For those of you that read Manya’s post about the wedding she should have called off (pro-tip: if you haven’t read it, you must), you won’t be surprised that her wedding graduate post is well written, and so emotional it will make you cry. But what will surprise you are the hilarious mishaps: American Doll Passport Mix-Ups and Fingers Bitten By Baby Elephants. Things that could ruin a wedding, if you let them, but instead infused Manya’s wedding with richness and wisdom. So without further ado, an absolute must read about how weddings form brand-new families (kids included).
I was in love with our wedding long before it started to take physical form. I am a closet artist and had months of fun curating, designing, crafting, writing and organizing a visual and emotional vintage travel dream (think Out of Africa meets The English Patient). Good thing, because since we live in Nairobi, Kenya, we had to be resourceful and do most everything ourselves. I did well remembering during The Event the details would blur into impressionistic irrelevance, so I made sure to enjoy the heck out of the Safari of pulling it all together.
But what I worried a lot about was letting go. Every wedding grad post tells you to Let Go. They say it as if it is as simple as taking a breath. But there’s a difference between knowing something in your brain and knowing how to do it (hint: breathing is a good start, and having a great wedding coordinator/stage manager is a good finish).
The week before the wedding, a few things happened that gave me a crash course on letting go.
First, the dry cleaner lost my wedding dress. After I finally convinced them that I truly had not already picked it up, that I would remember doing that, we spent a frantic hour calling the plant and all other outlets, and then searching every single bundle of laundry. We finally found it tucked inside of some CEO’s parcel that was ready to be collected that night. Up until that moment, I had been obsessing about whether my dress was perfect/beautiful/ slimming/(insert your own adjective) enough. I was stressed that I wasn’t completely in love with it. But after this, I was just damn grateful it was there, it fit, and it was mine. (And I fell in love with it too, by the way).
Second, my parents brought doll passports to the airport instead of their own and missed their flight. I wish that were a joke. I have a little adopted sister who is really into the American Girls dolls, and those things are pimped out with crazy-ass accessories. My sis had carefully packed them for the long trip from Maine to Kenya, and they even have realistic-looking passports that are so cute… right up until you present them at the check-in counter and they don’t let you on the flight, and there are no more seats on any flight to Kenya until after the wedding.
Miraculously, a Virgin Atlantic supervisor saw my mom crying at the counter in London and produced three boarding passes (wedding magic alert!). I had been anxious about my folks’ visit being perfect, whether we would get my dad a Panama hat on time, etc., etc., etc. In that 24 hours when they were in limbo, I had to get square with possibly walking my own self down the aisle. When they finally did arrive, I was no longer worried about them approving of my life, or their political leanings stressing me out. I was just damn grateful that they were there. And that attitude made their visit one of the best we’ve ever had.
Third, I was bitten by a baby elephant and thought for a couple hours that I might lose my pinky finger. No sh*t. When they finally arrived, I took my folks to visit one of my favorite places on earth: the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. During the visit, a sweet little 1200 pound baby named Tano caressed my hand with her trunk, drew it into her mouth and gave me a little love bite, crushing my pinky in her (huge) molars. Needless to say: I stopped worrying about my manicure color and started being deeply thankful for having all my body parts. Unexpected bonus: something blue!
Our wedding had a two-pronged focus. Prong one was about bringing together our new family. Brian and I are both divorced, and there are a lot of people in this marriage. We have four children between us—he has two boys, Jared and Chad, and I have two girls, Melissa and Ciella. The boys were the best men, and my girls plus my Chinese little sister and teenaged niece were my maids. Step-motherhood is kind of archetypically evil, but somehow we seem to be escaping that drama (knock on wood)—probably because we cuss a lot, are really honest about everything, and hug them even when they are being pills. We wanted our wedding to enhance and strengthen our relationships with each other and our collective family vibe.
Prong two was about having a sophisticated, relaxed and fun party. I needed it to be beautiful. Brian needed not to make a speech. We both got excited about a vintage travel poster called Africa by Air and the beach, and that was that.
Our wedding was an intimate destination wedding with 40 people total, held at a little boutique hotel on the south coast of Kenya called Kinondo-Kwetu. Our life and work is in Africa, and it is a great passion Brian and I share. We just had to get married here, even though some of our most important people couldn’t make it. Our plan was to drive down a couple of days early to chillax/set up and then have the wedding on Saturday night. Well, prepare we did. Chillax? The only cloud looming was that for a couple of days my youngest daughter, Ciella, was suffering with a bad vomiting and diarrhea flu. Every time we thought it was time to go to the hospital, she would rally and eat a plate of French fries.
