Thursday, October 10, 2013


Several years ago, some Lithuanian friends taught my family and me how to do the Lithuania polka around a bonfire situated next to a meadow adjacent to a castle nestled in the Austrian Alps. (“And the green grass grew all around all around, and the green grass grew all around!”)

Ever since that evening of polka-ing, I’d determined that, should I get married, I would teach everyone at my wedding reception to do the Austrian polka. I couldn't imagine it getting any more fun than that.

Until last weekend, that is, when I attended a Kenyan wedding. The Kenyans, my friends, know how to party. 

It was actually a Kenyan/Jamaican wedding, as my Jamaican college track training partner married a Kenyan. Which made the wedding twice as dance-tastic. Because if there are two things I know about Jamaicans, it’s that they’re fast and they can dance.

I learned this from my college training partner, Lorraine.

Over the years, Lorraine and I have moved, switched jobs, and gone to graduate school, so we don’t get to see each other often. But it doesn’t matter.

When you spend four years running till you cramp, puke, collapse, black out, and stop breathing, you forge a bond that won’t disintegrate when the winds of time blow fast and hard.

And when you travel across the nation competing and spending hours together in planes, buses, and hotel rooms, you begin to feel like family. That doesn't change, even when you move away and start families of your own.

My 4 x 400 relay team at Nationals my junior year.

So watching Lorraine merge lives with the man she loves was special. And celebrating with a few of my former college teammates made it even more special:

At the wedding. From left to right: A pole vaulter, a 400-meter hurdler, an Olympic shot putter, and a 400-meter hurdler

It was a lovely ceremony in an alpine-style chapel:

The reception took place in a hotel ballroom. It was beautiful:

I got to sit with my former teammates. This is KJ, one of the members of my 4 x 4 relay team.

She's sitting with her husband Anthony, and a random little girl who ran up and sat in KJ's lap. KJ is likable like that. 

I just love wedding place settings.

It's not chocolate. Or a candle. Or rice.

It's a Kenyan keychain and a Jamaican bracelet!

Isn't that fresh and fun?

After a cocktail hour, all the guests poured into the ballroom and sat at assigned tables, at which point the bridal party was announced to pulsing African and Jamaican music. How the guests managed to stay seated quietly while those rhythms pounded is beyond me. What they thought of the gangly white girl in the corner bouncing around and waving her arms to the music is also beyond me. Thank goodness.

And then, minutes later, all my wedding reception dance dreams came true. 

"Will all the women please go out to the hotel entrance where the bride and groom are waiting?" asked our Kenyan emcee.

So all 100 of us went out and gathered around the bride and groom. Then one of the older Kenyan ladies began to sing a lyric in the Kikuyu tribe's dialect meaning, "Let them glow." The rest of the Kenyan women echoed her, clapping, and occasionally letting out shrill, celebratory ululations:  "Ayayayayayayaayayay!"

As they sang, we danced forward, and then back, and then forward again, slowly escorting the bride and groom into the banquet hall.

Once we'd arrived at the dance floor the emcee had everyone else get out of their seats and form a giant conga line that wrapped around the entire room. Seconds later, African and Jamaican dance songs filled the air as we danced and danced and danced around the room.

I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. 

Dancing to wild, foreign music, surrounded by people from different tribes and nations is the pinnacle of partying, in my mind. It's also the very best way to work up an appetite. 

But wait. We couldn't eat when we were done. First, each table had to sing for its meal. 

"No problem!" our table said when we found out. 

"How about we do that round I tried to teach our relay team several years back?" I suggested. "You know, 'Jesus' Love is Bubbling Over.'"

Minutes later my table of good sports was practicing their parts. Half the table would sing the base part, and half would sing the soprano part. I would sing the solo since I was the only one who knew it. We'd earn our dinner, no doubt about it.

It was an airtight plan. Except that I don't sing. And we were surrounded by Africans and Jamaicans who grew up singing and could sing the roof off the place. And I don't sing. And we didn't have a single good vocalist in our group. And I don't sing. And the emcee decided to have the tables sing into a microphone when they performed. And I don't sing.

Eight tables and eight spectacular concerts later, I was handed a microphone while my back up singers took their positions. And I wish I could tell you that I filled the room with sonorous, spine-chilling music, but I can't. Except for the spine-chilling part. Instead it was filled with the audience's laughter, and even their singing along, as we bobbed and babbled about Jesus and bubbles. Minutes later, our plates were filled with steaming salmon and steak — a worthy prize for our singing debut.

Once dinner was devoured, music began to pulse, bodies began to sway, and we were up out of our seats dancing. All 200 of us.

You and Anthony sure know how to throw a party, Lorraine!

Here's to hoping the joy of your wedding celebration is just a taste of the joy that's to come for you and your hubby, Lorraine!

© by scj

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