For many expats in Qatar, the Qataris are a mystery. They tend to stay to themselves, identities covered and hidden and with that comes perceptions of who they are and what they are like. Most relationships with them are business, so of course I said “YES” when I was invited to a Henna Party/wedding event by a Qatari business associate. I was super excited to receive my invitation to get a glimpse into their world. One of the reasons I left the U.S. was to engross myself in other cultures and this presented a great opportunity.
The person that invited me also invited me to her parents house to pick out a Jalabiya, after I asked for suggestions about where to purchase one. A Jalabiya is an Arab garment, sometimes worn under an abaya and the fancy ones are worn to celebratory occasions like a wedding. Her mother was very welcoming and brought out many Jalabiyas for me and my friend to try on and choose from. She even gave us jewelry to wear with the outfits. Before we left the house, we enjoyed sweets, tea and coffee. They were very hospitable to us.
There were a few things I understood about a Qatari wedding prior to attending. It is different than a traditional American wedding as the bride and groom have two separate events. The groom usually celebrates in a tent in the sand (traditional) and the women celebrate in a hall. Also guest do not bring gifts to the wedding. It is similar to an American wedding as there is lots of music and food.
This wedding was at the Ritz Carlton and our phones (cameras) were confiscated before we went in. Taking pictures is not allowed at these ceremonies and we planned to respect the culture to the fullest as guest. Of course, there were several people who chose to ignore this rule. The ceremonies were to start at 7:30, Britney and I arrived around 8:00. Most people did not start showing up until around 8:30. We chose a table not in the front but not in the back either. Seats were not assigned. At every seating there was a gift of oud and a Arabian Mubakhar to burn it on. Oud comes from the wood of the tropical agar tree and the wood chips are burned as an incense. Oud can also be used as an oil and a perfume.
The women were dressed to the nines. Most women attendees wore some form of Arabic traditional garments, some Indian, some Moroccan, all beautiful. (I really wished I had purchased that Indian Saree from Sri Lanka. I would have fitted right in) The rainbow was definitely represented this night, because there were many colors worn. Makeup was flawless and Britney and I felt a little out of place because we didn’t have a professional makeup artist beat our faces before coming. For once there were no shaylas and I was able to see the faces that are usually covered and hidden. I was able to watch them let their hair down. On this night, they were just women having a good time and it was a reminder that we are all human regardless of race, religion, culture or socio-economical status.
There was a live female singer, whose voice sang Arabic songs the whole night. Arabic music never sounded so good to me. The music was loud but I enjoyed it. Women took the stage in the middle of the hall and danced to the music, while others went up to them and threw money at them and over them. They was making it rain up in there. The money was collected and I was told the money goes to charity. I’ve never seen that at an American wedding. Since I’m never getting married again, because that would mean a divorce from Darryl, then the next wedding I help plan will include this Arabic tradition. They dance different than Americans. It was just like subtle limb swinging and hips swaying, very sexy. I also heard that it is at these weddings that mothers and grandmothers look for potential wives for their single sons. I would assume that several of the women that chose to dance are looking to be seen as well. There was no tossing of a bouquet, there was this instead.
Food kept appearing at our table, most of it Britney (vegetarian) and I (vegan) could not enjoy but we did have some tabouleh, hummus, olives, vegetable rice and some sweets. Gifts also kept arriving at our tables. Makeup mirrors and chapstick rolled in tulle, mascara and nail polish on a silver tray. We went empty handed but left with a bag of feminine goodies.
When the bride arrived, she didn’t wear a white gown, she wore an Arabic garment and a long veil. She was beautiful. She walked to the stage, then back to front and stood for a long time as the photographer and videographer took many shots. I don’t know if I could have stood still for that long time in those heals. Family members eventually made their way to the stage to congratulate her.
Britney and I left around 11:30 and the party was still going strong. I don’t know if the groom arrived to the ceremonies later as we had left but I had read online that this is what happens. The groom and his party arrive towards the end of the wedding, women cover back up as the men arrive and then the men leave again and the groom retrieves his wife.
Britney and I didn’t talk to anyone besides the family that we knew, probably because we don’t understand the language and probably because we are outsiders but we never felt uncomfortable. We thought we were going to get henna tattoos because it was a henna party but I guess it wasn’t that type of henna party. Nevertheless we really enjoyed this experience and can’t wait to get another invite.
Update: I got invited to another wedding, but this one is an Indian Arabic wedding and from what I’ve been told they sure know how to turn it up and at this henna party, you get your tatts.
Until next time…