Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wedding, Rai Style

To have been married two years already and to have a wedding party already makes the celebration somewhat of a farce, but that was just the beginning. When my son was not yet a year and it was April or it is June, whatever it is not yet summer and we were in Sig, Algeria at my husband's childhood home. A lamb was purchased and slaughtered, the band from the Sahara was hired, and the invitations went out - which is to say that the kids ran around the neighborhood inviting people and some phone calls were placed to family who lived out of town. And, AND a girl was hired to dress me, pile on the make-up and in general, prepare me for the photographer who was hired.

A thing like a wedding party is dizzying anywhere, but in Algeria, where no one tries to prepare me in the slightest for the coming events, no matter what they are, it is dizzying.

(A trip to the hammam, for example, no one told me I should keep my underwear ON while pouring water all over myself and scrubbing off layers and layers of dead, black skin. No one told me that on the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him) children spend the day shooting off bottle rockets and into the night sweet cookies powered with almonds and hot mint tea in which the gunpowder green unfurls (stars).

She came late in the afternoon with her roller suitcase of cheap, red plastic and I was ushered into the bedroom we had taken over for ourselves (ourselves being, my husband and I and our baby). Where and how she had found this red sari, Hindi costume jewelry, including a fake nose ring in Algeria where not even children's glue is readily available is beyond me. In all, she had maybe five changes of clothing for me. She had pancake pale make-up for me, along with bright red gooey lipstick, thick mascara, black, and eyebrow pencil.

We are on the third floor of the house, in which my brothers-in-law live, one with a wife and their six kids, the other unmarried and seemingly along for the ride. More on them later.

Downstairs on the first floor is where the kitchen is and women have been slogging through onion tops and discarded fat from the lamb and filling huge platters with first the steamed couscous (spread around, smoothed out with a hand that arcs around the plate as if to scatter). Over the couscous the pieces of lamb, the prunes, the rough cut carrots which have all boiled for hours in a thin, saffron broth flavored with ras- el-hanout (market mix of spices) and cilantro and burning black pepper. The arrangement of the meat and vegetables and sweet soft prunes is an art but done quickly because before the women will eat on the 3rd floor ten platters go to the men on the 2nd floor. All the while, there is music, enormous drumming and clattering tambourines that go way, way beyond the gentle Kumbaiya of my hippie childhood. There is a certain rhythm that is played for all weddings in this region of Algeria. It lifts you up and makes it impossible not to join in, not to get swept up in this thrilling moment of union.
So, this music has started outside the house and has moved quickly past the women in the kitchen, who are not wearing their hair scarves, but ignore the men from the Sahara as they move towards the 2nd floor and don't rush to cover their hair because, somehow, these men don't count in the way a male guest does. Drumming blistering up, loud, oh, LOUD, around and up the staircase to the 2nd floor, where the men are beginning to reach for their spoons and jockeying for the best cuts of meat (always the ribs are a favorite, tender the meat pulls away from the slender bone and the salted fat slips past your teeth and down).

I am getting dressed. And my sisters-in-law are tugging off their rings and unclasping their heavy, gold necklaces and placing them over the velvet dress, blue and brocade, garnished in gold thread (not real, of course, because this has come out of the cheap, red suitcase the girl someone has hired has brought for me). And over the dress comes strand upon strand of costume pearls. And then the jewelry that everyone loans me. Every finger is ringed in gold, my neck is circled many times over with gold. And I am crowned and wrapped in a shawl that glitters and photographed with Larbi.

In each picture I freeze, no smiles. How could I? With the din of drums and my baby is screaming and pulling from the arms of his aunt. He is in no picture, I guess because wee are pretending that this marriage has not been consummated yet. No one offers to add him into the frames and I don't ask for him.

I am sure there is more to tell, but I just want to put this into the world, because so often I start to write and then middle-through I stumble and give up and it sits in scrabbly piles of papers or in the chaos of computer files that elbow each other on my desktop.

1 comment:

Penny said...

I am so happy to apprehend the feelings and smell the smells and taste the foods of this wedding. The photos tell just enough of the story to intrigue. The tale set down here brings me there. Thanks, MC.