Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Some things are universal

The styles and vows may change from one time zone to the next, but the fundamental act of celebrating a new marriage is the same the world over. Everyone gets dressed up, they eat, they dance, and they take excessive photographs. The major differences here are that there's no alcohol to ease into the dancing, and the men and women party in separate rooms.

I was aware of this final detail even before receiving Ateeq's email inviting N and myself to join him at a friend's wedding that same night. It's just that in the rush of excitement - a wedding? tonight? definitely! - the logistics of two foreign girls in a room of strange women were a secondary consideration after "but what do I wear?"

As Atta drove past a row of wedding halls lit with nearly as much neon as the Vegas Strip, Ateeq jokingly asked us to be on the lookout for pretty girls. While N tried to pin down his tastes, I remembered crashing another stranger's wedding with a twinge of Morocco nostalgia. It was only as Qasim, the groom, led the two of us into the bright glare of a videographer's light to meet a long line of cousins that I began to wonder about what N and I were going to do for the next few hours by ourselves...

I needn't have worried. One niece welcomed us in English and seated us in the front of the room, while a gaggle of small children crowded around to stare and yell "hi!" The girls shied away when I began to ask them "nom-e-tu chist?", but one boy answered me "Elham!" and began to introduce the rest. The boys mugged for my camera while a procession of other kids shuffled over to mumble "salam" and run back away. After waiting a suitable period to avoid seeming overeager, the older girls began to wander over to chat while members of the bride's and groom's families exchanged jewelry on a platform at the front of the room. Eventually the couple entered and led a candlelit procession to the platform, where everyone cycled through for photos.

As dancing began, N and I took to dress-watching: with no men present, the younger women wore outfits best described as slightly deranged prom dresses - one was in a green sequined affair with peacock feathers embroidered on, while another wore a full tulle skirt gathered with giant fake roses. Two cousins had matched their red-and-black dresses and gave the appearance of twin flamenco dancers wandering in from Madrid. Though fitted t-shirts had been added to sleeveless or strapless numbers, other rules of modesty were suspended for the night, and so glitter, curls, and elaborate eye makeup reigned supreme. Having broken the ice with what awkward small talk could be made between our Dari and their English, we posed for pictures with the other girls until dinner arrived.

After eating quickly, we slipped out - N had work the next morning, while I had laundry to wash and packing to finish before catching a 7am flight. We excused ourselves with great regret and left our new friends to continue their festivities.

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