ll come there as there is a Bible study group in here now.” I replied.
Oh well, what the hell—let's all go to St. Paul's in Ahmadiyya .I asked around and Ray said he knew of St. Paul's and so we rushed out into the heat lashing with apologies all the way. Okay, 5 days extra for visa, no Kenya trip, closed laundry shop, no veil, poor makeup, sweaty armpits, and wrong church—what next? I told Ray I could use a drink right about now (he is a bit of a bootlegger, Irish and all). One church down! We laughed at our follies and besides—it broke the monotony! Off down the notorious Highway 30 through the hugger mugger of evening traffic. We eventually took the Ahmadiyyah exit and drove through a pleasant tree lined suburb to St Paul's Church.
We parked the car and got out.
It’s a Catholic Church.” Yelled Robert.
Sure enough it was St. Paul’s Catholic Church.
My heart sank—“Oh god, at this point I don’t care if I’m married by a Jewish rabbi.”
Sure enough, we crept in, religious and pious icons everywhere and the ubiquitous confessional booths lined the sides of the nave. The silence was deadening. Hmm—suspiciously Catholic I do declare! No Father Christopher and rightly so unless he had just converted to Catholicism in the past 30 minutes! Ray headed off to see the Priest and appeared at the entrance again—
One of the elders told me where St. Paul's Anglican (Episcopal) Church is”—said Ray (alhamdulillah!)
Okay, two churches down! Off we went like some giddy teenagers at a sock hop as all we could do at this point was laugh. A few blocks away, we found the right St. Paul’s Church and we piled out of the cars but no Father Christopher to be found but we had the right church. It was now 5:00pm. It was too hot to stand outside so we sought the cool refines of the church. I yelled over at Ray and the wedding party that this was—"Three Churches and a Wedding" instead of "Four Weddings and a Funeral". They meekly laughed more out of insanity than anything else. Presently, the good Father showed up with cold drinks and water for us. At this point, the fruit juice was a god send as I was starting to become dehydrated and I am sure the others were too. After much apologies and swilling of drinks we finally got down to the subject at hand—the wedding. It was quite a motley crew: a Pakistani Christian presiding over the service, a Chinese maid-of-honour, and American photographer, an Irish best man and a Canadian groom—goodness gracious so bodacious. Nevertheless, it was a real church with genuine wooden pews and not the shabby thing in Kuwait City with the metal fold-up chairs. We opened the service with a traditional Irish song that only Father Christopher and myself knew—so we bellowed forth. It sounded suspiciously like the John Wayne's western tune for "When we see Eldorado". It was a double ring ceremony where Father Chris draped his whatchamacallit tie thing that was around his neck around our enclosed hands. We took communion and I at least was able to slake my thirst albeit with the blood of Christ. We stood facing each other and repeated the vows and then were allowed to kiss this time! It was 6:30pm. Ray and Robert took many photos and quite a few afterwards. The sun had already set and we drifted down the aisle into the twilight. We signed the blessed documents, gave a donation, said our goodbyes to Father Christopher and headed back to Kuwait City. Robert and Ray treated us to a huge feast of Italian fare. It was about 11:30pm when we bid goodbye to the wedding party and drove back to Hawally. During dinner, Robert tried to cheer us up what with all the shenanigans of the wedding day—
Well, at least you'll only have to do this once in a lifetime.” He joked.
I thought back to what Professor Art's wife Marcia had told us after our earlier civil wedding—“At least you'll have something to tell your grandchildren.”
So much for the honeymoon as we both collapsed in the nuptial bed.
Grace Akinyi Abungu and Emerson P.F. Grossmith married on June 19th, 2004 at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Ahmadiyyah, Kuwait. Finally!

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