Saturday, 29 March 2008
A wedding invitation
I was lucky enough to be invited to the wedding reception of a local girl which was held on Thursday evening. The tradition here is that a couple has two receptions, one earlier in the week for the men and then a ladies-only reception a couple of days later. The couple will already have been officially married at the mosque, sometimes weeks earlier, but do not start living together until after the women's function. The men would have had dinner and general bloke socialising at their party but its universally acknowledged that the women’s reception is always better. The ladies have the dinner and the music and the dancing!
Invitations are delivered to the guests personally by family members of the bride the day before the wedding. As I was going with my friend Rasha the invitations were delivered to her place. The invitation itself is not a card like we have for weddings in Aus and NZ! This invitation is a box about the size of a big flat box of chocolates that opens up and the words of the invitation are on a raised panel inside the base of the box. The words have small gems inlaid around them THEN the box is delivered in its own carry bag with a gold embossed logo in Arabic. The logo is similar to the style of the Al Jazeera logo. Naturally guests can’t carry this to the wedding so along with the invitation in the carry bag each guest is given a small engraved card around business card size and this is presented at the door to gain entry. The card gave the name of the bride and groom, specified guests must be 15+ and there was to be no photography.
At the Grand Hyatt the trees near the entry were festooned with blue lights with wooden screens draped with flowers and greenery in front of the doors so anyone driving past couldn’t see any in. Two female bouncers were at the door collecting the small tickets for the function which was timed to start at 8:30pm.
The Baniyas Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai is huge and can hold up to 1,200 people (Dubai Kiwis will know it as the venue for the annual Kiwi Ball). After handing over the card, guests stepped into the foyer where there were rows of sofas along one wall for sitting and socialising then entered the main ballroom, passing through a curtain of dry ice with the same logo as on the invitation projected onto it. At one end of the ballroom a stage had been constructed that would not have been out of place in a Hollywood musical. At the very back of the stage were two staircases leading up to an enormous orb made of what looked like fluffy white material. In front of the orb was the main rectangular stage area and jutting out from the stage was a horseshoe shaped stage extension which had a further ‘n’ shaped extension with tables around it. A small staircase led up from the main floor of the ballroom to the stage extension area. Guests who wished to dance, and there were plenty of them, danced on the stage extension. Surrounding the entire stage was a gold border.
There were ladies wearing the old style bedu mask, including several of the ladies who served coffee throughout the evening. Also carried round the room were incense (bokhur) burners which are offered to each guests. You fan the scented smoke towards yourself. Later in the evening other ladies brought round perfume. The perfume is oil based and offered in a bottle with a long dipping stick, you dip the stick in then put the perfume on wrists, hair or clothes.
The evening's events were filmed by two shoulder carried cameras and a further camera on a boom, all operated by women, plus a couple of stills photographers. The cameras focused solely on the stage and never on the guests as many of the ladies were “uncovered” i.e. had removed their abayas and hijabs and were dressed in 'regular' evening dresses. Not so regular! there were some incredibly elaborate gowns on display. Many ladies did not remove their hijab and abaya as they would not uncover in the presence of anyone. male or female, who is not a member of their direct family. As a result however, there were some stunning abayas on display! In fact some of them were flashier than many evening dresses. One lady's abaya had cuffs almost up to her elbows that were encrusted with gems and I’d be pretty sure that they weren’t fakes and amongst the younger guests who remained covered, there was a trend to abayas with long ‘trains’ trailing after them.. I'm not a "jewellery person" but when the woman sitting opposite me is wearing an emerald so huge it could pay off the National Debt of a small nation, its very hard not to stare!
Dinner was served and the evening’s entertainment started with a seven woman dance troupe performing a Bollywood number and they were really good. A flamenco dancer followed then a performance by a well known Kuwaiti trio who had everyone up and dancing. The dancers came back to do a full dabke routine and all the Lebanese ladies were up on the dance floor, this was followed by a bellydance performance. Two of the dancers came out in blue and yellow Eygptian style bedlah(rouche skirt, no belt and bra with minimal decoration) and did two drum solos which were performed with precision but were clinical and had absolutely no soul. One of the dancers had difficulties with the rhythm changes and it seemed that she didn't "get" the music and was probably counting in her head, you know, "drop-two-three-four, turn-two-three-four" etc. I know, there's nothing worse than dancing in front of other dancers is there? The dancers’ costumes for all the dances were beautiful and the dancers were obviously totally professional, I suspect former Russian ballerinas as their hands movements were very stiff and formal. The bride does not take part in this part of the evening at all as she and the groom are having lots of photos taken.
Late in the evening an announcement in Arabic was made which caused a discernable buzz of excitement. Suddenly the entire ballroom was filled with strobe lights and a very grand piece of music started playing on the PA. To my amazement, and it had already been an amazing evening, a large water fountain rose out of the stage area with changing colours in the water, then a spotlight started beaming round the room finally settling on the huge orb at the back of the stage. As the music rose to a crescendo the orb started to slowly revolve finally revealing the bride in all her glory standing inside it. The bride then very, very, slowly walked down the staircase to the stage, then out onto the catwalk, stopping and posing occasionally. Finally after doing the whole circuit she returned to the main stage where she sat on a large padded throne for the rest of the evening being greeted by guests, having her photos taken with them and generally being admired.
Another announcement was then made that there would be a performance by Miriam Fares a well known singer from Lebanon. She’s in the Shakira mould, complete with the hair thing happening. She had her band with her but as the musicians are male they had to be shielded by a screen so they couldn't see the unveiled lady guests.
What happens next is that an announcement is made that the groom is coming to collect the bride. When this announcement is made the female guests either put on their hijabs and abayas so they are covered when the groom arrives or many go home. It isn’t considered bad manners to leave before the wedding couple. The groom arrives and sits with the bride on the throne for anything from 10 minutes up to maximum an hour while more photos are taken, after which they leave together to start life as a married couple. The wedding formalities are then officially over but the guests can 'party on' and Rasha tells me that the party on Thursday finished at 4am the next morning.
As we left I was surprised to see that an overflow room had been opened up outside the main ballroom and there would have been at least 200 ladies there. It was past midnight when we left and there were still ladies arriving. I asked Rasha about this and she said that often people just come to say congratulations, chat to a few friends and then leave.
I came home with 2 CDs which were given to guests as mementos; one CD is the music for the bride’s entrance and the other contains a song composed especially for the couple and sung by Hussain el Jessami a famous UAE singer.
A wonderful night and an incredible experience.