Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Weddings and Other Beginnings

This term, the American Center didn't have an appropriate class for me, so I began private tutoring at the Subul al-Salam Center until I can re-enroll in a full course. It's run by two wonderful girls who have more-or-less immediately adopted me. Case in point: I arrived a bit early for class last Thursday and in the course of a very brief conversation got myself invited to a family wedding that Saturday. Of course, I accepted the impromptu invite and began to wonder what to wear...

Thankfully, another American friend of mine was also invited and had already been to another wedding, so all I had to do was smile and follow along. Saturday morning, we wove our way into the souk Attarine in the medina to rent our formalwear; beaded, embroidered double-caftans called taqshetas. I chose a light teal shade with a sparkling floral design and wandered out to the nearby shoe stalls to select a pair of silvery sequined heels to match.

After almond milkshakes from my favorite little cafe, we met the rest of our group at Fatima's house, where we changed clothes and piled into taxis. We were the first to arrive at the wedding hall, and women of the family all stopped to greet us and exchange names and kisses as they entered after. Finally, distant music announced that the bridal party had left the house down the street and were making their way to the hall. Surely enough, a few moments later the bride in her silver chair appeared in the window and then squeezed through the door, followed by a host of guests and a full band.

We danced, we ate, and EVERYONE had their picture taken with the couple. While the party might have been a fairly standard reception for the guests, it doubled as a multi-hour photography session for the newlyweds, who departed and re-entered the party six times for clothing changes.

A videographer wandered the room, shining bright lights on the guests and filming everything from the man dancing spastically in the middle of the floor to the grandmother sampling a mini-chawarma in the back corner. The groom sang with the band, the adolescent girls whispered and giggled, and waiters poured countless glasses of sweet mint tea.

The wedding staff danced the bride and groom about the room in three different types of chairs, and about five hours into the party, a spiraling cake stand came on display and the bride entered one last time in a western-style wedding dress, albeit with a white hijab tucked into the low neckline. The cake was cut, candy parcels were tossed into the crowd, and at about midnight, the couple prepared to depart.

In keeping with the white-dress-and-veil tradition, the bride had also acquired a small bouquet of fake roses, which she tossed over her shoulder on her way out the door. Somehow, the flying flowers bounced off my unsuspecting shoulder and landed on the floor at an older woman's feet. She picked them up, but no one paid much attention other than Scarlett, who raised her eyebrows and smirked at me. Let's hope that it's not some terrible kind of luck to get smacked by the bouquet and still not catch it...


This Saturday, I accepted an invitation to tea, where the family gathered to watch the video - all four hours of it. I'd always thought of the wedding video as a sort of one- or two-hour recap that only the couple would ever bother to watch, but ten of us sat down and relived the whole event all of a week later. There were my friends, looking somewhat sillier dancing on tape than I remembered in person. There's me, taking a cautious bite of a mysterious pastry. There's the bride in the traditional Fassi dress, barely able to walk in its stiffness and weight, being tucked into the final dancing chair, and there's the groom standing up in his so as to lean over and plant a kiss on her forehead while the room cheers him on.

It was an over-the-top affair and a completely crazy experience. I even ended up being dragged out dancing and befriended a group of little girls simply by twirling them about. And after tea, I think I've now got two new substitute families in Fes if I ever need them. Every time I forget just how exceedingly generous hospitality can be here, I find myself surprised once again to be welcomed into the strangest of places.

(Endnote - I took considerably more photos, but you have to ask for them if you'd like to see the whole roll...)

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