The Giving of Words … A Bush Wedding

The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. So said Wendell Berry, one of the wisest users of words I’ve ever read, who also happens to be a farmer, like Chris. “We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word,” Berry advises, “and this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown. … Marriage rests upon the immutable givens that compose it: words, bodies, characters, histories, places. Some wishes cannot succeed; some victories cannot be won; some loneliness is incorrigible.  But there is relief and freedom in knowing what is real; these givens come to us out of the perennial reality of the world, like the terrain we live on. One does not care for this ground to make it a different place, or to make it perfect, but to make it inhabitable and to make it better.  …”

A porcupine quill pen gifted to us by our friend, Louise Stobart, to sign our marriage certificate.

Words, and the terrain we live on, have always really mattered to Chris and me. And as Berry so rightly reminds us, we decided to marry not to move into a different place so much as to make where we are even more inhabitable and better. To ground ourselves here, in Zambia, a country that gave us a second chance — Chris after he lost his farm in Zimbabwe in 2002; me after losing everything in the United States a decade later — and provided a safe space for us to grow together.

Wild flowers, grasses and seed pods collected from the bush around the farm for our table arrangements.
Bush decor.

Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. We’re deeper into our togetherness, deeper into our own wilderness. Marriage allows this. It reels you in and sets you free. Chris has no desire to colonize my wilderness, as I have no desire to colonize his. We’re two different territories with two different habitats, interdepending via our mycelium of affection, respect, support and nourishment that links us, that holds us together, that keeps us healthy.

Adelina Banda, overseeing the meal for our wedding day.
Maggie Mundia & Rosephine Makaza assisting Adelina with the food preparation.
Garden manager, Peter Komanyana, and his assistant, Richwell Nduba, helping out with the cooking.

Our wedding day on July 1 was simple, a reflection of what we have become as a couple. Family-in-the-vicinity, friends-like-family, and close neighbors attended. There were only thirty-nine of us in total. Guests traveled to the farm from Zimbabwe, Lusaka, Choma, Ndola and Mkushi. We erected tents to house them all around our garden. My best-loved baker, my mother, carried two cakes — the Queen Mother’s Favorite Cake, made with dates and caramel, and a Lemon Drizzle Cake — in her hand luggage from Harare. The rest of the food, prepared on-site by Adelina Banda and our kitchen and garden staff, was all local, and girlfriends congregated around the prepping tables on the day to help with last-minute requirements. The decorations for the table arrangements were taken from the bush, as they were for the adornments in our hair.

A selection of the wedding food.
Mongu rice & nzembwe with edible flowers, peppery leaves, herbs, dried kumquats & roasted mixed nuts.
Thai-inspired tilapia ceviche with sesame-infused avocado, pomelo, cucumber noodles & pan-fried peanuts.
Asian ribeye salad with wild lasala roots, fresh peas, sweet peppers, fire-roasted pineapple & sesame-lime cashew nuts in a spicy tahini dressing.
Chris, Scarlett, Rebecca and Simon enjoying the dessert: a flourless chocolate torte with clotted cream & wild hibiscus, alongside marula ice cream & a mongongo nut florentine.

My younger brother, Paul, proposed a toast to Chris and me, while his daughter, Molly, wrote a poem and read it to us. Paul lost his wife, and Molly her mother, to cancer at almost the same time Chris and I moved in together in February, 2013. Chris’s brother, Simon, and his daughter, Rebecca, spoke on his behalf, and friends took impromptu turns recounting stories from our past. The preschoolers from Taonga staged a short performance in celebration, while Chris and I were shadowed all day by Scarlett Gibson, the enchanting daughter of Ashleigh and Liam, whose mother, Jenny, is buried beneath a glade of trees nearby. Jenny was Chris’s last partner, who, after also losing her farm in Zimbabwe, traveled with him to start again in Zambia, only to succumb to motor neuron disease five years later.

My brother, Paul, proposing a toast to Chris & me.
Molly & Scarlett, my two helpers on the day.
The farm’s Taonga Preschool & Daycare children performing before lunch was served.
My dashing husband.

Chris and I are bound by the shared experiences of friendship, love, hurt and loss in both our pasts. Yet thirty years ago our connection was forged around words, as I once wrote about here. In honoring Chris at our wedding, I wanted to showcase this again. I found the following poem, written by Mindy Nettifee, to read to him. (My apologies to Mindy for localizing some of her references …)


if a man is only as good as his word,
then I want to marry a man with a vocabulary like yours.

the way you say “augmenting” and “assuage” and “segue”
in the same sentence—
that really turns me on,
the way you describe the pineapples in the garden beyond
using “anarchistic” and “intimate” in the same breath.

i would follow the legato and staccato of your tongue
wrapping around your diction
until listening became more like dreaming
and dreaming became more like kissing you.

i want to jump off the cliff of your voice
into the suicide of your stream of consciousness.
i want to visit the place in your heart where the wrong words die.
i want to map it out with a dictionary and points of brilliant light
until it looks more like a star chart than a strategy for communication.
i want to see where your words are born.
i want to find a pattern in the astrology.

i want to memorize the scripts of your seductions.
i want to live in the long-winded epics of your disappointments,
in the haiku of your epiphanies.
i want to know all the names you’ve given your desires.
i want to find my name among them,
‘cause there is nothing more wrecking-sexy than the right word.
i want to thank whoever told you there was no such thing as a synonym.
i want to throw a party for the heartbreak that turned you into a poet.

and if it is true that a man is only as good as his word
then, sweet jesus,
let me be there the first time you are speechless,
and all your explosive wisdom
becomes a burning ball of sun in your throat,
and all you can bring yourself to utter is, oh god,
oh god….

