My oldest, dearest friend Claire got married yesterday. (You might remember Claire from my tattoo post.) Happily for Claire, but unhappily for me, the wedding was in Kona, Hawaii — possibly the furthest location from Johannesburg on this earth. I coudn’t go. Sniff.

In an interesting twist of fate, I was invited to a wedding right in my own time zone on the same day. (Well, technically I wasn’t invited. But I went. More on that later.) I was grateful for the opportunity. I couldn’t be with Claire on her special day, but being at someone else’s nuptials made me feel closer to Kona.

I wasn’t in Kona though. I was in Kroonstad.

Bobo and Mantoa got married in Kroonstad. I didn’t get a decent photo of the bride and groom so you’ll have to settle for this banner. (Which is awesome.)

Let me explain. Bobo, the groom, went to high school my good friend Florence. Florence and her husband Rob invited me to tag along to Bobo’s wedding with them. Florence assured me it was no problem that I wasn’t on the guest list, and had never even met the bride or groom. Wedding-crashing is common practice here and totally acceptable, if not encouraged.

I eagerly accepted, having never been to a wedding in South Africa before. Florence said the wedding was in Katlehong, a township just east of Joburg. Even better. I’m always keen to visit a township.

The wedding was to start at 11:00. Florence and Rob picked me up at 2:00. Not a problem, said Florence. Guests aren’t expected to be on time to African weddings.

I hopped into the car and Rob looked at the directions for the wedding, in an email on his phone. There were actually two separate celebrations: one hosted by the bride’s family on Saturday and one hosted by the groom’s family on Sunday. The Saturday celebration was not in Katlehong, but in Kroonstad. None of us had ever heard of Kroonstad. Florence assumed it was near Katlehong.

By this time we were on the N1 highway, driving toward Katlehong. We passed a sign: ‘Kroonstad: 165 kms’.

Oh.

The wedding was two hours away and we were already three hours late. Florence hit the gas pedal and kept driving. This is Africa.

We reached Kroonstad, a tiny town in Free State Province, at 4:30. We arrived at the wedding venue, a large civic centre. Guess what? We were right on time. The bride and groom had just finished their photo session and hadn’t even arrived for the reception yet.

Two suave wedding guests wait for Bobo and Mantoa to arrive.

Florence was right. It made no difference that we were late and no one batted an eye at the presence of strange, uninvited white girl. We went inside, found seats, and joined the party.

Awesome hats.

With the exception of the aforementioned acceptability of tardiness and wedding-crashing, my first South African wedding reception was much like a wedding reception in the United States. Big hall, big white dress, over-the-top bridesmaids’ frocks. There was a dinner buffet, a champagne toast, and a cake. (I’m told the township wedding, planned for the next day, would be quite different. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go.)

The biggest difference at this reception was the dancing. Weddings here have a lot more dancing than weddings back home, and everyone seems to be much better at it.

The wedding party didn’t just walk into the reception; they danced in. I wasn’t in a good position photograph the dance so I focused on this line of cell-phone photographers.

Let me pause to tell you that I am a terrible wedding photographer. Photographing people dancing in low, artificial light is impossible, at least for an amateur like me. My pictures are all fuzzy and horrible. But I can’t write a wedding post witout wedding pictures, so I’m using them anyway.

Once everyone was settled in their seats, there were a few speeches and then more dancing.

This talented pair of kids, friends of the bride I think, performed a serious dance routine.

Having fun.

Eventually the groomsmen took centre stage.

Bobo is on the right, next to the guy in the striped shirt. Love the purple color scheme.

Finally it was time for dinner. I feel sorry for the people who arrived on time at 11:00 a.m., as dinner didn’t start until about 6:30. The tables were called up to the buffet one at a time and the line moved slowly, so we had to be patient.

I took some pictures of Florence and Rob to pass the time. This is my favorite. 

We finished dinner, paid our respects to Bobo and Mantoa, and decided it was time to leave. It was pouring rain and we had a long drive home. We gathered our things and got up from the table.

‘IT IS TIME TO CUT THE CAKE,’ boomed the emcee into the microphone. ‘THE CUTTING OF THE CAKE IS VERY IMPORTANT. PLEASE STAY FOR THE CUTTING OF THE CAKE.’

We looked around. We were the only ones standing up and everyone was staring at us. And let’s be honest — Rob and I couldn’t exactly blend into the crowd. We sat down sheepishly.

The cake was cut, in the usual way. I’m glad we stayed. Immediately after the cake-cutting, the whole place erupted in dancing. The three of us joined in for a while, then danced quietly out the door.

The crowd dances. The bride cheers us on.

You may be wondering why there is a funeral in my headline. Bobo and Mantoa met at a funeral! Ten months later, they are husband and wife. Go figure.

This is a terrible picture but I love the way the little girl is twirling her dress. It’s so wedding-y.

Congratulations, Bobo and Mantoa. And congratulations, Claire and Isaiah. Aloha! I love you guys.

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