09 April 2007

happy (belated) easter.

The holiday here in the HKJ passed uneventfully, as it typically does for heathens like me in America. Cadbury eggs are 1 JD (~$1.40) and there are no Peeps at any price, so I didn't even get to celebrate the one part of the holiday in which I actually believe. Probably better for the 'ole waistline in the end.

We spent the holiday weekend in Aqaba, Jordan's only port town. We stayed at a Bedouin campsite, got attacked by mosquitoes, went snorkeling, fended off the shababs overwhelmed by the sight of bikini-clad women, and generally had a great time.

Zahara, my Iraqi neighbor, had her engagement party last week - it was quite a cultural experience (see pictures). The family certainly has money, if what we saw was just a precursor to the wedding. The engagement party is a rather formal affair - it was held in a hotel ballroom with a catered meal, a dance floor, and an array of haram dresses. We stressed about what to wear for over an hour so we could be appropriately covered. Turns out, we were being silly. The party was women only, save the finance (Omar) and brother-in-law, so Zahara, along with several other women, were not wearing hijab with their short, strapless, or halter dresses. This is technically pretty normal in a testosterone-free environment, but although no other men were invited to the party, the waiters and videographers were all non-familial men. One more example of the non-universiality of Jordanian social rules.

Dress code and sexual apartheid aside, the entire party was one long moment of cross-cultural awkwardness. As expected, we were the only Americans. Probably the only non-Iraqi or Jordanians too, if I were to wager money on it. We got there at seven with the intention of leaving after dinner so we could make it home at a reasonable hour. We did leave after dinner, but that ended up being almost midnight. Things got started late, then a flower girl came and scattered petals for the happy couple's path into the room. Next, two different couples danced before the group dancing began. And continued. Arab women dance indefinitely and monotonously - they stopped briefly for Omar to give Zahara a necklace and earrings (no ring until the wedding) and have a couple's dance to "Unbreak my Heart" (which wouldn't have been my first choice), but then picked up again and didn't quit until the cake. A five tier wedding-style cake (pretty, but sadly not very tasty) was brought out by the wait staff, then cut (pansy-like) with a sword by the fiance.

One last tidbit about weddings before I bore you to tears - the traditional gift for the bride's engagement party is jewelry, particularly gold. Sounds lovely, but it's actually so the bride has some wealth of her own in case things don't work out. I suppose it's a nice gesture.

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