She nearly threw the handful of nuts and goodies at me. Wearing a metallic T-bar styled mask with a strip covering her eyebrows, the bridge of her nose and ending with a large moustache shaped flourish of aluminium that bent around her face and covering all but the bottom of her mouth, this traditional face-gear still could not disguise her mischievous grin. I contained my surprise, and the impulse to shriek with laughter, and took another bite of the huge goat paella that had been brought out for the women in our small group. Of course, we were careful only to eat with our right hands or use the spoon proffered for the use of infidels.
We had, quite spontaneously, been invited to this local wedding in Khasab by our tour guide after our Dhow trip through the Khor Sham fjord. The tour guide insisted it was all right for us, perfect strangers, to join in the proceedings but the ten of us did approach the scene nervously. I did feel spectacularly out of place.
In the street was a large group of chanting and dancing men in long white robes with traditional Arabic head gear, many brandishing daggers, swords and long walking sticks and assembled in a large circle. Most with their backs to us, I strained to see what was in the middle of the group and was soon carried along by the joyous sound of the chanting. The lovely young groom, with a particularly beautiful silver dagger strapped around his waist and a red and white turban or mussar, was being greeted by friends. They exchanged four kisses on alternate cheeks and then ‘kissed’ with their noses! We were introduced as well, thankfully with just a hand shake, while fruit drinks were quickly brought out to refresh the newly arrived guests.
At the gate of the nearest house, several women in jihab and head scarves (surprisingly not all black!) were shyly watching the proceedings and eyeing up the new visitors. Next thing I knew myself, and the other four females, were whisked into the courtyard of the house to be wined and dined. With no common words between us, there seemed to be little problem with communication. Everything was indicated with a flourish of hands and we quickly were instructed to sit down on a tarpaulin next to the relatives of the bride. Children and babies were everywhere and I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful red and green large hanging shiny sheets covering most of the entrance of the house, with twinkling lights and other decorations, seemingly without design, scattered everywhere around. It felt like Christmas in the desert!
The sister of the bride was the most animated, seemingly in charge of the proceedings and obviously proud and pleased to ‘show off’ for us. She could only speak a couple of words of English and, at one point, asked us, mainly with hand gestures, whether we could speak ‘a little Arabic?’ Embarrassingly, I could not but that did not stop her trying to entertain us. She pointed to one of the younger members of our group who is Italian, made a gesture to indicate she thought she was pretty and then simply said, ‘TV’. Everyone roared with laughter and it made us all feel a bit like celebrities.
Quite who she was, we were not sure but suddenly a young woman appeared who could speak English and translate. She explained that the celebrations would go on for seven days and nights, with the bride not taking part in the proceedings until the very end. Apparently, she was being beautified. One of us told her that weddings in the UK only lasted one day, to which she replied knowingly, ‘yes, I know, I have seen in a movie!’
Even the mother of the groom, decked out in floral robes, was wheeled out and introduced to us. Surprisingly, even the groom himself entered the courtyard and briefly joined in the festivities, giving his mother a hug and kiss.
Dusk and storm clouds were closing in, and we had to say our ‘goodbyes’. I was completely astonished to be accepted into this small community’s inner circle and treated like an honoured guest. I felt supremely humbled by their overwhelming generosity.