The wedding was held at a Christian campground in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, just a few miles from the bride’s childhood home. Jess grew up in a rustic house in the woods. The original structure was a windmill, which her artistic and innovative parents added onto and converted, over time, into an energy-efficient, picturesque villa.
Jess’s folks hosted the rehearsal dinner at their house on Friday evening. They served pizza—Elton’s favorite American dish—as well as an African entrée called pap, with chicken relish. Pap is a thick cornstarch paste similar to mashed potatoes. Namibians eat it with their hands: they grab a couple tablespoons’-worth, form it with their forefingers, and use the pap to scoop up the relish, which is like thin stew. We ate chicken relish at this occasion, but I found out that Elton prefers the fish variety, which is common to his part of Namibia. We also ate chocolate-dipped fruit at the rehearsal dinner and, from Jess’s mother’s tradition, a Polish pound cake I also heard referred to as “Polish crack cake” (addictively tasty).
Will and Vi and I spent the night at the campground, in a motel-type facility where several of us stayed. Each room contained a queen bed and two bunks. Vi expressed relief that she did not have to sleep on the floor. (Ben and Pearl had 2 sleeps with Aunt Kaye, Uncle Paul and the cousins. When we retrieved them, Ben told me he had wanted to have 3 sleeps there, so I guess he enjoyed himself.)
The camp staff served us breakfast bright and early Saturday: warm flapjacks, crisp bacon, assorted muffins and fruit. The coffee was surprisingly decent—I drank 3 cups. The orange juice was camp-like, causing those of us around the table to reminisce about other watered-down, bug-juice beverages from our youth.
While Will readied himself to serve as wedding photographer, Vi and I explored the camp. We found several icy trails. The most exciting path led to a high point of the property overlooking the countryside. Vi liked the white bark of some of the trees we saw, so she brought back a small fallen birch branch as a souvenir.
High noon was wedding time. We showered and changed into our brown dress clothes, to match the bridal party. The camp chapel where the ceremony took place was also brown, a simple clapboard building with a white wooden cross above the entrance. Inside, the stone fireplace crackled with cozy flames. Tealights and toile circled the room, creating a romantic, festive feeling. The jubilant strains of an African youth chorus rang through the sound system. Well over 100 people gathered in this remote spot to celebrate the unique union of 2 souls from 2 countries, 2 cultures—under one God.
The men entered through the side door: Elton, the groom, along with the minister and 3 groomsmen. None of Elton’s African family or friends were able to attend. The person who served as best man is an American who had volunteered at the Namibian orphanage where Elton and Jessica work. So Elton knew him from his life across the Atlantic. The other groomsmen were a friend and an uncle of Jess’s.
The women entered from the back of the chapel, to an upbeat African tune about as far from Pachelbel’s Canon as the ocean is wide. The bridal processional also bucked American sensibilities. (I’m still trying to track down a link to the lively song.) Jess was beautiful! I know people almost always say that about brides, and it’s almost always true. But Jess just radiated health and happiness. Elton, too, glowed with gladness, but he also seemed very serious and certain. He said his vows in his Namibian language of Lozi. Jess said her vows in English. Though both also speak the other’s language, it seemed right that they make the most solemn promises of their lives in their native tongue.
The women (Jess’s sister and 2 close friends) wore dresses the color of milk chocolate. They carried bouquets of white daisies bound together with swaths of the chartreuse-and-azure-patterned cloth under Jess and Elton’s hands in the picture below. The men’s ties were made from the same fabric, and so were parts of the décor at the reception hall, which was the camp cafeteria, decked out.
It was a sunny spring day in the mid- to upper 40s (Fahrenheit). The guests made their way to the party immediately after the ceremony. Pictures took longer than anyone would have liked (as is almost always true—I’m allowed to say so as the photographer’s wife), but the setting was relaxed and comfortable, and we felt free to begin with beverages and start our salads before the bridal party joined us.
The buffet-style meal was down-home American fare: fresh-baked wheat bread with butter, roasted potatoes, glazed carrots, green bean casserole, a main entrée called “Willy’s chicken,” and another of Elton’s newly acquired favorites: macaroni and cheese. All yummy. (Someone snapped a picture revealing Jess’s personal addition to the meal: a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee, special-ordered by the bride.) The cake was spectacular and unusual: multi-tiered, fondant-covered, in colors and patterns echoing the African theme. Atop the cake were 2 intertwined giraffes. Once cut and served, the cake proved exceptionally moist and flavorful—one bridesmaid declared it “worthy.”
The most bittersweet part of the day, from my perspective, was the absence of Elton’s family. The costs and other logistical obstacles to traveling here simply surpassed their sincere desire to support Elton and his new bride. Since the newlyweds will be moving back to Namibia after their honeymoon in Florida, they will have a blessing ceremony there, followed by a full-blown barbecue in honor of the happy couple. There were several elements of the ceremony and reception in tribute to Elton’s father, his late mother, and his many other relatives back home. During a slide show portraying his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (many pictures I’d been privileged to see beforehand), I mainly watched Elton and Jessica. Both seemed stirred by the sight of these distant loved ones. Jess had shed many tears of joy and gratitude all day, but the love evident in her eyes for Elton’s people—who are now her people—showed me a glimpse of her devotion to her new husband, her new family, and Namibia, her new home.
“…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”—Ruth 1:16b