By Kevin Anthony Stoda, USA citizen working in Germany
While many others around the globe were celebrating International Women’s Day 2009, I was busy being married in a church ceremony in Salmiya, Kuwait to Maria Victoria M. Baradero of the Philippines.
As Part of International Women’s Day
In some ways, Maria Victoria’s and my church wedding in Kuwait was similar to several international women’s day events.
For example, we newlyweds had invited guests from not only Kuwait, the USA, and the Philippines, but also from other lands, such as South Africa, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, India, Canada, Germany, France, and the UK.
Also, I should note that there exists a majority of women in my church to plan and help Victoria prepare and celebrate her day.
Most of all, any wedding day is primarily successful for making the woman (or bride) most happy and loved. My friends and I succeeded in this.
Concerning the international aspect of our wedding, my pastor, Pradeep Kutty–who officiated the great day for my bride and I–is from Kerala, India.
Moreover, the bridesmaids and maid of honor were also representing several cultures—i.e. they were from the Philippines, India, and the USA (of Dutch heritage). http://www.friendster.com/photos/48833222/1/651605723
Finally, one of the more memorable activities was when Zeinab from Syria–along with her children, her husband, and in-laws — joined in carrying out a traditional Syrian wedding dance for my bride and I, We, along with the many other guests present—as some Egyptian friends of mine–clapped along as the family strutted their stuff.
NINE to TEN WEEKS of PREPARATION
I should share that Victoria and I had experienced grave duress during the last weeks of 2008 as we had struggled to complete the civil papers for marriage, which were finally conducted at Kuwait’s Ministry of Justice in Mirqab on the 31st of December of that year. There were many surprises and new demands made by bureaucrats every other day on journey to obtain our marriage paperwork in Kuwait.
For example, in a ten day period, we had to revisit the Philippine Embassy numerous times for paperwork which Victoria had already received in Manila earlier in December—but which Kuwaiti’s found not to be good enough.
NOTE: In addition, the Philippine bureaucracy at the Embassy in Kuwait had also had us pay for several for unnecessary pages of paperwork and certifications as well along the way. (It appears that we had been forced to purchase from the Philippine Embassy three pieces of worthless paper for every actually needed document, i.e. the documents which Kuwait bureaucrats only really required.)
Meanwhile, Maria Victoria and I also had been required by the Kuwaiti administrators to go to the Evangelical Church Compound in Kuwait City several times in order to eventually acquire a small piece of paper, which stated that we were, in fact, Christians—and not atheists or from some Eastern—non-monotheistic faith. (We only received this paper late in the afternoon on December 30.)
In short, Victoria and I were therefore only able to get civilly-married after much effort and prayer on December 31, 2008—two and a half days before I then flew to Germany to go to start a new job.
The Civil Ceremony
Most interestingly, I should note that on the morning of the 31st of December 2008 at the Ministry of Justice, Maria Victoria and I had chosen witnesses on hand from India and Philippines. Alas, in Kuwait, women do not count as full witnesses before the law courts—each woman is considered only half a witness under Kuwaiti law, so only the two Indian male witnesses were asked to sign our Civil Ceremony wedding papers.
On the other hand, this will surprise you readers!!!!!—
Despite the lack of women rights to act as witnesses in Kuwait, the very Kuwaiti official who oversaw Maria Victoria’s and my civil ceremony in the Ministry of Justice that last day of 2008 was a wonderful black-hijab wearing Kuwaiti female.
In short, just as most of our world is full of stress and contradictions for lovers these days , the world and lives of women in Kuwait are similarly full of contradictions, stress and filled with surprising turns of event.
ANYBODY’S WEDDING NEEDS SUPPORT—RIGHT?
Because a few days after our civil ceremony, I had flown to Germany to start on a new contract, our Kuwaiti church fellowship and Maria Victoria were forced to undertake the preparations for my wedding in my absence.
Soon—after carrying out many long-distance e-mails, phone conversations and negotiations on two continents–Victoria and I were finally able to settle on March 8, 2009 for our Christian Wedding date to be held in Kuwait.
Anyone who has ever put on a wedding knows, no one can do it alone.
My Kuwaiti church family provided the first and strongest ring of support for enabling Victoria and I to enjoy our special wedding even on March 8.
NOTE: Due to distance, neither my family in the USA nor Victoria’s family in the Philippines.
Slowly, the members of the Kuwaiti church fellowship from America, India, and Vik’s homeland, the Philippines, continued discussing, negotiating, and aiding in the planning of and the implementation of the very memorable INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY WEDDING for my bride, Maria Victoria, and I.
