Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One bride, Two bride, Red bride, Blue bride...

These past 3 weeks living with my host family has been eventful, to say the least. The day I arrived, they were in the middle of a 3-day mourning period for a cousin who had died unexpectedly. Each night they would go to their relative’s house around 9 pm, just to sit and be with the grieving family, then return around 3 or 4 in the morning (in time for Suhuur breakfast before the Ramadan fast).

Last week, a relative in Meknes had a baby, so they spent the weekend with them while I was in Tangiers. They celebrated and baptized the baby, but were not allowed to share in all the joyful festivities (ie, doing henna on their hands or dancing) because of the mourning protocol for the cousin.

For the past two days, I’ve been at a wedding with my host sisters and cousins. The daughter of my host father’s best friend was getting married, so we were all invited. Two days ago, Amina, the oldest sister, came in to town from Casablanca, where she lives with her husband. Amina is one of the most delicately beautiful Moroccan women that I have ever seen. She is only 2 years older than me, but possesses a grace and self-assurance that I think only comes with having helped raise such a huge family, and having to run her home on her own as her husband lives and works in Italy.

Anyway, for Wedding Round 1, Amina, Kenza, Marieme, their aunt Latifa and cousin Iman and I all got gussied up in our hippest clothing for the “pre-wedding party”, which begun around 9 pm. The best way I can describe this is like a demure bachelorette party with couscous. First, the bride-to-be has her hands and feet intricately hennaed. Then we all sit around and chat and sip mint tea. The groom and his friends (who are also required to attend) sit awkwardly on one side of the room, in a cloud of feminine gossip and laughter, sending text message after text message (which all say something equivalent to: “SOS! I’m drowning in estrogen!”, I’m sure). Somewhere along the way, someone puts on “Morocco’s Greatest Wedding Hits” and the ladies get up to dance.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that dancing at weddings is right up there with reading Kurt Vonnegut, holding dinner parties, and doing capoeira in my list of Favorites. Of course I got up to shake my djaefundae, and of course everyone was delighted to watch the spectacle of The Ridiculous American Girl and Her Ronald McDonald Hair. I grooved with all the grannies and had a great time.

Around 11:30, though, I was about ready to leave. Mais non, we were staying for couscous dinner! Huge bowls of chicken couscous were brought out to the guests and I was graciously given a plate of my own, sans gluten. We left shortly after dinner, around 1:00 am, but everyone else was in for a long night ahead.

Wedding Round 2 began with my host sibs and I dressing up and layering on the makeup. Marieme graciously lent me a fabulous pink confection that she wore to Amina’s wedding. I felt like Barbie had vomited all over me, but I fit right in. We arrived at the house around 11:30 pm and sat around until dinner was served at 12:30 am. Huge tajines of chicken and beef were served at each round table, and fizzy apple juice and coke were poured. Then we all went up to the rooftop terrace where “Morocco’s Greatest Wedding Hits Volume II” was on full blast. My ears are still ringing. We sat facing the throne where the bride and groom sit, and people got up to dance in between desserts.

And when I say desserts, I mean emphasis on the plural. For the rest of the night, every 20 minutes, the waiters would come around the crowd with platters of some new sweet. Pastries, chocolates, juices (mmm…avocado), mint tea, coffee. Non stop dessert. Is this some kind of dream?

For the next 6 hours (yes indeed), the Fessi wedding was a parade of gaudiness, and sugar highs, and women belly dancing, and men hopping/high kicking, and grannies disapproving of the loud music, and me trying to figure out how to clap on the off beat like everyone else, and no less than 6 full costume changes for the bride.
Mom and LB, your eyes would have popped out of their sockets. Wedding dress #1 was white and glittery, complete with an enormous tiara. The bride climbed into this crystal cage/seat and was hoisted into the air by 4 hearty Berber women. As she waved at the cheering crowd, I couldn’t help thinking about how closely she resembled a hovering disco ball. One hour later bride and groom went downstairs and emerged again in Dress #2. This one was red, with new makeup and tiara to match. Dress #3 was blue organza. Dress #4 (making its appearance about 4:00 am) was green, which has special significance because green is the color of Islam. As bride and groom sat on their wedding throne, they ritually fed each other soup and dates and guests took photos with them. This was kinda equivalent to saying their vows, I guess. Dress #5 was pink and the poor girl was starting to wilt. Bride and groom are not supposed to dance or mingle. Instead, they have to sit in the thrones, floodlights in their face, blinking at the wild dancing crowd.

The final costume change (5:00 am) saw the bride in a traditional Fessi gown and the groom changed into a traditional white Jelaba (he had been wearing a plain brown suit the whole time…lucky chav). Her “gown” was more like brocade curtains hanging from an impossibly large headdress. For this final round, they were both hoisted into the air as the crowd sang and clapped along. Then, something shocking happened. This whole night, the couple did not even touch, except hold hands. They were brought together in mid air and…they KISSED! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone kiss in public here in Morocco, and it kinda took me aback, not gonna lie.

As soon as that song ended, the call to prayer started, signaling the coming dawn. I was exhausted, but not really tired…must have been all the mint tea. I sure hope the bride was drinking plenty of water during this entire spectacle, as it was akin to running an over-the-top, glittery marathon. I’m sure they were happy, but both bride and groom just looked so morose and exhausted. I don’t blame them.

We left at 5:30 am, and the party was still raging. After exactly 1.5 hours of sleep, I sleptwalked my way through my Arabic classes, and I’m so ready to go to bed now, after dinner. I am still reeling and just so grateful to have experienced this Moroccan wedding, because it was a National Geographic article on Moroccan weddings that sparked my interest in the country 13 years ago. In some way, I feel like things have come full circle, and that they’re spinning out even further now.


Anonymous said...

How do people manage to stay awake all night? Seems like lots of celebration, feasting, mourning etc... takes place in the middle of the night.
Also, got any more pictures?

Molly Rae said...

you are a beautiful writer. I feel like I was right there with you in that glittery marathon :) I hope you're taking notes because that wedding sounded fabulous!

xenobiologista said...

You know what this means you get to go to weddings in THREE countries this year!!! ;)

Sarah :) said...

I just so enjoyed reading this! This is Sarah from Milwaukee...I know that you barely know me, but I'm reading and enjoying just the same! :)