Tag Archives: Egypt

Here Comes the Bride and Groom

At Long Last!

TRAVEL THERE: LET THE PARTY FINALLY BEGIN

Of course, my nephew and his new wife did finally arrive at their own wedding reception and a party like you will not believe began.  Before I share the excitement, let me explain the delay.

The Big Moment – Delayed

The big moment at most wedding receptions is the entry of the bride and groom, but in Egypt they heighten the anticipation by not allowing anything to happen until the bride and groom appear.  That practice almost caused a riot when the newlywed pair failed to appear after a couple of hours.  The crowd settled down when snacks and some liquor appeared, but there was still an undercurrent of rumor around the ballroom.

Since we were in Egypt, I should have known traffic was the problem.  A few weeks ago I told you about the crush of traffic in the construction-clogged neighborhood of Heliopolis, but in spite of the wedding’s Heliopolis location, that wasn’t what caused the problem.  The guests who attended the ceremony made it back to the hotel in just a few minutes.

I’ve mentioned this was a holiday, the end of a long weekend, so many of the guests were traveling.  The plan had been for them to skip the brief wedding and show up just in time for the entry of the bride and groom into the reception.  Only the traffic was really bad and a large percentage of the people who really needed to be there were stuck on the road into Cairo.

Just about the time I was ready to gather up my broken shoes and head to the room for a good night’s sleep, my husband returned to the table.  I really wanted to chew him out for abandoning me, but I reminded myself that I’d been the one who said I’d just stay at the table.  I may or may not have told him that I was ready to go back to the room, but he let me know that the action was about to heat up.  The missing guests were arriving in droves and the newlyweds were making their way to the ballroom.

Fireworks and Applause

While the rest of us were just anxious to get on with the celebration, my grand niece’s and grand nephew’s anxiety had been about something else.  When the bride and groom appeared, the tiny wedding guests were to display a pair of signs about the last chance to run.  As the excitement level rose in the room, they were hustled near to the stage.  Since the wedding had already happened, the timing for the signs seemed a little off to this American, but this was Egypt and time has a whole different meaning there.

Then suddenly, the newlyweds were there – the beautiful bride and my handsome nephew.  I doubt any group of wedding guests has ever been more glad to see their newlyweds.  It was an astounding appearance!  A lightshow, fireworks – even canned applause.  You would have thought we were at the Olympics, but we were in a ballroom beneath the Heliopolis Fairmont.  The award for bride of the season goes to Mariam!

If More is Better Then this was the BEST!

As soon as Bassem and Mariam showed up the flood gates of hospitality opened.  Before too long a bountiful buffet was presented.  I swear we could have opened up the doors to every one staying at the Fairmont (both the older section and the Towers)  and still had leftovers for weeks.

There were two buffets, one for the main course and another for desserts.  There were also several specialty stations.  Problem was, my stomach had decided those few bites it got with the mezza was all it was going to get, so it had shut down for the night.  What I did manage to eat was great, but I couldn’t do justice to all those beautiful proteins, carbs and fats.

The dessert bar was unbelievable.  It stretched for what seemed like miles and had an amazing array of choices.  Any cruise ship would have been jealous.  In fact, I have to say that the actual offerings were better than any boat I’d been on.  The table wasn’t overcrowded with the decor some cruise ships employ, but the selections were top quality to match their great variety.

Starvation abated, it was time to dance- and dance we did.  The dj was great and pretty much every song was danceable.  Like most weddings, there were more kids and women dancing in groups than there were couples, but the energy was high.  Finally, I was not the only barefooted woman in the room.  My sweet husband obliged me, by taking me out to the floor a number of times, as did several of my nephews, cousins and such.  The groom spent a lot of time on the dance floor, but the bride could usually be seen enjoying her friends up on the white sofa in the lounge.

But the true highlight of any Egyptian party is the belly dancer and you’re going to have to come back next week for that.  I’ll leave you with a picture of me and my guys.

Blessed with Nephews!

 

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Egyptian Time Dragging By

Mommy, when will the bride and groom come?

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE ARE THE BRIDE AND GROOM?

