The Eritrean Wedding


Originally uploaded by The Toze

I had been invited to a wedding of one the Eritreans, I didn’t really know him or his bride, but their community is very inclusive, so I accepted. The wedding was the day after I returned from Iraq and Tash had been invited also.

Senait originally told me that they were going to pick Tash and me up at 8:00 p.m. Tash was over at my house in plenty of time, wearing a very fancy sundress that stopped just above the knee. In honor of the occasion I wore black pants and a long flowing green shirt with lace down the arms, extra long sleeves and a semi-train on the back.

We waited and waited. Then waited some more. “Where are they,” Tash kept asking, one of the things that is difficult to adjust to in my new world is the lackadaisical approach to time. Finally, Senait called around 8:45 and they said they were on their way. So, we waited and waited and Tash paced and paced and kept asking “When will they be here,” I kept answering “When they get here,” they finally showed up around 9:30 p.m. Senait arrived with Sef and Salah in the car, them men were in suits and Senait had on a long white skirt and jacket. I thought she said the wedding started at 9:00 p.m. and I was worried that we were going to miss the ceremony, the bride and bridegroom are Muslim and I’d never been a wedding of two people of the Islam faith so I was curious. I shouldn’t have worried.

Arriving at the wedding the men went upstairs and we were taken downstairs. Prior to entering the room I was asked to relinquish my camera. The room was filled with women dressed in their finery, gowns of rich cloth, shimmering in the light, their arms and necks glittering with gold and jewels; necklaces plunged into ample cleavage and the dresses left nothing to the imagination. The women sat on either side of the room, like in the bleachers on either side of a basketball court and occasionally several of them would take to the dance floor. Eritrean dancing is normally done in a circle, they shuffle around in short steps, shrugging their shoulders, but one woman seemed to dancing in a more Arab style moving her hips and arms very provocatively. Senait and the other Eritrean girls would only do the Eritrean dancing, it was difficult to get Tash on the dance floor at all, and I of course had to try my hand at the Arab dancing.

After about an hour, the bride arrived in a flurry of white, hair uncovered, preceded by a video camera, they placed her on display on a settee on a small stage where we could admire her. The women would go up in groups of two or three and greet her and have short conversations. She had been on display for about an hour when there was mass exodus toward a huge buffet table. Everyone kept urging me to eat and I kept putting it off, thinking I would go after the line died down, but I was urged forward with good reason, the women had fallen on the food like a school of piranhas and when I got there most of the food, of which there had been mounds was mostly gone. As we sat eating what food we had been able to scrounge from the decimated buffet servers passed through with sweetened fruit drinks and tea. The bride did not eat with the rest of us, but remained firmly ensconced in the center, front of the room as if she were sitting for a portrait.

After the food there was more dancing and then the women started putting on their abayas and headscarves. The room, which had previously been decorated by the colorful gowns, became a sea of black. A handful of foreigners and Christians remained the only bright spots in the room. The bride was covered with a long white cape with a hood right before a procession of men carrying swords and dancing around the bridegroom entered. The men paraded around the room dancing in circles around the bridegroom a couple of times before escorting him to the settee to join his bride.

The dancing continued it was more subdued with the men in the room and men and women did not really dance together, but we were on the dance floor together. The older women who had been doing the more Arab dancing with the hip and arm movements started dancing with me. As I tried to imitate her movements it became a bit of a dance contest and soon we were encircled by a crowd urging us on. She in her full abaya and scarf and me in my long black pants and flowing light green shirt. At about midnight we escorted the bride and groom to their decorated car and then caravanned around the city escorting them most of the way to their destination, horns honking constantly, music blaring loudly much to the annoyance of the other drivers on the road.

The Newlyweds

After parting from the wedding vehicle we went to Kentucky Fried Chicken for a late night snack. Both Tash and I were tired and not very hungry; we wanted to take a cab home, but they wouldn’t let us. In the restaurant Seham one of the Muslim girls wanted her picture taken without her abaya. She and Tash snuck around the corner where Seham hid near a giant chicken to have her photo sans abaya taken. The guys kept pretending they could see in the windows and kept trying to come around the corner and Seham was truly afraid of being seen by them. I sounded them up and took them far away from the photo shoot and Tash finally got a photo taken.

As we got in the cars to be driven home, a couple of the guys were going to the beach and invited Tash and I to tag along, but it was around 2:30 in the morning and we were both cashed, so we went home.

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One Response to The Eritrean Wedding

  1. MsB says:

    I would probably have failed being the wedding photographer for a ceremony like this. I wouldn’t know what to do. But, cool experience, nonetheless!

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