"Si quieres puedes assistir con la boda," suddenly we're speaking Spanish. I wonder what my brain is gonna look like after weeks and weeks of language meshing. But Spanish is helpful, otherwise I would not have understood that the manager of the youth hostel, l'Auberge Jeunesse, invited me to help prepare and then attend a wedding here. The hostel has a quite remarkable inner hall, so I am not surprised it would be picked for someone's special day.
At just past 4pm, I get there feeling pretty awkward. Why again was I invited to this wedding? I know the saying is that to a wedding in Tunisia you must invite everyone: your family, your friends, everyone you know, and everyone you do not know. My awkward Western self, stuffed in hippie pants and the day's dust on my skin, still does not feel quite suited for the occasion. But alas, the hotel maid introduces me to Halma, who is sitting in a corner chatting with two elder women while caressing her four-months-old. Then Fatima comes to pick me up; she offers me Baklava and instructs her little kids to speak to me in Arabic. This is where I understand that I really do not understand Tunisian Arabic. But well, the language of flipping coins across a table and looking at images in books helps out; and never mind my little understanding, the kids chat away in dialect no matter what. Here and there I grasp that they are telling me about their school, about their family and such.
Then I meet the bride. A girl of 20 years or so, dressed in a beautiful red silk hijab. But not the little headscarf one, no, this one covers her from head to tow, following her like a sunset-tinted waterfall wherever she might go. Most women that I'm with right now are covered. It's an Islamic wedding.
Except, it isn't really quite the wedding yet, I learn. A wedding here has to last three days (at least). One celebration for the bride, sometimes one for just the groom, and, of course the big one. This one, is the one to write and sign the contract. The bride's family will prepare the ceremony. Then, the bride will go into a separate room, when the groom-to-be and his company arrive with many gifts, which are offered to the bride. The groom and the religious leader will write the contract; they are sitting in the very corner where I met Halma earlier, where we were wrapping an eclectic mix of cutlery in white napkins with roses on them (apparently the most common brand in Tunisia as I note later) -- it's funny though, we combine knifes, spoons and forks (of all sizes), but in the end nothing but the spoons are used. But, alas, before we eat the contract is being written. Then the groom and other men head to where the bride is resting (it's, in fact, a guest room whose doors, draped in curtains, open to the bigger hall, where all the women sit on tables. The man are standing with us now, but they will sit down in yet a different room to eat. Hiba -- an engineering student from another city, whose brother is the husband of the sister of the groom (and that relationship is not considered distant yet…) -- explains to me that the groom will now officially ask the to-be-bride if she wants to marry him. Indeed, the high pitched trill, that only Arab women know, informs the room that she accepted.
The rest is simple: food and chatter. But, from everything, what strikes me most is the extremely heterogeneous mix of guests. I think that I have never been to such a diverse wedding. Fully covered women to some in the most attractive outfits. I see traditional to business casual. But what I love watching most, is the row of older woman by one wall. Like chicken almost, they were placed there, observing everything with eyes that speak of wisdom, while half-asleep at the same time.I I feel a little like a creep, but I love watching the many wrinkles in the faces that are framed by veils in pastel colors.
The food is good and the people I now sit with can speak French. After the baklava, we decide that I must visit them when coming to the south. It's understood that I should be their guest then.
Happy, full and inspired by the ceremony, I go upstairs to find myself. No, really. Another traveller has checked into the hostel: we both are German, study the same thing, and will spent the same amount of time in Tunis. Off handedly I suggest that she should join me to the "party" that the Spanish girls told me about yesterday. One house and one phone call later, we meet a group of expats by a supermarket. They discuss where and how it's easy to buy alcohol in Tunis. From there we head to the home of three Italians.
As it turns out, I crashed the goodbye party of a group if foreigners that studied Arabic in Tunis. An extremely diverse crowd from Korea to Latin America. And yet, they are completely homogeneous: friendly foreigners that created like a sub-world, away from local customs and traditions, where they play techno music on a rooftop, and seek comfort in the known from home. It's funny. Because this is exactly what we did in Palestine. I think it's good, but it is dangerous: too easily can people build a wall between them and the country they are in, just because it is more comfortable. Alas, the golden line should be a mix: local language and all that by day, and the home of "international" by night. As it turns out, this night has to be a long one: It is still curfew, so people have to leave by 10pm or stay till 4am. Let me tell you: not the worst strategy for a mediocre party.
Conclusion: what a day! And none of it expected in the morning. I guess this is what I meant by "I am floating." You host me well, Tunisia!