In case you’re just joining us, let me remind you where we are.  I’ve just attended my first Coptic wedding, an amazing experience.  Now I’m sitting in the Pearl Ballroom of the Heliopolis Fairmont, waiting for the arrival of the bride and groom.  I didn’t join my husband as he went to work the room, because I had a broken shoe and didn’t want to wander around barefoot.  There is no food, no drink and no music, because nothing is supposed to happen until the bride and groom arrive.  Everyone around me is speaking a language I don’t understand.  I haven’t eaten since breakfast and we’re coming up on ten o’clock.  The adventure is wearing thin and my bed is beginning to sound pretty good to me.  The promised buffet and belly dancer aren’t as compelling as they seemed before.

Angry with No One to be Mad at

Don’t you just hate it when you find yourself growing madder with every minute that passes and you don’t even have anyone to blame.   Of course, Bill would be using the time to visit with old friends.  He didn’t tell me to stay at the table because my shoe broke.  I made that decision myself.  And who exactly could I blame for my broken shoe.  I chose them out of my large collection of shoes and I have no idea when or where I’d bought them.  It was no one’s fault but mine that I was the only woman in the room with slicked back hair.  My nieces had tried to get me to have my hair puffed up professionally.  I couldn’t blame anyone else for the fact that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  Who besides me decides to diet on a vacation to a wedding?  I couldn’t even blame anyone for the fact that they were all talking to each other in another language.  I’ve been married to Bill for over 20 years.  I’d had plenty of time to learn a little Arabic if I’d wanted to to.

Even without basic language skills I began to realize this wait was a little longer than the usual Egyptian wedding reception.  The blame for the delay was generously passed around.  Some said it was because the wedding was on a holiday and there wasn’t enough staff to take care of everything.  Some blamed the caterer, who was, by the way, out of town directing the whole thing via phone.  Some blamed the couple themselves for not coming down to join their guests and rumors of wild partying in the bridal suite spread out among the tables.  Some blamed the groom and his family.  Others blamed the bride and her family.  We didn’t have anything to eat or drink, but there was plenty of blame to share.

It Gets Better, But Not For Me

Beautiful Family – Bill’s sister and our grandniece

Because of the extreme wait, some changes to tradition were made.  Someone finally delivered a plate of mezza to the table. I wanted to grab it and find a corner to devour it in, but I played it cool. I had a couple of olives and a few bites of something else. Later I regretted my restraint. Everyone must have been as hungry as me, because every crumb disappeared almost immediately.

They also loosened up the liquor, but when the drinks finally did arrive, it was just scotch.  On the night before the wedding the bride juggled guests while the groom juggled scotch.  There was not going to be a bar or champagne. Mind you, they drink very good scotch, but that’s all they drink.  Bottles of the popular beverage enhancer were placed on the table in generous proportions, but I don’t drink scotch – at all. The room got friendlier and the blame for the delay got gentler.

I had to make do with Coke Zero.  It took so much effort to get a can of it, I dared not do more than sip, because I might never see another. I soon felt very much like the designated driver, only it didn’t come with any of the satisfaction serving that the role usually provides. I was just the only person in the room over four feet tall who was not drinking – and I was starving.

I learned from the four foot tall crowd that there was a sweets station.  It was cute, with cupcakes and candy, but no true cure for hunger.  Out of desperation I sampled some of the choices, but too much sugar when I’m hungry only gives me a headache and I hate wasting calories.  So I continued to suffer in silence.

Will the bride and groom ever show up?  Come back next week and find out!

 

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A Reception on Egyptian Time

Wedding Centerpiece

TRAVEL THERE: AND THEN WE WAITED

If the wedding was a departure from my norm, the reception was a rocketship to Mars.  I’ll try to explain it, but I doubt I can do it justice.

The Very Long Interlude

The bus ride from the church to the hotel only took moments.  We’d hung out on the church portico for a long time and I was glad to be starting the next phase of the celebrations, but I immediately ran into trouble – or perhaps I should say I tripped into it.  As if my lack of tendrils wasn’t enough of a humiliation, while I was going down the stairs to the ballroom, the sole of my strappy high-heeled sandal decided to part ways with the rest of the shoe.

