The first part of the Saudi wedding experience post left us foreigners still sitting at the table in amazement of the goings on. Read that post here.
The main event of the Saudi weddings is of course the arrival of the bride. Like I mentioned before the bride actually stays hidden from the guests for most of the wedding party. In a way I feel this is a shame since the wedding hall has been so beautifully decorated and so much time and money spent on it and the bride doesn’t get to fully enjoy it. All her relatives and friends are there too, so the arrangement of the bride only showing up for a good half hour during the entire evening, feels strange and like a sort of a waste for her to stay away from it all so long!
It’s hard to understand why the brides don’t fully participate in their own weddings! Sure she is the star of the show for the time she steps out of her closed room upstairs and slowly makes her grand entrance down the stairs and aisle to the stage for everyone to see. The bride then sits on the throne, sofa or chair whichever she has chosen, and watches women dance for her and come up to greet her. Usually this is the time in most Saudi weddings when the groom and some relatives such as the father of the bride and her brothers will make a short appearance on the women’s side which leads to frantic covering up of the unrelated women.
This wedding was different though. Not even the groom showed up which was really uncommon, I was told. When the bride was ready to come down the lights were dimmed and the music changed into a sort wedding march performed by the same music group. When she showed up in all her glory on top of the stairs the whole room seemed to gasp in amazement of her beauty.
She was indeed stunning. Thank God there was no “clown make-up” and she had kept it low key by Saudi terms. Her waist-long hair had been tied up into a huge bun that reminded me of the 60’s hairstyles and it was decorated with flowers and pearls. On top she wore an exquisitely embroidered long sheer veil secured onto her hair with a small tiara. Her ivory white dress had a simple A-line cute to it, with an embroidered form fitting top and a cute ribbon belt to accentuate her tiny waist. The dress had a beautifully detailed and long trailing hem on it. She was holding a small bouquet of flowers in one hand. She was the perfect bride.
The bright spotlight followed her steps slowly as she made her way down the red carpeted stairs. The bride was very nervous and had trouble smiling for the female photographer, but who wouldn’t be in that situation! Coming down the staircase seemed to take forever. I thought it must have felt like eons for her. Her dress had such a long and heavily embroidered hem it was difficult for her to take steps down. For each step she took down she had to grab the hem with both hands, kick it out of the way, then settle the dress again for the minute long pause she took at each step. I held my breath at every step and hoped and prayed she wouldn’t trip on the hem.
The bride eventually reached the stage and stood in the spotlight facing the crowd. As she stood there, now smiling and seemingly more relaxed, there was an announcement in Arabic and the crowd burst into applause and some women were loudly ululating. The announcements kept coming and the ululating got louder.
Finally she took a seat and her close family all gathered around her. Some were dancing, some were hugging her, some sat next to her. At this point I was clueless (again) what I should do. I was part of the closer family and unsure if I should go on the stage or not. I watched people slowly go up to her and congratulate her. I wanted to go, but then again I really didn’t! I felt really shy and didn’t want the attention.
At this point the first REAL drinks were served, the waitresses came around with trays of fruit juices. In very tiny glasses for my disappointment though. As I was dying of thirst at this point, having only had Arabic gahwa until then, I drank the juice in one gulp and snatched another one before the waitress left our table. I must have been her favorite person of the evening, always bugging her for something to drink! The waitress gave me a long look. I’m thirsty, woman! For God’s sake I could drink them all at once! Don’t look at me like I’m some sort of freak.
So after this refreshment I had decided to make my way to the stage. I grabbed my friend along for emotional back up. I was so nervous and I didn’t know what to do. My master plan was to quickly go congratulate her then quietly step off the stage and leave. It didn’t exactly work out as planned though.
After I had greeted her and some other relatives, I was pointed to stand on the side of the stage where women were cheering on the dancers in the middle, so I joined in. Suddenly one of the women approached me and grabbed me by the hand. I panicked. OMG! Now way I am going to dance in front of 300 women! I wanted to run or to shrink into a tiny little midget so nobody could see my so called dance moves. I know now how deer feel when they see the spotlight from the approaching car and freeze without being able to move, waiting for the smash.
