Thursday, February 16: This evening I experience my first Omani wedding. It’s the wedding of my friend Adil’s brother; I think his name is Faisal or Fairaz, something with an F and a Z anyway. I don’t know the brother and I don’t know the bride, who is from Ar Rustaq, but I go anyway, despite a 2 1/2 hour drive from Nizwa. Adil has been kind and generous with me and I go to this trouble, frankly, because I’m invited. I want to have the experience of an Omani wedding, and who knows if I will have another invitation.
I arrive at Adil’s house in Al Awabi at 5:00, according to his instructions. He promptly escorts me into the living room of his house, tells me he is very busy, and leaves me to a room bursting with women. Some of the women I met before, when I visited his home for lunch one day in December. I greet his several sisters, his wife, his mother, his children. At this point in the evening, no one speaks much English, so I basically shake hands with the endless stream of visiting ladies, saying Salaam u alaykum, Kayf halish, Bikheir, Al-Hamdullilah. Because I greet them in Arabic, some of them unleash whole strings of Arabic words, thinking I will understand. I don’t, of course.
It is early yet, so the women here are wearing either flowered house dresses and matching headscarves, or their black abayas. As the evening progresses, the women disappear into various rooms and come out dressed in Omani traditional clothes, either jeweled silk calf-length tunics and pants, or fancier flowered dresses decked out in glitter, ballgowns, jeweled caftans and jalabayas, and even some dresses that look like either prom dresses or Barbie gowns. The little girls are dressed in fancy crinoline-layered dresses and wear heaps of makeup as if they’re adult beauty queens. Glitter and jewelry and gold abound, around every neck, on every dress, on headscarves, on wrists, and dangling from ears!
Of course, as usual, I am under-dressed, with a simple white ruffled wrap top and a flowered skirt. I have been told I can wear “anything,” but Adil and his sisters keep asking me if I need a room to change my clothes!! I apologize, “No, I’m sorry, this is all I have!!”
Sadly, I am not allowed to take pictures at the wedding. Adil knows I write a blog, as he has read it before, and at one point he invites me into the bridal suite, a room in the family home that has been sumptuously decorated for the bride and groom. He allows me to take a picture of his brother, the groom, all decked out in his dishdasha, musyr, sash and khanjar, the traditional Omani dagger. The groom also carries a thin stick that is shaped like a cane, but I’m not sure what that’s for. Adil allows me to take one picture of his brother sitting on a plush gold and purple flowered couch, and he takes one of the two of us together, the groom and me. Adil emphasizes, “This is just for you, not for your blog!” These are the only two pictures I can take all night, and disappointingly, they cannot be for publication.
During this early part of the evening, the ladies bring out a tray of oranges, apples, dates and the gelatinous dessert called halwa. Someone spoon-feeds me a heap of halwa, as if I’m a baby, and when they try to feed me another I protest that I’m trying to lose weight!! Halwa is not my favorite Omani food, especially because of the gooey texture, which is like a gel-ified extra-sweet apple butter.
We sit and sit and sit, ladies only. Later the women of the house bring out another large round metal tray covered in rice and hunks of beef. Everyone gathers around it on the floor. They eat with their fingers. Someone gives me a spoon, and I eat the rice with that. Not being much of a meat eater, I figure I will just eat the rice, but the women keep tearing off pieces of the beef and tossing them my way. I feel obligated to nibble on some of them.
After this dinner, which I assume it is, this is the end of the food and drink for the night! Totally unlike a Western wedding, where food and drink are abundant during the whole affair. I’m a little baffled by this, as I figured that even if I didn’t know a soul, and couldn’t speak to anyone because of the language barrier, at least I could eat all night!!
More and more women keep coming into this room, droves of them!! Salaam, kayf halish, hand-shaking, one after the other. Smiles all around. I really don’t know how all these women are squeezing into this small room. Some of them disappear into different parts of the house, but I don’t know where this endless stream of ladies is going. Many sit on the floor. Many vie for seats on the couches lining two of the walls.
Some of the younger girls start playing music on the television, possibly satellite TV?? Everyone wants me to dance. I don’t mind at first. I dance with some of the younger girls, and I try to mimic the Arabic dancing, which I do very badly. I’m doing it all in good fun, trying my best, and all the ladies sitting on the floor and on the couches are finding my pathetic attempts quite humorous. I seem to be quite entertaining to them all.
At one point a nice young lady named Asma comes in and introduces herself to me in English and takes my phone number and tells me, turning her nose up in the air and smiling from ear to ear, that she doesn’t like these village weddings. She lives in Muscat; she’s a city girl, she LOVES Muscat and she wants to study abroad, in America or Great Britain, and she likes Omani weddings in hotels, not like this!! She’s full of energy and talks about how she wears jeans and T-shirts in Muscat. She’s a modern-day girl bound in this ultra-traditional society, but in Muscat she finds a world she adores. She stays around for part of the celebration, but after a couple of hours, she says she’s bored and bids me adieu, she’s going back to Muscat! She glides off, never to be seen again!
Before she leaves I ask her what happens next at this “wedding.” So far, all I’ve seen are a bunch of Omani women, mostly sitting around or greeting each other. I’ve seen lots of pretty little girls dressed like dolls, dancing and smiling at me as if I’m an adored celebrity. But I haven’t seen any kind of what I’d call “wedding” activity, or what I’d typically expect in a Western wedding.
