A Moroccan Wedding

The first thing you need to know is that the night officially began at 8 PM and lasted until 6 AM.  Our group made it from 10 PM to 4 AM which I still think is pretty impressive. 

Weddings are a big deal in the Middle East and North Africa.  I should say, the reception party is a big deal.  A “spend all your money and invite all your friends and give lots of gifts and serve lots of food and dance and sing and dance some more” kind of deal.  From what I understand the actual ceremony takes place with your immediate family before a Muslim judge.  It’s very modest and quiet.  The reception is anything but. 

One of Max’s co-workers got married and so a gaggle of us from the consulate spent the early evening together primping like we were all going to the prom.  At Moroccan weddings women wear something called a “Caftan” – they are extremely ornate.  I wore something a little East-Meets-West since I’m a cheapskate but still want to have a good time.  A good Caftan starts around $160 and goes up from there.  And up.  The bride’s first Caftan (Seven is the tradition) was this beautiful pink satin encrusted with diamonds.  Probably real. 

 Ok, so after we wobble through the hotel lobby on our much too tall special event heels, dates on arm, we are seated in a beautiful reception hall, all white, with purple and pink lights projected across the chandeliered ceiling.  Then we wait, we talk, we nibble on spicy puffed rice, we dance, we nibble, and then we dance more.  The dancing!  I, as you may well know, am no dancer.  It’s been a phobia since I was in Junior High.  I’ve tried to figure it out over the years and I think it has something to do with my inherent lack of dancing related skills (rhythm, agility, funk) and my puritan heritage.  Hips are bad, right?  Anyway, one of the lovely things about being overseas is that you are freed from cultural bondage AND any ideas you had about yourself as being something or not being something.  I’m not saying I got out there and cut a rug, but I did, in fact, stand in a circle, bouncing with everyone else and clapping to the beet.  My hips and my shoulders may have actually been moving at the same time.  This is a big step, people.   

There is something really beautiful about Moroccan dancing.  Not the moves or anything, but the spirit of it.  So we are sitting at this wedding, everyone has been waiting for hours already and their faces are growing grimmer by the minute. But when the band strikes up a certain chord one woman starts clapping and then another and then another and their faces are beaming.  As if drawn by a giant magnet they all leave their seats and shake it to the dance floor in front of the band.  The women dance with women and the men dance with men and at some point they mosh together in the middle and they all throw their heads back with joy.  With joy!  No one is trying to seduce anyone or prove to their friends they are better than each other, they just want to move to the beat to celebrate this occasion.  One particularly grim looking Berber woman with face tattoos from her bottom lip down past her chin sat in the corner for the first few hours of the night, scowling at something.  But when the drums came out and started into their frenzy of faster and faster drumming she was out of her seat and throwing her hips about like I’d never seen.  Her toothless grin was contagious and she circled the floor grabbing the hands of fellow dancers and lifting them in triumph. 

Moving on.  The bride and groom show up just before midnight and the bride is carried about in a large, wheel-less carriage.  Four dudes hoist her on their shoulders and dance around the room for a bit.  They repeat this hoisting process one more time in the night after she has changed into another dress, but women do the carrying and dancing.  At some point in the night she gets henna-ed and there is more dancing.  (Henna is the semi-permanent tattooing they do on the feet and hands in Morocco.  It’s a typical before or at weddings and other celebrations.)  At one point scads of presents are brought out in a procession and placed before the bride;  gold, jewelry, milk, water, honey, henna. 

THEN at 2:00 am we are served a four course meal.  That’s right, four courses ending in half of a whole roasted lamb.   Fish Pastilla, vegetables, cheeses, crab with avocado, roasted lamb mechui with pineapple and quail eggs followed by  ice cream cake and then fruit and cheese.  I don’t drink, but I certainly had what I’m sure a hangover feels the next day…when I awoke at 3 in the afternoon.  I don’t know if it was all the food, the tremendous noise, or the late hour, but it was certainly all worth it says my day later self who can sit up straight and bare the light of day once more.   


To Be Slightly Sick

Nothing dampens New Year spirits like enroute transatlantic food poisoning, followed by a sinus infection, followed by another, much less glamorous lady infection.  Ahh, 2013.  And the real topping shame (at only 8 days in!) is to stay in bed all day, reading books you wouldn't admit to and wouldn't have read save for your kindle's amazing power of secret keeping and anonymity  

"Oh, what am I reading?  The Economist...I never miss a week!" I say to my husband who most definitely does not believe me, but says "you go" as he puts on his running shoes on and heads out the door with our dog.

I do read the economist.  Sometimes.  But he is the best.  Always.    

