Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wedding, Arab Style

A few weeks ago, Ian and I had the chance to attend our first Arab wedding!

We prepared ahead of time by ordering our "traditional dress," to wear, so that we would be more conservative and, honestly, so that we would blend in more.

As a woman, I wore a full outfit underneath of my abiyaa, while Ian had to wear a traditional undershirt and man skirt, underneath of his. Odd.

I had a head covering as well, a shayla, which I only wore when walking into and out of the wedding. I took it off once I was inside. Maybe. I can't actually remember now.

So, let me start out by saying that weddings are a little different here than what we think of as a western wedding.

First, technically the bride and groom are already wed. And have been for probably 6 months to a year. During that time, the groom is working hard to earn enough money to pay for a wedding (yes, it's the groom's job!) and he usually pays about 25,000 dollars for the wedding and anywhere from 2-6,000 dollars on gifts of gold and clothes from the bride. Crazy.

So, the wedding that we attend, is actually more of a reception, than a wedding.

And by "we," I mean, the women are in one location and the men are in a different place.

Also, something that is interesting, is how in the west, we use weddings as ways to honor the bride and groom. Gifts are given, toasts are made, and complete attention is given to all of the traditions surrounding the bride and groom (first dance, cake cutting, etc.)

Here, that is not the case. The wedding is a chance for the groom, or the groom's family to show off how hospitable they are and generous. They know that much will be said about the quality of the food and the amount, so they put a lot of weight into those things. I suppose that is sort of true for American weddings, but, it's not as big of an emphasis.

So. The wedding. Ian went to where the men were all sitting outside, and I walked into a giant tent where the women were. Talk about being conspicuous. Probably close to 200 pairs of eyes were on me and my friend as we walked in and found our seats at a table.

Talk about intimidating.

I just wanted to melt into the background and not be "white," for a minute.

After we sat down with a table of other Americans (it was our teacher getting married, so our entire school was invited,) we sat around trying to talk for about 30-45 minutes. I say "try," because the music was the loudest I have ever had to endure. It was head splitting. I wanted to be four again, covering my ears to keep out the noise.

My theory is that they keep the music so incredibly loud (I've been told it's like that at most Arab weddings,) to keep the women from talking and socializing too much. But that's just my theory.

Then, a whole bunch of worker women brought out giant platters of food and sat one on each table. Yes, I am aware that it looks like a pile of poo on top of rice. Really, though, it is an incredibly tender meat that they smoke in a pit underground for 24 hours. It was good!

No plate, no fork? No problem!

Just use your hands.

I, personally, made a giant mess trying to shovel the rice into my mouth. Usually it is a little moister so you can form a ball and "pop," the ball into your mouth, all using only your right hand (your left hand is, um, unclean.)

Then, our platters were cleaned up, the bride came in, sat down, and the women could go up and greet her/take pictures with her.

About 20 minutes later, the groom and his entourage of men came in. They proceeded down the long walkway through the tent until they got up front, where they stood awkwardly for pictures for about 20 minutes.

Before they came in though, all of the women pulled their head coverings back on.

Here's something to think about. Since the genders are so segregated here, this experience for the groom is one of the most new and overwhelming for them. Not only must they go into a room of more women than they have probably seen in their entire life, but then, after the wedding, they must then live with a woman and interact with a woman, who is not a family member.

True, for most Americans the living with a non family member thing is brand new for our bride and grooms, but imagine never having a friendship with another male, or learning how to interact on a day to day basis with them! Blows your mind when you think about what a lifestyle change it is for them.

Then, it's all over! Not really and traditions (that I saw,) except for the running around with things of incense. I wish I got a picture of that. Basically the bridesmaids had these urns full of burning incense that were putting out a TON of smoke into the tent, and they ran around like banshees trying to get the whole tent smelling 'good.' Then they brought by a hand mixed perfume for you to put on, with the theory that a generous host would have you leaving smelling better than when you came.

Basically, you finish eating, wash your hands, then wait until the bride and groom are seated and then you take off! Though lots of women left as soon as they were done eating.

Ian told me that the men stood around talking for half an hour, the food was brought out on big platters and placed on the ground, and the men ate and left! Ian had to wait around for almost an hour for the women to finish up!
Overall, it was a wonderful experience! I can't wait to go to another so that I can compare with what I saw here!


Unknown said...

That is SO interesting!!! Thanks for sharing!

The Taffs said...

Thanks so much for sharing that! I really enjoyed learning more about where you are!

Chelsea said...

That is so interesting Brittney! I had no idea- thanks for sharing!

Holly said...

Wow! What an awesome experience! Totally different to a western wedding! :O

Laura Darling said...

Wow that was so intersting! What an experience!