The Marriage Question

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Middle East » Israel » West Bank » Nablus
June 18th 2009
Published: June 21st 2009
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Reem as the 'maid of honour' and one of her cousins- adorable
Chapter 2: The Actual Marriage

Welcome to the longest. entry. ever.

Its 1230am, and I just came back from my first Palestinian wedding.
Good style be damned, I’m just trying to retain every little thing about it.

First, the clothes. Sparkles, sequins, shiny fabric of every kind, embroidery, and elaborate coiffures. Even the hijab were arranged into little flowers, or bunches, as if hair. Apparently it’s become quite an industry in itself!

And the makeup. I think the bride’s actual face was halfway down there. Pink eyeshadow is du jour, or basically a LOT of whatever matches the clothes that you are wearing. Heavy kohl in the eye creases, and eyebrows plucked and drawn in even when completely unneeded. Hair bows, bands, clips, and everything.

There was one cousin (among the MANY MANY) that was wearing this purple shiny taffeta dress with a bejeweled (because there is truly no other word) bodice, a almost see through bejeweled waist, and a long train.

At first, I was so uncomfortable. Were we supposed to wear purple or pink? Cool tones? I felt really out of place in my green. At least it was sequined. (did you ever
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Fayrouz finally found a dress she liked
think there would be a day where I would be thankful for sequins?)

I’m so glad I didn’t ‘accidentally’ forget my shiny silver wedges at home. I would have shoved my Andre the Giant feet into anything instead of my dirty hand-me-down sneakers. I think they actually brought shoes for me, just in case the foreigner should make a grave faux pas.

There were a couple more informally dressed, but again, I’m glad. They seem to enjoy dressing up as much as humanly possible!
I got to the salamehs at about 730, maybe later. I think we were supposed to be at the cousin’s house at 8, but as reem and fayrouz showed up at the house, flurrying around and spraying perfume and makeup and clothes everywhere, we didn’t get there unitl definitely after . Even ahmed took longer than I getting ready, spraying himself with an endless stream of cologne. I don’t think I’ve ever been so vain here, or traveling at all- I kept checking the mirror and sneaking some of fayrouz’ lip gloss just to fit in a little.

The LIP LINER. The makeup! Caked on, I kept thinking of my big fat greek
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Masa as the fairy princess. Apparently this is a la mode for any girl under 7 at any family event.

Hundreds of guests, composed of friends and neighbours, but mostly just a gigantic amount of family. I let reem slip on tending me, as she greeted millions of her cousins. I was really content to sit and watch.
I wish I hadn’t brought my camera. My hand was itching all night to record, tape, document, photograph! What an experience. I know I would have been wishing it were there even if I couldn’t use it. Because with family, a lot of women went without the hijab, because they are comfortable with family. It’s not exactly proper with male cousins present, but it’s not improper, so they let it fly.

We got to the cousin’s house after 8, where the immediate family (well, a small fraction of them) showed up. Men firmly on one side of the room, ladies on the other, never the twain shall meet. Men sitting, practically a la smoking cigars, retiring after dinner type way, and women flurried and gossiped and complimented, touching up hair and makeup here and there.

Every girl under the age of 8, or 10, or whatever, because whoever knows proper ages here (or can guess) were dressed up
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the covert picture of the hall
as mini brides. Masa was wearing a pink fancy gown with wings on her back, of all things! And the little boys, for the most part, were dressed in the most adorable suits and ties.

Then there seems to be a discrepancy for the early teenage years, as they were the most informally dressed. My age to about 35 were by far the finest peacocks in the room, and then it trailed off for the older generation.

Masa and the other children got so excited- we could hear honking outside- and simply announced, runnig and breathless, ‘she’s here! She’s here!’

And thus the bride came.

It’s amazing how beautiful still a very covering dress can be. Again, sparkling and sequined, with a very stiff bodice artificially forming an hourglass shape, she came in, in by far the most makeup. Even without the dress, you could recognize the bride. Her skin was artificially turned almost the same colour as her dress (I’ve seen her before- she’s pale, but not THAT pale), and I’m reminded of geishas- all painted in white, with very obvious blush painted on (but not garishly), and eyebrows stark against the backdrop.

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a covert picture of the couple
looked well, pained. The poor girl, I was starting the think that it was truly an arranged marriage and that she hated the groom. Tears eventually came out, to teasing cries from her brother of ‘the makeup, the makeup!’ q tips abound- both for the lipstick on teeth, and the intense eyeliner and mascara.

