Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ethiopian wedding

The Fira sisters invited me to an Ethiopian wedding last weekend. I absolutely love weddings, and a chance to attend one of another faith (Muslim) and another culture (Ethiopian) provided weeks of growing excitement. For a couple weeks before the wedding Mariam, Faiza, and Gitu where daily reminding me of the wedding date and asking me what I was going to wear. Will I wear their long silky silver dress? What about the fun, frilly, orange-peach summer dress? What kind of make-up will I put on?

A week before the wedding I visited the Fira home to meet the bride, some sort of distant cousin of the girls. Amina, the bride, was writing out invitations and transferring her friends and family's contact info. into a new address book. I spent the day learning how to make Ethiopian food. I was given the chance to make the flat bread, made like a crepe by spreading a thin layer of dough in a big pan. We cooked some lentils and vegetables, added a lot of spice and tons of onions and oil, and eventually, three hours later, produced some good cookin'. (Although it was fun, I certainly don't want to spend three hours cooking very often in the future!) It was my job to set the table, and after not finding enough forks I decided we would be fine with just spoons. Why not? It wasn't until we started eating that I remembered they don't use spoons. The bread and fingers are their utensils. They had a good laugh watching me start with the spoon only to soon ditch it in order to grease up my hands like them. Nothing like fitting in! :-) I brought some white chocolate--Mariam's favorite--over for desert that I bought in Prague, to conclude the meal.

Before I left, Amina gave me three invitations for the wedding; one for Khalil and me, one for Aaron and Alice, and one for Jay. The Fira girls cleaned Aaron, Alice, and Khalil's apartment once, and they knew Jay from St. Andrew's field trip. Amina had never met any of them, and probably didn't know who they were. Yet, here we were given real invitations! Sweet! Here's some new vocab for you, from a tribal Ethiopian language: "Kabajamtoota Keenya Cidha Obbo Mahdi Hassan fi Aadee Amina Abdallah". This means "Our Honorable Guest we kindly invite your honor to attend a wedding ceremony of Mr. Mahdi Hassan and Mrs. Amina Adhallah."

The first 'odd' thing about the wedding is that it was on Sunday night. That's weird for us Americans, but even in Egypt Sunday night is a working night. Anyhow, the invitation said the wedding ceremony started at 7pm at the Sofitel Hotel in Maadi. Jay, Jay's friend Shile, and I showed up at 7:05pm. We rushed up the stairs to find the banquet hall....empty. We searched around--maybe the wedding was being held somewhere else? We pondered...well, it wouldn't be held in a church...would it be in a mosque? Are weddings ever conducted in mosques? Was there even a wedding going on in our preconceived notions of what a wedding is? Finally we noticed one other woman sitting in the lobby; she had the invitation in her hand. Okay, so at least we weren't the only people who didn't know where to go.

Actually, we were in the right place. Our mistake was thinking in American time, not Ethiopian time. If a wedding starts at 7pm, it really means 9pm. Duh. We are in the MidEast, after all. Time is different here. Still, I think we got caught up in the idea that this was happening at a really nice hotel, a very western hotel. Heck, we even received an invitation!

Well, by 9pm most guests had arrived, and the wedding party was on their way. We were sitting in the banquet hall, over a hundred people sitting around tables, and we were the only Westerners/white people in there. The only English-as-first-language people. We were totally out of place, but not uncomfortable. For the most part, no one paid any attention to us, and I was relieved. I can't go anywhere in Egypt without getting noticed!

I received a call from Mariam then, who said they (wedding party) was downstairs in the hotel lobby and I needed to come see them. I made my way down to greet the wedding party and see Mariam and Faiza dressed in beautiful matching dark green gowns and gold headscarves; they were both flower girls. (But instead of having flowers they had a lot of confetti they would throw into people's hair.) Mariam shrieked when she saw me and came running over to me, grabbing my arm, and pulling me over to the wedding party. From then on, nearly everywhere they went, I was asked to come along by Mariam and take photos. At first I felt really odd doing this (obviously, I'm the one out of place here--I can't even speak to these people!) but I started to recognize that my role as a photographer was not only accepted, it was desired. Okay, great!

