Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Royal Wedding: Dinner Party

So here we are, back in Jordan! What began as a business connection with the princess of Jordan blossomed into a friendship and - blow my mind, omg - we ended up invited to a royal wedding!

We arrived in capital city Amman at 5am, which is the worst time because check-in usually isn't until the afternoon. A driver from the royal court picked us up and took us to the hotel, all the same. We figured we would try to chill by the pool for a while... a stretch, since we'd been traveling all night and we were exhausted.

But we got to the hotel and our concierge was unusually accommodating - and it was obvious why. He told us that he saw us arrive in a government vehicle (with a "red coat," he said) and asked us who we knew in the royal court. We chatted briefly and, soon, we had free breakfast and early check-in. This is what privilege feels like! We ate, we slept, and we visited the local mall a few minutes away.

In the states, we think about this region of the world negatively. Neighboring Syria is a war zone. Israel and Palestine are in terrible conflict. However, Jordan is an oasis in the terror and the violence - it has its problems, of course, but there is also tons of innovation and modernity. The mall was one such example. Its architecture was close to what I've seen in Disney's Epcot. Clean, futuristic. The escalators slow down when you approach! So cool!

With about an hour's notice, we received an invitation to a dinner party. It turns out, the princess' cousins and sister were throwing her a surprise party, and she didn't know about it until last minute, when they told her to invite any friends she wanted who were already in town. We scrambled back to our hotel to get ready, and then got a text to "wear white." Since getting an invite to a royal wedding, my biggest question has been, "omg what do I wear??" Fortunately, my amazing roommate and style consultant, Leiva, helped me organize outfits for the parties we knew about ahead of time, but this was new! It was the stars aligning in my favor that I had just bought a skirt at H&M that would go with a shirt I packed. Crisis averted - phew.

Now I'm sure our driver was not actually a general, but he sure as hell looked like one. Moustache, beret, full military uniform. He drove us over to pick up a few other guests, three ladies about our age. They were all about as nervous as we were, which made for great camaraderie on the drive over.

The house we arrived at was breathtaking. You enter through a series of Arabic-style arches, swerve around a tiny bubbling fountain at your feet, through a mosaic-tiled entryway, and into a living room made entirely of window-doored walls that you could open to let air flow through the house. The whole place was strung up with glowing lights. We made our way to the back yard, which featured three or four seating areas of low couches, standing heaters, and a massive weeping willow tree that draped over the space. The ambiance was intimate, romantic, gorgeous.

When the bride and groom were on their way, her sister and party hostess drew us to the front door again and explained we would be greeting her with a traditional Bedouin procession - "she'll hate it," Yasmine said, with a conspiratorial giggle.

But whoa - we could never have guessed how cool it would be! A troupe of perhaps fifteen performers were dressed in traditional robes and headdresses. Among them were several drummers and one bagpiper. They played, sang, danced, and clapped with unrestrained joy that defined celebration. When the bride and her fiance (or whatever Arabic for "fiance" is!) arrived, they seemed overjoyed - she hugged every single guest as she entered the house, and then we "procession"-ed them to the back yard. The singing and dancing continued for an hour or so, and I am so glad no one took a video of me trying to keep up when we joined hands and attempted to what I can only call Jordanian riverdance. It couldn't have been more fun, though!

After that, bride and groom participated in a short but lovely ritual that included salt on the shoulders, sprinklings of rosewater, sharing cubes of sugar, and taking a shot of holy water from Mecca - all symbols for a sweet, happy, long life together. Jokes were made about mother-in-laws always hovering over your shoulder, much laughter was shared, and I was fortunate that there was a friendly woman who translated and explained the significance of it all to us privately.

The party overall was too large to be called "small," but far too small to be called "large." Maybe fifty or sixty people - an interesting mix from Jordan and Spain (where the princess grew up), but also a few from France and our little clique from the states. The bride mused to us how the mixture represented the stages of her life, and how grateful she was to be surrounded with so many loving friends and family. Dressed in white, illuminated with lights, she spoke as sweetly and angelically as she looked.

Then dinner was served! It was a catered sort of buffet, with a salad bar featuring hummus, tomato-cucumber-cheese mix, and roasted, curried cauliflower, but that was the only part that was unmanned. The other stations had cooks grilling meats, wrapping pitas and shawarmas, slicing meat off the spit, wrapping and frying pastries. It was half dinner and half cooking demo - my favorite! It was a culinary adventure, trying so many new tastes and textures, all delicious.

This was just party number one! Being here is unreal. I think I expected the environment to be more pretentious (I mean come on, royalty!) than it is. This is a family coming together in a joyous time, to celebrate the love of two awesome people who couldn't be happier. Cheers, to the bride and groom!