Friday, September 30, 2011

A Yemeni Wedding

Sometime in late February or early March, one of our teachers invited us to his brother's wedding. I and one other student were the only ones to take him up on the offer.

I was curious to see what the weddings were like. Wedding dress stores line the streets, filled with fairy-tale dresses, icy blue and pink lights, and glitter like snow. I passed these stores every day, but I would witness no such glamour at a wedding. Yemeni weddings are divided by gender. The women gather in one place, and the men in another. The women's wedding party is a faraway land of makeup, sexy clothing, and loosened inhibitions. At least this is how the stories go. I've even heard of a women's party that hired a full band to play. The band was all male - they played from behind a curtain fro the duration of the celebration.

Our wedding would be more low key. I met up with the student, two of our teachers, and one of the school staff in the courtyard of the Markez. They picked us up in an SUV whose windows were blacked out with glitter and had a bow tied over the hood. Only small blank spaces shaped like hearts and doves were left on the front windshield and in the corners of the front windows by the side mirrors.

We arrived late at the wedding, held in a banquet hall somewhere north of Al Qaa district. In a long tiled dozens of men, perhaps one hundred, sat on low cushions chewing. The groom sat in a chair on a raised platform in the front of the room. It was clear we had arrived past the prime of the party. Everyone was involved in quiet conversation with their neighbors. A man across the room played the Oud for a while, and a fellow student and I tried to dance for a bit with our teacher.

A man plays the Oud at the wedding.

We went back to sitting and chatting, but then the call for the sunset prayer began and 70% of the room got up and left. We continued to chat with our teachers but decided the party was dying and it was time to go. We walked back to the school since the weather was nice and we wanted to allow the others to stay.

Overall, this wedding wasn't as exciting as some of the weddings I witnessed more tangentially. Prior to a wedding, some families will string lights across their street, casting a charming glow over the medieval city's alleys. A more modern practice involves camcorders and speeding Toyotas. On at least a third of my taxi rides down Sabaeen street I witnessed convoys of SUVs weaving among traffic, each car chasing the next with streamers and ribbons whipping in the wind, as one guy in the middle of it all hanged out of a side window of one of the cars holding on with one hand and videotaping the spectacle with a camera in the other.

For more on weddings in Yemen during this trying period, see this Reuters story: In Shell-Shocked Yemen, the Wedding Party Goes On.

Lace decorates the car for the wedding

Frosted windows decorate the car

"Alf Mabrouk" - "One Thousand Congratulations"