As I was leaving Habooba's house late that afternoon, there was some discussion about when we should be picked up from the hotel and taken to the wedding venue. Apparently Austin was to be picked up separately from us. It was finally decided that he would be picked up at 7:00, John and I at 8:30. So, Austin went down to the hotel lobby a little before seven. When John and I came down 90 minutes later, he was still there! Assuming there had been a change in plans, we all climbed into the car together when Sabit arrived. "No, not Oh-stin. I think you don't belong in this car." Huh? Sabit pulled out his cell phone and made a call, then said "Oh-stin, you stay, we go. You must wait for special car." My baby looked so sad when we drove away! I think he was half afraid that it was all a trick, and he wasn't invited to the party after all!
Periodically throughout the week, everyone would be chattering away in Sudanese Arabic, when suddenly, a couple of English words would jump out at me. More than once, I thought I heard someone say "spark city", but then I'd think "Nah, couldn't be. That doesn't make any sense." Well, my ears hadn't deceived me. This is Spark City!
It's a humongous venue with two entrances, seating for hundreds, and two separate stages -- one for the band, and one for the bride and groom -- on either side of the dance floor. As soon as we arrived Areej's father approached us and escorted us to a prime table at the edge of the dance floor, where we could see both stages. He soon returned to his duties, greeting guests, but not before several brothers and uncles had come to keep us company. After a while I looked up, and noticed something strange. Every table I could see was filled with men! "Where are all the women?" Hubby grinned and pointed behind me, across the dance floor. DOH! I had totally forgotten how, in Bahrain and Indonesia, the men and women stayed separate at parties. I was afraid I had made a major faux pas, but one uncle said "No, no. It's OK. We mix." I guess it's more habit than rule, but I did feel strange, being the only female on that side of the room!
Finally, at around 9:30, we heard a car honking as it approached the building, and people started saying "They're here!" We glanced out the doorway to see a dark Sedan festooned with flowers and ribbons. Out stepped my beaming son, followed by his beautiful bride, who absolutely sparkled in a silver sari with glittering jewels on forehead, throat and wrists. Even her lips sparkled! Slowly Austin escorted her through the gauntlet of people, across the room and up onto the stage, making sure she didn't tumble off her silver stiletto heels, while everyone pulled out their phones and snapped away.
I guess this was actually more of a marriage celebration than a wedding. I think, as a rule, the official marriage takes place separately, and more privately. In our case, it took place before they ever left The States. Her uncle performed the marriage by proxy, over the phone, and filed all the paperwork for them. They seemed to think that would make their traveling safer and easier, so we were all for it.
The picture taking flurry was followed by a male singer and band, with much dancing and delicious food, of course. I stayed mostly in my seat, with Elsa and a few others coming over to visit. Then, however, my "good, good friend" from earlier that day, came to fetch me. She took me by the elbow and pulled me to the other side of the room, saying "It's OK to sit over there sometime. But sometime you come over here. Now you meet my family!" Next thing I knew I was out on the dance floor, right in the center of things. Every time I tried to drift towards the edge of the circle, and become an observer, one or another of my new friends would herd me back towards the center! I am ever so grateful for their persistence.
I should pause and apologize for the lack of quality photos from this point on. All I can say is, I was fully present in the moment! The professional photographers took scads of photos, however, and I hope to get my hands on a few of those later.
While we were eating, the bride and groom where whisked away. No food for them! Our meal ended with coffee or tea being served in a most unusual way.
Several servers circled the room with these unique metal urns strapped to their backs. In one fluid motion they would grab a cup in one hand, the spigot in the other, bend deeply at the waist to pour the liquid into the cup, then repeat, one after another. It was a dance, in and of itself! They served one other beverage that was a traditional drink made from fruit. I've heard they sometimes add a touch of yeast, and let it ferment just a tiny bit (one small instance where culture and ancient tradition trump law) but not this time!
At this point there was also a change in entertainment. I'm assuming the first band was playing modern, popular tunes, but now we switched to a mature woman who sang the older, traditional songs.
Habooba and some of the other women joined in and sang along. When the bride and groom returned, they had changed into traditional wedding attire. Areej now wore a red tobe (sari) for good luck, adorned with a great deal of gold jewelry, and had a red plaid cloth draped around her (later to be draped around them both, together). Austin wore a white jellabiya with red trim.
They ascended to the stage once more, and a tray containing special red containers to be used in the Jirtik ceremony -- where the bride and groom drink milk and are blessed with perfume and incense -- was set before them. At that point someone grabbed my elbow and actually pushed me up onto the stage with them, so that I could observe more closely, and there were no more photos taken from that point on! Needless to say, there was a great deal of dancing, singing, drumming and clapping after that, with a few of the women and Areej performing a bit of Sobheya, or bridal dancing.
Did I mention that weddings are one occasion where the midnight curfew can be relaxed, and that many of them go on all night long? Fortunately for Hubby and me, this one did not, and we were snug in our bed by 3:00AM.