All Packed and Ready To Wed!
I am sitting in an elaborately decorated room with flower centerpieces that are nothing short of awe-inspiring. On the table is a card printed with my name on it and a little attached note saying, ‘Thank you for sharing our day with us.’ A lady in the corner tinkles on a large harp as, one by one, sharply dressed wait-staff bring our plated dinners (three delicious courses in all) straight to our crystal encrusted place mats. Outside, the sun sets over a range of breathtaking mountains and a cool breeze wafts into the room full of floor length gowns and tuxedos. People’s faces are animated, laughing, chatting and there is a pervading sense of calm happiness.
When the couple takes the floor, the bride in her striking white creation and the groom in a fitted suit Tom Ford himself would be proud of, all attention is focused on them. A sweet song with sentimental value plays and the bride rests her head on the groom’s shoulder. There are more than a few not-so-dry eyes in the room. The rest of the wedding is pure joy; my cheeks hurt from smiling so much and I do not want it to end. That sums up the sentiments of most of the guests.
Now who is this newly minted couple? Are they my British friends from A-Level school that I kept in touch with? Or perhaps course mates or family friends from when we lived abroad? No, the newlyweds are Nigerian, born and bred, certified Lagosians. The wedding took place in a country neither of them have lived or worked and which holds no sentimental value. They chose it because it was beautiful and they loved it for their wedding. This was my first introduction to the Nigerian Destination Wedding.
Destination Weddings have historically been small affairs akin to eloping with a larger budget. A quick Google image search shows smiling couples standing outside, usually on a beach, usually with the groom in shorts and the bride in a sun dress and usually with a handful of guests seated on fabric covered chairs. In the sand. That image bears little resemblance to the extravagant affairs I have been privileged to be a part of. The Nigerian Destination Wedding (and I use the caps deliberately) can only be described as an Event. Think stunning venues you were never even aware of. Think beautifully kitted guests up to 400 strong and maybe even more.
I was so excited to see my (slightly misspelled) name in bling.
Think national dishes cooked to perfection and served on fine china (the yam pottage I ate at one wedding was the stuff of dreams). Think professional and capable staff attending to your every need with a smile on their face as if they were born for that very moment. Think DJs with a following, playing jams till 4am in the morning. Think entertainment and world class performers. If I sound like a groupie gushing over the latest band, it is because I am, except I am wholly Team Destination.
Sunning myself in foreign locales
Any young person living and working in a metropolitan city in Nigeria has attended their fair share of weddings. I will shamefacedly admit to attending a handful of weddings in which I know neither the bride nor the groom; weddings are simply social occasions. The memory I have of many weddings is of crowded and confusing receptions. The bride and groom are usually seated on a stage far from their guests. They go through the first dance, the cutting of the cake and other ceremonial activities accompanied by a low hum of uninterested chatter. The MC, usually a semi-famous comedian, cracks jokes and asks personal questions over a sound system that is invariably too loud and renders him unintelligible. The table is covered with alcohol and fried small chops. The cake baker explains the colors he chose for the cake. And at the end of it all we move to the dance floor for the ubiquitous Dance! Dance!! Dance!!! portion of the schedule.
Now before I get lambasted by the masses, let me clearly state that I have been to some amazing weddings in Nigeria. Thinking back now, there was my sister’s massive bash in which we rocked till almost the break of dawn. Another wedding saw us going crazy for Flava’s gyrating hips in a lovely venue. Still yet is the wedding where watching the bride and groom do their first dance was so intimate and beautiful it bordered on voyeurism. But for every one of these gorgeous weddings I have attended at least five just like the one above. Attending my first Nigerian Destination Wedding was almost like saying, “Oh, this is what we have been attempting to achieve all along.”
What exactly are the perks of a destination wedding? It turns out there are more than a few. One of them is the experience. One newly dubbed Mr. and Mrs. talked about how they wanted to give their guests a great trip in a picturesque location with the opportunity to explore and do amazing things. FYI, mission accomplished; this wedding was one of my best vacations ever. Another important aspect is the professionalism. From the event planner all the way down to the busboy cleaning up afterwards, you usually find a level of competence that is not widely experienced in Nigeria. This may be due to experience, training or an intrinsic value system but the result is the same: no late caterers, missing souvenirs, surly hostesses or disappointing decorations (I have planned several occasions and have experienced this first hand).
Perhaps the greatest advantage is what is sometimes referred to as ‘bang for your buck.’ Simply put, your money can sometimes take you further in these destinations. Let me use a very simple example. In the great city of Port Harcourt, there is one venue that reigns supreme and that is Aztec Arcum, a purpose built event center hosting everything from church to international music concerts.
The going rate for the space alone (not including seating, sound or other extras) is a million naira. Now what can you get for this amount of money in, say, London? Using a rough conversion, this comes out to ₤3,800. A quick internet search revealed the following.
Your options could include this beautifully restored gothic church in St. Paul’s with sky high ceilings and impressive lighting.
Or perhaps this baroque style heritage building in Stratford
Or better yet, why not rent an entire country home with grounds inclusive in Buckinghamshire?
Couples find themselves able to concentrate on wowing their guests instead of just making sure everything goes alright.
A destination wedding also acts as an automatic crowd control. Only the people you invite will know about it and only the people that really want to be there will make the journey. This means your wedding day will actually be all about you (a slightly radical concept).
But there is one major drawback to this idyllic set-up: the guests.
They thought of everything! A food truck for midnight munchies.
The oh-so-fairytale wedding with the stunning views set me back a tidy little sum from start to finish. It was good friend of mine and I treated it as a wedding plus vacation package so to me it was completely worth it. The other two weddings were in a very commonly traveled location where I had family and occasional business. I was able to arrange it so it cost me very little out of pocket. I mentioned earlier that there were two additional weddings I was invited to. One glance at my SMS alerts told me to respect myself. That is sometimes the case: unfortunately not everyone you want to be there will be able to make it. Some couples work around this by using the money saved to buy or subsidize the travel costs of key guests. But when you are looking at a guest list of 300+ people, and you did not recently make a Forbes List of some sort, there is really only so much you can do.
I once went as a cousin’s date to a wedding in Lagos where I knew neither the groom nor the bride (we covered this). It was a typical Yoruba affair on the Island: under a canopy outside with lots of people, lots of food and lots of music. My cousin had not seen the groom since they were in the same secondary school, almost fifteen years earlier and the groom had no clue my cousin would be there. The moment he caught sight of my cousin’s face, his look was priceless. He screamed, he shouted, he called all his people to see, he dragged my cousin into a bear hug and proudly showed off his new wife. The two of them spent several hours together catching up and sharing jokes. The groom looked ecstatic and I had never seen my cousin laugh so much.
For all the exasperation associated with Nigerian weddings, this, I feel, is what they are truly about. That open door policy means everyone is welcome, and you may not know what blessings would come with that welcome. And you may not know which person lurking in your past might decide that your wedding is the one they want to celebrate with you.
So should a couple-to-be that is planning their big day cast their eyes abroad? It is not a clear cut answer. But one thing is clear. With all the advantages that might be gained, it is at least worth a consideration.