The Big Day
Arrives the wedding day. The big event is to take place at 8:00 (Qatari time, we’re a little wiser as to what that really means now but we also want good seats!) and I’m very excited. I didn’t go to the salon to get my hair done for MY wedding, or for my daughter’s wedding…but I did go this day. Curls were in order as was a mani-pedi.
The dress I decided on was my Mother-of-the-bride dress. Anything less, I knew would be grossly underdressed. (Like my sparkly new shoes?)
At the venue, the ball room, a wedding invitation is required to get in. My generous friend who invited me to these events furnished me with 2 extra invitations. I took along my wild and crazy Latin friend (think Sophia Vergera…really) and a younger friend (American, and maybe less wild and crazy but still lots of fun). Both of them were just as excited. We knew that this was a privilege and we were prepared to soak it all in, to notice everything and to ask a million questions (and to try not to be annoying doing it).
So we arrived at the door to tables that looked like registration tables at a conference. They were just inside the door past the airport security type scanner that we had to walk through. Security was pretty high. At the table we gave our invitations and they confiscated our cell phones. I was warned that this would happen. This is a strictly women-only event and just the thought that someone might take pictures, while their abayas were tossed aside, would make them all nervous.
We hung up our requisite abayas (which were sparkly and beautiful) and got a coat check ticket.
(This picture doesn’t do justice to the abaya…sparkles all over and over the hood…so elegant).
We then headed through a second set of staggered draped curtain doors. There was no way any of the men outside parking the cars or dropping women off could possibly catch a glimpse of the loveliness inside. This was a very private event indeed.
The ballroom couldn’t have been any more different than the room at the Henna Party. If you remember it was bright and colourful, this room was a wash of white! White curtains hung over the walls creating a circle around the room. The flooring, table cloths, seat covers and decorations, all white. There were white…something or others, hanging from the ceiling. It was like walking into a snowball. The similarities were the entranceway arches, the catwalk and the arches over the couch at the end of the catwalk. These were all white as well.
We sat and took it all in, eyes wide open, each pointing to something different every few minutes. Oh, look over there! Look at that! Look at her dress! Look at that dress over there. And as if choreographed, the servers entered the room, wearing silver abayas covered in white lace. They almost glided in and around the tables like celestial beings. Even this was a thing of beauty.
They came out carrying big urns with burning exotic incense (as before) but this time they came by each table and to each individual person. I didn’t know what to do with it, and looked the helpless (read clueless) expat that I was. The server smiled and took the edge of my wrap and waved it over the incense. I, like all the others, would go home smelling of this beautiful scent.
The rest of the evening was actually quite similar to the henna party only with the intensity turned up. Coffees, teas, chocolates, elaborate cookie trees, small treats to take home, lots of waiting for the bride, really loud Arabic music and girls parading dancing up and down the catwalk.
The evening went on in some kind of unwritten, unannounced, known flow. Like a dance that everyone seamlessly and confidently moved to. Everyone except us of course we just kept watching and following along as best we could.
When the bride arrived, at the white arches, under the spotlight all 400 (or so) pairs of eyes were riveted on her. To my complete astonishment…she was dressed in a beautiful, white, wedding dress that we might see back home. I was not expecting that! Oh yes, my host (who’s been to over 70 weddings) said, they all wear western style wedding gowns. I have to say, I found that a little disappointing. Not for long though, as she made her way, painfully slowly, down the catwalk I saw that this was an incredibly intricate, stunningly beautiful dress. The train that came from her head piece must have stretched 20’ behind her. She had to keep pulling it along as she walked and it stubbornly hooked on the white carpet.
For me, the diamond necklace that graced her neck was the piece I couldn’t take my eyes off. Crassly, I kept wondering what something like that must have cost, who bought it, and what would happen to it after. My practical mind struggled to just enjoy its beauty. Everyone sat and watched as she made her way to the couch where she stayed for the rest of the evening. When she was comfortably seated, the dancing and the money throwing and the eating and drinking resumed. Friends and family would go up and take turns greeting her and having their picture taken with her.
The meal was served and friends that we’d met at the Henna Party came and found us and urged us onto the dance floor/catwalk. Two of us gladly participated…of course the Latina! A party? Dancing? She’d been waiting and wiggling in her seat all night and was ready and raring to go! Our young American friend was not so eager. She obliged for 2 minutes and scurried back to her seat feeling very self conscious. We had lots of fun.
What happens next (apparently) is that someone receives word that the groom is on his way to receive his bride. No announcement is made, the knowledge of this just seems to move through the crowd informally. Those who have left their abayas out at the coat check go and retrieve them and the brightly coloured room full of designer dancing gowns suddenly gets covered in a blanket of black and sits down waiting in anticipation. A white, wooden screen is placed in front of the bride to sequester her.
The groom arrives with an entourage of men we could only guess at. Presumably his father and the bride’s father were on either side of him as he walked down the catwalk toward the lattice screen. Behind them were, 15-20 men who I assume were brothers and maybe close friends. I’m told that sometimes there’s a sword dance at this point but these gentleman arrived fairly unceremoniously. When they got to the front there were many congratulatory triple kisses, head kisses, handshaking and the like between every conceivable pair but especially of the groom. Then the mothers, aunts, sisters…significant women in the family joined them. Mother’s threw money over the young men’s heads and more kissing ensued.
Certain of these men began to leave until there were only a few left. I assume that the men who left were friends or distant relatives, people who would not be permitted to see the bride without an abaya covering her. When just the few were left, they stood facing the lattice screen and it was finally removed. The brides eyes were on the floor and she didn’t look up. The groom moved over beside her and faced the room. Pictures were taken, money was thrown and after a few minutes they sat down on the couch together…sort of awkwardly. Keep in mind, these two don’t know each other well. They’ve likely had conversations, albeit never alone, but she would have never been in front of a man who was not family without her abaya on. They were now husband and wife, together, for life.
The photographer urged them to move closer for the picture. They did. They smiled. They greeted family. After many minutes they exchanged a few words. Our expat eyes were glued to them wondering what they must be feeling, the arrangement being so strange to us.
Cake was served and not long after, people began to leave. It seemed kind of…anti-climactic. That’s it? Done?
We gathered up our goodies for the men and children waiting at home, collected our cell phones and were off to our respective homes. I’m sure all of our minds were buzzing with thoughts about the night.
It was eye opening to see women who normally looked so demure, and regal gliding through the malls cutting loose and having fun. You could tell that women’s friendships where strong, bonds between mothers, daughters and grandmothers were strong. A girl-only party of this magnitude seemed so self sufficient (or should I say gender sufficient).
I was so thankful for the opportunity to see behind the veil(s) and to see a joyful supportive community of women celebrating the beginning of family life for one of their sisters. It was truly remarkable.