Indigenous wedding and a sea turtle

Indigenous wedding and an encounter with a sea turtle - Ecuador

A sea turtle washed up on the beach, a small cut on its underbelly and a dent in its shell. Two of the neighbours carried it between them, placing it carefully next to the hose in the yard. This is the rescue mission, I thought. This is the part where we douse Finding Nemo’s Crush in water before returning him to the sea and watching him swim off in to the sunset, a flipper waving his thanks to us as he goes to relate his adventure back to Nemo and Dory. Not so. Here, sea turtles are not just the cute endangered species of Pixar films: they are a great delicacy and their blood and fat is said to protect against multiple illnesses. One of the neighbours has already flipped poor Crush over on to his shell, tracing the grid-like lines on his belly with a knife. “Sea turtles are perfectly designed to be carved up,” he says happily.
The daily monotony of fried plantain and rice is broken, the blood and fat drunk, the meat consumed and the shell cleaned and mounted on the wall. We wash our greasy hands and head off to get ready for the wedding that night, a family friend who allegedly won’t mind the uninvited attendance of a ‘gringa’.
The street has been fenced off for the occasion, filled with plastic tables and chairs, a makeshift stage with flashing lights at one end. The set up reminds me forcibly of children’s birthday parties back in primary school – discos in the church hall with plastic cups filled with panda pop, distressed denim and sparkly jeans from Tesco’s Cherokee section and the DJ belting out the Macarena. The only differences are that the DJ is announcing dances such as the merengue, cumbia and salsa, and that Pilsener (Ecuador’s national beer) is on offer alongside the lurid sodas. The clothes are pretty similar: ripped jeans, tank tops and slogan t-shirts. The dancing begins, couples sashay and spin around me in perfect unison, and all the uncles gamely take it in turns to teach me how to dance as I hop awkwardly from one high-heeled foot to the other.
During the small hours the street dogs join in the festivities, drawn in by the smell of chicken and rice being cooked in huge vats in the street. The guests spin through dog mess obliviously, the smell of warm shit mixing with wafts of fried chicken. The single toilet overflows and the bride appears with a large pail of water to sluice it down.
At 7am the last of the guests stumble off, armed with ‘party bags’ from the happy couple – cake, sweets and a vase engraved with the wedding date. Every face is smiling as they tramp home through the slurry, and my smile is no less wide than theirs. Weddings may be a simpler affair here, but school discos never really lost their charm, did they?

Anna Richards

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