On Our Way
My ears are still thumping from last night when I had the privilege of attending my first Jordanian and Muslim wedding. After a week of orientation, I was picked up from the Grand Hyatt in Jabal, Amman, and swept to Sweileh, a neighborhood in northwestern Amman. At 4:30, I rode with my host family to their apartment in Sweileh, and at 6:30, we set out for the wedding.
Jordanian and Muslim weddings are a family affair and a tremendous celebration. Because my host Mom’s sister was the bride, my host family played a large part in the wedding. We set out at 6:30pm Jordanian time, so 7pm, and made our way to the bride’s flat to escort her to the wedding place.
Sending off the Bride
Upon entering the flat, a small cup of Turkish coffee was promptly passed into my hand and I received dozens of kisses on the cheek. A typical Jordanian greeting is a kiss on one side of your face, and two kisses on the other, whilst shaking hands. A few moments later, the bride came into the sitting room, dressed head-to-toe in the biggest and sparkliest white ball gown you can imagine. A tiara sat upon her teased updo, and she slowly made her way towards the exit of the apartment. Keep in mind that Jordanian weddings are extremely loud, so much so that the coffee in my cup was shaking as were the floorboards beneath my heels. Family and friends are passing greetings to the bride but could not be heard through the music and zaghārīt.
The Jordanian car procession came next and was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Jordanian driving, especially in Amman, is a new phobia I didn’t know I had, so I knew I was in for a treat when a dozen cars lined up on a crowded one-way street. The bride and groom rode in a white convertible, similar to the white Mercedes pictured above, covered in flowers, while the entire wedding party (in Jordan, this means everyone in attendance) squeezed into their respective cars. People squeeze in where they can, some in trunks and truck beds, others hanging their bodies out of windows and sunroofs, all the while blaring music, dancing, shouting, and lots of honking. Police officers smile and wave as the procession flies by and pedestrians chase after the procession shouting and waving.
Upon arriving at the bride’s mother’s flat, where the wedding will be held, the party starts outside in the street, banging drums and singing congratulations to the bride and the groom. In Jordan, this is known as zafa, as is an important part of the wedding celebration. It takes about 20 minutes of celebration for the bride and groom to make their way inside, the hallways of the apartment building packed full of family and friends in black dresses and exquisite gowns.
Fast forward another hour of getting settled into the building and the men and women divide themselves into separate spaces in the apartment. Muslim weddings are separated by gender so that hijabis can remove their scarves and all women can uncover their shoulders and chests. This wedding was partially divided, and the men and women remained separated for the first 3 hours, with the men joining in the last hour.
The young women, ages 16 – 30, danced and celebrated uncovered in the middle of the room. It was insanely fun to watch women dance freely and enjoy celebrating the bride with one another. There was a variety of Arabian music, and the women all danced with emphasis on their arms and hips. The older women sat on the outskirts of the room, focusing on the young women. One of the women at the wedding told me that the mothers and grandmothers often focus on the young women in hopes of finding someone suitable for their sons or nephews. If a girl is pretty and a good dancer, they will inquire about her and her family, and introduce her to the respective young man. So, not only are weddings a time of fun and dancing but an opportunity for older women to do some old-fashioned matchmaking.
To clarify–arranged marriages are not common in Jordan. Family matriarchs play a large role in helping their sons and daughters find suitable people to be in halal relationships with, but do not force marriage.
We wrapped up the wedding around midnight and grabbed some shawarma on the way home, and I had the best night’s sleep ever.