Halted in my progress, I expressed my desire to change into another pair of shoes, but was dissuaded from it by one of my nephews.  He explained I didn’t want to miss the entry of the bride and groom.  Apparently he thought their arrival was imminent, but as I would learn before the evening was over, he was very wrong.  I was given the assurance that almost immediately the dance floor would fill with women who would also be barefoot.  That seemed reasonable, so I took off the shoes and carried them with me into the Pearl Ballroom.

Wedding Buffet

Let me just say the decor was amazing and beautiful.  In the first few moments I was awestruck and had a hard time processing it all.  Little did I know just how much time I would have to consider every single detail of the room.  And I might mention that I was starving.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  I was saving calories for the huge buffet I heard would be coming.  However, right that minute I was so hungry I was wondering if my broken shoes might make a good meal.  They certainly weren’t serving any other purpose.

Perhaps you’re concerned about me being so hungry in a situation where adult beverages would be served.  Well, let me remind you.  there was to be no bar.  There was no champagne.  There was no signature cocktail.  Scotch is the wedding beverage of choice and for at least the first hour of the wait, there was nothing – because everything is supposed to happen at an Egyptian reception after the bride and groom enter.  Our bride and groom had disappeared and they stayed disappeared for a long time.  And they didn’t even have the excuse of picture taking to cover their absence, because back at the church, folks were by now setting up for yet another wedding after the wedding that followed our wedding.

American wedding traditions scored one on the Egyptians at this point.  Some couples handle it as Bill and I did.  We got our pictures ahead of time.  Bill and I beat everyone to the reception and greeted them as they came in – ushering them into the buffet.  Other couples, wanting post wedding pictures and the big entrance, have a cocktail hour complete with waiters wandering around with trays of treats.  I remember long awkward waits in the past, but between the cocktail hour and folks who get the photos out of the way early, we’ve sort of solved that problem.

The first hour of the wait passed pretty quickly.  Just taking in the set-up of the ballroom was an entertainment.  There were long dining tables and high cocktail tables; a glamorous lounge set up for the bride and groom; and a huge stage filled one end of the ballroom.  When that fascination wore out there were all those Egyptians in their wedding finery to watch.  Just as at an American wedding, there were kids entertaining themselves all around the room.  I was hungry and thirsty, my husband abandoned me in my shoe-less state to greet old friends, but I figured the wait would be over soon.  Come back next week and see how that went.

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Wedding Day in Cairo Egypt

Wedding Invitation

TRAVEL THERE: A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF CEREMONY

So far, Bassem and Miriam’s wedding day has been pretty mundane, if you don’t count the machine guns on our bus.  Once the church doors opened, everything changed.  We were at a Coptic Wedding.

Saint Mark Coptic Church

When the huge doors opened, the scent of incense wafted out into the waiting crowd and I was awestruck.  The church was gorgeous, obviously very, very old, but beautiful.  You got the impression God had been hanging out here for a very long time.

It was not a particularly large church, but it was grandly decorated with beautiful paintings and an amazing amount of gold.  There was no formal seating going on.  Everyone just wandered in and took a seat.  There was no his side and her side, just folks wandering into a pew as they entered.  The family was sort of huddled over to one side.  We had some front row seats, but they certainly were not particularly advantageous.

Forget What You Know About Weddings

Throw out preconceptions, because this had nothing in common with your basic American wedding.  The bride and groom were seated in thrones at the front of the church.  The photographers and videographers considered themselves very much part of the ceremony and spread themselves out across the front of the church.  Joining them on the stage were a group of priests in decidedly Coptic garb.

Coptic Officiants at the Wedding

Now I’ve been to weddings where there were more than one officiant.  Sometimes it’s because each family wants to be represented or there are several members of the clergy in the family.  This wedding had an entire crowd of priests.  They’re the guys wearing the black turbans, but these four in the picture are only a sample.

