Jordanian wedding, part one: the night before

You are told, “the wedding is tomorrow.” That means there is a party tonight, and you should wear your best. Your best is work slacks and a nice tunic, so there you go. Your sisters and mom spend what seems like days trying on different outfits, and then covering their faces in thick, white powder with dark black eye makeup. Little sister gets especially dressed up. She’s almost nine, but she gets white powder plus reddish-brown eyeshadow after her unruly hair is straightened within an inch of its life. Personally, you don’t think ghostly white powder and red shadow make you look pretty; they make you look post-mortem. But if dead is the look she’s going for, hey, who are you to judge?

Suddenly, the girls grab you by the hand and pull you out the door. You run down the street, past an open-sided tent filled with men and boys smoking hookah, until you reach the small, cramped room where two dozen women are dancing debka, the national dance. You’re coordinated, sure, so it’s easy to pick up, but it’s also not a hard dance. It’s a six-step loop. Repeat it over and over, like the electric slide simplified. But everyone is amazed at your ability to master their source of pride so quickly. Whatever. Not hard. Anyway, you’re pulled into the swirling group of women to debka to your heart’s content. But don’t get too into it, like the older women do. You’re young. You haven’t earned the privilege of letting loose. Your host mom is scolding you now. “Stop,” she says, and pulls you to a chair. Then she grabs your hand and pulls you right back in. Suddenly you notice the bride sitting gloomily off to the side. Was she there before? You’re kissing grandma on the cheek now, apparently, and now you’re dancing debka again. When you finish the circle, the bride is gone. Illusion?

Three men enter the room. One you recognize as your cousin, one is pointed out as the groom (later explained to be first cousin to the bride), and one is unknown to you. The few women with uncovered hair toss their shawls on, and the men grab hands to enter the dance. Your host mom is next to you. “Stop,” she says, and pulls you to a chair. Then she grabs your hand and pulls you right back in. Deja vu?

The men leave. You realize your purse has disappeared, find it, and tell your host sister you’re going to go put it in the house. Ten children follow you out the door. “Where? Where? What’s wrong?” “Nothing, purse in house, only that, purse in house, don’t want here.” Oh, ok. More children pour out of the corners and run after you. “Where? Where? What’s wrong?” “Nothing, purse in house, only that, purse in house, don’t want here.” “Huh?” “Fine, fine, no problem, wait wait! I come back, wait!” “Oh.” Your older host sister is running down the street after you as you push open the unlocked window of the living room and toss your purse onto the cushion below. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” “Nothing? Purse, don’t want. Only that. No problem! Ok! Let’s go! Dance debka!” She smiles and grabs your hand, and you race back to finish the dance before the women suddenly scatter and head home.

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One Response

  1. Oh, my darling Claire! This essay is wonderful! I feel like I’m there. I’m so glad you had a chance to dance! I know you love to dance! And the incident of the purse! What a great story. Thank you! I feel happy for you! I love you so much. Mema

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