The Big Day we awoke to a cobalt-blue sky and a cool breeze. I turned off my phone and mentally handed the day off to our wonderful coordinator, Rosemary, and the incredible Kinondo-Kwetu staff, basically by very deliberately doing nothing. I sat on the beach and meditated while Brian flew a kite, and I visited with the kids while I had a manicure and pedicure (careful with that pinky!). Ciella, still punky, took a nap. I breathed deeply and reminded myself to be grateful for the incredible abundance in my life, so salient on this continent where so many people have so little and choose joy anyway.
I had pictured getting ready being gauzy and peaceful. But for all my prep, I had forgotten to set up the dressing area and it was complete pandemonium. Then my daughter’s flu took a sharp turn for the worse and just as I had finished my hair and makeup she vomited all over both of us. I couldn’t find my new wedding makeup and even forgot to put on my spanx! There was a moment I cringe to remember where I attempted to shake my thonged/non-spanx-covered ass past the criss-cross ribboned corset backing of my dress just as my older daughter told a man with a plate of snacks to come on in. I remember screaming “STOP! NOT SEXY!” Our Kenyan photographer was scandalized more than once.
We had family vows where we made promises to the kids and thanked them for allowing us to be a new family and for accepting each other and us. We gave the boys Leatherman multi-tools with their names engraved on them, and the girls got rings that belonged to Brian’s late grandmother. I remember Jared’s eyes glassy with tears, and Chad’s wide-open, earnest smile, their posture jaunty as they rocked their linen suits. We had a huge family hug and we all wept in the huddle. Some of my tears were for my floppy little girl waiting back in the room—a crumpled pile of raw silk, missing it all.
Then, through the trees, we saw a courageous little brown girl in apple green shantung searching for us. She was alone, had her little basket gripped in her hand, and was weaving through the trees. She was thin, huge-eyed, a little disoriented, and very determined. When she saw us she ran right to us. Brian swept her up in his arms and hugged her while I openly wept. While our rings finished the rounds, we got ourselves together, gave Ciella her special ring and she took her place with the rest of the family for the last few minutes of the ceremony. When I asked her later what made her come down, she said: “I heard the music and I just couldn’t miss my mama’s wedding.” Somehow, magically, we were all there. We were all so there. I have never been more grateful.
After that, we just floated on waves and waves of joy. Our portraits were quick and giddy (we were losing the light fast) and when we ducked out of the grove to the dinner area I literally gasped out loud in delight. Dinner was served in a little garden of trees overlooking the beach, illuminated by of garlands of hurricane lanterns hung on twine.
There were layers and layers of sumptuous details (handmade by us and dragged from Nairobi), brushstrokes in an impressionistic scene of overwhelming beauty. Little handmade dhows floated down the spines of the long tables on a river of saffron rose petals. Brass compass place markers perched on hand-hewed wooden plates doubled as favors. A simple photo booth made of an antique suitcase, cheap wigs, adhesive mustaches and a Polaroid camera was causing a riot of hilarity on the porch. The dance floor in the great room of the big house, framed with carved wooden pillars and lined with pillows, twinkled invitingly.
After dinner, as we laughed and joked with friends, I noticed Filip and Ida’s little blonde daughter followed me. Finally she screwed up her courage and tugged on my dress. When I kneeled down she whispered conspiratorially: “I have a lot of princess clothes too… But you are a real princess. So far, I’m just pretending.” The sand was cool on my feet, the little girl sun-warm in my arms. A few minutes later Brian pointed out that she had been adopted into our family kid posse, a little beach nymph surrounded by my own shining stars.
How to let go? Breath in. Breath out. Simply notice. Look. Listen. Feel the air on your skin, believe in the magic in that air. Find silence. Be grateful. Give thanks, over and over, for all that is there, for all that is yours.
The Info— Photographer: Mark Kathurima / Venue: Kinondo-Kwetu / Dress: Wtoo Desdemona / Flowers: Cultivar / Coordinator: Rosemary Teka, Splendid Weddings / Custom Bridesmaid Dresses: Ligaki Apparels / Linen Custom Suits: Katchins Mens’ Tailor, Diamond Plaza Basement / Panama Hat: Kenya Concierge / Vintage suitcase/objects: The Amazing Bazaar, Mombasa Road