So, last time we spoke, I was describing how the white room had suddenly turned black as all the women threw their abayas and headscarves on. This augered the imminent arrival of a MAN, and no man could be allowed to feast upon the glorious bounty of skin and curves on display in the room! So a swift cover up took place. And indeed, a moment later, the beaming bride and groom entered the room to wild applause. He was dressed in the national dishdash and ghoutra. She was glowing in what looked like a Vera Wang strapless gown. Arm in arm they slowly marched down the red carpet, through the meringue tables, onto the catwalk and finally to the stage where they sat down beside each other on the chaise lounge. All the while, a camera on a 30 foot hydraulic boom captured their every step and broadcast it onto a massive screen so that even us plebs up the back could get a good view.
Then the entertainment started. A troupe of male and female dancers twirled up the red carpet and onto the catwalk where they spun around, accompanied by a drummer beating a tribal rhythm on a massive drum which was slung around his neck. It was hypnotic and not dissimilar to what I imagine a whirling dervish is like, the drum beat pounding like a giant pulsating heart. Wow – it didn’t last very long, perhaps five minutes, but it left a lasting impression. And it was reluctantly that I snapped out of my trance-like state when it came to an end. The dancers collected the groom and they all skipped out of the ballroom leaving us ladies to ourselves again. Their departure heralded the prompt flinging off of the abayas, producing the effect of a sun, rising on the black dawn, to reveal flowers of every colour in bloom.
Suddenly, one of the lovelier blossoms, draped in a dusky rose, slinky sheath, was standing before us and introducing herself as Omran’s wife, Khulood. She apologized profusely for not being able to come earlier as she’d been with the bride, getting ready. I was amazed that she’d even come to talk to us at all, but if I’d learned anything from this experience it’s that Emirati hospitality is second to none. Once you are welcomed into the fold, you are treated as a very special guest and taken very good care of. Khulood was so warm and open and lovely, just like her husband. I simply couldn’t stop smiling at her. She quite possibly thought I was deranged.
Regardless of what she thought though, she didn’t show it, and in fact she asked us if we would like to go and chat with the bride who was still reclined on the white couch, graciously receiving visitors. So we all made our way over to the catwalk. I took a step onto it and realised it was somewhat shiny and slippery. And so it was that my fate flashed before my eyes. I would be strutting up the catwalk towards the bride, 550 pairs of eyes on the woman wearing overalls and 5 inch stilettos, and as I approached the blushing bride I would trip and fall onto her, knocking her (and the lounge) over, arms and legs akimbo, dress up over my head and my Spanx exposed for the whole world to see (Svetlana, I could already hear your hysterical laughter echoing through my head as I took my next step).
OK, so it didn’t happen, but that’s only because I very carefully, very gingerly and very self-consciously tottered the length of that catwalk to the stage. I’m positive I looked like an idiot – but, oh well, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. I joined my colleagues around the beautiful bride and we congratulated her, complimented her and posed for photos with her. Again, I was bowled over by Arabic hospitality. This woman had never laid eyes on us before and yet she treated us as she had been treating all her friends [all 550 of them], with warmth and generosity of spirit. She truly was a beautiful bride, inside and out.
I tottered off the stage, and with the formalities over, it was time for dinner. Yep, at 11.30pm. Those Arabs sure know how to party. In the ballroom’s anteroom, a full buffet had been laid out and there was plenty to choose from though unfortunately not much of it was local cuisine. A sample: butter chicken, lemon chicken, chicken biryani, mutton biryani, fish biryani, fried rice, beef stroganoff, beef fillet, dahl, dim sum, fish & chips, jumbo grilled prawns, pasta and much more (including the token Arabic bread, dips and salads). Then, there was the dessert table, groaning under the weight of mini versions of crème brûlée, chocolate fondant, panna cotta, summer pudding, caramel tarts, pecan pie, cookies, cheesecake, meringue, chocolate mud cake, sponge cake, jellies, fruit salad and about ten million other sweets that I dared not even look at for fear it might bring on a sudden and acute case of diabetes.
After the meal the lights were dimmed even further and a spotlight was focussed on the catwalk where a number of pretty young ladies holding the trains of their gowns had gathered to dance. It was awesome to watch the pure abandon with which they moved their bodies in time to the music and I was struck with the contrast of seeing them here in a room without any guys in it, comfortable in their revealing dresses, comfortable showing off their gorgeous hair and even a good amount of cleavage, as opposed to when I see them in the outside world all wrapped up, demure and modest. And I felt really lucky to be a witness to it. I got a glimpse into a world that not many outside people ever get to see. I know words are never going to be enough to describe it properly, but I’m hoping that by reading about it here, you too can transport yourself there and see it all in your mind’s eye.
OK, so before I go I’d like to say Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone for whom it actually means anything. It’s never meant much to me but particularly since getting together with David it’s meant even less because his birthday falls on the 15th so if there’s to be any romantic dinners or gestures I usually save them for the next day! Usually Valentine’s Day is quite a big deal in the UAE. All the hotels and restaurants have romantic Valentine’s packages and of course they make a bucketload of money out of it because people are (for some reason) willing to pay premium price on this day. Now, Dubai might make concessions to the expats for these kinds of occasions but they are first and utmost an Islamic state. And this year, the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday (Peace Be Upon Him) happens to fall on the 14th February. Oh, how nice, you might think, a double celebration! Well, think again. This is a very religious holiday and thus the entire day is decreed a ‘dry’ day – which means that no alcohol is allowed to be served on any public premises anywhere. At all. No matter what! So, anyone wishing to celebrate Cupid’s Day witih a glass of something special will have to make do with that something special being orange juice. Don’t worry about us though, I’ve put a bottle of something very special indeed in the fridge to chill and we’ll be having it tomorrow to celebrate my lovely husband’s birthday.
Next time, more on Doug (by popular demand)!
Bye for now
PS David says g’day.