I really do feel quite safe and at home here so although I surprised myself in accepting the wedding invitation from a complete stranger after meeting her on the bus travelling to the airport I finding myself on her family’s door step. a basic country village home in the middle of nowhere, and I do mean no-where surrounded by nothing but fields all around, so with no trepidation I walked to the door from where I heard conversations as I wondered what my greeting should be. I’m just about remembering my school girl French and, as far as I know my travel companion is the only one who knows English. No sooner had those thoughts entered my head, my host appears with open arms happy to see I had made it, and her young girls jumping around me. Having had such a warm greeting I felt so happy that I had just got out of my shell and came along.
This was going to be interesting – that she could speak English was reassuring but that would have been fine had I been spending my next few hours with her – of course like with every wedding no host is forever present holding your hand. – I soon discovered I had also made to right decision in bringing an over-night bag with me and what I thought was suitable to wear for the occasion.
It was Friday and my taxi driver was convinced I would not be back till Sunday – Moroccan weddings last for 3 days he told me – I was determined I was going home the next day, – my thoughts of leaving that evening had I wanted to leave were quashed as my host informing me that the ceremony would begin after 10pm so I sat in the long lounge surrounded by a myriad of about 10 female Moroccan faces young and old dressed in their traditional jelababs and headdresses, looking at me wondering too how we were supposed to communicte, who I was?, where did I come from,? dressed in western clothes? All these questions and mine too where did they come from – this was the only house I could see?. How was I going to get through the next few hours – I’m not a big fan of western weddings at the best of times.
THere was just a mut track outside.I could see sheds in the back housing cattle, a few dogs prowling the ground, just as we would imaging a farm house to be in the uk when I was a child, but there were no other homes visible. THis was very interesting as as the day progressed more people arrived – but from where?
I was introduced, but don’t think I took in anyones name – not only so many but all foreign and some unrecognisable in my vocabulary, so we greeted by shaking hands – I wasn’t sure of the protocol but hands were offered, so that was fine, from aunts, friends and neighbours the conversation had somewhat stopped on my entrance. At one time I would have felt uncomfortable but today it just felt fine, and surprisingly not out of place even when 2 teenage girls found it totally hilarious that I had found myself in their presence and was unable to communicate with them, dressed in a long skirt and lace tea shirt and not their traditional dress.
We all sipped our sweet Moroccan mint tea accompanied with beautifully hand-made sweet Moroccan petit fours – they looked divine and was a great way to break the ice as everyone nodded in agreement – they were truly delicious.– universal language had made its way through.
The older lady dressed in her jelaba her head wrapped in scarf, sitting at the far end of the room and looked very important started nodding at me and smiling at me. A smile deserves a smile so I was instantaneously smiling back – now conscious we were going to have to find a way to communicate, and before we knew it we were conversing in broken French (thank goodness some of that started to come back from the school days, as I don’t think learning Moroccan in one easy lesson would have saved the day.)
I was quite happy sitting and observing watching what was going on, listening to a language that was softer than I expected, I realised how lucky and privileged I was to be introduced feet first not into just the culture but full on Moroccan Arabic, and into someones home at such a special time. I thought it wouldn’t be long before I started to pick up the words – well maybe not as the next few days I discovered that the natural flow was to use my school girl French and maybe improve on that. I had a great excuse to people watch without seeming rude – I think they just thought poor me but I was far from poor. Its so interesting to watch and listen to someone speak , not understand what is said but getting the gist of the whole conversation. Language is truly universal.
The older lady seemed to be the wise one. Maybe if it was a tribe she would have been then medicine woman – she certainly had that air about her. She caught my attention as without a word she was spreading out her prayer mat and putting on her prayer scarf, and as she found a moment to pray the 2 teenage girls chuckled and chatted much to her displeasure which she soon made known – I may have not understood the words but the gestures and tones of her voice were quite clear, as she raised her hands to the heavens, herself and the girls it was quite clear they were getting a telling off for being disrespectful.
As in the Asian traditions the Moroccans henna their hands and feet before a wedding ceremony.And tonight was Henna night.
So as we sipped our tea and the women chatted, we all took turns to get our hands and feet hennaed just like we’d have a beautician to do our nails our hair and our make up in the western world. (that’s my foot on the left ) At first I felt a little annoyed that I had come so early ( so typically of me I wanted to be doing) but that soon dissolved as I realised I didn’t need to be doing, for there really was no where to go and nothing to do, just being the experience – I was in the perfect place at the perfect time for me.
