In an impressive expression of unity, forty or so USA-based relations and friends of the Bangladeshi groom arrived separately in Rabat (literally means: Fortified Place), the capital of Morocco, at the end of May, 2014 to attend the wedding. It was located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River. On the other side, connected by a bridge, was the twin city of Sal'e, where the wedding was to take place. The weather was pleasant, in the mid- seventies and breezy with little humidity. Our hotel was nice, a Dutch-hotel chain at a comparatively reasonable cost. Within a fifteen- minute walking distance from the hotel was the Medina, the old walled city, ancient fort and the river.
We spent the three-day interlude between our arrival and the wedding by visiting the ancient city of Marrakech. Our main purpose, however, was to attend the Moroccan style wedding, which started with the mehendi ceremony on Friday afternoon. The Baraat, brought by special transport from various city hotels, joined in a procession to the accompaniment of flute and drum music to enter the bride's house with gifts in large cone shaped Moroccan design metallic containers. They were warmly received by the bride's family. At the house, the new couple was first presented to the guests. Floral designs were then put with mehendi on the bride's hands by professionals in a manner similar as back home in Bangladesh. The lady guests then had their hands decorated.
We were forewarned that the festivities each day might go on till the early hours of the next morning. We had made allowances for that but little did we know of the grand gala programme of ceaseless music, singing and dancing interspersed by short breaks for snacks and soft drinks- possibly ten times in one long evening. A lavish dinner of grilled baby lamb, chicken, vegetables and couscous was served after mid-night. It was tastefully catered and the quality of the food and service was magnificent. The ceremonies were held in the colourfully decorated, marbled and tiled parental home of the bride, built over four years with this wedding in mind. A massive white banquet hall was erected on wooden platform on the adjoining swimming pool and yard with chandeliers and stages for performances. It was interesting that the decorations, dresses, food and drinks, music and dancing were all of Moroccan origin and tradition, even though we were amongst the educated upper class exposed to the cultures of the western world for many years. The Moroccans are proud Arabic-speaking people. Due to the country being a protectorate under the French from 1912 for forty-four years, they also speak French.
Overwhelmed by loud music, dancing and food service, at 4 am on the third day I enquired from the bride's father (an American) if he had spent most of his money in this marriage. The gentleman, a professor of Mathematics and Astro-Physics graciously replied 'a great deal' but it was worth the friendship that they were happy to acquire.
The professor told me the story of his own marriage 28 years ago in Rabat. At about 5 in the morning when he thought the ceremonies were over, he retired to his room for catching some badly needed sleep. His wife then informed him that there was yet another programme at 8 am for which her husband should be ready. I then checked with his wife, the Moroccan mother-in-law, who finally shared the secret of such a hectic wedding party. The idea, she said, was to tire out the groom so he does not entertain any idea of divorce and to ever have to go through such an experience a second time. I have yet to check out the divorce rate in Morocco to see whether the formula has been effective.
On the wedding night, the bride retired six times and after a short break came down to the reception hall each time in a different attire- once in a Bangladeshi sari. She was carried on a silvery palanquin by four ceremonially dressed bearers, men or women, who would often move it as if the bride was floating on a boat to the accompaniment of joyous and rhythmic Moroccan music. I wondered how she managed to stay awake all the time, looking serene and happy. The bride's sister, cousin and aunt were the stars of the nights. They hardly stopped dancing for two days without showing any signs of fatigue. Since it was a traditional Moroccan wedding, nothing stronger than soft drinks and juices were served but the spirit, particularly of the ladies, was amazing.
People were busy with their merry-making amidst several groups of professional Moroccan men and women musicians and singers. The performers wore typical Moroccan clothes- singing, swinging and beating their drums, playing clarinets and flutes with amplifiers, making it very hard to converse except by shouting into the ear of the next person. Some of us had lost our voices for a couple of days following the wedding. That was of course a small price to pay for being a part of a wonderful experience and for many of us, the novel and grand scale of a Moroccan style wedding.
The Bangladeshi guests, not to be outdone, produced an impressive show of Bangla dance and music. Popular folk songs like Sadher Lau and Tagore and Nazrul songs were featured to the accompaniment of recorded music. Many amongst us, young and old, joined in the collective dancing and singing and the atmosphere became joyous. By that time it was nearly the next morning but the spirits were high and infectious. At the break of the morning light, the invitees staggered home in a delightfully happy mood but with aching feet and body, longing to hit the hotel bed. It was indeed a wedding to remember.