Mr. & Mrs. Christopher Aston outside the Livingstone Civic Centre with our marriage certificate on June 26, 2017.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • Wonderful!

  • Thank you for helping me to be there for all I missed on this special day! I can’t believe your mom carried two cakes from Harare. (Did she hide them in a hatbox?!) That poem is so perfect for you two, wise yet passionate yet funny…and a touch racy…I love it.

    • Damn, I wish you had been with us! We’ll just have to have a reenactment in October … 🙂 So much gratitude for your sweet comment. Mum carried her cakes in a fashioned cardboard box tied up with string! 🙂 xo

      • So she didn’t sneak them through customs, then, like some of her relations have been known to do?

        • She did, indeed. 🙂 Not that I think they would have minded!

  • […] via The Giving of Words … A Bush Wedding — SavannaBel […]

  • Oh Annabel you have done it again. I feel as if I was there and as a finale a poem that said it all. You are both people of words. It is so I,portent (at least to me).

    • Ahhh, thank you, Tish. I’m so deeply grateful for your love and support. Hopefully, one day, we’ll meet again. Lots of love to you … xo

  • So, so beautiful, Annabel – ALL of it! So very happy for you. XO

    • Thank you, thank you, sweet Jen. I like to think it was a day you would have really loved. 🙂 xo

  • Congratulations and many years of health and happiness.
    Your wedding feast looks fit for kings and queens. A mouth watering display of deliciousness.

    • Thank you, as always, for your lovely comment, Gillian. Lots of love to you from the Zambezi Valley. 🙂 xo

  • How wonderful! Such a beautiful day and I love the poem.

    • Thank you so much, Veronica! It’s such a lovely time of year here in Livingstone, weather-wise, which helped make the day even more special. All the best to you from the Zambezi Valley, Annabel

  • Congratulations Annabel and Chris. I wish you a long and happy life together – and lots of good food of course!

    • Much gratitude, Isla. We so appreciate your sweet note! All the best to you, Annabel x

  • Congratulations – what a wonderful bush wedding! You both deserve every happiness & may it be endless.
    I love reading your blogs Annabel & this was an extra special one! What a pity that Louise & Bruce only just missed your celebration.
    Love from Janie (nee Upton ex Karoi) & also a fellow displaced farmer now living in NZ.

    • Thank you very much for your super-kind note, Janie. We were VERY sad that Bruce & Louise missed our wedding, but we were lucky they were here to celebrate our engagement. 🙂 All the best to you, Annabel x

  • Congratulations dear Annabel and Chris,
    You look perfectly ready and relaxed on your big day! Your interesting and interwoven histories seem like a collection of words waiting to be spilled into a book of their own.
    Absolutely radiant couple, gorgeous setting and what I would give for a slice of the Asian ribeye!…
    All of our best to you both as you begin the next chapter of your partnership.
    With love,
    Courtney, Bob, Charlie and Samantha

    • How lovely to hear from you, Courtney, thank you! We had such a lovely time, although were sorry that special friends and family from afar couldn’t be included. It was a choice of waiting and hosting 400, or otherwise arranging it now with family and friends who were free on the day! I think we made the right call, as I know you know … 😉 Lots of love to you all … xo

  • How deep your love of words is and this has brought you to a happy place. We are so happy for you and Chris. Thank you for sharing beautiful photos and poetry. Lots of love xx

    • Ahhh, Helen. Thank you. Another of my old, special friends who I wish could have celebrated with us. I hope one day you will visit us? It would be SO good to reconnect after all these years. Lots of love to you both … xo

  • Annabel – your best post ever! An inter-twining of two amazing people so suited to each other, surrounded by special people in your new life, in a magical bush setting with the most delicious food, to which can testify the tilapia ceviche is sublime! My only regret is that we were not there for a second time around!

    • I wish you could have been here, too, my bestie-would-have-been bridesmaid! We’re so grateful for your love and support, Lou … and at least we got to see you not long before the big day. So much love and gratitude to you … xo

  • Truly beautiful Annabel. Would have enjoyed being a guest sharing in the delicious food, sitting amongst the bush decor and seeing you both so happy. Such a lovely poem. Best wishes and how lucky you are to be living together on African soil. xox

    • Thank you, thank you for your lovely, sweet note, Cherie. 🙂 We are indeed so lucky to be living together on African soil. Lots of love to you … xo

  • I enjoyed this so much Annabel – thank you. I wish you so much happiness…. as Leunig says;
    On the fence post, next to the rain gauge is the old happiness gauge. It’s a small gauge because it records the little things.You don’t need much to keep the garden growing.It measure the little droplets of happiness that fall down upon your life …. in case you need to be reminded. Sometimes the gauge fills and all the wild flowers come up. xo

    • Ahhh, Mo … so much gratitude. Now we have the word according to Leunig to bless our union, too. I love that wise, thoughtful Aussie. As I love you for your continued support and friendship. xo

  • What a simply wonderful post and occasion. The anecdote about your Mum carrying the cakes in a box tied with string from Harare speaks volumes to me – my Mum would have been sure to do something similar had she been granted the time to meet her German son-in-law I married. So happy your Mum could do it for you 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Katherine! Ironically, we forgot to bring out mum’s cakes during the afternoon of the wedding, which mortified me. We did, however, have stacks of house guests so we ate them the next morning for breakfast! Very decadent, but so worth it … 🙂

  • Happy new beginnings! Lovely photographs and memories ???

    • Thank you, Georgie … 🙂 A long time in coming, but better late than never! Lots of love to you both … xoxo


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