It felt so liberating not to have to know nor have any expectations to what was about to happen. I was going into this whole experience blind as we do as a child trusting our parents that no harm comes to us even in an unknown environment amongst strangers. We are even oblivious to the fact that there may be danger as that too man has created.
These festivities are always the ideal opportunity to bring Moroccan families together and show the richness of Moroccan customs and traditions through clothing, art, music or cuisine which is represented via a cocktail of delicious dishes
And so the preparations began. The women dressing up – just as we do chopping and changing traditional festive Jelebabs, sharing each-others garments, whatever one felt they felt comfortable in but no pomp, no special purchases, no hair dressers, just girls doing each others hair, just a real girly experience and once ready the whole family walked in procession to the brides house chanting all the way. Through the dirt tracks, and foliage of olive trees and cacti, ( thank goodness I did not bring my high heels) as walking passed bushes in the dark we came to a stone building into which we were ushered into an open air hall and then taken to a small white washed room where some tables were set up. Sitting crossed legged we awaited our welcome meal of first chicken then some red meat with bread for dunking and cokes and fantas. Those of you that know me can imagine what was going through my head. I had some big decisions to make and quick. It is a tradition to serve meat at all weddings and round each table we were presented with 3 roast chickens after which we were presented with a lamb shank.
First do I offend the hosts? – maybe not a good option, do I eat meat? – well what would happen if I did – It was home grown and killed with love for the intention to feed and celebrate– still not an attractive option I’ve not eaten it for so long and all I remembered was that I never really liked the taste. Well when in Rome do as the Romans do I’m sure God would not throw thunder and lightening down on me for not offending my hosts. I’m glad I tasted it and for the next couple of occasions as that’s all that was on offer. Today I made the decision That I was on a fruit diet and let my heavy digestive system rest.
The wedding ceremony itself was interesting – the bride was too young to be a bride – in fact I learnt she was 16 and agreed to the wedding of her own free will – I’m sure there are still many girls of that age that would.
Once we were all fed we were taken back into the open air hall and as silence befalls us
The bride enters with the groom in traditional white dress and is sat on a traditional wedding chair the Amariya to be paraded around and shown off to the guests
After which she sits on a beautifully made white throne with her husband to have pictures taken with her guests.
The neggafates – the wedding master planners help her on the seat, parade her round the room and help her change her outfits. These men and women are essential at every wedding ceremony to help the bride.
She then exits with her groom to change clothes and re-enters in a new gown to have more pictures taken in another gown and this is repeated several times as the guests watch, chat, dance, drink sweet mint tea and are offered a gift of home-made petit fours.
The beautiful dresses adorned with beautiful jewels and sequins only mirrored her physical beauty, I did not however see it mirrored in her soul. Maybe somewhat daunted and scared of all this might mean and all eyes on her, my soul cried for her future and her relationship and had to remind myself that this is how it is here and its only my own belief that led me to my feelings, my own knowledge and experience of life that she has no idea what beholds her. I do wish her all the very best and that they grow together. ( I was later reassured that she was happy but frightened and overwhelmed) Was I ready for my sleep that morning when we arrived back at 6 as the cocks started their morning call.
And so ready to leave the following day I was talked into staying for the next round of celebrations welcoming the bride to the grooms house so now 3 nights without proper sleep was catching up on me as the celebrations and dancing went on well into the morning and we went to bed as the cocks started crowing.
Its now Saturday and I’m still here To greet the bride to her new home with her new husband celebrating all evening again with plenty of green tea, an meat and bread, dancing till he sun came up the following morning.
Now Sunday was quieter and everyone spent the day recovering and catching up on their sleep and still I was not allowed home ( well I wasnt kept prisoner but her Moroccans can be persuasive. The rest of the time was enjoying a barbecque in the evening with the immediate family and a lovely breakfast of pancakes, honey and of course the moroccan sweet tea.
I really would have to do something about the sugar on my return even my body was crying out to stop.
So here I stayed welcomed into the family till Monday morning dying for a proper shower as we were just using buckets as they do here and a nice change clothes as I came so ill prepared. I was so glad I had stayed to experience it all, from start to finish.
And now my life in Moulay can begin…..