The process of getting married in the desert is slightly different than in the west in that there are a few added steps and celebrations. Step one is engagement, where there is a verbal agreement between the fathers, expressing intent of marriage, but there is nothing legal signed yet. The next step is betrothal. Some also refer to this step as engagement, but it actually has a higher stature legally and within the culture than what we consider engagement to be in the west. The repercussions of breaking off the relationship are higher in this step than the verbal intent of the latter. Within betrothal, the intent of marriage has just become legal. They are, in fact, married but the day of the wedding when she is taken home to live with her husband could take place anywhere from a day after the contract signing to two years later. In this time, it’s possible for the couple to sit together and for the man to see his intended’s hair – a very intimate part of a woman’s self, but they do not live together nor become intimate until he takes her home from the wedding day party.
The actual contract signing takes place in another location between the male witnesses and the groom. The father of the bride signs for the bride, so she isn’t even present. Instead, she gets all dressed up in a beautiful gown, her hair and makeup done professionally at a salon. When the bride arrives at the party, traditionally held at a home because it’s an intimate affair for family and close friends only, she is met at the door by a throng of shouting women. A song plays that prompts the women to shout “She’s beautiful!” and “It’s God’s will!” It takes a good 20 minutes for her to make her way from the door to the special seating reserved for the bride and groom. She takes her seat, and watches as the party progresses for some time: dancing, eating and LOUD music. Soon a message is called out and the women all run for their coverings. Suddenly the room that was once filled with colourful, flowing material is covered by black fabric and veils are put in place; the groom has arrived.
On the day of betrothal, after the signing of the contract, a gift of gold jewelry is given from the husband to the bride. This is her property – not her family’s nor her husband’s. If anything should happen in the future, this is her savings plan and her investment portfolio. After the gift of gold, juice is shared and the cake is cut. At the betrothal party I went to, the bride and groom danced together, which I would think is fairly uncommon. I’ve never seen such a thing even at the wedding day parties. But maybe it was because this is a more intimate occasion, among people of very close relationship to the couple. After the dance, the groom kissed his bride on the forehead. I must admit that I swooned ever so slightly over this modest and romantic gesture. Coming from a culture where the subtleties of romance are commonly a lost art, witnessing an act of simplicity in love is so very sweet.