I was made to understand the number of priests reflected the status of the people getting married and no one could remember a wedding where they’d seen more priests.  Most gratifying was the priest who had come all the way from Sharm El Sheik because of my niece, who holds such a special place in their congregation.  Each of the priests participated in one way or another.  Some doing ceremonial duty and others delivering pithy little sermonettes to the bride and groom. (None of which I could understand, of course, because they were in either Coptic or Arabic.)

All the while, the church was a beehive of activity.  Along with all the priests were acolytes and altar boys wandering around doing a variety of tasks, from swinging incense burners to lighting candles.  At one point my nephew Shady went up to read the Bible.  Also any time a priest wasn’t involved in the ceremony, they were kept busy blessing whoever came up to the stage, bowed before them and kissed their hands.

Folks seeking blessings weren’t the only ones who came up to the stage.  As if the photography and videography crew of about six people weren’t enough, no one hesitated to pop right up out of their seat and head up to the front to get a picture – and if the best angle was between the priest and the wedding couple, then so be it.   

Behind their back, their very expensive decorations are already coming down

I was gob-smacked.  I couldn’t believe it.  The bride and groom were almost an after-thought in all the frenetic activity.  Suddenly it was all over. The bride and groom stood.  A few pictures were taken and we all filed out of the church.

Let the Turnover Begin

I was still trying to  process what I had seen, when I realized that as soon as the bride and groom had their back towards the stage, folks started tearing down the decorations so they could get set for the next wedding.

An American church might have 2 or three weddings on a given day, but Coptic churches schedule about an hour per wedding and stack them all day long, from early in the morning until late in the evening – especially on holidays like the day after Easter.  If they get behind, which apparently they always do, then they just hurry you up a little more.

Once we were outside, you could see they had already redecorated the entry to the church and on a corner near the church were the floral remains of several different ceremonies.  Egyptians do have a receiving line, but it’s held on the porch of the church, rather than at the reception. As the wedding party assembled into the obligatory formation, a limo pulled up in front of the church.  I will never forget seeing the bride get out of the limo, go through the security routine we had and then climb up the stairs to the sanctuary.  It was one of those odd scenes that you can’t erase.

Then it was back in the bus and back to the Fairmont.

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The Electrical Emergency

What do you think? Not bad for an old lady with an electrical emergency?

TRAVEL THERE: THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU HAVE TO PUNT

Bill’s taking a nap.  Our clothes are pressed and ready to wear.  It’s time to do my hair and make-up.  What could go wrong?

The Electrical Emergency

We’d discovered an AC/DC outlet in the bathroom as soon as we arrived.  We’d been recharging our phones since then without any trouble, so I assumed I wouldn’t have any difficulty with my hair appliances.

I’d had a hair appointment hours before I got on the plane and planned to put my own hair up into a French knot, using one of those long-fingered combs that makes it a relatively easy thing to do, even for me.  This particular comb had rhinestones and pearls on it, so I thought I was going to be pretty cute.  We all know that slightly dirty hair is easier to put up than when it’s freshly-washed, so I was all set.  The finishing touch was going to be wispy tendrils all around my face and neckline to soften the look.

While Bill took his nap, I plugged in my tendril curling iron, whipped my hair into the French knot and put on my make-up.  The tendril curling iron didn’t heat up.  I’ve had it for a hundred years and don’t make tendrils very often, so I laughed at myself, thinking I’d carried a broken curling iron all the way to Egypt.  Not to worry, I still had a regular barreled curling iron, electric curlers and a flat iron.  Surely something would work.  Nada!

I began to panic.  The women in the family had suggested several times that I take advantage of the hairdresser who was coming to the hotel to do their hair.  The bride had her own hairdresser, but everyone else was sharing another guy.  I’m funny about my hair and usually when a new person does my hair they freak me out.  I end up with a bouffant larger than something from the Sixties and want nothing more than to hide until it deflates.  Right then the bouffant sounded pretty good.  Sure I’d gotten my hair up into the French knot, but I needed tendrils.

