It has taken the intense boredom of revising for our sixth, and thankfully final, block of exams to motivate me to write another blog post. It also happens to be the day of my sixth Palestinian wedding, if you include two engagement parties, which are exactly the same as weddings apart from the colour of the dress.
Palestinian weddings have put me off being a Palestinian bride for life. If the constant videoing of the wedding, with frequent close-ups of the bride’s face, was not bad enough, there is also the embarrassment of continuously dancing slow-motion Arab style in a small circle in front of hundreds of women from extended family and neighbours and friends of neighbours.
From what I have gathered, people attend a Palestinian wedding for one of three reasons:
1- They belong to the close family and friends of the bride or the groom and so wouldn’t be able to get away with not going
2-They aren’t that close to the bride or the groom but their family recently came to a celebration of theirs and so it would be rude not make an appearance
3- They have run out of electricity and so have nothing better to do
Oh, and then there’s me, on who these weddings are now sprung upon without sufficient time to come up with a good reason not to go, meaning that I spend a night tentatively watching people come up to greet the Mum, or rather the grandma who seems to know everyone, wondering if I am supposed to greet them, then awkwardly extending a hand before I realise that they are skipping me, resulting in them then backtracking, embarrassed, to greet me as well, with the question of why on earth I am there written all over their face, and probably mine.
Having said that, the first half an hour of the first wedding I attended was really fun. I was aware that the celebrations were starting when I heard the sound of traditional music being played on drums and a male singer’s voice filling the hall. Then the live video footage appeared on the screen so we could scrutinise the couple’s faces as they walked into the hall.
After the group of drum players and singers had finished escorting the couple and close family members in, the couple took centre stage and thus began the playlist of Arab music blasted out so that words had to be yelled across tables. Finally the family and friends, who’d been stood on the edge, clapping on the bride and groom, joined in the dancing and I found myself trying to pick the nicest dress or the best dancer, in order to pass the time. Except, in the same way that I’ve always been unable to distinguish one voice from another on Arab Idol or The X Factor, I simply saw a dance floor of garishly girly dresses and identical dance moves.
In the end I find the most interesting people at the wedding to be the few women who work at the venue and are responsible for its smooth running. The camera women are invariably bossy, snapping at relatives who think they are able to risk ruining the beautifully cheesy shot of the bride and groom gazing into each other’s eyes with footage of themselves moving from one side of the dance floor to the other. They use a system of wired mics and walkie talkies to communicate, creating the sense of a high profile wedding in which security guards disguised as wedding organisers have been employed.
Half way through the wedding, the cake gets wheeled in on a cart by one of the wired women who takes her role far too seriously. She hands a sword to the groom who then, in a very ungallant manner, dances round shaking the sword in the air like a giant foam hand at a sports game, before allowing the bride to grasp the handle with him and nervously shaking it down onto the cake. Though I find the whole idea of the man prancing round wielding a sword far too patriarchal, I would rather that if they’re going to go down that road they at least take it seriously, perhaps throwing the woman to one side and shouting ‘This is Nablus!!’ as they spear the cake, retracting the sword to thunderous applause as all the female relatives swoon and a dragon cowers in the background. Instead, my favourite wedding moment is watching one of the cake security women becoming increasingly frustrated with a groom who just couldn’t understand how he was expected to hold the sword. In the end, she sighed, rolled her eyes, and just let him get on with dancing with in in whatever manner he wished.
Finally, the music ends and those close friends and relatives who were dancing in revealing dresses run off the dance floor to cover up before the men stroll in to present the bride and groom, who are now standing in front of a couch on a stage above the dance floor, with envelopes of money. The key word here is envelope. The amount of money is optional and so I imagine it takes a very proud man indeed to put a lot of money in an unnamed envelope when rumours have it that, these days, some people even use such occasions to get rid of their faulty notes. I’m always surprised by the length of the queue and if I was able to deal with the videoing and dancing, it would be this part that deterred me from the Palestinian wedding – having to shake everyone’s hand, greeting them, thanking them and having to cheek-kiss the moustached relatives. It would definitely not be the best day of my life.
But in Palestine, the wedding takes prime place in conversation topics beside the family. Never have I seen so many wedding photos, been asked so many times if I am married, when I want to get married and how many children I want (I evilly mess with their minds by saying I don’t want any kids). We have studied weddings in all of our classes so much so that by the time it came to officially studying the Palestinian wedding in colloquial class, we were literally begging the teacher to let us skip it. He let us but only once he had shown us his wedding ring engraved with his and his wife’s name linked with a love heart, on two separate occasions. Even I’ve started asking people if they’re married and when they want to get married as a point of small talk.
So to say that I’m looking forward to tonight’s wedding would be a lie. But since we are going for reason 1 this time, I at least get to join in the dancing. I’ve nearly mastered the slow Arab dance moves that are such an essential part of being a woman here and, admittedly, the one wedding I’ve been to where I was able to dance ended up being really fun. I’ve also managed to avoid taking part in the tacky dress competition by accepting the Mum’s white trousers that I’m ordered to wear. I only got away with converse at wedding one and now wear ballet shoes that the Mum was prepared to break the back of to ensure that my feet fit into them. I’m going to be daring tonight and try to wear my own top but I’m unsure it will pass inspection. If I find myself already suffering before the first hour is over I will attempt to drown my sorrows with the popular Capi juice, yet another of Coca-Cola’s cunning schemes, but I doubt it will have the same effect as wine.