(written on 30 June)
The music downstairs shakes the windows and my tongue is still numb from drinking boiling hot coffee. Yes, it’s wedding season in Dhiban. As seasonal visitors to this large town we inevitably become enmeshed in the local social scene and attend at few weddings each season. After slinging a pickaxe all day the absolutely last thing I want to do is go to a wedding, but they are socially awkward to avoid.
It seems that a lot of people liked the post Haram at the Beach, so I thought I’d open up another tiny little window into Jordan–the local wedding parties. The definitive work on this subject has been done by Jennifer Jacobs, and I can only provide a faint ghost of her analysis, based mostly on what she’s told me and what I’ve been able to pick up on my own.
As an ajanibia athar (foreign woman archaeologist – probably misspelled) I always feel scruffy when I attend a wedding, especially since the unmarried women there are out of their burqas and dressed to the nines in tight-fitting club gear and blingin’ high heels. The married women are still dressed up, but are covered, and the old ladies are mostly in full black. There aren’t any men–they have their own party, ostensibly guarding the house by drinking coffee in a tent nearby. After greeting the bride (more about her later) we are served several rounds of flaming hot coffee to start–it’s a special green bedouin coffee that tastes like a strong herbal tea and is served by the hostess out of a thermos into one or two cups. She stands over you as you drink it, and you are expected to drink it in a single gulp. It is bad form to serve cold coffee, so it’s always scalding. After you burn the entire interior of your mouth, you shake the cup, indicating that she can move on to serve/burn the next person. Then there are rounds of tea and sweets and I usually try to sit next to a really old lady so that we can pretend to understand one another while we engage in small talk. My Arabic is still completely awful, but I can at least exchange pleasantries.
After sitting and drinking tea for a while, the Persian pop starts thumping and the unmarried women dance with each other. There is some circle dancing and ululation, but it is club-like dancing for the most part. The dancing can get mildly risque, which can be strange with women you don’t really know and hardly ever see out of their veils. The bride sits on a big, overstuffed chair on a platform several feet above the action. At the couple I’ve been to she often looks bored and mildly distressed and is dressed in the most unbelievable sequin-Barbie concoction with sky-high heels and intense make-up. We dance for her, and sometimes she comes down to dance with us. An interesting side note–I was wearing a big scarf to make one of my short-sleeve shirts less “risque” but the scarf was triumphantly torn off of me, not once but twice now. The comfort and security of being around all women and being able to show bare arms and legs was an extraordinary feeling.
Anyway, after some dancing and awkward chit-chat with older ladies, the groom’s female relations come in, chanting their acceptance of the bride into the family. It’s a very moving scene and the chanting is interspersed with ululation. This chanting happens off and on throughout the night, and is accompanied by fantastic drumming. I’m told that the chants are customized for each occasion with specific references to the bride and her circumstances.
Throughout all of this, there are some great intergenerational interactions going on. There are always hoards of little kids around, getting in the way and begging for attention, but generally just running around in a big pack and enjoying themselves. The younger married women sit inside the diwwan (receiving room) and frown. If you talk to any one of them, they’ll instantly break into a smile and be chatty, but the default is a look of general disapproval. The old ladies are all outside of the hot diwwan, sitting in chairs in long rows and hectoring the small children and chatting with each other. They are my favorite, and before I sit down with one of the ladies I’ll exchange several kisses on alternate cheeks with them. I used to be confused with the whole cheek kissing thing in Turkey and England, with one, two, or three kisses given, but this is just a long series of kisses until either party seems to want to stop. There’s probably some order to it, but I generally lose count after five. Quite a few of the older ladies have facial tattoos, and a few of them have gone through a curious set of motions with me, touching each of their tattoos and touching the corresponding place on my face, like they are transferring them to me. They also quite like holding my hand and pinching my cheeks. After the relentless negative attention from men we ajanib attar get while walking down the street, it can be quite comforting to be with the women in their own environment.
So the night winds down, and the next day the bride is taken to the groom’s house for a small, informal marriage ceremony. After living in this world of women’s world of sisters and grandmothers it seems like it might be scary to move into a man’s household, but I’ve never asked. I just go to the women’s parties, drink hot tea, dance, and watch the summer wedding fireworks that dot the horizon.
4 thoughts on “At the Wedding Party”
Thank you Colleen for another insightful post!
As a middle eastern myself (from Turkey) I really enjoy your observations – I appreciate the humane, unpretentious approach to conditions that are at times in high contrast next to the West.
“flaming hot coffee ……… After you burn the entire interior of your mouth…”
… I know what you are talking about. I went several times through the same experience..
Thanks for this wonderful thick description.
The trick is to slurp the coffee and get a lot of air in it before it hits the tongue!
Just discovered your blog, and I love it.