Moroccan weddings are old hat at this point in my tenure as a Moroccan interloper. I anticipate the organization of the entire evening around five bedazzled dresses engulfing a stoic bride. There’s always the feeding of the dates and milk by the in-laws, the infinite cookies that no one actually eats at the wedding but rather packs away for later (I made that mistake several times), the lifting up of the bride and the groom in the 3mariya, the traditional wedding meals of chicken and then beef with prunes, and the endless hip-shaking that, try as I might, I will never, ever be able to emulate. I know that makeup and glitter will live long and prosper and that the event will always last longer than I think it will. After some trial and error on my part, I understand that everything gets filmed, and when the camera man shines his light on you, you’re not actually supposed to wave or smile at the camera like an idiot gouriya (westerner). I know the music will be loud.
So, when my sister-in-law invited me to her friend’s wedding, I managed to not have the wide-eyed look of excitement/confusion that usually graces my face here. Sure, yeah, that sounds like fun.” Bam. Invitation accepted. Plans made. No gawking committed.
To allay any suspicions that this happened to be the one wedding that didn’t fit the mold I just described, I’ll skip ahead for a second and say that it was exactly (for once) what I was expecting. There were small deviations from the formula (two 3mariyas?!), and I will admit that this was my first all-night wedding—so I got to have breakfast in addition to two dinners. However, like I said, nothing to write home (blog) about. Just another really lovely Moroccan wedding down in the books.
What ended up being the most fascinating aspect of the wedding was the preparation.
I was absolutely aware of the necessity of makeup and nice hair and pretty clothes when you attend a wedding. I just wasn’t so familiar with how everything, you know, got into its proper place. Like laws (and sausages), no one likes to see what it takes to Moroccify someone for a wedding. Usually I borrowed everything from other people last-minute and/or it was forced upon me. Never before had I attended a fancy city wedding where people rented dresses (!) and got their makeup and hair done at salons.
First on the pre-wedding to do list: rent a dress (or a takchita, to be precise). My SIL’s co-worker/friend/certified Marrakchi badass, Ghizlane, “knew a guy” around the corner. We went into a small little mall-like area that was probably the Marrakech equivalent of the clothing district. It was a maze of small stalls, all packed full of takchitas, gandoras, jellebas, kaftans, and then casual clothes. Clothes on clothes on clothes. And we tried on takchita upon takchita upon takchita. Some of the stall owners just wanted to fuck around (after we located and tried on a takchita, it turned out to not be for rent) or bestow a westerner’s tax upon me. Ghizlane would have none of this. She was a force to be reckoned with and a TV program to be watched. She brought down the curses of her ancestors upon these stall owners, shaming them to hell and back for whatever was their transgression du jour, and then, somehow, she would leave in smiles and amid gushing promises to return. They loved her. I loved her. I was also kind of afraid of her.
We finally found a female stall owner who had dresses that met our criteria: able to be rented immediately, in good condition, and for the price of 150 MAD each, or the equivalent of a little less than 15 USD. I want to take a moment and reflect on the fact that Rent the Runway cost my sad little graduate student ass 90 bucks for one dress. They did, however, throw in a pack of gum, which was very kind. No complimentary gum for my takchita, but at least it was an item we could all successfully mark off the list.
Next up: the salon.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I made a massive faux-pas while walking from the clothing stalls to the salon. In an effort to contribute to the conversation (and out of sheer curiosity), I asked how much the hair and makeup would cost. I was mentally tallying up the extreme difference between the cost of wedding prep in Morocco versus America. The response was vague: “I’m not sure…expensive. Ghali.” Hm, okay, that doesn’t help with precise calculations. “Okay, expensive, sure, but, about how much? Ch7al ta9ariban?” Again, came the same response. No estimates made, just proclamations of expense. An insignificant detail, apparently. We walked on.
We walked into a very Marrakechi salon, where there were about 4 people working and maybe 5 times that watching. It was a bare-bones joint. A few chairs for clients, a few benches for waiting (there was an ample amount of that to be had), and a single blow-dryer passed back and forth between the four stylists. Ghizlane marched up to one of the women working and did her little dance—forceful words, no fucking around, but leaving in smiles and greetings to each other’s grandparents. I was then instructed, in detail, to sit and wait my turn. Wow, these instructions are very specific…it’s almost like they’re leaving and wanting to make sure that I know what to do. Ding ding ding! Nailed it. They left, I sat. Alone. For three hours. This wealth of free time helped me to realize my transgression—by exhibiting too much interest in the price, they must have assumed that I was trying to indirectly indicate that I didn’t have enough money to cover whatever ghali ended up being. This was Ghizlane’s way of helping out the impoverished gouriya. When I first realized this, I had my American reaction of being pissed off. Why didn’t she just ask me?! Am I a child?! The answer was immediately obvious—no matter how many weddings I go to and think I understand, yes, I am essentially a child. Especially when making critical cultural errors like asking about the price of something.
So, I waited. A gouriya in a very ch3bi (“of the people”) salon is a sight indeed. I didn’t wait in silence for too long, though. The pattern is this: someone will speak to me in French, quickly realize I don’t know French, and then we discuss how and why I “know” Arabic. Like clockwork. As it turns out, there were many weddings happening that day, so I watched as a bride and what seemed like 36 of her family members got their makeup and hair done. One of the bride’s distant cousins sat next to me and chatted my ear off. Within minutes, we had gone from “hellos” to “Why don’t you have children yet? Oh, is it because you have a problem?” I found out that she was married but separated because of a problem with her in-laws. She also volunteered that the bride sitting about 5 feet away from us had already been married, but after a month, was divorced. “But she hasn’t been touched. Do you understand what I mean?” Just your typical salon chit-chat.
When it came time for my hair and makeup, I braced myself for whatever interpretation of “light makeup, please” would end up gracing my skin. I always get nervous when the eyebrow pencils get involved. But, as it turns out, the cheaper salon gave me some great bang for my dirham. For the price of less than 6 dollars, I had my makeup done (with fake eyelashes!) in a Moroccan version of “light”. 3 more dollars got me a blow-out. I looked like a new woman—and definitely someone appropriately outfitted for a fancy Marrakchi wedding.