It’s a hot, sunny day in Rabat. The busy souks and white medina walls, usually vibrant, look pale and dingy in the brilliant sunshine. I blink at these passing sights from the back seat as Fatima-Zahra, the director of my study abroad program, inches her car through the bustling streets. We finally find a parking spot, and as soon as I step out of the car three women throw a thick white cloth over my head and the world disappears. Before I can protest, someone gently tugs at my arm while a familiar voice says, “This way—watch your step!” The women trail behind us singing loudly in Arabic as I blindly stumble after the disembodied voice.
Now this may sound like an elaborate kidnapping operation—and I have to admit, the idea did cross my mind once or twice—but it was really the start of my traditional Moroccan wedding. In an effort to expose us to a unique part of their culture without having to crash an actual couple’s special day, the directors of IES Abroad-Rabat decided to stage their own wedding with two random students acting as the bride and groom. My name was drawn from the hat and, well, the rest is history.
Moroccan weddings are extremely elaborate affairs that can go on for days—thankfully, our version lasted only a few hours. The bride’s role is particularly complicated, including extensive beauty treatments, a henna party, multiple costume changes (a bride will go through an average of five dresses during the wedding), and enough hairspray and makeup to drown a geisha-drag queen convention. A traditional bridal costume consists of a richly embroidered caftan, an ornate lace veil, and very large, heavy jewelry.
In both Morocco and the US, the bride is always the center of attention. Yet, compared to American ‘bridezillas’, Moroccan brides take a more passive approach to their weddings. During the wedding itself, the bride barely moves, risking only a wave of the hand every now and then (this is largely because the outfits are so complicated, they make it impossible to move). The bride is even shadowed by one or two ladies’ aides who act as fashion bodyguards, dashing to fix the bride’s hair, make-up, jewelry, and dress whenever necessary. The most freedom a bride will experience during the experience is when she is lifted up in the amariya, a cushioned chair carried by four strong men who perform a dance with the bride above their heads.
I think weddings are essentially the same everywhere in the world: exhausting, expensive, ridiculous, but beautiful nonetheless. Whether it’s tossing the bouquet or hand-feeding your groom figs and milk, these strange traditions we follow have transcended their original meanings; today, they serve as an excuse for us to bring family and friends together, to dress up and dance, and to celebrate the beginning of a shared life. A wedding is a beautiful and universal experience that has stood the test of time but for now, I’m quite happy to be free of the chaos that comes with it.