Just about then, Mr. Bill woke up and, as calmly as I possibly could, I told him I needed his help with an electrical emergency.  First he performed all the plug-ins and plug-outs I’d already performed, but that was fine.  I hoped he’d hold his tongue just right and make everything better.  That didn’t happen, but we did locate another AC/DC plug next to the desk, so we tried again.  This time the tendril curling iron heated right up and I thought I was set.  Mr. Bill headed into the bathroom and I pulled out various wisps of hair to curl.

I picked up the curling iron and was about to curl my first tendril when I realized smoke was coming out of the barrel.  I ripped the plug out of the wall and tried the next curling iron.  It wasn’t behaving properly either.  I attempted a few curls, but I was scared the overly-hot implements were going to melt my hair.  That’s all I needed to ruin my day – melted hair for the wedding and every other event for the balance of the trip.

I tried wrapping the tendrils around my fingers and spraying them with hair spray.  Nope, Lori had done entirely too good of a job making my naturally curly hair straight.  I couldn’t get it to curl for the life of me.

Thankfully, I had not pulled too many tendrils out or I would have had to start all over.  It would have looked like my French knot had simply come untied.  My look was not complete, but I had about 15 minutes to slide into my waiting clothes and get downstairs for pictures.

As I put on my dress and accessories, I had a talk with myself.  This was Mariam’s day, not mine.  I was not going to let a little electrical emergency ruin it for me.  I thought I looked a little more severe than I had intended, but I’d just go with it and pretend I’d wanted this very sleek look.

On to the family photo session.

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Dropping in on Pre-Wedding Insanity

Fun in Heliopolis

TRAVEL THERE: JANE, THE PARTY-POOPER-OUTER

On the night before the wedding, Bill and I visited our family in the throes of insanity.  The drive to the apartment was chaotic, but that was nothing compared to what was going on inside when we arrived.  I can attempt to describe it to you, but you will only be able to understand glimpses of it.  I was there and I still can’t figure it all out.  

Last Minute Wedding Arrangements

The most entertaining of the  on-going activities, in my opinion, was the ritual of packing scotch into suitcases.  I’d been challenged by organizing three bottles into my checked luggage and all I had to worry about was a weight limit.  This operation was tied to an intense discussion of the seating arrangements which was going through endless changes, right there at the 11th hour.  I know all seating charts tend to be in constant flux, but both the bride and her soon-to-be sister-in-law were now on the verge of tears…or murder…or maybe both.

Rather than three bottles of one kind of scotch, the groom was in charge of countless bottles of scotch in a wide variety of brands, that were somehow being organized into suitcases, based on the seating chart discussion.  Egyptian weddings don’t have bars.  Bottles of scotch are delivered to the table by the waiters, but you don’t just buy X numbers of bottles of Y brand scotch.  Most people have a favorite brand and to honor them you must provide their brand of scotch.  On some tables there were people with varying tastes and decisions had to be made as to whether you moved the people or changed the scotch.

Thankfully, I was married in America and served the same champagne to everyone.  All this craziness was making me thankful for a lot of American things.

This very important scotch operation was frequently interrupted by calls to the groom from the so-called wedding planner, who was actually only a florist.  She was out of town and in spite of the many assurances she had provided that her absence would in no way effect the smooth execution of the wedding, she was now making call after call to inform the groom he was going to have to see to this being delivered or that being picked up.  To cope with it all the groom was helping the other family members consume the contents of several bottles of scotch which happened to be open and therefore were not being sorted into the suitcases.

Hanging with the Fam

The Ebb and Flow of It All

I heard rumors that the seating chart and scotch operation continued throughout the night, but I wouldn’t know, because, of course, I fell asleep and had to be taken back to the hotel far earlier than the end of the festivities.

From the moment we entered the apartment I was baffled by all the action going on around me.  I’d observed the sleeping children, seating arrangement frustrations and scotch packing in the bedrooms of the apartment.  Someone was cooking a meal in the kitchen.  A group of men were opening a bottle of champagne in the dining room.  I made my way to a sofa and acted as an observer.

Like the flora and fauna living in a tide pool, the occupants of the apartment crashed around the rooms in surges of waves and then settled into new pockets as the wave retreated.  One moment everyone would be in the dining room and then I’d find myself sitting alone in the living room with not a family member in sight.

