The wedding was scheduled for 3 p.m. At 10 past 3 the bridal party left the home where they were dressing here at the mission. My friends and I headed for the church. At 3:20 we arrived at the same time as the wedding party. The church was empty. We found great seats about half way back — not too close to be in the way of family, not so far back we’d miss the action. At 4:30 the wedding began. Right on time for Haiti.

By 5 Joel and his bride Madenise were still a long way from taking their vows. The ceremony began with an MC welcoming us to the wedding. Then he introduced the first couple in the bridal party. They are called the prince and princess and they proceed slowly down the aisle in a series of romantic dance steps that suggest something between reverent love and club moves. Several other couples follow suit in a choreographed pageant topped not by the bride and groom, but by the little flower girl and her escort dressed as a pint sized happy couple ( all the girls in the wedding party wear actual wedding dresses) that could almost stand atop a wedding cake. The little bride at Joel’s wedding was two and a half year old Maria, daughter of the mission secretary.

Finally Joel and Madenise made their appearance together. They walked hand in hand and about halfway down the aisle they stopped. She knelt down, took the mic and sang a little love song to her groom. Very touching.Time check. We’ve been in the church two and a half hours now and no one is even close to married. My nephew Nicholas (who was visiting me that week) has taken a break outside and the guy in front of me sent a kid down the street for cokes.JoelMadenise

Next up were the preachers–10 of them. The couple hails from two different churches so preachers from each one represented. The MC introduced each with a bit of fanfare. Between each message, or “meditation, ” there was entertainment from the two choirs and a young La Gonave pop singer who seemed to enjoy a celebrity status. People were standing, cheering, clapping–it was beginning to feel like an episode of Showtime at the Apollo without the hook.

At long last the vows began. Nicholas returned from his break fraternizing with the locals and people began crowding to the front of the church to get a good view. After their vows, Joel and Madenise exchanged rings and then the groom unveiled the bride. This was a big moment played to a hushed crowd. After a beat the preacher nudged Joel to kiss the bride. He did. The crowd went wild. And as they started back up the aisle the couple was mobbed by family and friends hugging and congratulating them. Time check. 6:30 p.m.

As we made our way towards Joel and his bride a slender old man in a shark skin suit stopped us and introduced himself as Joel’s father. He was overflowing with joy for his son and wanted to thank us for coming to the wedding. He embraced us warmly and introduced us to the rest of Joel’s family. Finally we saw Joel. He had tears in his eyes as he hugged each of us from the mission. It was a wedding that almost wasn’t and I don’t think I have ever seen a man so happy to be hitched.

Joel is a mild soul. He is the gardener here at the Wesleyan mission and a gentler man never put hand to earth. He arrives each morning at 7. He waters all the trees and plants. He cleans up the palm fronds and leaves that fall after wind or rain. He rakes grass clippings from several acres of property and tends our little garden of tropical trees, pumpkin, peppers, swiss chard and spinach. He and his old side kick Fre Merison run errands at the market in town for guests and other folks at the mission, and once a month he helps me clean the layer of dust from my louvered windows.

Joel (pronounced Jo-el) is uncomplicated and wise. He does not have much formal education, probably through eighth grade, but he is very knowledgable about what he does and he earns a steady regular pay check at a job many unemployed educated people wouldn’t do. One cloudy morning after a severe evening storm I asked Joel if he thought it would rain again. I was going up to the mountains and didn’t want to risk the trip in bad weather. He said, ” I know that it rained last night, but only God kows if it will rain today.” That is the way Joel regularly schools me about living in the moment.

Last spring he was helping care for my chickens when the horrible chicken disease hit and several of them, including the fabled rooster Guiness, died. We looked for a cause; we scoured the hen house with bleach; we buried the dead. It was a dark time and during those days Joel confided in me that his plans to get married seemed put on hold. Maybe he didn’t feel he had enough money or maybe Madenise was having second thoughts. But he was quite down and he asked me to pray for him and for his marriage. However, in September all was on again and in October he proudly handed me the invitation to his December 6th nuptials. His wedding present? A rooster and two hens.

May they all live happily ever after.JoelWedding

And the same to all of you. Avek anpil afeksyon–Nancy

Pictures are of Joel and Madenise and little Maria and her escort. I couldn’t get his photo because when I stood in front of him with the camera he took one look at my white face and cried!