A Moroccan Engagement Party -- Alexis
Two Sundays ago, my peer mentor, Fadoua, invited me to her uncle's engagement party, which would take place this past Saturday. I was thrilled at the invitation, but as time brought me closer and closer to the date, I started getting nervous. The others were busy Saturday, so they couldn't come with me, and I was worried about going all alone. I was also having trouble getting in touch with Fadoua, so the meeting time and place were still not arranged by Saturday morning. However, that afternoon, upon receiving Fadoua's email with all the necessary information (I was to meet her at 3 PM at Bab Boujloud, which left me just enough time to eat lunch before leaving), I put aside my concerns and set off.
I wore my djellaba to meet Fadoua, as it's the fanciest thing I own. My host sister Aziza meticulously fixed my hair and made me change my shoes before I left. I met Fadoua and her mom at the appointed place, Bab Boujloud, and we were soon walking down the winding paths of the medina on the way to Fadoua's relatives' house. We stopped by a teleboutique to inform my host family I would not be home for dinner. We soon arrived. Fadoua's sister was all make-upped: extensive eye make-up, rouge, glitter, the works, but she was still in normal clothes--a matching pink sweat set. I greeted all the women with cheek kisses.
A brief description of Fadoua's huge confusing family: many babies, kind and accepting aunts, smiling mustached uncles, little cousins continuously pulling me onto the dance floor, sister who took care of me when Fadoua was busy getting make-upped herself, brothers dressed in jeans and t-shirts, really sweet grandmother, amazingly good dancer mother, grandfather who slaps anyone who says the word z'bda (butter) in his hearing (no one knows why, but I said the word twice [the first time I met him, Fadoua told me to say it...] and received The Slap), and of course, my awesome friend Fadoua, writer, poet, and just beautiful person. I LOVE her family. Everyone was unbelievably welcoming, smiling at me, dancing with me, begging me to take their pictures. Her cousins were wonderful--the five of us (Fadoua, her sister, me, her two cousins)--danced in circles and laughed at my inability to perfect the shoulder move the hip move etc etc. Her uncle danced with me and then left, somewhat disgusted by my lack of skill. Later, I found myself dancing with him and his wife, who was trying to teach me to dance better. However, I did manage to impress them with my circling hips and bending knees--a swaying squat that brought me almost to the floor and back up. "Nice!" That move happened to impress many of the guests. My signature. I was proud. So proud, in fact, that I told Najia, our belly-dancing teacher.
Cookies and tea. Water for parched throats. I danced and held my bladder for hours. Pink green blue gold red colored kaftans. Fadoua had lent me a beautiful black kaftan which I wore with proud. I wore my jeans and a black tank top underneath. But it's difficult to go to the bathroom in those things. Especially with a squat (hence the holding my bladder).
The bride, Fadoua's meilleure amie, was beautiful. She wore three different outfits. The groom, Fadoua's oncle prefere, wore two.
But I have yet to begin at the beginning, before the dancing.
I greeted the women with cheek kisses and donned Fadoua's beautiful kaftan. Lunch (even though I had already eaten with my host family). A very awkward episode of urination in a kaftan in a squat toilet. No desire to repeat the experience. Getting "slapped" by Fadoua's grandfather for saying z'bda (at Fadoua's evil suggestion) upon meeting him. And then we began the procession through the crowded streets of the medina to the house of gifts for the future bride and groom. When we arrived, the trumpets started blasting and the drums rhythmically beat ou a steady romp. Fadoua handed me an enormous candle, and everyone started dancing. I felt awkward, and so my dance mainly consisted of waving the candle around in the air and slowly shifting from side to side. Gradually, the engagement party crowd filed out. Fadoua and I were left in the back, with the candles, right in front of the musicians, who were enthusiastically trumpeting and drumming with all their might, announcing our presence to the medina.