I was at the center of the stage and could feel those curious eyes becoming even more curious now that the Amriki lady had been dragged into the spotlight for a great chance to LMFAO. I surely delivered. I had done this dance before and I do love Arabic dance, and music, even managed to pull it off somehow in familiar company. In this situation though, in fornt of so many strangers I could not have been able to perform a simple freakin ballet plie. I was as stiff as a rake.
The beautiful woman who dragged me was smiling and encouraging me and she was an excellent dancer, probably the best of them. Which of course made me look even more idiotic up there. I felt like a pecking chicken among beautiful gliding swans. I held my dress with my other hand, tried to smile and look like I was having the time of my life (which in a way I was) and clucked around for the song that seemed to go on for eternity. Were the African women making it go on this long on purpose?
When it finally finished I was taken back to the side of stage next to other women. I clapped along to the songs and prayed no one else would come and ask for this dance, waiting for a chance to escape. Suddenly a young woman started dancing very provocatively facing me. She had one of those make-up masquerades going on on her face and her hair was so stiff from the hairspray it was the only thing not moving on her body.
The vamp was closing in, looking at me like I was the steak on her plate! Yikes! Someone HELP! I had no idea what was going on. I looked to my sides. Everyone acted normal. Is this normal? This woman had possibly been watching to much MTV music videos and thought she was Shakira. Her moves were straight from a provocative dance video. The Arab Shakira was nearly in my face before she abruptly made a 180 degree turn and continued her sexy dance. Phew. Now that was AWKWARD.
The awkward moment when you’re being vamped by a Saudi Shakira dressed in an evening gown in front of all her relatives.
After that I was wishing I could grow wings and fly off the stage. No Red Bull so that didn’t work out. Next one of the fully veiled women came up to the stage and I curiously watched her warmly greeting the bride. I wonder did they even know who she was? As this lady left she turned to me and I had another skipped heart beat-moment. Luckily she just laughed and showed me the thumbs up. That made me feel really good. I also took it as a sign of approval of my chicken dance.
I really hope the animals underneath the table were not the ones in the stews above.
So many delicious dishes to choose from! Some of them I was familiar with, some were new acquaintances. The real enigma was the huge chunk of meat in the middle of the buffet served on a large silver plate and embedded in rice. My friend and I were wondering out loud was it camel meat? The chunk was so large and sort of resembled a camel’s hump. It must be camel right?
We asked a little girl what meat it was and she looked at us as if we had just asked her ‘what is a pizza’? We didn’t get an answer but we did get very long looks and whispers. The meat was surely popular among the guests. Many women were literally digging into it with their bare hands tearing big pieces off. That kind of put me off tasting it so it remained a mystery until I had the chance to ask my husband.
So what was it? Ladies and gentlemen (drum roll..) This is “leeya” aka a lamb’s BUTT. And apparently it’s a delicacy and yes the white stuff is blubber. The best part, I was told. So I will just leave it to that because I know many people really like this :)
After dinner it seemed most of the guests were leaving. There was a large freshening up room with mirrors where some women were re-applying lipstick after dinner. And as if anyone at this wedding needed MORE perfume, there was even a stand with a variety of perfumes to spray on yourself next to small mints and chocolates. About a fourth of the women had returned to the main hall where the music continued and some young women were dancing.
I couldn’t help noticing a gorgeous and statuesque young lady dancing among them. She could have been at the Oscars red carpet and stunned everyone. She wore a golden sleek one shoulder (the only bare shoulder of the night!) gown with minimal jewelry and must have been 6ft tall with a body to die for. Her hair was cut into a shoulder length trendy look and her make-up was perfect. She looked like a combination of Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz. I thought to myself had this woman been born to a different culture, by now her other-worldly beauty would likely be known worldwide. In Saudi she lived a very sheltered life, most likely only a handful of men ever witnessing her beauty. Two so different worlds!
Back at the abaya cloak room where women were covering up all the glitz and glamour under layers of black veils and abayas. You would never know what what was underneath!
We left the wedding exhausted but happy from the amazing experience. I think I pulled it off OK. At least I managed to keep “calm and collected” on the outside! Inside I was a nervous wreck most of the time. I’m hoping the next wedding I go to will be less of an ordeal!
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Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 75 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram: instagram.com/blueabaya