Before I actually went to Ethiopia, my only mental images of it came from the devastating famine there back in the 1980s. The one that led to a permed Sally Struthers begging for 70 cents a day from a dusty landscape. The one that inspired the 1984 Band Aid hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and USA for Africa’s “We Are the World.”
So I was surprised, like any other ignorant tourist, to find something very different from the dirt-hued, fly-filled images that came to American televisions during that time. While Ethiopia still has more than its share of woes (low life expectancy, poor sanitation, low literacy rates, brain drain, and so on) it is vibrant, lush, and colorful.
My father and I took a trip there in early January, when many businesses still had their Christmas lights up (Ethiopia’s population is at least two-thirds Christian, so they do, indeed, know it’s Christmas, thanks very much.) Before setting out for the ancient city of Axum and the rock-carved churches of Lalibela, we spent two days in the capital of Addis Ababa.
Addis Ababa, where the wedding crashing took place (Photo: Sam Effron/Flickr)
We stayed at the government-owned Ghion Hotel, which boasts rooms out of your worst roadside motel nightmares. While doing my usual paranoid bedbug check, I heard the sound of drums and horns coming from outside.
In spite of its humble indoor scenery, the Ghion maintains vast, beautifully manicured gardens. These gardens are a popular spot for wedding parties to do their nuptial photo shoots, and many do so at once, rotating through the garden’s most photogenic spots in a surprisingly orderly fashion.
The wedding-filled garden at Ghion (Photo: Lara Naaman)
When I wandered outside to investigate, some 15 wedding parties had gathered in the gardens. And if not for the traditional band parading through the palm-tree-lined path, it could’ve been prom season out there. In fact, the scene was about as far as you could get from those ’80s famine relief commercials.
(Photo: Lara Naaman)
And even though I stuck out like, well, an American tourist at an Ethiopian wedding, no one really questioned my presence there. (Maybe the cargo pants made me seem like some photographer’s assistant?) Standing behind each party’s individual photographer, I snapped photos of pretty much every wedding party there, nodding in agreement with whatever the photographer shouted before shifting over to another celebration. Before the sun went down, I’d been to 15 Ethiopian weddings (well, at least the wedding photos. Crashing actual weddings can lead to problems, as we all know from the movies).
And as I moved from photo shoot to photo shoot, I saw all the same hopes, dreams, drama, and annoyances that you’d see at a wedding anywhere. Take a look for yourself.
WEDDING NO. 1
The groom really is pulling off this unique white tux (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 2
A bride in a more traditional Ethiopian gown, but the stress on her face while she talks to a bridesmaid is pretty universal (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 3
These bridesmaids have been waiting around forever and are OVER IT. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 4
These flower girls have been standing around forever and are OVER IT. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 5
A wedding coordinator moves his party toward the next choice photo spot, but the previous party isn’t vacating quickly enough for the bride. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 6
The groom shows off his swagger as he and his new bride pose in front of the garden’s central fountain. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 7
The groom doesn’t appear too sure about the photographer’s crazy posing idea. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 8
This gorgeous bride takes direction like a pro. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 9
“Who was that badly dressed woman? I thought she was YOUR cousin.” (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 10
The third bridesmaid from the left has had ENOUGH. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 11
The evening chill has gotten to these bridesmaids as they wait their turn to be photographed. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 12
Three bridesmaids are hustled into position. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 13
Flower girls almost always steal the show. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 14
The dancing begins. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
WEDDING NO. 15
Across the garden, another band takes a break. (Photo: Lara Naaman)
MEANWHILE, IN THE PARKING LOT…
The getaway cars await. Maybe I can stow away to the honeymoon? ((Photo: Lara Naaman)