My wife, born Maria Victoria M. Baradero and native of Palawan in the Philippines, had already worked in Kuwait for over six years when we had determined to marry. My Kuwaiti church group, which consists of an almost equal number of Filipinos and Indians (plus a handful of Americans and visitors from everywhere) has been functioning in Kuwait since the late 1990s, but it is just now undertaking the paperwork to be recognized in Kuwait by the Evangelical Churches of Kuwait.
So, as my two months in Germany working in a new job in 2009 proceeded along, Maria Victoria and I gave up the idea of holding a wedding of some 75 to 95 guests in either the location of our small congregational meetings in Salwah or in one of the official churches in Kuwait City. Size and permission were all issues. This key decision could only be reached early February 2009—or less than a month before the wedding date. Our Pastor Pradeep and another brother, Vincent, then began searching all over Kuwait for a location to hold the festivities of wedding and banquet. (We had know idea we would end up in a place nicknamed the “Jungle”.)
In the meantime, Victoria had begun to get her gown started. Deanne, Bing, and others from the church fellowship who would serve in the ceremony with us assisted in selecting all the colorful new clothing designs for the kids, maids of honor, groomsmen, and the usherettes. Vik also wrote her own vows.
Meanwhile, Lolitha helped Victoria make invitations.Victoria chose to put a bible verse from the Song of Songs (8:6-7) in the guest’s invites
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of his house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.
Soon, Vince and Pradeep found a wedding hall in a place called The Jungle. They also helped me to select a multinational and multicultural meal for the banquet by long distance.
All-in-all, all kinds of people in and out of the church chipped in to help us. Some bought flowers. Others volunteered to help with the photography bill, etc.
In addition, my sisters and mother in America wrote letters that were read to us and the guests at the end of the ceremony on March 8, 2009
Finally, my boss at Edgesharp gave me permission to fly a few days early to my wedding from Germany, so I could help hand out invitations and help make last minute decisions with and/or for my wife—who was certainly greatly burdened by my distance.
I also desire to note here that I am thankful for Victoria’s boss, the owner of Al-Kindi Pharmacy in Jabriya, who allowed Victoria to take off 15-days-in-a-row to prepare for the wedding and then to spend a week with me catching up on our missed time as a couple (after the ceremony and after being my two months away in Germany at my new job).
OTHER PRE-WEDDING PREPARATION
At just after 7pm on March 8, 2009, my old friend Dr. Fouad Al-Salem , a Kuwaiti and professor of finance (who also studied at Kansas University, my alma mater), was waiting to greet my bride and I very early, i.e. as we came through the elevator door to the meeting hall of The Jungle Restaurant in Salmiya.
The bride as-usual was a bit late. Fouad and I waited anxiously for her arrival. After all, the wedding day is particularly specially for the woman in any marriage arrangement–and especially so for any bride, like Victoria. So, I hoped things were going well wherever she was. Meanwhile, Vince and Pradeep tried to get me to look sharp in my tie and coat.
By the way, I had spent the previous few hours before the wedding with Vincent, my right-hand man, at his favorite barbershop, where he had set me up to have the most expensive barber visit of my life. The treatment I received that special day was called the “marriage package” and the treatment was turned out on me by an Iranian. It involved a facial wax [OUCH!!!], cutting of eyebrows by thread, and other arts of Asian salons—as well as the haircut, my first hair coloring, a back rub, a head massage, and a blow dry.
I don’t think I want to pay 50 dollars again for such a package—and the wax is hot and painful to have taken off.
However, the day is special, eh?
Meanwhile, earlier that same afternoon, my wife, Maria Victoria was receiving a similar treatment for free from her friend and beauty salonist friend, Aisha.
CEREMONY ITSELF IN THE JUNGLE
From the beginning, Victoria and I knew that our wedding would be fairly unique in many ways.
First of all, our church congregation or family is fairly special and unique. For example, less than four years prior to this, two worshiping fellowships had found each other in Kuwait. One had been planted by help of North American leaders. Soon, they were joined by a handful of other leaders from India.
Meanwhile, from another corning of our migrating planet, i.e. the Philippines, numerous members of the International Church of Christ decided to come together in another part of the Kuwaiti township (and they had met every Sunday for two years before they found us and approached in a marriage of sorts0.
Suddenly, like the characters in Dr. John Grey’s metaphor and best-seller, MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, our two fellowships found each other, fell in love and were soon united—as one.
This had occurred around November/December of 2005.
