Monday, February 23, 2009

Local Wedding

Well I finally got to go to my first local wedding. I have lived here for 10 years, but this is the first time I have actually been invited to attend a local wedding. In Dubai, the only Emiratis who ever tried to talk to me or be "friendly" with me were male and they didn't want to be the kind of friends who they would invite to family weddings. It turns out "friend" has a completely different definition in their dictionary than it does in the one I grew up using. Needless to say, I had no Emiratis I could call friends or could even call anything , aside from the Sheikh I worked for once upon a time. I guess he would qualify as something of a friend or more accurately a considerate / friendly former boss, since now from time to time and he still calls and asks how I am getting along. But still, I am not close enough of a friend or high level enough of a person to get an invite to a Maktoum wedding. Here, however, I have finally met so many nice local girls.

Now, a girl in my department (Fatema) is in the process of getting married so finally I am getting to experience a local wedding.

I say in the process, because it isn't over yet. It began with his sister recommending her as a possible choice. Then the families arranged for him to come and meet her mother and brother and stepmother (her father is dead but he had two wives and they all live together). He got to see her face at that time, but she said she was nervous and looking down at her hands so she didn't get a good look at him, nor did he get a good look at her. In spite of that, he expressed his interest and it was agreed that they would be engaged. She found pictures of him on the company server from when he worked here as a trainee and showed me. He is a nice looking young man and she is a lovely girl, so I think they will make a nice match.

After that they got engaged, he brought a ring and gave it to her family, but he didn't get to see her. Her mother and brother are very strict. She isn't allowed to drive and she wasn't allowed (by them) to see or talk to her future husband until after the next two steps, the court marriage and the small party.

But... he swiped her number from his sister's phone and started sending her text messages. At first she wasn't sure what to do, but finally she caved in and they started communicating unbeknownst to their families. It was very cute the way she would come and tell me the things they talked about. I am happy to say that, by the time the court marriage rolled around, they were as in love as any young couple getting married, and I have begun to see the upside of doing things this way. If they had not communicated and didn't know each other at all, I would have been a little scared for her, since she is such a sweet and innocent girl.

Anyway, I was invited to the small party, and I brought my boys along. They wore their new brown Kandoras and looked like little local boys. I, however, agonized about my outfit. The bride had tried to show me pictures of what local ladies wear to weddings - they looked like super flashy evening gowns that expose a lot of flesh. She said "like this but not so fancy." I really couldn't picture what she meant. In the end, I went to some store that sells modern Arabic Ladies clothing and got a gold gauzy tunic that was mid calf length with some gold and silver embellishments on it and brown silky pants to go underneath.

About an hour before I had to leave for the wedding I put on the pants and realized they had shrunk at the cleaners and that, in order for them to look ok with the shoes I had bought, I would have to wear them way low on my hips, which was uncomfortable because they had an elastic waist and my hips are not the same size as my waist. So I had to snip the elastic in the waist band so that it felt comfortable on my hips (I have this thing about elastic that feels tight - it is kind of pet peeve).

As we were heading out the door, Salman observed that we all matched and my little one asked me:

"Mommy, is that an Arabic dress?"

"Sort of" I answered.

"So we are all dressed like Arabs?" Salman asked.

"I guess you could say that"

"Are we still Americans?" my little one asked sounding a tad bit worried.

"Yes peanut, we are."

I picked up my co-worker Cleo, who had also been invited to the wedding, so she had the job of navigating. The party was in the bride's home in the village right before the Oman border. Luckily I know my way to the general area by heart now, but she had made a map for us to follow once we reached the town. Unfortunately my other coworker's drawing of the bride's map was slightly off.

The map told us to turn after the school. My kindergarten level Arabic skills actually proved useful in spotting the school. We passed a big building after the police station (just about the only building with a sign in English.) It looked like it could maybe be a school, but the sign was in Arabic. Driving two miles an hour, I peered out the window, slowly sounding out the words on the sign - happily, I eventually recognized "madrassa" (school). After that, the map went to pot. So we wandered around slowly in the town until we found what we thought was the mosque she had marked (there were several mosques in the town, but this one was named Sheikh Khalifa mosque, so we looked for the biggest looking one). After finding the biggest mosque the map told us the house should be just next to it, unfortunately, all we saw were a row of little shops. We stopped to look at the map again and caught the attention of some Arab boys. We tried asking them if they knew where a wedding was being held nearby, but they didn't speak English. Suddenly the idea popped into my head to try to remember the Swahili word for wedding. I don't really know why, but I said "harusi?" to the boy. A look of recognition passed across his face and he smiled and said "Ah ok.., Ah-rus!" and pointed the way to the house.

Though we ended up being quite late, the party hadn't even begun to start. We sat a table with other people from work, the Deputy Director - a local lady, the Commercial Consultant, a Czech lady, and her two small blond children, Cleo, who is from the Philippines, a recruitment officer from Mauritius, and the woman in charge of the Administration department, another Local lady. My little one checked out the whole scene. After a while of observing as ladies, all local entered and took their seats, he asked loudly:

"Why are there so many Arabs here?"

"Because it is an Arab wedding."

The party took place in an enclosed courtyard of the house - perhaps it is intended to be the car park, I am not sure. There tables were arranged around a small decorated tent with open sides. Inside the tent was a red sofa sprinkled with rose petals. This was where the bride would sit and the groom would come to join her once he arrived.

Most of the guests wore abayas that they did not remove at all, but a few younger ladies, especially those in the bride's and groom's families were dressed (and made up) to the hilt in figure hugging sparking gowns with their hair piled high on their heads. Some of the teenagers of this group were carrying around a giant fake shell displaying the white gold and diamond jewelry set the groom had sent for the bride that he would present to her when he arrived.

After some time, the buffet table at the corner of the courtyard opened and we ate. The food was a selection of Arabic dishes and a couple of Indian ones.

It was only at about 10:30 that Fatema finally appeared. She looked very different from how I am used to seeing her every day at work, in her Abaya. She wore a pale green dress, which was form fitting through the torso and poofed out at the bottom - like a ball gown. Her arms and back were exposed - and I realized she had a much higher forehead the she seems to have when wearing Hijab. The dress must have been heavy or getting caught on her shoes, because she walked stiffly and had to stop every few steps so that one of the girls attending to her could adjust her skirt at the bottom. As she walked, someone started ululating.
"What the heck?!", said my little one.

Salman wasn't too interested in all the fan fare of the emergence of the bride, but my little guy was staring at her intently over the back of his seat. After the bride came out, my coworkers all wanted to leave, they said they thought it would be long before the groom came and the children were getting sleepy. So I took the boys over to greet her and tell her thank you for inviting us and that we were leaving. My little one stared at her in awe the whole time.

That night, back in my room, he snuggled next to me and asked me:


"Yes my little love?"

"Can I get married when I am 20"

"Um, I guess so honey."

He smiled in satisfaction, as if he was hatching some plan and everything was falling into place.

The next day, as we were driving to the supermarket, he asked again:

"Um, Mommy, can I get married at 19?"

I said, "well, yes but it is a better idea to wait until you are a little bit older so you have a good job and can support your wife and kids."

"okay, you know who I am going to marry?"



I didn't have the heart to tell him that wasn't going to happen, he looked so pleased with himself and I remembered how my younger brother, at this same age, had been certain that he would marry Wonder Woman.