But that's not the point.  The point is, I mostly do not regret my sorry sate.  My inner recluse has been dying to get out and having a good excuse to ignore my New Year's goals of social-ness, it was nice to set her free.  I've finished a few books and of those I'd mention, Russell Brand's My Booky Wook is not worth your time but Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked, dissatisfying ending not withstanding, most certainly is.  Nuanced relationships, transcontinental travel, music, regret, the nature of art and its relationship to the critic - all the fun stuff.  Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is a fascinating, if chilling and thoroughly disturbing, examination of marital gender roles disguised as a mystery novel and John Greene's The Fault in Our Stars is driven, as are all of his books, by some terrifically smart,  honest, thought provoking teenage characters trying to push past all the garbage and figure things out...disguised as a sad cancer book.  Anna Karenina taunts me still these long months, but my kindle says I'm at 61% - I can't quit now! 

My mother in law is a great reader and a great woman. She read me a quote a while back from C.S. Lewis (or Lewis Carrol... awe shoot) that said his favorite way to be was just "slightly sick" to stay home all day and read a book.  I think there might also have been mention of looking out over the sea, but that could be me, mixing up my favorite loner's image of a 8th century manuscript illuminator overlooking the North Sea from his dark cell while he pens naughty jokes in the margins of The Lindisfarne Gospels by candlelight that people like me will read in British Library full color copies and know is actually called marginalia....    

Oh my gosh, what am I writing a blog post for?  There is so much more to be read!  Back to the covers :)      



"Sarah, Fuhget About the Babehy"

-Got our second post to Muscat, Oman
-Actually passed a course with Arabic right in the title
-Witnessed my first Eid up close, my first bloody, bloody Eid
-Ate Dodger dogs and drank honest to gosh Egg Nog
-Visited some of our favorite cities
-Learned to take care of a dog all by my onsie
-Visited Seville and Paris (which I didn't even blog about!  See below for implied excuse)
-Finally accomplished our life's Halloween costume dream (thus explaining above)

This year was pretty awesome in bullets, but what really made it for me were the people.  We have made great friends within our consulate community, both of my parents were able to visit, we spent Christmas among the snow capped Utah Mountains, Max’s brother lived with us for the whole summer and we had a few travelers stay with us along their journey.  Most recently we hosted an amazing family who took a year off from their regularly scheduled lives in America to travel the world with their three boys.  Their journey has been guided by a verse in  Proverbs which, in The Message translation of the Bible, reads “God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world.” (Psalms 8) with hearing the echoes of God in all the places and people as their aim.  

I am sometimes overcome by what I now recognize as “The echoes of God” around us.  I have loved living in Morocco and learning about its history and its people, the natural beauty and the political and social forces that have produced its modern state.   Over the years I have loved living in Muslim countries (and a Jewish country) and watching how people understand God and try to reach for him.  But more than landscapes and orthodoxies; this year, for me, was about the joy of connecting with the people around us.  Our family, our friends, our co-workers and even our door man with no front teeth.  I feel sad to leave Morocco in a few months, but I am also energized by the idea of meeting new people, seeing the spark of God in more neighbors and inviting our family into another home across the sea.   

I’m kind of a recluse by nature.  I’m terribly anxious about social events and I frequently baulk at dinner invitations. But when I push past whatever makes me afraid, I actually enjoy it.  This year I’ve realized I’m also a people person by nature.  How you can be both, I’m not sure and I shudder at the cliched term "people person" but it's true.  My Mom made a comment after she left Morocco that she was surprised how involved I seemed to be with the people at the consulate and how I knew everyone and they knew me.  First, it's a small consulate.  But second, look at me being social! She's right. I have found so much joy in making these relationships over the past two years.  Certainly more than climbing over Moroccan mountains in our corolla or slurping salmorejo in Seville for the first time (but you should know it's a pretty amazing summer soup).  

Sometime during this year I realized that all of the second hand sympathy and understanding gained from reading or traveling or learning doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get out there and share some of it, learn empathy first hand, grow some real relationships and try to be good to those around us.  

2013 is already stressing me out.  I'm staring down the barrel of a baby bear sized move from Utah to DC, a mama bear sized  move from Casa to Utah and a Papa sized move from DC to Oman and my first inclination is to dub this the year of the hermit.  Hide away, organizing my things in preparation for our next big thing, our next country, but what a shame that would be I'm now realizing.  No promises, it might still happen, but perhaps I won't embrace it so merrily as I once would have.  And this declaration of a possible new self I write coming down from a major food poisoning event originating from my first meal on a 15 hour transatlantic flight.  Max's optimism must be wearing off on me.  

So, as Max used to say as a child and shall not live to see it forgotten "Happy New You!"