Funny, the makeup actually made her look way older.

Very reminiscent of olden day starlets though. You know, the ones who go out in full regalia despite no event or audience. Hard to describe.

She was crying well, I can understand why. Imagine moving away from a tight tight knit family for the first time, to live with a man that you, in the grand scheme of things, don’t know really well at all, have never kissed, have never probably even held hands. A lot is riding on the wedding night.

I felt like a real intruder. The before part seems to be a very intimate setting, just with immediate family. I really might have run out of there, especially with the bride eyeing me (but probably mostly everything) unhappily. She was very stressed out, in reem’s words.
After this is when
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another one of the fairy princess theme
I really started to get caught up in the spirit of it, though. I was rushed out of the apartment (identical to reem’s and exactly 5 seconds away, I can’t believe we drove), ‘to see what happens! Go look!' and was met with a wide range of male relatives waiting outside, with tons of cars. Waiting, and completely at a loss to figure out what was going to happen, the groom arrived. He was a pudgy, uncomfortable looking sort of guy, a little hunched, but apparently they knew each other quite well before getting engaged, and were engaged for a year (where certain activities- holding hands I’m sure- are more permitted? I’m going to have to ask) they are going to ask after the wedding- I’m bound to get the scoop then. Well, I could see what people were waiting for. When the bride and groom emerged, a crowd formed around them on the steps to match the crowd on the ground, and someone started banging away on a tabla and they all started singing-chanting. A mad rush to different vehicles were made, and honking away like dear life depended, we went off, singing and clapping to the songs on
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cousin and husband dancing
the radio.

We got into the hall, and it was filled with people, tables and chairs covered in white with giant stiff see-through purple bows and candles tied over everything. The refreshments of the night consisted of lemonade, and the cake, cut with a ancient looking scimitar of a knife.

The bride and groom finally came in, ushered in by the most booming loudspeaker. Beforehand, wing beneath my wings was playing in a very fake synthesizer kind of way, but that quickly gave way to the loudest of all recorded xena-warrior-princess yell recording, as is done in arab weddings. The groom and bride walked in, and here I’m a little fuzzy, as the cousins crowded around the little dance floor and partially blocked my view, but I could see some sort of ring exchange going on, but rings made of ribbon, kind of like as if they were weaved grass rings. Then, they got to dancing, surrounded by their female cousins (or just her female cousins?) clapping away. They both looked kind of uncomfortable, slightly pained expressions, but smiling nonetheless. He was wearing a simple suit, which he wore well, but again, slightly hunched, and definitely sweating.
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the 'bejeweled' cousin. how often do you ever get to use THAT word? haha
and it took me a while to figure out where they went, they went to sitting on a fancy chaise like couch on the stage, and were photographed incessantly. Not after a couple dances though. But the female cousins then took over the stage.

It was probably a full 15 minutes before I realized that there were no men in the room other than the groom. As I ascertained later, this was the woman’s part of the party- shawls and jackets were dropped by many, and they got busy dancing.

However, it just seems like some of the women, probably close relatives, were dancing on the small space in front of the stage. Many, after initial interest, just kind of looked bored. I wonder what was in it for them to be there, actually. Maybe they have to show up in neighbourly, family, or friendly solidarity, or maybe simply because there is not much else to do in Nablus on a Wednesday night, or because other members of their family were going. In any case, I sat right near the stage, mostly just itching to document, but enjoying the dancing. Reem is very good, as is her older
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the menfolk take over the dance floor.
sister (the gentlest, most beautiful- but mostly because of the friendliness- creature you’ve seen. I never did get to meet her husband, hopefully later I will)(Addendum: if she were to be described, she’s like a muslim miss bennet- lizzie’s older sister. The name escapes me now. But so beautiful in her kindhearted, her ‘gentleness?’) Ahmed told me later than the men were off, outside, or in another room, probably doing the cigars and brandy thing (but in their case, just cigarettes) and bantering. He said that they aren’t allowed to see women dancing- too seductive. Although there was dancing later when they got in.
Eventually, I was pulled up to dance. I insisted no, even though I was kind of itching to. I for sure couldn’t dance like these women, even though a lot told me that I was very good. I’m not sure how much of that is out of politeness!

