Since we've been in Bethlehem, we've been told that we should go to a Muslim wedding if we get the chance. They are some great parties with dancing, TONS of food, and fun traditions. We were invited to one that took place last Thursday and Friday (by the family of the groom who we had met once) and decided not to pass the opportunity up. We made the right decision.
Thursday night we showed up around 9, and the party had been going for a couple hours already. The makeshift stage that was set up in the groom's neighborhood was full of young men dancing to LOUD Arabic music. The groom was up on someones shoulders, and all the other dancers had formed a circle around him. Then we showed up.
Immediately, Sarah was escorted by some of the ladies to the place where they were gathered (you can read about that at her blog) and Jesse and I were coaxed/pushed onto the dance floor. Some man with a shepherd's crook came over, and made all the dancers except for Jesse, Myself, and our two partners squat down on the ground, while we danced in the middle of the circle they formed. Yes it felt awkward, and yes it was awesome. None of the songs that we danced to had any specific steps that we had to learn, the basic requirements to dance like an Arab man at a wedding are as follows.
1. Extend your arms to the sides, lift them until they are slightly above your head and move your shoulders to the rhythm.
2. Let your chest (rather than your hips) lead your dance.
3. Get really close to the man you are dancing with (this was also a bit awkward for me, but it was fine once I got over my American desire for personal space).
4. Do your best to move with the rhythm, but it is not required.
5. Make a lot of noise, smile, and don't get in the way of whoever is supposed to be the center of attention. (which turned out to be the foreigners for most of the night)
(In order to fully appreciate the video below, be sure that you have the sound on your computer and watch until the end. The end is the best part)
At one point, a song with English words came on over the speakers. Neither Jesse nor I had ever heard this song before, but apparently it was assumed that we would know how to dance to it. ALL of the other guys squatted in a circle around us, and Jesse and I showed them how to dance to the song. I had lost all my feelings of awkwardness or shyness by this point, or I would be repeating the familiar refrain. It helped that most of the guys assumed that whatever I did was right, since it was obviously an American song that we were dancing to.
We ended up spending about 1.5 or 2 hours there that night, and the next both my legs and my shoulders were quite sore. I was worried that there would be more dancing the next night, on the second night of the wedding.
When we showed up on Friday night, the stage was gone, as were most of the people. Apparently the feast and ceremony had been earlier in the day, so we had missed that part. But the family of the groom knew that we would be coming late, so they stuck around and waited for us.
As we sat and visited, they told us that they had prepared 150 kilos of meat and 50 kilos of bread for the wedding feast (in addition to a heck of a lot of rice). They brought a huge platter of mensaf (rice with yogurt, peanuts, and lamb meat) out to us. One that was probably fit for about 8 or 9 Americans to eat (there were 4 people eating).
Let me set the scene. Sami, Jesse, Sarah and I are sitting on plastic chairs in the middle of the room. 10 members of the grooms family are sitting on the bed, on the steps, or on chairs elsewhere in the room, facing us. This enormous platter of food is in front of us, the four of us are eating off the same platter, and all of the family is eyeing us with every bite, looking for hints of whether or not we are enjoying the food. (it was great food by the way). In addition to watching us, the family members are encouraging/directing us to eat more and more and more and more.
One thing that we probably have mentioned before: Arab people are very hospitable, and in Arab culture, it is also polite to refuse hospitality. (e.g. when someone offers you tea, food, or gift, you should refuse a couple of times before relenting). This creates some awkward moments when you really don't want something. . .
On this night, I did not want to eat any more mensaf. I had probably consumed 2 times as much as I eat at a normal meal, mostly very heavy lamb meat and rice, and I was feeling a bit bloated and almost queasy. However, they decided it was a good time to bring out more meat (which Sarah decided to put in front of me). I really was wondering where the best place to go would be, in case I need to eject the contents of my stomach, as I gulped down the last few bites of meat. Mercifully, the lady of the house realized I was bit uncomfortable (I think the gurgling sounds gave me away) and told me I didn't need to eat any more if I didn't want to.
We sat around for a while longer, and the man of the house grabbed my arm and directed me to put on his keffiyeh and his shalwar so we could take some pictures. His wife also gave Sarah one of her robes and a head covering to wear. We posed against the wall while they oohed and awed over us, and while Sami and Jesse took pictures for us.
Despite all my complaining about sore arms, sore legs, awkwardness, and overeating, we had an incredible time. The two nights we spent with this family were some of the most fun nights that we have had since we've been in Bethlehem. Free advice for anyone who lives in an Arab country: go to a Muslim wedding if you get the chance.