Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wedding hair is the concert t-shirt of Saudi Arabia

Remember when you were in middle school and you went to your first concert? It was pretty epic, right? In order to commemorate the amazing experience, you probably bought a ridiculously-marked-up-in-price concert t-shirt. And if you were anything like me and my middle school classmates, you made sure you wore that t-shirt to school the next day in hopes that someone would stop you in the hall.

"N*SYNC?! No way! Did you go to that concert?! I'm soo jealous! I wish I were as lucky as you!" you hoped they would say. And for just a moment, you would get to be the rock star.

Maybe the whole wear-the-concert-t-shirt-to-school-the-next-day tradition is a Nashville thing, but it was adhered to pretty religiously up until Senior year when you got to be too cool for all those baby things like being excited about concerts.

Fast forward to today. I realized this morning that 90% of my students won't know the magic of a first concert, not like I got to experience. Music is practically illegal here (it's heavily frowned upon), and there is certainly very little opportunity to gather in public places and enjoy yourself openly like you get to do at a loud sweaty concert.

But my girls do have an equivalent to the rock star feeling of the concert t-shirt: the wedding hair.

At this point in their lives, pretty much the most exciting thing my girls get to do is go to a family wedding. Sometimes they even get to participate in the weddings! Being that marriage covers your religious duties, according to Islam, weddings are a pretty big deal here. Lemme break the process down for you.

They start at least 6 months before what most Americans would consider to be the "wedding day." At a ceremony called a "milka" (I'm sure I'm spelling it wrong, but I'm transliterating here. Pronounce it the way it looks, but understand it has nothing to do with milk.), the bride and groom go before a cleric and a legal body and publicly profess their intentions to be married. For all intents and purposes, they are legally and religiously married at this time. But they do not go home with each other, and in many families, they still haven't physically seen each other (the bride is in the room, but some choose to wear the niqab).

What most of us would consider to be the engagement is actually the beginning of a typical marriage here. The couple continues to live with their respective families, but they are able to go one what we would consider to be dates: dinner, coffee, outings that are in public. This allows the couple to get to know each other before they shack up.

There are roughly 6 months to put together one of the largest events any of us in the States could ever imagine. Basically, everything has to be done times two for weddings here. Male and female guests cannot mix, but they all expect an equally grand party, although from what I've been told, the women's side of the celebration is a lot more boisterous and long-winded.

I haven't yet had the pleasure of getting to attend a Saudi wedding, and considering that none of my Saudi friends are engaged, I doubt I'll get to see one before I leave. However, I have been told that it is quite a to-do. There's dancing on the women's side, and even a quick visit from the groom so everyone can get to see the married couple together for the first time. The women are dressed to the nines, the brides is glamorous, and everyone puts their best face forward for the event. It's not just a pull-your-hair-back-and-do-your-own-make-up kind of affair.

Thus, the wedding hair. This morning one of my girls showed up with her normally straight, pulled-back hair falling in voluminous loose curls around her face. She looked great. A little over done for what is the equivalent to a Monday morning, but lovely none the less.

Every now and then one of my girls will show up like this with hair that is a little too styled for a typical school day. She is immediately showered with mashallahs and oohs and ahhs. She blushes, strokes her hair like she forgot it was done up, and smiles. "My cousin got married," she'll sometimes say. And for a moment, she's the rock star, admired by everyone.

Vicariously yours,

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