Since arriving in the Middle East it’s been a goal of mine to go to an Arab wedding. I had heard they’re huge, exciting, and go on all night. I finally got my opportunity when a friend from Yemen mentioned a friend of a friend of his sister’s friend was having a wedding. I asked if he knew the bride or groom and whether or not I’d be crashing by showing up uninvited, but he and his family reassured me that for many weddings all guests are welcome and that I had nothing to worry about.
I’m not a glamorous woman and the best outfit I had to wear was a nice pair of pants and a blouse. I also don’t know how to do my hair or make- up. Fortunately, my friend’s sisters were more than eager to dress me, curl my hair, and give me a full make-over. We started getting prepped and dressed at about 4:00 in the afternoon. Their mother was more than happy to pull out dresses from the closet for me to try on. After trying on a few, I chose a lovely formal gown.
The wedding supposedly started at about 8:00 but we didn’t arrive until almost 10. My friend, Aziz, and his brother and father dropped us off on the female side. Men and women are segregated in almost every social aspect, weddings included. I knew better than to take pictures since in many Arab cultures taking pictures of women is a major violation of their privacy. However, I wouldn’t even get the chance because all of our phones were confiscated and held for the remainder of the night before we could enter the wedding hall.
The wedding hall was enormous and full of about 200 or more women and children. I’m pretty sure I was the only Western woman there, but everybody was friendly and shook my hand and welcomed me. There was a catwalk and a dance floor where the women got up on stage and danced to traditional Arab music. My friends told me that the more conservative weddings were very boring due to the lack of music and that this one was going to be a fun one.
On stage, a woman carried a long red and white striped stick that she used to chase the children away from the stage so the adults could dance. I watched her pace back and forth herding the kids away like cattle. My friend told me that it was common for the woman to be there to keep the kids in line and carry the long stick. I told my friend, “I want this job.”
I worked up the courage to join my friends on stage and dance. They showed me a few Arabic dances and I taught them a few Western moves which resulted in a lot laughter from the wedding guests. It was a good time.
After a few hours of dancing and trying not to trip over the dozens of children running around, it was time for the feast. We headed into the dining hall where tables with a large platter of lamb and rice were laid out. No cutlery, plates, or silverware of any kind was available which was fine with me because I happen to love eating the traditional way, with my hands.
We didn’t leave until about 1:00 in the morning and there were still guests dancing and having a good time. It was quite a memorable experience and now I can finally mark off my bucket list that I’ve attended a wedding in another country.