If you’ve ever watched an episode of a bridal reality TV show, you may think that all weddings are near-death experiences where frazzled brides, strung out on the emotional crack fed to them by the wedding industry, alienate their closest friends and relatives with atrocious behaviour as they storm their way toward the ‘perfect wedding’.
It doesn’t have to be that way. My best friend Jihan had a Malay wedding in Brunei that lasted nearly a week, and everyone was still friends at the end of the last day. Here’s how it all went down.
On the Tuesday, Jihan had her first berbedak mandi, where she donned a sarong and was scrubbed from head to toe with a special powder, then dressed in white to receive blessings from her relatives and closest friends. Every evening until Sunday’s reception, the scrubbing was repeated.
On Wednesday, realizing that I hadn’t packed an outfit for the Friday evening ceremony, I searched Jihan’s closet for something appropriate. It took us twenty minutes to find something we loved. It took our mothers two seconds to denounce the choice as ill-matched. Back to the drawing board.
When I returned on Thursday to find something that wouldn’t get me thrown out of the wedding party, I found Jihan sprawled on her bed with her henna-covered toes hanging off the edge. By then, she had been under house arrest for two days (to keep her from getting hurt just before the wedding), and wouldn’t be allowed to leave the building until she went to the reception venue on Sunday morning. We spent a few moments reminiscing about high school slumber parties and marvelled at how grown up we had become. Then we spent the rest of the evening playing dress-up.
Friday night was the akad nikah, the marriage solemnization. This is the equivalent of a North American wedding’s main ceremony. For more than two hours Jihan sat, cool as the proverbial cucumber, while the deft hands of her makeup artist and her hairstylist worked their magic in tandem. Grazing on small bites of chicken and yogurt that the maid of honour fed her whenever the makeup artist paused, Jihan seemed almost not to notice the chaos around her.
The highlight of the nikah is watching the groom-to-be attempt to recite his vow in a single breath, clearly and without any hesitation. Jihan’s fiancé Roy did this in front of 250 people, with professional videographers hovering over him so that the guests who couldn’t fit into Jihan’s huge family home (affectionately referred to as ‘the White House’) could watch on screens outside.
Once Roy had satisfied the imam and exchanged rings with Jihan, she was swept back upstairs to her room to change clothes. The second ceremony, the malam berbedak, was to take place on the same night.
The second outfit paid homage to her mother’s Malaysian roots, and took six women nearly an hour to assemble.
It was worth it.
Back downstairs just in time to prevent hungry guests from rioting, she returned to the white leather bench under the hanging flower canopy. One by one, relatives approached the stage to bless her with coloured powder and offer their congratulations.
On Saturday, we got tattoos. Well, sort of. It was malam berinai, henna night, and the several dozen family members who had flown in from Malaysia gathered at the house yet again for hand adornments with a side of banoffee pie and mango pudding.
The reception was scheduled for Sunday, at 1:00 p.m. While Jihan sat through another marathon makeup-and-hair session, this time in the upper room at the Polo Club, her family spread out downstairs to handle the last-minute details.
At 10:45 a.m., the videographers announced that they were missing a cable. There would be no way to play the wedding video or project the photo slideshow.
At this point in the TV version, the bride would transform into a chupacabra and devour the videographer like a hapless baby goat.
In real life, Jihan let the maid of honour step in. The M.O.H. spent the next hour and a half on the phone, cajoling, berating and bargaining with the would-be saboteurs until the right cable was found. Then she did her own makeup, fixed Jihan’s veil and posed for selfies like she’d just stepped out of a day spa.
At 1:00 p.m., we headed downstairs. Having been recruited as a flower girl the night before, I found myself leading Jihan and Roy into the crowded ballroom with a trail full of rose petals and chopped pandan leaves. We approached the dais where the two of them would sit ‘in state’ as king and queen of their 700 guests.
While the wedding was certainly of epic TV-worthy proportions, our reality thankfully turned out to be more magic than madness. From what I saw this week, the most important sanity-preserver for a bride, whether she’s taking a day or a week to get married, is to assemble the right team to help fight her battles so she can focus on actually getting married.