Of all the things I thought I would learn in the Peace Corps, how to make a balloon arch wasn’t high on the list.
Thank you Peace Corps (and the real MVP, YouTube). Between this, my penchant for baking, and my strong teacher stare, organizing children’s parties could be my fall back career.
The balloon arch started like most crazy projects, as a conversation over coffee with my host mom. She’s not super tech savvy and I think she doesn’t always understand how I get Google to spill all its secrets, but she does know that asking Google is the key to a veritable treasure trove of information.
A few months ago, she mentioned that she wanted to do something special with balloons for my host sister’s wedding, but thought it was probably mnogu skapo (very expensive). I thought it couldn’t be that hard, but had no idea where to begin. She said the magic words: ask Google.
We found a squeaky video of DIY balloon arch creation and that was that. We didn’t talk about it again, until a week before the wedding when she walked in with two 100-count bags of balloons.
I settled in with an audio book and little by little, blew up nearly 200 balloons. (Host mom tagged in for the last 30.) The state of my bedroom was ridiculous.
Getting the balloons outside was another undertaking entirely. We didn’t want to take too many outside at a time, because they kept blowing away and popping, so a few at a time, the arch came together.
Then I was on the bus to Skopje to pick up my race packet.
My host sister’s wedding was the same day as my half marathon and because I’m a masochist, I planned to run 21 kilometers, catch a 2.5 hour bus home, get dressed, and then go directly to the wedding to dance the oro till I dropped.
It was my fourth wedding here. (Number three was earlier this year when a volunteer from the group before mine married her Macedonian fiancé. Check out those photos below.) Unlike the others, this time, I was invited to sit at the head table, as part of the family. It was an honor.
My host sister and her husband (who is originally from Serbia) live in Germany, and the wedding guests were mainly family members. I knew a lot of them, but it was kind of funny to explain to those I was meeting for the first time that I was the American sister of the bride. Well, sort of.
It was a wonderful night with the top five classic elements of a Macedonian wedding. (In my experience anyway.)
1. Dancing the oro. At this point in my service, I’ve learned several variations of the winding, circular dance. The singer in the wedding band didn’t believe I was American until I started talking to him in English.
2. A live band with wandering sax and trumpet players. The musicians walk around the dance floor and if you stick a few denars (100 or 500 usually) in their instrument, they’ll play just for you. I kept pretending I couldn’t hear the horn blasting in my face. I know. I’m hilarious.
3. Platters of food. There is a formula for weddings here that has much less variation than weddings I’ve attended in America, but is way easier to plan. You don’t RSVP and pick a meal. You show up and there are family-style platters of salad and grilled meat. I’ve had the same meal at all four weddings.
4. Late night cake. I haven’t seen the cake served before 11 p.m. at any wedding yet. Probably later than that. The food doesn’t come out till late in the evening, so the cake has to wait its turn.
5. The bouquet toss, for all the single men and women in the building. The garter toss doesn’t happen here, so the fellas are invited to try to catch the bouquet. The tradition is the same. The lucky person to catch the bouquet is said to be the next to marry.
Many elements are similar to American weddings I’ve attended, but the whole process seems way easier. My host parents set up the dinner and cake a week before. The photos and wedding DVD (which is primarily people oro-ing past the camera) were ready a week later. The focus was all about dancing and visiting with friends and family. I don’t even want to think about how much less expensive it is to get married here.
But hey, if I’m ever a part of a wedding in America, I’m going to save a bundle on the balloon arch.
Photos from my friend Maura’s wedding. Marrying a Macedonian man has set the bar way too high for the rest of us.