Perhaps the biggest change we've seen comes in the form of Mona, our favorite student from last year. She was engaged the day after we left the Emirates last year, but we called her at her engagement party and her wedding day to wish her the best. Less than a year later, Mona is 5 months pregnant.
She showed up at the school one afternoon and was shown into the teachers room where she hugged me and kissed my cheeks a dozen times with tears in her eyes. When Mel come into the room, she did it all over again. Our short visit concluded with her insisting we accompany her to a wedding on the weekend. We heartily accepted!
A few nights later, we were crawling through the back streets of Al Ain with an Afghani taxi driver, looking for Mona and her husband's new home. Following her directions by cell phone, her arm flapping out the front door into the alley was our driver's signal we'd driven far enough.
Mona sat us in her living room on big cushions, and served us a bowl of dates and oregano tea. I was surprised to see her hair, the first time I'd ever seen her without her abaya and shayla. She disappeared into the rooms of the house and returned with a silver metal briefcase, secured with a combination lock. She fiddled with the lock and soon presented us with her wedding album. In every photo, she wore a fitted gold dress and no headscarf, hence the need for lock and key.
Over an hour later we were finally ready to leave, but mona had one last job, and called us into the bedroom, where handed us four kinds of perfume to apply. We chose the one we liked best and spritzed a bit on – what a joke! Little did we know that throughout the night we’d be spritzed with perfume at every opportunity! Starting right now! Mona appeared with a smoking oud burner and shoved it under Mel’s dress, then under mine. I could feel the hot perfumed smoke curling around my legs and the wafting up my cleavage. Cough! Cough!
Time to go, but with pregnant Mona, mother and grandmother, one husband and Mel and I - well lets just say it was one tight squeeze into the SUV. Mel squeezed in last and sat on my lap. Mona's mother loved this and kept laughing and reaching around to squeeze Mel’s bum, which of course, made us laugh too.
We arrived at the hall and headed for the ladies section. Kids ran in circles in the lobby while the bride’s mother, dressed in purple, and looking like something out of "Dynasty", welcomed us to her daughter's wedding.
Inside the hall, there was an explosion of blue and white. We found a table and sat down. Homus, babaganoush, fatoush and green salad and a vase of blue and white flowers were already on the table. Music blared over the sound system as more women piled into the room. Between them, Fillipina and Afghani girls dressed completely in white doled out the wedding must haves; cardomon and rosewater coffee, more perfume, chocolates, cookies and more, more, more! food!
Front and center was a large stage with a small catwalk. Besides a blue and white settee, it was empty.
Kebabs arrived; we ate, talked and watched. A group of girls spent a lot of time prancing up and down the centre aisle; their super tight and revealing outfits came in a rainbow of colours. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear they were drag queens, but this was the crop of girls the women would eye, to see if anyone stood out for their marriageable sons.
The girl in dark green quickly became my favorite for the garish sparkles glued to eyelids and stone mask-like expression. Purple girl also grabbed my attention because of the sheer size of her booty she had poured into her skin-tight dress. The dresses were flashy but not quality, in fact, a few of them looked downright cheap, like they might fall apart if you ever tried to wash them.
Soon the mini-drag queens made their way to the dance floor where they barely moved to the music, looking bored and shuffling from side to side.
But the music picked up and a few older ladies joined them, possible their mothers, followed by a group of African Swahili ladies dressed in bright colours. This wedding would be a little different, we knew, as Mona's family is from Oman, Grandma is from deep Africa and there is a Fillipina Auntie.
Despite her swollen ankles, Mona wanted to dance and pushed us to join her, soon we were in the centre of an all girl dance party! The Arabic women busted out their belly dance moves, the Swahilis popped their butts up and down, I yelled at Mel, “It’s starting to resemble a Snoop Dog video in here!” Then all the women started gyrating together and sinking to the ground, lower and lower – till they were on the ground. The bored girls, shuffled an watched their mamas show them how it’s done.
Over the next hour there would be a roasted goat, huge jars of scented sap with long dipsticks we’d apply to our clothes and skin, and more popping and gyrating on the dance floor. Mona’s mother grabbed Mel and I this time and we soon found ourselves in a dance formation called the “round-about”, which was a never ending circular conga line. The woman had choreographed moves for this one – to the left, to the right, gyrate back, gyrate forward, down, down, down….
My delicate knit dress kept getting caught up in everyone’s jazzy jewels.
I should mention all this time there was no bride or groom to be seen. Only a power point presentation in the corner of a few baby pictures of the couple and then a lot of pictures of a not-very-attractive groom sporting a huge uni-brow. There he was holding some sort of trophy, now in the dunes with his friends, there he is sitting in the teacup ride at the fair.
The music stopped. The lights dimmed and the bride appeared at the back of the hall. She had made her entrance by stepping out of an elevator.
Her diamond-studded white dress sparkled in the intense spotlight trained on her, her heavy make up had crossed the line of garish a while back, and her heavy fake lashes and extra hairpieces made her look artificial. Her arms were completely hennaed up to the shoulder in intricate flower designs.
She moved at a snail's pace down the centre aisle of the room. It became clear as I watched her, this is it for her. THIS is what her whole life has been leading up to, this exact moment. Tomorrow she will no longer be a virgin and therefore less valuable than right now.
It could have been the layers of fake eyelashes, but she looked stoned.
Two Fillipina girls filmed her 10-minute solitary walk down the aisle. Mona sat back in her chair and cradled her growing belly with a happy smile on her face, perhaps remembering her own trip down the aisle a five and a half months ago. Yes, Mona got pregnant within 2 weeks of her wedding.
The bride reached the stage and posed for ore pictures as the dancing got started again. We wanted to stay, but simply couldn’t as we had early morning classes and it was already creeping up on midnight.
As we said our goodbyes to Mona’s mom, grandma and the brides mother, we heard an announcement in Arabic over the PA. Apparently, the groom and the bride’s brothers would be arriving soon. There was a flurry of fluttering black as abayas and shaylas were dug out of massive handbags and thrown on over the spangle and sparkle, like dousing a roaring fire.