We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Adventures with Mohammed, part IV

If a picture paints a thousand words, I’m going to need 100,000 words to paint all the pictures from the party we attended last Friday night (unfortunately, we forgot our camera). I’ll try to summarize a little and paint a picture or two. The blue paragraph is the Cliff’s Notes version for you Americans with busy schedules. After that, those of you reading at work can read more detail than you’ll ever need.

Wedding party at Mohammed’s dad’s house. His sister’s engagement party, really. Boy met us on the street. Got there early. Drank cokes. Went inside first, then upstairs. Came down for the street musicians. Back outside for the party. .Kids dance. Boy on chair. Car comes through. Lumber truck. 9:15 bride arrives. She goes inside. 9:45 men go drink coffee, girls go inside. 10-ish groom arrives. People watch from balconies. Clothes hanging outside. Dripping on Beth. Dancing in a small circle. Stereo way too loud. CD player=old computer. Old women dancing. Women around the bride, men in the background smoking and drinking coke.

Sometime last week, Mohammed invited us to a party for his sister's engagement. He told me to be there at 7, so we got there around 7:45. I called him from the taxi for directions, and he told our driver to look for a boy in a red shirt on the crowded street where we were riding. So we stopped by the first boy in a red shirt, and he had no idea who we were. The next red-shirt clad young man got in and directed us down one little alley after another until we came to the place with colored lights hanging between the buildings and chairs stacked up along the walls. The party is to take place in the alley between two rows of apartment buildings—all about 5 stories high. The alley is almost 20 feet wide. Almost. What the alley lacked in width, it made up for in length. We could see forever in one direction, and there was another similar party going on a half-mile away.

He said 7:00, but there were just a handful of people there as the time approached 8:00. We went into his dad’s apartment and had a Coke in the “formal” living area. After the requisite stop there, we were ushered upstairs to another family flat and into the informal TV room/living room/bedroom. It’s about 8:30--still no big party going on. We heard a loud reed instrument and drum being played outside, so Mohammed invited us to go have a look at the street musicians passing by. They played really loudly right in our faces, and then demanded tips. I had no small bills, so Mohammed had to yell at him to let go of my shirt sleeve!

After those musicians left, they cranked up the stereo. Picture an old 1970s receiver with a 1991 computer with a CD drive playing the music. No, not using i-tunes or anything, just a headphone jack out of the old CD drive. Anytime someone bumped the table with the stereo on it (which happened frequently because it was right next to the doorway), the music would pause for a few seconds. The local philosophy for stereo volume control was summed up well by an American friend of mine here: Simply turn up the stereo as loud as the speakers can handle it, then turn it up a few more notches so it distorts really badly, then leave it there for the remainder of the day.

The kids started dancing first. Just the boys, really. So now we’re sitting in chairs near the door, being introduced to all of Mohammed’s aunts and uncles. The boys—mostly 8-12-year-olds—kind of made a circle and egged each other on while the music blared. One little guy climbed up in a chair and danced a little, then his friends picked up the chair and let him dance a little higher. He was fine for a minute or two, but more boys came and hoisted the chair even higher. Then some bigger boys joined in and had the kid 5 or 6 feet off the ground. Now he’s through dancing and is into survival mode, holding onto the back of the chair while an older uncle comes to rescue him. Did I mention that the boy was dancing with his shirt off? While all that was going on, we were still sitting by the door, being introduced to every new person who arrived at the party. Beth had to move her chair a few inches to get out of the drip from the laundry hanging in the alley outside the second floor apartment. Several of the residents immediately above the party had their freshly cleaned clothes hanging out to dry over the festivities.

By 9:15, there were probably 50 relatives (and two conspicuous Americans) gathered in the alley, and the guests were still coming. That’s when the bride-to-be showed up. She had just come from having her hair and make-up done and she was all sparkly. She made a few greetings to the guests and then promptly went inside. Beth asked a friend where she was going and found out she was hunting a mirror so she could see how pretty she was.

Here’s how the conversation went:
Beth: Where did she go?
Shymat: Upstairs.
Beth: What does she do up there?
Shymat: Look in the mirror.
Beth: That’s all?
Shymat: That’s all.

This was somewhat understandable to us, since this is probably the only time she’ll look in the mirror and see anything but scarf material. She was wearing a pretty strapless dress and had her hair all done up, while almost all of the guests were wearing floor-length dresses with color-coordintated scarves to cover their head and shoulders.

At 9:45 she hadn’t come back out yet, and Shymat invited Beth to come upstairs where she was waiting. (We found out that she wasn’t really just looking in the mirror, but was waiting for her groom to arrive.) While they did that, I and some other men went around a corner or two to a coffee shop.

More than once, the party had to roll up toward the walls for a minute for a car to go through. So everybody picked up his chair and moved aside. My favorite was when a huge lumber truck came through carrying only four 2x6 boards. We really had to back up against the wall for that one.

If you’ve ridden “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disney World, you’ll understand this next picture. We’re sitting in chairs on the street with maybe 100 people dancing and talking and playing around. Above us, there are four or five floors of small apartments. From these apartments, people are leaning out their windows watching the party from above. The way the lights hit their faces reminded me of the ladies in Pirates of the Caribbean who lean out their windows to watch the tourists ride by.

Most of the dancing that went on took place in a small circle in the middle of the street. There would be three or four women dancing to the music, surrounded by a tight circle of 30 or 40 more women clapping and singing, four or five circles deep. For most of the evening, the dancers were of the bride’s generation—girls in their 20s and 30s. But at 11:15 I looked in and saw that the more mature set had supplanted them. We’re talking three “sixty-somethings” who were all more than a few kilos over their ideal body mass index.

You might notice that most all of the dancing was done by the women. The men (present author included) occupied places in the background of this party. I sat in a chair and ate cake and drank Coke and practiced my Arabic with Mohammed’s cousins well out of the dancing area. Beth and the other girls were much closer to the bride. They even shamed Beth into the middle of the circle once, telling her that the bride was really sad because she wouldn’t dance. I think she paid a kid a pound or two to bump the CD player so the music would stop then.

The groom got there about 10:00. He knew that he had four or five hours left at that point. There was some sort of ring ceremony that I couldn’t see, but it involved presenting the rings on a silver tray with some roses and candies and a small stuffed cat. (Yes, I’m serious. Why didn’t we think of that?)

At 11:30 we said goodnight, using our small children and visiting grandmother as our excuse for going home so very early in the evening. We walked back toward the main road to find a taxi, then rode back to our apartment, marveling that the same event can be celebrated in so many different ways. If any of you Americans need some advice on livening up the next engagement party you attend, just let us know.

1 comment:

  1. I am going to save this! We have a 16 year old grandaughter, and in "about" 10 years, I can advise her how to have a really unique engagement party. Very funny, Jason!