Our procession was musical magical loud surprising painful (because the shoes Fadoua lent me were killing my feet) fun photographed stressful (because as luck would have it, the candle bearers are supposed to be at the FRONT of the procession) just WONDERFUL. Fadoua whispered (shouted) urgently to me that we were needed at the front. She took my arm and tugged. Together we forced our way through. It was a battle. At one point, another woman from the party smiled at me so so sweetly. So I took her hand, and she followed Fadoua and me. She was beautiful, and I canoot forget her smile, so accepting, making me feel welcome amongst this party of Moroccans. And I, a lone white girl in a traditional kaftan, heading the procession of an engagement party of Moroccans. What an experience! All the Moroccans we passed (who were not part of our party) started curiously at me. Fadoua told me they all thought I was the bride, for what else would I, blatantly NOT Moroccan, be doing there? Tourists snapped photographs, but when they saw me, their fingers hesitated in astonishment. Perhaps I am too self-involved, but I admit, the attention amused me. And I did stand out all too conspicuously. Even a kaftan couldn't hide the fact that I wasn't a relation.
When the procession, laden down with gifts, finally made it to the house (another one--I lost track of ownership), the REAL dancing (aforementioned) began. At one point I slumped in a chair, utterly exhausted, but cookies soon revived me, and I was dancing once again--with Fadoua, Fadoua's cousins sister mother aunts uncles, the bride's family...
During the dancing, the bride and groom were usually sitting together, posing for photographs, or absent (to change clothes). Occasionally they got up and danced. When they did so, the rest of the party surrounded them, chanting and wishing them luck (I think...the chants were [obviously] in Arabic).
Dancing from around 430-1030. Everyone was amazing at moving their bodies--even the very old women were sexy in their swaying motions. Even the little five-year-olds showed more skill than me. I slept badly that night, most likely due to the excitement still hovering in the air and Fadoua's brothers' loud and violent snoring. Shocking for 9 and 13 year olds.
And the cookies were delicious.
I took many pictures and Fadoua's cousins were fascinated by my camera. One of them kept taking it and snapping photographs. Finally I took it back with a "Saaaafi."
At last, after all that dancing, it was dinner time. Two courses: chicken and then meat. I sat in between the bride and Fadoua. Apples and clementines (the usual) for dessert. I called my host family to ask if it was okay to sleep over, and they agreed immediately.
After dinner, everyone started filtering out, until only I, Fadoua, her two younger cousins, a very young cousin, her sister, her two brothers, her mother, her grandmother, her aunt and uncle, and various others were left. We danced again, briefly, because her cousins miraculously still had energy and I didn't have the energy to say no. Her cousins looked at me, before I finally lay down to sleep, and they said, "ntii zouina bzaaf bzaaf." You are very very beautiful. I have never felt more flattered and more welcomed in a different house different family different culture. I am so grateful to Fadoua for allowing me this glimpse into her wonderful family. I am so grateful for my experience, for the people I met, for the laughter and smiles, for the dancing and the feast, for being in Morocco and seeing a new way to celebrate love and marriage. That engagement party was one of the best experiences of my life. The only American, non-Arabic speaker there, helplessly out of my league in terms of dancing (with the exception of that one move of course), and I felt extraordinarily comfortable and at ease among strangers, who, after five minutes, even though I didn't really converse with them, were no longer strangers at all.
The next morning, Fadoua and I had bread and tea together (the others weren't up yet) before heading back to my host family's house.
Morocco is the kindness of strangers, strong shoulders and hips always moving, beautiful loud music, welcoming and accepting arms, kaftans and Western-style suits, cookies and mint tea, medina processions, z'bda-fearing? grandfathers, zouina bzaafs, violent snores from tiny people, energy, food, love...
Dancing from around 430-1030. Everyone was amazing at moving their bodies--even the very old women were sexy in their swaying motions. Even the little five-year-olds showed more skill than me.
I slept badly that night, most likely due to the excitement still hovering in the air and Fadoua's brothers' loud and violent snoring. Shocking for 9 and 13 year olds.