Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Palestinian Wedding Party in Amman

Last  night I had the rare chance of attending a traditional Palestinian wedding party. Because the family is orthodox and had their restrictions, I couldn't take as many pictures or videos as I wanted to. Nevertheless, I definitely don't want it to prevent an accurate conveyance of the festivity.

My introduction to the ceremony started from the Qawasmeh building, my host family's home. The entire family of mother, father, brothers, sisters and children lived in the same building and an arrangement on the patio  was made for the kids where there was music, cake, and presents. Because Hamzeh, my host, was not present and he was one of the few English speakers in the building, I couldn't confirm whether this arrangement for the children was part of the ceremony itself. Nevertheless, as a curious foreigner it was splendid to watch and I got to speak with the housemaids from Sri Lanka and Indonesia and how they felt about being in Jordan, away from home and family. Lakshi, the maid who spoke the most English was one of the two Sri Lankan maids. While she was telling me how much she missed her family, children and beautiful country, the Indonesian maid told me how the latter identified herself to be Jordanian as she lived here her whole life. I was surprised pleasantly by the warmth and eagerness with which they tried to communicate with me in broken English and broken Arabic. The kids huddled around me like I was an alien.
It soon hit me that I actually was an alien, minus the green skin and bulbuous E.T. eyes.

After we reached the venue, I was hit by a wave of clapping, cheerful jeering and the characteristic beat of Arabic music. It was impossible for me to continue stealing glances at the television in the shop next to the venue where the Spain vs. Portugal football game was going on. Singing, music and a lot of joy and celebration, chanting in unison about their beloved Filisteen- Palestine. 

This caught me by surprise completely. As a Bangladeshi, I was used to weddings where the main music was unfailingly Bollywood songs We would sing along, dance like no tomorrow to music outside our culture to the extent now it has become a part of our own. We know Hindi. We celebrate and participate with Bollywood by our side. I could not relate to how natural it was for these people to be singing about nothing else but their land as they celebrated a new unison. Nationalism ran in the bloods of the people of a stateless entity, waking up each day loyal to the name of a territory that many in the world considered non-legitimate. While I was getting goosebumps at this realization, warmth and celebration around me continued with high energy.

The men and women were separated into two floors. Upon entering the floor for female only, I saw gowns instead of abayas, much more skin and hair. I have seen this phenonmenon with my host family as well- abaya outside, the most urban clothing inside the house in the company of fellow women. While many might find this culture contradictory, I don't find it negative. I find here freedom to be within the confines of practice religious value systems. Yes I used the word "confines", because it is indeed a leash. But in a good way- these people like the leash. As a liberal, while I cannot imagine adopting this culture, I celebrate it. Because this to them is being in their comfort zone, as being a liberal is being in my own comfort zone.

The location was similar to the Bangladeshi community centers I used to go to for wedding ceremonies- round tables, white cloth over chairs, lights and flowers and the decoration of what looked like a glorified restaurant. In the center was a lavish but very small stage with two seats for the bride and groom, infront of which was a dance floor with lights and it looked like those floors you see in movies depicting Christian weddings where the bride and her father would have a customary dance.

The lights soon dimmed and all the focus came upon the abundantly lit stage area. The polite jazz music at the background stopped and an announcement started. I guessed it was time for something official to start because the music abruptly switched to a religious chant.

And replaced soon by fast-beat Arabic music. The bride and the groom entered. As the bride and groom entered, I was reminded of Christian weddings again- the bride was wearing a white gown! A white gown! It had not even occurred to me that Muslim weddings in other cultures would use white gowns too. The husband wore a black, snazzy tux and a white tie. The music switched again, to something more mellow.They each picked up rings from a gorgeous white birdcage-like casket and exchanged with loving stares as the female photographers snapped away. I should mention, the groom was the only man in the entire floor.

The next part too aligned with my idea of Christian weddings- the couple danced slowly on the floor as everyone else did nothing but spectate with their soft, "awww" looks. As they danced, the new couple chatted and shared their moment. Nothing else around seemed to reach them.

Soon the slow dance stopped and more fast-beat song started. The bride separated from her groom, lifted her arm and swayed her hips in the characteristic Arab way that we are used to thinking of thanks to popular media. She danced for her groom who clapped to the beat.

The bridge, groom and the groom's mother share
a dance together
Another announcement, and the groom's mother soon joined the couple. Another announcement; the weary groom takes a seat and his new wife and mother shares a dance together to a song "Masha'llah! Masha'llah" which is an Islamic term roughly meaning "Thanks to the Will of Allah". 

And soon the bride's mother replaced the groom's, and the groom rejoined.

And soon more family joined and continued to enlarge the crowd of women dancing and celebrating. 

Widat, her sister-in-law and I were not dancing. At one point the dancing of certain people taking, umm, awkward and downright funny stances. We shared a silent bond of amused glances :P

The most beautiful abaya I've ever seen

By this point I fell in love with Arabic music and the nature of wedding celebrations. The fact that there was movement, sway, skin despite the orthodoxy of the families' religious value systems. I enjoyed the variety of clothes- gowns, dresses, the most beautiful variety of abayas, color and design. The abayas were particularly pleasant for me to watch because I was so used to the burkha's from back in Bangladesh- they all looked alike in terms of cut, material and even color (most were black).

(I wonder what was going on in the men's floor this entire time)

I could only catch the flames around
 the cake
The music soon mellowed and the weary but zesty bride took a seat next to her groom for the photographers to do their job. While they were taking photos, Widat , Hamzeh's wife, mutterest to me something in Arabic and the only word I caught was the English word: "cake."

It was time for cake! Now this part was not conventional at all: the couple unsheathed a gorgeous sword and approached the tiers of cakes. There was not one but a number of medium-sized one-tier cakes in different heights of steel stools. Flames standing guard next to each cake. What a scene.

More slow dancing. A bubble machine.

And soon more people joined.

I had a great time! :D

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