by Stephanie Altwassi
It’s hard to believe that 10 years has passed since our Jordanian wedding and 11 years since we first met.
Before getting married, my parents gave us their blessing in writing – here is part of it:
We desire that you live as people who see past your individual cultures and hold on to what is good, but leaving behind that which hinders your journey
Our journey has been made so much stronger by bringing the good from both of our upbringings and joining them together, it has helped us build each other up and lay the foundations for our two beautiful children.
Anas and I met in the summer of 2005, I was 17, he 21 and whilst I will leave the tale of our first meeting for another blog, I am still amazed (and thankful) that a 15 minute horse ride changed my path in a way I could never of imagined. The next year seemed to fly by, I visited Jordan a few times and Anas came to the UK whilst I finished my exams, packed up my belongings and said goodbye. Perhaps a little ironically I moved to Jordan on American Independence Day, the 4th July 2006
Our Jordanian Wedding: The Judge …
In Jordan, when a couple gets engaged they head to the local courthouse to complete their marriage contract, meaning they are legally married before their wedding party. This, for me, was a bizarre experience – I had been to a few registry office ceremonies in the UK, so expected a similar sort of procedure. On our ‘legal’ wedding day, we headed to the centre of Wadi Musa where the courthouse is located. Upon arrival, we were directed to the judges’ office with our two witnesses – Waleed, Anas’s brother and his friend, who, at the time was a complete stranger to me.
I can still see the judge now; tall, with glasses, dressed in a long black Middle Eastern style suit and wearing what I guessed was a red scull cap on his head. He sat stern and serious (or was perhaps a little grumpy) behind his large black desk. As soon as we sat down he began firing questions at us, some in English, some Arabic, which were then translated. “Why did we wish to get married?” “How was I going to cope with living in a different culture with a different religion?” “Were we sure we wanted to go ahead with it?”. I don’t think either of us were prepared to have our relationship tested by a complete stranger (although a few years later we found ourselves in a similar situation when we applied for Anas’s visa to enter the UK!). As you probably guessed we passed (phew!) his interrogation and with our marriage contract in hand we happily headed home to my in-laws
The Rush to get our Jordanian Wedding organised!
We spent the next month or so getting our flat painted, shopping for furniture and planning our wedding. Neither one of us wanted a big party, we went from planning a small outdoor party close to Little Petra to almost cancelling when one of my brother-in-laws, Mahmoud, fell ill a week or so before. When Mahmoud found out we were cancelling the wedding celebrations he insisted we change our mind, so with just a few days to go, it was all systems go and Anas’s wonderful family came together to arrange everything. More importantly Mahmoud was out of hospital, feeling a lot better and ready for the party and ceremony.
My family arrived as the last minute rush was happening to get the party together. Traditionally in a Jordanian wedding a series of events start around three days before the main day, with various parties being held in both the bride and grooms family homes. These parties fill the valley with singing, dancing, fireworks, Jordanian Flags, loud speakers, DJ’s, lasers, lights and gunfire (yes – AK47s fired into the sky are very normal at a Jordanian wedding).
For us though, we had one party the night before the ceremony. That afternoon I was whisked away to Anas’s cousin’s salon, for hair, make up and a wardrobe change while Anas raced to Ma’an (a near by town) to look for a wedding suit.
Whilst we were getting ourselves ready for the party, the family had set up an outdoor space for the guys, ready with lights, chairs and a space for them to dance ‘dabka’ (traditional Arabic Dancing) late into the night. We decided to have a very traditional event and not to have a DJ or recorded music. We kept the party simple and traditional, singing, dancing, drums and the Arabic flute (plus the guest appearance of a pistol being shot in the air signifying great joy and most importantly approval of our marriage!).
Meanwhile indoors, I enjoyed having henna applied and spending time with the wonderful ladies, who were now my family. Once the crowd started to depart Anas and his brothers headed in doors to join us and continue the party
Grab a dress and onto the salon …
When my mum arrived she was worried she would miss the chance to go dress shopping with me, but with everything being delayed we were able choose my dress together. On the morning of the wedding, (yes, the morning!) one of Anas’s aunts took us up to a cousin’s house who rents dresses and gowns. (I have since become used to life coming together last minute!) Thankfully, after emptying her wardrobe bursting with gowns we found one that fit and whilst it may not have been the dress I would have picked given more choice, it was my dress for the day and it was perfect.
It was now time to rush back to the salon, only this time we weren’t alone. There must have been four other brides already there with preparations underway. Being last to arrive, and due to Anas’ cousin wanting to be at our wedding, I was last in line. This actually worked out really well, I was able to sit back, relax and watch these women be completely transformed, as make up, hair, dress and jewellery were applied, their nerves began to subside and out the door they went to begin the next chapter of their lives. For most of it, I was completely oblivious to what was happening with Anas. It was when a huge plate of Mansaf (Jordan’s national dish) was delivered at lunch time that I was reminded of all the work that was being put into our wedding. It was a reminder that while I was relaxing at the beauty shop, Anas and his family were busy sacrificing goats and cooking to serve the hundreds of guests arriving to celebrate with us. For the most, Jordanian wedding’s are simple but big! After all, just Anas’ immediate family are close to 100.
In keeping with the rest of our wedding, I was running late but for both us the wait was worth it. He picked me up from the salon in a white Mercedes and we made our way to his uncle’s house to begin the wedding celebrations. Traditionally, the bride is picked up from her family’s home, but with our unique circumstance, Uncle Saleh stepped up and offered his home and his protection over me should I ever need help.
Both mine and Anas’s fathers sat outside waiting for our arrival, my father wearing a furwa, a traditional Bedouin coat, that is passed from father to daughter as he gives her away. After draping the coat over my shoulders we headed back to the car to begin the mad car procession around town….
The car procession for a Jordanian wedding is like nothing I had ever experienced. It is the sort of event that would be stopped by police in many other countries across the globe, it also continues to be one of my favourite parts of the celebrations here. All of those attending the wedding pack themselves into every available car, some sitting in the beds of pick up trucks, others standing in the sun roofs, some hanging out windows while music is blasted out of speakers. People sing, dance, clap, honk their horns and shoot into the air as the cars make their way slowly across town. My dad still laughs that when passing a police check point, despite being convinced we would be stopped, they smiled, waved and we carried on.
For us, our next destination was the family diwaan (large hall used for gatherings), here we passed through the gathering of dancing men outside and headed indoors to dance and be congratulated by the women’s party. At Jordanian weddings, people don’t give presents, instead they give the bride and groom money to support them in their new life together. Towards the end the men lined up and entered the hall to wish us well and give us our wedding gifts.
It may have been last minute and nothing like I imagined, but apart from having someone teach me a few Arab dance steps before, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was the perfect day and the perfect start to what continues to be an incredible adventure!