The daughter of a friend was getting married, and he wanted me to attend. He thought he knew the spelling of my first name (he didn’t) but he had me spell my last name, so that, at least, was correct.
He hand-delivered the elaborate gold-engraved invitation, which was, except for my name, all in Arabic. He read it to me.
‘This side is verse from the Koran. This other side says Rami and Fanar will be married on Friday at 8:30 p.m.,’ and then he told me the name of the hotel.
My last wedding was that of a Citizen who got married in Oman because of the more relaxed gun-control there, and I was Shanghaied rather than invited to that wedding. All the men in the family came armed, some with swords, some with battle-axes, and the rest with firearms ranging from single-shot Martini muskets to Kalashnikovs and RPGs, enough firepower to successfully invade a Balkan state, and all shooting into the air.
However, this latest wedding was to be an ex-pat wedding at a Dubai hotel, so I didn’t expect any firearms, and I was not disappointed.
Promptly at 8:30 p.m., I arrived at the hotel. The Father of the Bride met me at the door and escorted me to the roof, which was the area reserved for all male guests. ‘Sit here,’ he said, and ran back down to stand by the door. I stood and watched the DSF fireworks until the Father’s second son came and said, ‘You must sit down sir, but you can’t sit here. Please sit over there,’ and he pointed toward a table some distance from where I was standing, so I wandered over in the direction he'd pointed, and continued to stand and to watch the fireworks.
Most people arrived around 10:00 p.m. When the roof was full, the Father of the Bride came up to tell us all to go down to the mezzanine. The women, it seems, were all inside the mezzanine ballroom, out of sight. We gathered outside the ballroom, and a 5-piece band in traditional Palestinian outfits came out and began to play and dance. There were bagpipes and several percussion instruments. Then the bride and groom came out following the band and proceeded slowly along a path to the mezzanine ballroom while we all clapped in time to the music. The bride wore a traditional white Western wedding dress, the kind with a veil which is, in the most traditional Western weddings, only lifted after the minister says, ‘You may kiss the bride.’ The groom wore a dark Western suit. The bride’s sister followed the couple, holding the bride’s train.
I'd been told that, as the bride and groom passed me, I should say, 'Allah ya hanikum,' but, under the pressure of the moment, the phrase managed to conceal itself so successfully that my memory could not manage to locate it until it was far too late.
Most of the male guests were in Western attire, except for a few in dishdashes. Some had a dishdash and a Western sport coat. The Father of the Bride wore a dishdash with a jerkin.
When the procession was ended and the bride and her sister had disappeared into the ballroom, the men returned to the roof to eat. It was a little after eleven. The wedding buffet was a typically Dubai mixture of Arabic and Western food.
I did not see another Westerner at the wedding. The handful of guests who spoke English took turns talking to me. As we spoke, I found that most of the guests who spoke to me were from Gaza.
‘Gaza was beautiful, and I miss it so much, but I cannot go back there now.’ I heard that several times.
I showed one of my English-speaking companions my invitation, and asked him to please tell me the chapter and verse (Arabic, sura
) of the bit from the Koran, so I could look it up. ‘That’s not from the Koran,' he said. 'It would be wrong to put a verse from the Koran on a wedding invitation, because some people might throw it away.’
Around 11:45, most of the guests began departing, and I followed one of them. First he went first to the Father of the Bride to say goodbye, but the Father of the Bride grabbed my arm and insisted I stay a bit longer, for coffee.
After a few minutes, the guest I’d been following returned, and said, ‘My wife isn’t ready to leave yet.’
I asked, ‘Before cell phones, how could you communicate with your wife when you wanted to leave a wedding?’ He replied, ‘Before cell phones, Arabs didn’t have weddings.’
A dance started, and my companion said, ‘You must see an authentic Arab dance,’ so we wandered over and watched the dance until his cell phone rang. His wife was ready, so he left, and I returned to say goodbye to the Father of the Bride. As I arrived, the hotel staff began clearing the area, since the booking expired at midnight, and it was about four minutes past.
So, at that point, the remaining wedding guests departed, and I was among them.