Gilded Serpent presents...

A Month in Cairo- Report #5

Weddings, Visiting Raqia Hassan, Some Thoughts About Egypt’s Future

by Leyla Lanty
posted January 16, 2011

Wedding at a club (NOT a night club):

On the evening following the closing night of the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival, I attended a wedding at an engineer’s club in Nasr City, one of Cairo’s suburbs. There are many such clubs all over greater Cairo, places where members of various organizations can meet or have weddings, anniversary and birthday parties as well as other celebrations. I went as a guest with Ahmed and his son Osama. Once inside, I sat with some women I’d met earlier in my stay here while Ahmed and Osama sat at a table full of men nearby. Many if not most of the tables were mixed with both men and women sitting at them. Later, Ahmed and Osama joined us. One of the ladies took me by the arm to go congratulate the newlyweds at the beginning of the party, after the zeffa. At our table, our conversations “hobbled along” in broken Arabic and English.

As the evening progressed, there were the usual wedding traditions, such the first dance by the newlyweds as husband and wife, dances of the husband with his friends and family, dances of the wife with her friends and family and so on. This was all done to Arabic disco music spun by a D.J.. Later a sha3aby singer and his band arrived. If I thought the D.J.’s music was loud, this singer’s music was LOUDER! We left after the singer had sung for less than half an hour. All we could hear were the 5 large duffs (hand drums) – not the 2 keyboards, not the trombone or other melody instruments. Probably just what the young couple wanted! Kids these days!

Kids dancing at the wedding
In the photos – first dance as a married couple
and two little girls celebrating while a little boy looks on, dreaming of their own weddings?

Street Wedding and Henna Party:

A few days after the club wedding, Karim took me to join his family at a street wedding in central Cairo. His brother, Mohammed, was waiting at the entrance of the side street that had been decorated for the wedding. He took me through the area where the men were seated to the women’s area, the short leg of the L-shaped enclosure, where I sat with his mother and his fiance. Mohammed’s mother and fiance explained to me that this was the henna party and that tomorrow the wedding party (farah) will take place. The more extravagant Arab weddings have three nights of celebrations. On the first night is the family party for close members of both the bride and groom’s families. The much larger henna party for extended family and friends, held on the second night, is when the bride and groom get their palms painted with red henna. Often the bride’s hands are elaborately decorated with intricate henna designs. On the third day, after the marriage papers are signed, the wedding party is held with family and friends as well as many invited guests.

The men sat in the long section of the enclosure which was set up in the street. The wall drapes, hung on a pipe structure, were red and white satiny cloth, made to look like drapes hung at floor to ceiling windows. The women’s section had draped walls of satin-like blue fabric with appliquéd oriental designs of many celestial shapes and colors. The ladies sat at the side of the band, which was set up in the corner of the “L” shaped space, so we couldn’t see the stage well. No problem, they supplied a large flat screen monitor so we could see everything the men could see from their vantage point. Of course, there was NO problem hearing the band! The band included tabla, duffs, sagat, mazhar, keyboard. Walking through the men’s area, the sound was painfully loud. One advantage of sitting with the women on the side was that the speakers were aimed at the men so the sound level was just loud, not LOUD!

Women's section
In the photo – view from the women’s section, band on the platform to the right, flat screen TV monitor on the left.

The men had tables supplied with fruit baskets in the shape of ancient reed boats wrapped in aluminum foil. The women didn’t have tables but were served wrapped fruit trays to be shared by people sitting together, same contents as served to the men. All were served bottled water and sodas.

The music was mainly sha3abi with two “street wedding” dancers on stage throughout. The dancers both wore dark brown costumes,The first dancer wore a bedlah (bra, belt, skirt) with an over-flowing bra and a long skirt with a high slit over her left leg. The second dancer wore a bedlah with a revealing bra and mini skirt with an attached waist band. Each of them wore a shebaka (net or tulle midriff cover). The mini skirted dancer could shimmy well and actually danced to the changes in the music but the other one just flounced around, “phoning it in” – both were what I call “street wedding dancers” who are in it mostly for the money, not necessarily the art. They were obviously there to entertain the men. They rarely looked at the women.

Street Wedding dancers

As usual, there was an emcee calling for money gifts by rapping about the couple and those who already gave money. Many men came to the stage to throw money over the emcee, dancers and singer. As far as I know, all of that was destined for the newlyweds.

Karim’s mom kept telling me to get up and dance for the ladies and I declined for a while, but finally said “O.K.” and danced. Almost all of the ladies smiled and danced in their chairs and seemed to enjoy watching me more than they did the hired dancers on the stage. I did special hip moves and shoulder shimmies with several of them, leaning back and forth with them, even though they remained seated, dancing in their chairs. It was hard to dance on the lumpy compressed dirt surface, but after a couple of minutes I got my footing and danced to one song. Later, after his mom called him to say “let’s go,” Karim escorted us through the men’s section, out to the street and to the car.

Gunfire in the streets! No, nothing to worry about, read on.

One evening, while I was watching TV at home, there was a lot of “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP-BEEP-BEEP”, celebratory honking and what sounded like a lot of gun shots outside. I did NOT go out on the balcony to check! I called Karim about it and he said “Yes it really was gunshots. Don’t worry, ya Leyla, only a wedding!” Whew!

Get-together at Raqia’s:

Party time at Raqia’s! At the AWS Closing Gala, Raqia invited me to come see her a few days later and of course I accepted her invitation. It was a parade of stars, teachers, students dropping in from all afternoon into early evening. To name a few: Khalid Mahmoud, Nourhan Sharif, Do’aa Sallam, Soraya, Ahmed el Khatib, then Nelly Fu’ad, Mohammed Shaheen, Loli, and Lorena from Spain, who won 2nd place in the AWS competition this year. Also present were: Dana from Chile, Katia Sherbakova, who performs regularly in Cairo, and three of her Russian friends including Darya Mitskevich who won the AWS competition in 2010, Abdo from France, and Tamer Yehya. Later when we were all leaving, Katia hugged me and told her Russian friends “She is really Egyptian lady, the Egyptian sagat lady!”

More about Egypt’s future:

I went to see my close friend Shadia again. It was stimulating to talk about a wide range of topics, Egyptian politics and societal issues included, such as the continuing trend for Muslim women and girls to wear scarves – many, if not most, to make a fashion statement, others because of family, husband, or peer pressure, and some to make a political statement. The factors behind the current scarf-wearing trend are many and varied. She also remarked that many, many facets of society, law, procedures, etc., have to change in Egypt to make the new-found freedom work for everyone. It’s going to be a long haul but I think, along with all my Egyptian friends, that the result will be good for Egypt and Egyptians in the long run.

Next up: Report #6: A family dinner, farewell visits, wrap-up.

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