So, I was dancing, and I think reem was my most honest judge: I wasn’t doing TOO well. I apparently made a stir anyway, but mostly just because I wasn’t a member of the family, when they’ve all been to a million events before together, and have grown up together. Plus, I was foreign, although some people did ask whether I was from here or not! (I think that’s just a good preliminary question though, politely phrased).

Intermittently, the bride would come down and her cousins would dance with her- the photographer was then busy taking pictures of her ever-sweating husband up on the stage. Then, the relatives would form a circle (like at dances we have) and clap. The Arabic music was always the same- same paced, incomprehensible to me, but they must have been popular songs because most were singing along.

Good god, I still have so far to go and it’s 111.

Well, at one point, reem’s older sister (I NEED to get her name- arab names are the bane of my stay here) told me that it was the slow dance, and we pulled out candles that we decorate a couple nights prior and lit them, crouching and kneeling on the sides as the groom and the bride danced. At one point, they pecked, setting off cheers, at at one point, she tripped. He tripped rushing to the stage once for picture taking- maybe they just aren’t the most coordinated of couples, which is kind of sweet, actually! Then again, it could have been the insane amount of smoke from the candles. Haha.

At this point, I was pretty firmly integrated into the dancing and helping out relative group, which was nice, but I felt as if I was stepping over some lines. Who knows! The bride saw me, but her look changed from wariness and (maybe I’m imagining?) general unwelcomeness to one of indifference. At the end, the VERY end, getting to their new house, she smiled at me, so I’m wondering how much of that was the stress of the thing.

At some point, the massive massive cake was wheeled in, and they cut it with the scimitar thing and fed one another- no smashing in the face though, dear god that wouldn’t go over well with the makeup, I’m sure! Our traditions are really weird, come to think of it…

The photographer and the video-taker (as I should explain) were very stern looking women. They are allowed to film and document, but the footage goes exclusively to the bride, who can show who she likes. No others are allowed because it’s a very private family affair, apparently. I definitely took some pictures near the end, and I’m sure that was taboo… eek. I just kept thinking that this is a photographers dream. So many adorable (INSANELY adorable) children, such beautiful dresses, the dancing, the music… oh well.
At one point, I was dragged to the back, where reem’s grandmother was sitting. We can’t understand a word of what the other is saying, but I still love that woman. She is absolutely, well.. adorable isn’t the word, but lovable? She gives me giant kisses and says that I’m very, very good, and is generally just so sweet and fantastic. I met her daughter in law (one!) who looked so young, and had three children who were just beautiful. All children mention my tongue piercing- makes me wonder how often I gape my mouth open, and respect and am grateful for adults’ probably disapproving politeness in avoiding asking me- or just makes me amazed again at children’s observations.

At this point, and I didn’t notice, the men came in. FILED in, rather. There was the massivest lineup of the male contingent on the side, which was when the endless line of photographs were taken. Kind of like a disorganized convocation- with the bride and groom as the principal, hugging and smiling everyone while posing. Yikes.
Reem was like the ‘maid of honour’, and she was really honoured to be asked. The bride doesn’t have any younger sisters to sit beside her through the whole ordeal of the male picture taking, so reem stood there, and accepted the cash presents that some (all?) relatives gave.

The groom, as I later learned, has no sisters, which is why his section of the dance floor, later, was almost entirely men.

At this point, people started to leave (well, women started to leave)- they didn’t have to, but as I figured, this was now the man’s part of the party. Most jackets were put back on, those young enough to get away with it (well, I saw one) still had her shoulders bared. In any case, this was entertaining, but made me a little frustrated. Just like men to come in, make asses of themselves, and ruin the fun for the women. Haha

It first started out with some of reem’s cousins and their husbands dancing on the floor. One of reem’s uncles came up to me and insisted that I dance, but I was panicked at that moment thinking: is it rude to refuse? Is he asking me to dance with him? Is that even proper? He’s probably married! Ahmed said that it’s too ‘enticing’ (I sure don’t think so, looking at me trying to copy the hip jimmies and finger ‘weaving’) surely he doesn’t expect me to go in there to dance by myself among the couples?

Anyway, I didn’t dance. I thought that was better than the latter. I was content to sit and observe, the procession going onstage, and the ridiculously good time the guys were having getting their fill of the floor.