My wife, Maria Victoria, was the first new member baptized into this newly combined church fellowship in 2006. (I had been baptized in Sharjah of the UAE in the Persian Gulf some six years earlier.)
In short, our wedding would certainly have to include American food and beverages, Indian clothing, and Filipino wedding elements.
In particular, some of the Filipino traditional elements which were included in our wedding ceremony were exhibited in the style of dress that Victoria wore that day. That is, Vik’s get-up that wedding day included a thicker veil than is today the current practice in the West (where I am from), i.e. more like the veil worn in Middle Eastern Christian weddings. (I could barely see Vik’s face for the veil.)
Moreover, there were also (a) the rope and (b) finally a dual bride- and groom veil.
Let me explain. The Filipino rope is more reminiscent of a lasso–in the shape of a sideways-8 or the infinity symbol used in mathematics. The doubled-over rope is placed over both the bride and groom as part of the ceremony in order to symbolize eternity, i.e. or not-even-death will do us apart.
See a video on this part of the ceremony here. This is what it looks like from behind.
The veil hung was over us both– after the rope was placed on our necks symbolizing a purity of relationship—i.e. not based on gold ring nor other wants/desires but on love and commitment.
On the other hand, commitment is, of course, what we focus on when we place rings on each other’s fingers, too. This ring exchange was done by us with the help of many prior to the rope and veil ceremony.
Even prior to the ring ceremony, we both gave our vows and under took the lighting of candles. Lighting a single candle by the newlywed couple indicates that what was once two has now become one. In other words, the focus was on unity.
My vows to Victoria went as follows:
“I, KEVIN, take you, VICTORIA, to be my wife, my partner in life and my one true love. I will cherish our friendship and love you today, tomorrow, and forever. With deepest joy, I receive you into my life that together we may be one.”
“As is Christ to His body, the church, so I will be to you a loving and faithful husband. I will trust you and honor you. I will laugh with you and cry with you. I will love you faithfully through the best and the worst, through the difficult and the easier times. With great joy, I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you, caring for you, nurturing you.”
“Whatever may come, I will always be there. I have given you my hand to hold so as to say that I will share & give you my life to keep, so help me God!!!”
Meanwhile, Rradeep, our pastor shared a short message on the three Cs in our lives: (1) Christ, (2) Communication, and (3) Commitment.
DANCING AND CELEBRATION
Back in the hallway after the wedding ceremony portion of our event-of-the-day together (to celebrate with church and with friends), Victoria and I had our first chance to relax and to allow some photos to be made both from professional photographers and then from our many friends, especially from those in the Kuwaiti church, like Bing, Gen, Sonia, Hannah, and Deanne.
After more than a few dozen photos with grooms-men, brides maids, usherettes, and children in Indian clothing had been shot, Victoria and I next reentered the meeting hall only to be attacked by joyous friends throwing confetti in the quickly reorganized hall–set-up (now) for a reception.
After we cut the cake, Victoria and I undertook our first dance as newlyweds—and invited others two join us. Soon, representatives of a variety nations on four continents joined us on the floor.
Next, Victoria and I made a relaxing tour of all our friends. It was avvery pleasant way to talk to our guests and well-wishers. (I’ve never held much from making the guests stand in long lines. ) While we were walking circuitously around the hall, the other guests grabbed a piece of cake or continued with their meal, dancing or bantor.
Our tour of The Jungle meeting hall was only interrupted by, first, a toast of grape juice in wine glasses.
Second, Victoria also stopped to quickly toss her bouquet.
The bouquet flew well over any of the young women’s arms, so Vik had to do it again.
With the next toss over Victoria’s back, the flowers (picked out by Victoria to match the gowns of the bridesmaids) landed in her best friend’s (and hair stylist) Aisha’s hands.
Soon Victoria and I were sitting down again to eat in the front of the entire room. Sitting beside us were our maid of honor (Deanne) and my best man (Khel). As we sat and enjoyed the banquet, Bing came forward and sang us two songs.
She sang beautifully.
Soon more dance music was going.
Eventually, my Arabian friends got up to dance to a Syrian song.
It was a blessed night. Our guests from all walks of life and many corners of the planet were present and in good cheer. (Some, like us were totally exhausted by months of preparation, too.)
There were also our tailors….there were university professors, too….there were my Egyptian lifeguardbuddies from the public swimming pool….there were engineers and housewives…and children of Victoria’s boss….
Wow! What a memorable day!
Thanks for celebrating with us!!!!!
—Kevin & Vik ©2009