Asma tells me that we are waiting. I say, for what? She says, “Around 10:00 or so, we will go to the bride’s home.” I say, OK, looking at my watch. At this point it is 7:00. I’m thinking, so what will we do from now until then?
I ask when will be the marriage ceremony, you know where the bride and groom say their vows in front of an Imam. She says this is done usually some days before the “wedding.” So there apparently is to be no wedding ceremony tonight.
What we do from 7:00 till then is more of the same. The only thing that “happens” is that everyone wants me to dance. I keep saying, “I will dance if EVERYONE (sweeping my hand around the room) dances!” But for some reason, none of them have any interest in dancing; they only want to watch me. And laugh. Hmmm…
Two girls who attend the University of Nizwa come up and introduce themselves, and tell me they’ve seen me on campus. One is Deema and the other, I think Ruquiya. Deema is Level 3 (which I now teach) and Ruquiya is Level 2. Their English is fair, but not good enough to have much in the way of conversation. However, they do take me under their wings the rest of the night, one of them continually reaching for my hand and pulling me along to wherever we’re going.
Suddenly, at 10:00, Ruquiya stands up abruptly and says, “It’s time to go! We’re taking a bus to the bride’s house.” She takes my hand and leads me onto to a small bus with piles of women and children. Many people get into cars, and we drive in a long caravan about 15km to the neighboring town of Ar Rustaq, where the bride lives. During this entire bus ride, loud festive music is blaring from the CD player and the ladies are clapping and ululating. (Just as Westerners clap, cheer, and hug each other, Arab women ululate during celebrations.)
We arrive at the bride’s house, at which time Ruquiya takes my hand and leads me into a large tent in a courtyard, which is stiflingly warm. I sweat. Inside the tent are crowds of women, some from the bride’s family and some from the groom’s, and, voila (!), there are the bride and groom sitting on a throne-like settee on a raised pedestal. The close relatives are snapping photos of the bride and groom with their cameras and cell phones. The bride is wearing a white bejeweled wedding gown and a veil, which the groom lifted off her face upon his arrival. She frankly doesn’t look too happy, maybe from being uncomfortable in that hot tent in that dress!
I have to make an escape as I am miserably hot, so I walk outside for some fresh air. A bunch of young girls crowds around me. They ask me where I’m from. You know, the typical stuff. There are times during this wedding where I feel I’m more of a celebrity than the bride and groom! After a bit, I go sit on the ground in a circle of women, waiting for the bus to return us back to Adil’s and wishing that I had driven my car.
At last, 11:00 comes and Ruquiya comes to fetch me and lead me back to the bus. Everyone files out of the tent and piles into their cars, including the bride and groom, who climb into a car covered in those packaged Christmas bows we use in America. We drive the 15km back to Al Awabi in the caravan, honking horns, singing, dancing on the bus, and ululating! It’s crazy. The women keep passing the children back and forth over the seats as if they are footballs. Clapping, yelling, talking, hollering, honking…. it’s a cacophony of festive noise.
We arrive back at Adil’s house and everyone tumbles out of the bus like rabbits bursting from a magician’s hat. They crowd back into the house. This party doesn’t look like it’s going to end, and I’m tired. Adil has generously invited me to stay at his house, but so far I haven’t been shown a room where I can stay and I don’t think I will be able to sleep anytime soon. So, I decide at that moment that I will leave. My colleague from the university, Vicki, told me if I’d like to crash at her apartment after the wedding, I can do so. My full intention is to call her, but then when I realize it is 11:30, I feel it’s too late to do so.
So. I drive all the way from Nizwa, 2 1/2 hours, and crash in my bed by 2 a.m. Exhausted from my first Omani wedding.
This is an interesting tidbit I found online about Omani weddings:
Total separation of the sexes is a way of life in Oman, and this continues throughout the wedding proceedings.
• The groom’s family will remain together in a celebration that may last up to three days.
• The bride’s family will celebrate for one or two days, and during this time the bride will stay in a room with any children.
On the last day of celebrations, the men of the groom’s family will travel to the house of the bride’s family in cars or on camels, while the women follow behind. The men wait while the bride is dressed in her most beautiful clothes, usually including a green headdress and lots of traditional jewelry bought by her father. The bride is then accompanied by the women of her family to the groom and his party. Many people from the bride’s house follow the party back to the groom’s house, where they join in the festivities.
Here’s the thing. As a Westerner, I love Western weddings, with the co-mingling of men and women, the abundant food and the flowing wine, the dancing (men & women TOGETHER), the socializing. Though many women would think it lovely to be with a sisterhood of women, for me it is difficult. Frankly, I get bored. I have always been the person at a party who hangs out with the men, talking about world affairs, joking around, having discussions about work or social problems. I thrive on playful banter with men. Sports talk is the only thing I don’t enjoy in the company of men.
I’ve never been one to hang in the kitchen with the women, discussing babies and children and motherhood stuff. So for me to be at a party where I’m restricted to the company of women and children is, to say the least, difficult. Add the language barrier, and it becomes downright excruciating.
It was definitely an experience I won’t forget, and I thank Adil for that. Another Omani wedding? I don’t think it will be in the cards for me.