Amazing, how men here have no qualms dancing. With each other, alone, but just dancing. Also, how guys are really disgusting. I mean, the women weren’t sweating buckets out there. Haha. But seriously ,they were busting some moves. And funny how, in a culture so supposedly homophobic, they are content to jimmy with the best of them, more than content actually, are perfectly confident twisting hips and dancing right up on each other!

Interesting. I don’t think it makes their culture any less homophobic, but just makes ours well, way more homophobic than we think. I mean, I would do a double take at two men check kissing in greeting, or walking down the street holding hands, or with their arms over each other’s shoulders.

Anyway, I was relegated to bag lady duty, and I was thinking of going up, but thought that maybe I should be keeping an eye out on the bags, so I stayed up. It was only when the entire family- ahmed and bilal included were up dancing that I was forced up (not unwillingly though). This is when the ‘stir’ effect I had dawned on me though, as reem’s mother and uncle, etc. were getting me to dance with their eligible male cousins. Well, maybe it wasn’t that way, but it was sure more awkward, and I definitely thought it would put me in the full ‘flirty’ (and therefore wildly inappropriate) category if I didn’t look completely sheepish. Thankfully, THAT wasn’t hard to fake.
What happened in the meanwhile?

Well, reem’s 12 year old cousin was the one that asked if I was from here. She and I kept giving each other huge smiles across the room- I feel like, despite only having said ‘bye’ to her in the end, we became really good friends. I LIKED this girl a lot. If I don’t believe in love at first sight (and nothing has convinced me yet that I do), I definitely believe in intense friendship at first sight.

Little kids were running around willy-nilly. I can’t believe I just used that expression, but there’s no other way to describe it! Masa looked like she was getting into tiffs- short lived, kiddy ones, but she looked right upset anyway, and rejected any attempt to dance or talk with me. Seems like I lost my novelty when I seemed a little desperate for familiar company.

Anyway, back to the ‘stir’… I could see as I was sitting there, that the male cousins were shooting looks my way. I was thinking that maybe I looked unpopular, sitting there alone. Truly reminds me jane austen esque times, actually, thinking of it!

One of her cousins shot me a very forward and obvious wink on the drive home, actually.

Anyway, I was dancing and having a great time, not fully not self-conscious though, but still, great. At least the videocamera wasn’t on me anymore! I can imagine the bride and her friends laughing at the ajnabiyya (foreigner) later on, haha.

Anyway, finally after greeting everyone, the bride and groom went to separate corners to dance with relatives. The groom’s male contingent threw him on their shoulders, and were later throwing him up in the air. He looked REALLY uncomfortable. Iwas reminded of jewish weddings and the chair throwing thing that they do.
More on the male dancing- at one point I saw them all throwing their arms up to the music. This, at least, reminded me of dancing at home!

The bride was dancing with her relatives, etc. but you could see the women winding down, not getting as into it. Probably as consequence to the male presence, I feel. In any case, the speakers finally blared words instead of music, reem described it to me as a prayer: wishing to allah that the couple have a happy life. The relatives joined in, and the bride and groom started their walk toward the cars.

Again, chaos, but less so than before. Every other girl (almost), carrying the bouquets from the hall, myself included. I was put in a vehicle also bound for ma’ajin (they live just a block down the mountain!) with her cousin with the most beautiful 1 year old boy and a 5 year old that masa could totally kill just by sitting on. The girl though was absolutely adorable (again, no other word for it!) and I soon had them both laughing, and shocked the girl (again) with my tongue ring. I was worried her parents would join the curiosity as she pointed to her tongue and asked ‘what’s that’ or told me repeatedly to open my mouth.

Leaving the premises, we go blaring down the road, horns ablazing. We stop off in a couple places (where the wink happened) and finally, we end up on this one road. I ask where we are- the English isn’t enough to describe, but we all get out, and I see the bride and groom looking sheepish as they are followed by a huge group of male relatives all chanting. I ask reem what they are saying… or do I not want to know? (haha) and she confirms my suspicions by telling me that she’ll translate later. Older married relatives look on with knowing looks, and the few young singles left over could definitely share their curiosity and panic, should their minds take that direction.

We hurtle away, the relatives give me some grapes as a present (I was a little confused), and drop me off at my apartment, where I have to wake up kira to let me in the front gate.

And thus, at 1:58am, is a Palestinian wedding. Insha’allah it won’t be my last!


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