Adventures in living overseas – the wedding

Published March 2, 2012 by Christa Maurice

One of the teachers at my school got engaged at the beginning of the year. Now, for Western women, getting married is usually on the list of “things I’d like to do” with “like” having varying degrees of intensity. For women here like sort of becomes required or “how could you not?” A single woman lives with her mother (who has carte blanche on decision making for her) until Mum dies and then she goes to live with a brother. I like my brother, but if I had to live with him? If he could tell me whether or not I could travel, even as far as the next city to go shopping? One of us would be dead inside a year. And my brother isn’t bossy.

Anyway, back to the wedding. Martha was not only getting married, but getting married to a super rich guy from Dubai. The wedding promised to be the event of the year and I was informed that I had to go.

Another aside. To get invited to a wedding here you only have to be tangentially associated with the bride or groom. Last year some friends went to the weddings of another teacher’s siblings. Invitations are open to whoever sees it and there is no RSVPing. I was also told not long after arriving that a wedding of 800 guests was almost too small. In that case, the bride’s family was from Oman and couldn’t travel in (don’t know why. Oman is literally across the street and not as big as Ohio.)

The big day arrived and due to me being a spectacularly bad girly girl, I had to plunge into my closet in the hopes of turning up something that didn’t scream kindergarten teacher. I dug out a skirt I bought last year and never had the occasion to wear. I tried it with several tops until I found one that looked decent, but ended up with the shoes I wear all the time because I was having enough trouble tripping over my own hem to want to add unfamiliar high heels to the mix. I washed my hair and let it dry fluffy and slathered on make up.

My friends picked me up at 8:30. This is a fairly normal starting time and the reason I don’t go to weddings more often. The reason the start so late is that the men’s party is outside and for most of the year it’s too dang hot to start earlier.

Yet another aside. Last year, shortly after arrival I witnessed a men’s wedding party. Dozens of tables placed outside with white clothes and crystal. Food carried around by servers so that each table essentially becomes its own buffet. And the cane dance. I’m willing to bet that the cane dance is all about fertility. Plus it’s funny to watch.

We arrived at the wedding hall by 8:45 because Al Ain is approximately the size of a postage stamp. The reception was supposed to start at 8:30 and we’d assumed that being there shortly there after we’d be early. Nope. The parking lot was packed. We had to park across the street in a runoff lot. The receiving line did not contain the bride or groom, but was a whole bunch of women in sparkly dresses and the Bedouin veils that look like metal mustaches. Must have been twenty of them. They were friendly enough and shooed us into the main room where the real bling started.

Women wearing veils encrusted with crystals. Women wearing form fitting dresses encrusted with crystals. Women dripping in diamonds and gold. Women wearing their hair twisted up around tiaras. And they weren’t even the bride!

The room easily could have contained two basketball courts with bleachers and it was a sea of tables. Ten seats / table x by a sea of tables seating women encrusted in crystals and dripping diamonds and gold = where are my sunglasses?

Then it became a waiting game combined with a baby shower. We also got to play the “you’re on my hem” game. Servers came around and plied us with excellent ginger tea, Arabic coffee, green tea, chai, some other tea and juices. For some reason the chocolate never made it over to us, but we got lots of fancy dates. I should have picked up the chocolate dipped date with the gold covered pecan because I’m sure I’m not getting my RDA of gold, but I didn’t see it in time.

Sadly, the food wasn’t all that good. Most of it was cold. Okay, maybe all of it. The chicken was dry. The lamb was greasy. I wouldn’t go near the biryani because I couldn’t identify the animal on top of it and I could see that it was cold by the way it wasn’t steaming and the fact that the server was handling the plate with her bare hands.

So the food wasn’t inspiring, the show was amazing. I finally know why the malls are loaded with those ridiculous, over the top dresses. And seeing my coworkers in fancy make up? Seeing their hair!

The bride arrived about 11:30. There was a mass rustling as women yanked on their abayas over their party dresses and then the bride came in on the arm of her brother. Normally, the bride comes in alone. I don’t know if this is her family’s tradition or if the shoes were just too tall for them to risk her walking on them alone, but on the arm of her brother she arrived. She walked the width of the room, very slowly. She paraded around and around on the stage, very slowly. She was ensconced in the bridal couch, very slowly. Cut me a break. It was closing in on midnight and I’d been up since 5. A couple of minutes later someone from school came over to say that we were all going to go up as a group to congratulate the bride so we arranged ourselves at the bottom of the stage and waited for some signal that I never saw to head up. There really is no such thing as a line here. We all just sort of mobbed around until we worked our way up to the bride, said our congratulations and then had to figure out how to escape upstream without stepping on the wrong hem and bringing down the entire group. The bride sat on a white couch, in a sea of tulle and crystals. Her face was caked with so much whitening make up that I could barely tell it was her. She didn’t say anything. I doubt she could breathe well enough to speak in that tight dress.

After we went back to our table, there was some more rustling as the bride was draped in a white veil for the arrival of her husband and his family. Pictures were taken of the happy couple, him looking serious, her draped in a veil, her brother on the other side. At one point, after the photos were taken, I think it was the brides mother, went up to her and she lifted her veil and draped it over this woman like the two of them were in a private tent. A mixed sex group, I can only assume they were family of the bride or groom (though not both), started dancing on the stage. This probably doesn’t sound too shocking to you, but you didn’t just spend 2 hours in a room full of women. The way society is set up here, I can go days without encountering a male over the age of 7. The males I do encounter fall into 2 categories, men selling me food and the rare father of a student. When I say days I mean, if I have enough milk, I can easily go a week without even seeing an adult man. So to see a mixed sex group dancing together (and doing some kind of tribal dance I’d not seen before) was amazing.

At that point we decided to swipe some flowers and call it a night. It’s perfectly acceptable to plunder the flower arrangements and the fruit tables on the way out, but the nannies had gotten to the fruit ahead of us.

Came home, washed face, collapsed into bed, woke up 5 hours later without the aid of an alarm, cursed my body clock, tried to go back to sleep, gave up wrote this. Now, I think I’m going to indulge in a little forbidden meat with eggs and milk for breakfast and contemplate taking a nap.


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