Before the wedding party came up the stairs, the bride and groom stood side by side while an Egyptian music group played a combination of Ethiopian music and Egyptian music (at one point including bagpipes--I have no idea what that was all about!) and the bridesmaids and flower girls perform traditional dances around the bride and groom for awhile. I was busy trying to get close and take pictures, when I suddenly realized the hired video camera man was asking me to go dance as well. What? No, way...there is no way I should go into this--I have no part in this. Before I could back away Mariam noticed what was going on, and she came over to grab Jay and me and lead us into the dancing circle. Well, okay! If you can't beat them, join them right? Jay and I started dancing and following along, trying to not look too silly as we imitated the amazing dance moves these women were making.

I soon discovered that the "wedding" had already taken place earlier in the day at the home with just a few family members around. I'm really not sure what that entails (as a Muslim wedding, as an Ethiopian wedding) but the wedding ceremony I attended was similar to what I would expect back home. We danced a lot, sat around talking a lot, and ate a lot (dinner didn't start until 11pm though.) The bride and groom sit in huge queen and king-looking chairs that are elevated on a platform facing everyone. The spend most of the ceremony sitting there, watching people. When the food first came out they stepped down from their thrones to exchange some kofta (a minced meat food) in the same way we share wine--Amina fed Madhi and he fed her.

It didn't take long to realize that Khalil, Jay, Shile, and I were the honored guests of the night. Mariam, Faiza, and Gitu made sure we were very comfortable all night, but it was more than that. When we got in line to eat, a number of people tried to let us pass to get in the front of the line. When the bride and groom danced, we were often the first people pulled into it. I later heard that it's good luck for them to have a "white person" at a wedding ceremony--brings them years of happiness and good luck or something. Part of me wasn't at all comfortable with this--there is no reason we should have special treatment and it was really hard to accept, but then again, it was really sweet. Unlike most of my experiences in Egypt, people weren't treating us this way to get something from us, to use us, to expect more from us. In fact, no one really gave much attention to us other than to just make sure we knew we were a PART of what was going on; they were being hospitable in the way they knew was best.

Before I left for the night (around 2am) I was asked to give a speech. A speech! The best man gave the first speech, and then Mariam stepped in and told the announcer that I was next in line (because I needed to get going home). Um...what do I say? I knew some people knew English, but I assumed most did not. Also, who even knows me? How strange! But, okay, if she wanted me to talk, I can talk. I said I was so happy to be a part of a beautiful celebration, I wish the couple the best, and other good-feeling stuff like that. Ironically the husband lives in Minnesota; he works at the U of M as a lab technician and has been in America for about 7 years. I mentioned that I would love to see the couple in the future. Now it's a matter of how soon Amina can move. Amina is a refugee, so there is a process involved. In fact, Mahdi came to Egypt to get married in order to help the process move along more. They hadn't seen each other for 7 years. Although they talk on the phone and know they were/are interested in each other, I think it was a classic example of how family ties help one choose the 'perfect' spouse. In other words, this marriage has been 'in the making' for some time now. And they were lovely!

4 Comments:

  • At 1/10/2008, Blogger Bad Girls Blog said…

    Very cool. I'm half ethiopian and i found this blog searching for ethiopian weddings.

     
  • At 1/20/2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Funny story:) It sounds like a Somalian wedding to me not an Ethiopian... Ethiopians are also bad when it comes to time

     
  • At 8/20/2009, Blogger Mickey said…

    I really enjoyed reading this, I would love to specialize in Ethiopian Weddings

     
  • At 8/22/2010, Blogger GANGSTA BRIDE said…

    sounds amazing. pictures please.

     

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