Yesterday I attended celebrations for a Bedouin wedding. I was the only foreigner. Being a foreign woman put me in the unique and fortunate position of being able to stay in both the tent of the men and the tent of the women.
For a Bedouin wedding celebration, large, colourful tents are raised, one for the men and another a few meters away for the women and children. A procession of cars arrives in a cloud of sand dust, with one or two Bedouin shooting (yes, guns) into the sky to announce their happiness.
Lengths of carpet are rolled out for the men to sit on, shoes are removed and everyone sits in small groups, talking and drinking tea and coffee. The men in each group stand up to greet new arrivals, then sit again to continue their talk.
Mid afternoon, large plates of rice and lamb were brought to each group. I have always liked this use of one shared platter and no cutlery, because it means less washing up, less water wasted in a desert country. Not only the Bedouins and Siwans, but many Egyptians eat without cutlery or with only a spoon, and I really like this because I have always been clumsy and felt inept handling cutlery. Instead of sticking bits of metal in your food and mouth, you use one hand to scoop up or pad together a mouthful of rice with some meat. The meat is cooked so succulently that it just falls off the bone or is easily pulled off in small pieces, no knife is needed. Eating is followed by crowding around the water source, in this case a row of taps, washing now greasy hands and mouth thoroughly with soap and water. Then we head back to the tent for more tea and talk.
The men wear different styles and colours of galabia, but mostly white, often paired with a Western suit jacket now winter is here. The variations in how the men drape their headcovers is fascinating; some just let the fabric follow the natural line from their head to shoulders, others fold or flip it into sculptural wonders.
In the women’s tent the atmosphere is more effervescent. The women cluster together, talking and laughing, sometimes singing, while the children play and wander among them. As in the men’s tent there are rounds of tea drinking, an essential of Bedouin hospitality. While most of the women wear black or black covers, there are glimpses of bright colours; many women have all but their eyes covered, and you become entranced by the beautiful, often iridescent eye shadows, and the flashes of pink, green, red, or turquoise sleeves and hems of garments, the gold and silver embroidery and embellishments, and some elaborately decorated handbags carried by the younger women. These women have wonderful style and, as in any culture, it really goes on show for a wedding.
I was hungry to take close-ups of the many wonderful faces and hand language (Egyptians including the Bedouin use their hands more expressively than the average Australian), but I hesitate to take many close-up photos at family and community events like this because I am often the only one with a camera and I don’t like to intrude too much or to look like a tourist. I tried to be discreet and the Bedouin did not object to me photographing, and some of the women and children actually welcomed it. They crowded around to see the results, and thanks to digital photography they can see the photos immediately, in the past the people I photographed often never saw the resulting prints.
I got so used to not being able to photograph the women in Siwa, that I am still nervous about asking the Bedouin, especially as so many of the women cover most of their face.
The celebrations continued into the night, coloured lights were being strung up at the entry to the tent and a small stage constructed when we left. I would have liked to get photos of the tents lit and full of people, but it was not possible to stay. Maybe another time. To have even this much experience of both the male and female worlds of the Bedouin was a privilege.
Video (2 minutes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7wV3fpaero&feature=youtu.be