One wave crashed the family into the living room with me and I was able to distribute those all-important gifts that had distracted me since we decided to go to Egypt.  As far as I know, the gifts were a great success, but even if they were all wrong, the family members pretended they were perfect.  See, they do love me, in spite of my otherness.

With the waves of people came waves of invitations to eat and drink.  Many of the invitations were verbal and usually included a long list of choices.  In spite of my continued protestations that I was fine, the invitations to eat and drink continued.  Eventually, the hostess began to ignore what I said and just bring boxes of pastry, bottles of water, a diet soda, sandwiches and a variety of other things to place on the coffee table in front of me.  Then I’d be offered another list of possible comestibles.

Once the gifts were open I began to drift into a snooze.  It was way past my bedtime.  I’m sure the details of getting back to the room were fascinating, but all I know was that I woke up the next day at the Fairmont.

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Wandering Around Heliopolis

Inside a traffic jam

TRAVEL THERE: THE CRAZIEST TRAFFIC IN THE WORLD

Rent control isn’t the only problem in Egypt.  Try finding a trashcan.  If they were ever installed, they would probably be stolen.  In Giza I saw what could have been a lovely square in the town center, but all that was left was the metal frame of several benches on stark concrete.  The wooden slats had been removed and utilized elsewhere.  Weeds had filled what was intended as a garden spot and a layer of dust covered everything.  It was a small picture repeated in a variety of ways everywhere I looked. 

Our Tour of Heliopolis Continues

While I had thought Mona’s neighborhood was pretty crazy last time I was in Egypt, on this trip, super-imposed on the already crowded and confusing landscape was a construction project of gargantuan magnitude.  They are putting in an underground transit system.  Forget any American construction site where thoroughfares are rerouted with the use of bright orange detour signs and interruptions.  While these are frustrating, Americans usually keep these tangles contained in a manageable block of space.  This entire section of town was a construction site and no attempt was made to provide passage.

I honestly don’t know how the people were living in the midst of it.  All the main thoroughfares were blocked and side streets were all but impassable.  Navigation consisted of winding through the every day insanity of triple-parked cars and vendors setting up shop in the middle of the street.  And that was just the beginning of it.

I saw streets where 10-15 of the locals had dragged their lawn chairs (not that there were any lawns) out into the street for a good chat and smoke, while the detoured traffic tried to maneuver through the madness – spinning their steering wheels, honking their horns, waving their hands, lucky to make inches of progress and shouting their frustrations.  On almost every block you would come upon a small child standing in the middle of the street, with or without shoes, absently holding a toy and gazing into the distance.  Maybe they would move.  Maybe they wouldn’t.

And that dust I’ve made so much of?  The air was thick with it.  It didn’t just show up in a layer on coffee tables, it was thick in the very air you breathed.  I keep trying to figure out a way to explain it to you and all I can think to compare it to is an intense pinball machine, where the center section is completely blocked and the obstacles on the sides have been multiplied five-fold.  You would have to be the pinball wizard to play, because telekinesis would be your only hope of moving the ball.

And Suddenly We Were There

The horrendous traffic was a blessing of sorts, because no one could  throw me out of the car and drive away.  I could walk faster than they could drive.  Mirette suddenly turned into a parking lot and we were there.  We were the ones parked in the third row of the three-deep cars.

Next was the elevator.  I’m more of the stairs type, but I was warned away from them.  The apartment was ten stories up and each story had several flights of uneven stairs.  The elevator was so tiny that I didn’t know how Bill rode up with us with his extreme claustrophobia.  There were two elevators and even though there were only three of us, when it would open on a floor (and it opened on every floor), the potential rider would glance into the car and then wave us on.

Entering the apartment was like entering a riot.  Family members of all ages were spread throughout the rooms and in each room was the site of some kind of intense activity and none of the activities seemed related to what was going on in the other rooms.  One room did have several children sleeping in a bed, but I don’t know how they managed to do so with all the racket.

I have more to tell you about the fun evening, but you’ll have to come back next week!

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