Thursday, November 8, 2007

a wedding

I just came back from a most unusual wedding experience. I'm currently in a Middle Eastern country that apparently is best left unnamed, at least as long as I'm here, but many of you will know where I am when I tell you that I feel like I've returned home.

Anyway, I'm staying in a town that is a suburb of the capital, but it can't have been too long ago that it was just another village. It still has the feel of a village, but with a lot of traffic. And quite a few city people are now mixed in with the village people. There is a Christian section to the town, so I don't stick out too much - otherwise I would, because it's a conservative area where all the Muslim women are quite conservatively dressed. The Christian women, on the other hand, dress modestly but in very Western dress.

So being a wedding of a member of "the family of this village" (the way we say here someone who is originally from this village, not just living here), it was a rather conservative wedding. I was the only woman who walked into the room uncovered - hence putting me in the same category as the dozens and dozens of little kids in attendance. Several of the younger women removed their headscarfs as soon as they walked in, revealing quite impressive hairdos beneath. But I'd never been to a wedding where so many of the women remained in traditional dress and apparently were not dressed up, even though we were in an all-women's wedding hall! Even the woman who was videotaping the wedding wore a headscarf throughout the evening, even though she was smoking a cigarette.

There were some other things that really struck me about the women at this party. There were many women wearing what looked like very simple clothing, not suitable for a party unless they were very poor. Some of them may have been poor, but apparently that dress was the traditional dress of this particular village. It was interesting to think that a village that has now become a suburb of a capital city has managed to maintain its identity and customs despite its absorption into the big city.

I was also struck by how many fair-skinned women there were, and even several blondes - natural blondes. I'd heard that this was the case, but hadn't really seen it before then: people who are from this area, like really from this area dating back generations, are often fair-skinned. It kind of puts a new twist on the common mantra that a blond depiction of Jesus is inaccurate! Who knows, maybe he was blond... As I sat there watching all the conservatively-dressed women, as well as the few who were in full party dress, I tried to imagine life in this village 100 years ago (or 1000 years ago?! They say that a famous New Testament story happened in this town): all these blondes walking around in black robes and big white scarfs...

The bride arrived, but before she walked in, some boys pushed in a very big and heavy suitcase - it seemed to me that it was kind of a big ugly thing to have at a wedding. Camera equipment, I wondered? Or perhaps decorations? Or perhaps connected to some tradition about taking her possessions to her new home? Wrong on all counts. It was an unknown number of dresses that she had made herself, and she would present herself in each one during the evening. These were some fancy dresses - I wondered how long her engagement was (most people I know here have somewhat short engagements) for her to have time to sew all these dresses, plus prepare for her new married life! She entered the hall in white and changed into pink, then red, then peach-coloured. That's all I saw before I left, but it made for an interesting party: she'd enter in a dress, dance for half a song on the stage, do a few poses for the camerawoman, then go to a side room to change. And we could barely see the stage, so it wasn't the most exciting entertainment I'd had at a wedding.

Which brings me to the thing that left me scratching my head. I was with the mother and daughter of the family with whom I'm living right now. A bit after us a neighbour and her daughter came in and we sat together, amidst a very tight crowd of very hardy women (my phone rang and they were not about to budge to let me out of the hall to answer it, but the music was way too loud to do any good while I was in the hall!). Anyway so the five of us kind of stuck together and the four of them kept exchanging comments and laughing out loud. Everyone else was looking rather solemn but not my companions!

Then, right as the bride was parading her peach dress, we left. Stood up and left (people were still arriving - after all, the groom couldn't come until she was done changing dresses, so we knew the party hadn't yet peaked) and they walked out giggling. I had no idea what it was about, between language difficulties and the volume of the music. When we got to the car I found out it was because they felt somewhat disgraced and were mocking the whole thing. They were thirsty and no one brought water. We'd been there about two hours and hadn't been offered anything to eat. And they didn't seem so impressed with the appearance of the other women, either. So all that laughing was scorn for the wedding itself, apparently! I am wondering how much of a snub it was for us to walk out when and how we did. And what a normal-respectable wedding in this village is like. And how many more dresses the bride had...


tony said...

Hey Katie,

Hope you're well on your travels. Its been fun keeping up. I would comment more, but dissertation writing is consuming work. I do hope you're well. As for weddings I'm reminded of how different weddings are here in the US. I was a groomsman for my friend's wedding two weeks ago and its funny to notice the formality and luxury often associated with weddings here in the United States. I'm sure it has it ties way back to British Aristocracy. Still its fun to note. Then again There are two more weddings this year to go to. I guess I'm at that age, which is to say I'm beginning to feel a bit old at 26.

Danica said...

Great work.

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