Saturday, August 05, 2006

Weddings in Cairo

Since I have now experienced a few I have to tell you about the engagement parties and wedding receptions here. First- the engagement party is a huge affair usually here- and is almost like a dress rehearsal for the wedding, or for those families who can afford to have one, it is. The dress will be as large and as elaborate as the actual wedding dress- so sparkles and layers galore. In fact to me it seems the only difference between weddings and engagements seems to be the colour of the dress (lots of stunning and not so stunning colour combo's can be seen here!) - they even have a big white, multi-layers of cake (i.e. identical to the wedding cake) at the engagement party!

So onto the Big Day- The Wedding- and I have attended a few now, both at expensive hotels and cheaper affairs- but they all seem to run by roughly the same pattern (street weddings are very common in less well off families and are something else!!!)

The wedding cars- you should see the amount of flowers they put all over them- its amazing the driver can actually see out the window- its frighten-ly reminiscent of a hearse! The wedding procession in various cars (taxis/mini buses/mopeds- if poorer wedding- yes I have actually seen a bride, in full dress on back of a moped!!!!!) drive in formation to the wedding, all tooting their horns like crazy through the streets- all the way- because basically Cairo doesn't have enough noise without it!!!!!

So the guests and the Zaffa band (not sure how to spell it!) wait at the entrance to the hotel and when the bride and groom arrive the band strikes up. The zaffa is usually just LOTS of boys/young men with drums- it's very loud! ( I even saw a bagpiper at this point at one wedding in the Sheraton!!!!) Sometimes there will be a dancer at this point in the proceedings- although from my experience, usually not. The bride and groom will stand next to the musicians and the guests will circle round them looking at them, zaghreeting and calling words of encouragement and congratulation. Many photos are taken and much intrusive video recording will be done at this stage (actually, that continues for the entire night). The bride is bejewelled in diamante everywhere- including the tiara, and the (usually very puffy) big white wedding dress (same as styles at home- although depending on the family income- often styles from the 80's!!! The posh wedding dresses are a sight to behold though- stunning!) The hair is left uncovered for this occasion (although not always!) I have never seen a couple relaxed at this stage in the proceedings. I usually just feel sorry for them being centre of attention when they obviously don’t want to be!! The band lead them into the ballroom/garden- wherever the wedding reception will occur, then leave (after maybe half hour to an hour!!!!). In street weddings I have seen the zaffa lead the couple around a few of the streets in the neighbourhood to get to the street they will party/eat in (still bride in the puffy dress!!!) Oh- and its at this point when if there is a dancer they would be wearing the shamadan (candelabra) on her head whilst dancing- to light the way- a lovely concept. Unfortunately I am yet to experience that yet, but would love to!

The next stages I may get in the wrong order- but they all happen at some stage in the evening's events.

The sharbat- or shared drink - amid much loud music (techno-fied), flashing lights etc the waiter brings in a tray with 2 glasses of very sickly sweet fruit drink for the bride and groom ( the guests often get given a drink at the same time) and they hold the glass for each other- so they share their first drink together in public – the guests drink theirs- a bit like a toast at home- but they don’t actually raise their glasses to the couple or say anything in particular ( and its not alcohol!!!!)

There is the First Dance- exactly as it is back home- the couple on the dance floor alone (almost- the video man is like the 3rd person in the equation all night- right up there!) Sometimes the music is Arabic, sometimes western corny stuff. I saw one dance which was beautiful- Arabic music, and the groom sang every word to the bride whilst gazing lovingly into her eyes, (miming the words even!!)- it brought a tear to my eye! It's not usually like that! They don’t tend to have a 'parents' dance- but I have seen a couple of weddings having a couples dance- so after the first dance all the couples get up for their turn.

Then the circle begins. The circle is basically everyone piled onto the dance floor (esp. the young people) and the 'happy' couple are in the middle and pull guests in to dance with them……….. Sometimes good dancers amongst the crowd will take over at this point and let the bride get out the heat from the video camera- which roams round the room so everyone sitting down can see on big screens and on the video afterwards, what's going on in the circle (which is often about 6 people deep!!!) The dancing section lasts most of the evening……. I.e. for hours- remember this is usually completely without alcohol!

There is THE CAKE. Written in bold because that is how it is presented too….. Really- loud techno style music again, fake smoke, special lighting (often with strobe!!!!)……….. you name it- the cake is carried into the room as though it were a pop star! The couple cut the cake and lots more photos………
Often now there is the show- if there is one. A band, or bellydancer, or 'Russian' show ('dancing girls' in very revealing costumes doing not much- except embarrassing the majority of the room)…….

Then the best bit (well the bit I think sums up the culture most and which is most surprising to a westerner) Unlike in the UK ,where the food is at the start of the evening so people are not drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, here they don’t serve the food (buffet) until Just before the end of the night (about 1/2pm ish) Why? Because as soon as everyone has eaten they leave! (in much the same way as a wedding at home ends when the bar closes!!!!) The bride and groom are again put on show during the meal- really. They have a small table for 2 set up completely in the centre of the dance floor so that everyone can watch them eating………. How lovely. No speeches or anything like that at least- but the bride does do the throwing of the bouquet for the girls to catch (same meanings there as for us in U.K.!)

In fact- this is a major element of the the whole event- not just to send the couple off well- but for families to meet other families and introduce their son to someone elses daughter etc- this is the most common way of someone in Egypt meeting their future husband/wife!!!!

And that’s it- can't tell you what happens by the end of the night because I never stay long enough to see!!!!! Please feel free to ask about anything I may have missed out!!!!


Nick said...

This is an amazingly rich and clear blog, Lorna. Lots and lots of superb pictures even before you get those photos - and you really haven't started on your home territory of dance yet! With my interest in ritual - as well as getting a picture of a new country - I began wondering if the history of the pattern of the Cairo wedding is about the same combination of Egypt and foreign influences as you've explained bellydance is. Is there a religious and/or state part to it? Were you describing the whole thing or just the party part?

Lorna (aka BellyLorna!) said...

Hmmmm- those q's deserve another blog to do them justice- watch this space.....