Egyptians bring Southern hospitality to a whole new level.
In Egypt, most weddings are extravagant affairs. A guest doesn’t just get a “plus one”. It’s more like, invite everyone you know, and then make sure they do the same. I’m only slightly exaggerating. The cousin of one of our Egyptian friends was married this weekend, and we were invited to attend. Thursday night was the big party — food, Arabian horse dance competitions, revelry until sunrise. I did not attend on Thursday night because we had scheduled Thanksgiving Skype dates with our families, but we did attend on Friday night.
The bride’s family owns horses, and they hosted the wedding celebration on their land. Loud Arabic pop music pulsed from multiple speakers on either side of the entrance to the large corral, and colorful strands of lights were hung across the entrance like a twinkling ceiling. Women in silky and sparkling veils sat in chairs in the center of the corral, while the men were on the other side of railings, smoking shisha and likely discussing Egyptian politics. Preteen boys clung to the railings, not quite with the men, yet too old to still be with the women and children.
We walked in and were immediately embraced by our friend’s family. Hugs, kisses and warm greetings bombarded us from all directions. A few of the women took us under their wings, leading us around all night and keeping an eye on us. They brought us to the dance floor, which was in the center of a sea of chairs, and immediately we were encouraged to dance by the women and young ladies who were acting as our escorts. We soon had a crowd surrounding us, some joining our dancing circle, many recording us on their phones, a few simply watching. The women and girls dancing with us led by example; they danced Egyptian-style, we mimicked as closely as we could.
When the bride and groom arrived, they walked through the center of the chairs to a fabric-covered stage, and they sat on a decorated bench that resembled a daybed. We were pushed up the wooden stairs to greet the newlyweds — before anyone else did. We all said “Mabrouk” to the couple (whom we met for the first time as we congratulated them), shook hands and posed for pictures. I never did learn the groom’s name.
Even though we consistently told the women “Mish Arabi” (no Arabic), they continued to speak to us in Arabic, look at us like we understood and then use gestures to convey the rest of the message. We were pulled and pushed all around the grounds, sometimes told to sit, sometimes pulled up to dance. I was worried that the newlyweds would resent the fact that the four obnoxious Americans were receiving so much attention, but it didn’t appear to matter to them. The bride even came to dance with us a a few times. Everyone kept asking my name, and no one could understand me. The kids had the hardest time saying Katie, but it didn’t matter. We could communicate through belly dancing-esque hips, waving hands, and intense arm motions. And of course smiles.
Near the end of the evening, the bride was back on her bench on the makeshift-stage. Nicole was dragged onto the stage next to her, and then encouraged to dance with all of the guests watching and cheering. Soon Rebecca and I found ourselves right next to her. We ended up with the prime location to watch the bride’s parents perform a dance with their horse. When it was time to go, we again experienced the extreme hospitality of the Egyptian people: hugs, kisses, thanks, even requests for our phone numbers. The kindness of Egyptians was on full display once again. So were their extreme dance skills. Tony, the friend who invited us to the wedding, told us on the drive home that everyone was impressed by our willingness to try Egyptian dance moves, since the other foreigners he’s brought to weddings have never tried, much less succeeded, like we did. And I use “succeeded” lightly — these people can move.
Another first yesterday: we ate our Thanksgiving meal with a different “family” around the table. We had nearly all the trappings of a traditional Thanksgiving feast: turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, some of the best sweet potatoes I have ever tasted, vegetables, pie. We had balls of stuffing and creamed cranberries, and I missed the egg nog, but everything else fit my expectation for “Thanksgiving Dinner.”
Each year, the season brings with it a sense of awareness of my blessings. My cup runneth over in myriad ways. Especially this Thanksgiving, I am appreciative of the opportunity to pursue my dream, the relationships that sustain me, the roots and wings my parents nurtured, and the chance to grow and change and learn.