Not long ago I was privileged to attend the wedding of a colleague's daughter. According to Omani tradition this meant I went to the women only portion. It was scheduled for 1pm, but nobody shows before 1:30 and by 2:15 another colleague and I were almost the last to arrive. Usually these events are held indoors at night, but per the bride's wishes her party was in the afternoon under a large tent on the beach at the Army officers club.
The "event" was basically a large reception and party. There were about 50 round tables under the tent and we claimed seats at a table in a back corner. The women were all decked out in abayas and dresses of all colors. The embroidery and beading on everyone was quite stunning. About half kept their hair covered, the other half did not, age was not a determining factor here.
Many women reportedly spent as much as 2 hours on their hair and makeup. Eyeshadow came in all colors in keeping with the bright dresses. There were a few short short dresses, but most were long and there were many spaghetti straps.
We all sat around chitchatting for a while. Various female family members made the rounds and friends stopped each other to say hi. Occasionally some would dance on the floor in the middle. At about 3pm the bride made her entrance accompanied by "Serenade for Strings". She wore a gorgeous white, Western style dress, lace arms, voluminous skirt, and a huge lace bridal veil. She made her way solo along the beach walk to enter the tent with the ocean as her backdrop. She paused now and then for photos. There were 6 or more official photographers, all women, who played paparazzi the whole time. Guests are usually discouraged from taking pictures, but a few pulled out camera phones for a quick snapshot. I followed their lead.
The bride finally made it across the tent to a loveseat bench on a dais where she sat for the next hour and a half having her picture taken with a succession of family, friends and well wishers. A self service table of pink and white candies opened. Ladies of all ages filled bags and bags with gummies, meringues, marshmallows, jelly beans and other assorted sweets. This is not a tradition, just a fun treat.
More dancing to pop music occupied the time until finally the banquet buffet started. Behind the tent accessible from both ends was a long serpentine of tables with a bounty of food. Hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, and other salad sides, then hot dishes with chicken tandoori, grilled fish, roast lamb, beef in cream sauce, rice and a traditional pounded wheat dish that seemed to be laced with cardamom and meat. Tasty, I thought, but not for everyday eating. There was also a dessert table with baklava, a spoonable date bread, what looked like cheesecake squares and another gooey creamy something. Female waitstaff brought around glasses of juice and soft drinks.
Finally close to 5pm several women started covering their hair again and some who had shed abayas to reveal their fancy dresses put them back on again. Many did not. Clearly MEN were about to arrive. Shortly the groom arrived, walking the same path the bride had, flanked by his brother and a few friends all in white dishdashas and turban-like headwraps, as well as 4 Aussie friends in Western suits. Trailing well back was the father of the bride and 2 of his sons. The groom paused for photos at the entrance, again with ocean backdrop. He also sported the traditional silver curved dagger, a khanjar, on a silver belt.
He slowly made his way to the dais and took his seat next to the bride. Then followed many more photos with family, friends and well wishers. The wedding was now official. Many guests took this as their cue to leave. We did too.
What we did not get to see was the ceremony at the mosque which is men only and had happened a few days before. Sometimes it happens even months before or on the day of. As part of this the officiant has to verify that the bride has agreed to the marriage. A neutral party at some point prior gets a signed document from the bride. When the groom finally shows up at the women only event to "claim" his bride the marriage is complete.