‘Henna party’ memories

FB_IMG_1516788513550This picture took me back to one of the most random and wonderful experiences I had in Qatar.

Through working with and getting to know a local family, I ended up being invited to a huge Qatari wedding.
It was an incredible experience, which I was so thankful to be included in.

Two days before, I was ambushed at my normal tutoring session at the house by a lovely lady who painted henna on my palms and the backs of my hands. Wonderfully delicate, but rendering me unable to do anything but wait for it to dry, it put paid to the tutoring session, much to my adolescent tutee’s delight.

Just before the wedding was the ‘henna party’. Having just had henna done I was totally confused, until I realised it probably meant ‘hen party’, although nothing like a Western one.
It was a warm evening garden party, a hint of humidity, thousands of fairy lights swooping down from the huge house across the garden to the outside walls like the sides of a bright tent. A selection of perfumes to try as you entered, table gifts, canapés, a huge buffet, and the warming scent of jasmine. There was music, singing, colourful traditional style dresses…and being the only native English speaker out of more than 100 women.
The bride made her entrance like a Princess with her court, head to toe in henna and bright colours.

It was beautiful to see such a large group of women just enjoying being around each other, laughing, hugging and taking photos. So, ok I couldn’t understand anything that was said, my Arabic being limited to knowing when kids are telling their siblings to shut up, or promising me they haven’t got any more homework. Oh, and counting to five.
So maybe there was the usual undercurrent of gossip and judgement. But from this happily enchanted observers’ point of view, it was a group of beautiful women, taking joy in the happiness of another.

The wedding itself was something else again. I was in a borrowed (turned out to be gifted) dress which was gorgeous and sparkly and bloody heavy! Our phones had to be handed in to G4S staff at the door, since photos of the bride were a big no-no.
The huge ballroom was white and modern with vast flower displays and walls of blooms in shades of pink and lilac and white. Envisage a raised catwalk in the centre of this, a sofa/throne combo at one end, large round tables with white tablecloths, heavy cutlery, and a Dior gift bag at each place setting.
And then the outfits! The dresses and hairstyles of all the women were nothing short of stunning. Not revealing, but glamorous, sophisticated, garnered with expensive jewellery.

I was strongly encouraged (commanded) to dance on the catwalk, with strict instructions of, ‘Only Arabic dancing though.’ So I beat down my nerves, which is a bit more difficult to do at a completely dry party, and resisted the urge to show off my questionable twerking skills.
I was once again struck by the welcoming atmosphere, despite the language barrier, the delight in being together, the feeling of community. I felt so privileged to be briefly made a part of it.

I now cannot smell jasmine without being transported back to a humid Qatari Autumn night, twinkling lights against a dark sky, a smile on my face and a thankful heart.



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