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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Scenes from a Baladi Wedding

by Shira


In January 1999, Morocco invited me to accompany her on a 2-week trip to Cairo. It was my very first time visiting Egypt. Thanks to her generosity in sharing her knowledge gained from many years of traveling there, I gained much more from the trip than I would have traveling there on my own.

While there, we were invited to two weddings that were held in a baladi neighborhood of Cairo. This page features photos and a description of one of those weddings.

I was a little disappointed that neither of these weddings featured the tradition of having a solo female dancer perform with the traditional shamadan (candelabrum). But there was plenty of other entertainment that was great fun to watch.

PHOTO CREDIT: All photos in this article were taken by Shira.

The Egyptian people we met at both weddings were very warm and very hospitable. They made us foreigners feel very welcome, and they have left me feeling a true sense of friendship toward the Egyptian people as a whole.

This wedding was on Thursday, January 21, 1999. Thursday is the most popular evening for weddings in Egypt because the next day, Friday, is the day that people go to the mosques at noon for their weekly religious observances. That means that most people don't have to go to work on Fridays, and therefore Thursday evening is an ideal time for a celebration. It's the beginning of their weekend.

Click on the photo to the right and the one below to see a more detailed view of the decorated alley where this wedding took place.

Earlier in that evening, we had gone to a show at the Ramses Hilton. Upon returning to our own hotel around 11:00 p.m., we heard very loud drumming coming from an alley behind it. We poked our heads around the corner to see what was happening. As soon as we were noticed, we were energetically beckoned to come in and join the festivities.

The Alley for the Reception

The alley was decorated, as shown in these pictures, with twinkly lights draped overhead. The musicians were wearing bright red and blue uniforms, and the drummers were playing with great enthusiasm! It was a very festive atmosphere. It was interesting to go back a couple of days later and see just an empty alley with some cars parked in it. What a change!

Click on the photo to see it in further detail.

When we arrived, the zeffa (procession) had already completed and the reception was in progress. A zeffa is the part of a wedding celebration when the bride and groom enter the reception hall in a procession and take their seats on thrones to preside over the evening. While the bride and groom watch, they are entertained by music and dancing.
At this particular wedding, the entertainers were all young men. This was true of musicians and dancers alike.

Decorated Alley Where Wedding Reception Was Held

This picture, to the right, shows the lovely bride sitting on her throne with her sister next to her. The groom's throne was just to her left. Click on the photo to see it in more detail.

After coming forward to congratulate the bride and groom, we looked for a place to sit on the sidelines where we could watch the show. Our very gracious hosts quickly found chairs for us to sit next to the mother of the bride and her friends. We had a great view of the dancing from there.

The music consisted primarily of a very heavy drum beat, played on the tabla baladi (traditional drum). The dancers were a troupe of about half a dozen young men who performed various folkloric dances. They did a raqs al assaya (stick) dance (not easy in the narrow confines of that alley, but they did it well), a martial sword dance with wooden swords, and some additional dances. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photographs of these dances because I was too busy just watching! It was only my second night in Cairo, and my photojournalistic streak had not yet recovered from the jet lag.

The Bride and Her Sister

One of the "characters" in the show was a pair of young men in a horse costume, which can be seen making its way behind the bride and groom in this picture to the right. This horse pranced up and down through the alley a few times. Click on the photo for a closer look.

The children were, of course, very cute. Once we had seated ourselves to enjoy the dance performances, one of the boys who appeared to be about 9 or 10 years old came up to us and asked, "Do you speak English?" His accent was excellent, so he obviously was learning his lessons well in school. He was delighted when we said that we did.

Then a little girl, who might have been his sister, summoned the courage to come up to us and ask, "What's your name?" She asked each of us in turn, so we each introduced ourselves and asked her what her name was. She was Aiyah. (I'm just guessing at how it might have been spelled.) She enjoyed talking with us so much that she then made a second trip down the row and asked each of us again, "What's your name?" And then again, and again. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I believe she probably asked me my name about ten times! We later referred to her fondly as the "What's your name?" girl. I have to give her credit though — she knew more English than I knew Arabic!

Horse Costume

After the professional dancers completed their part of the entertainment, the musicians continued to play. This was an opportunity for those guests to either get up and dance or just enjoy sitting, watching, and chatting.

At one point, a young couple came along and plopped their baby into my lap. As I was trying to figure out what was going on, they smiled broadly at me, took a couple of steps back and pulled out a camera. Ah, then I figured out that they wanted a photo of me holding the baby. I guess my blonde hair and blue eyes were enough of a novelty to make me not just an observer, but something worth remembering!

Pictured here are the mother of the bride (seated) and one of her friends. Click on the photo to see it in more detail. The friend enjoyed pointing out that she and I both had blonde hair. At one point, she borrowed a scarf from the bride's mother, tied it about her hips, and began to dance to the music. After doing this for a while, she started to eye her fellow blonde (me) and beckoned for me to get up and dance, too. Although it sounded like great fun, I hesitated at first. So she came forward, grabbed me securely by the wrist, and pulled for me to get up. Well, that was sufficient encouragement! She smiled broadly when she realized that I knew how to do the appropriate style of dance, and encouraged me on. The other local women also smiled and nodded.

Mother of the Bride

After this, once I was sitting down again, the young couple with the baby came by a second time, wanting to take a second picture. But the baby refused to offer a cute smile for a second picture, so his parents gave up on it. I guess babies are the same everywhere when it comes to refusing to smile for the camera.

This picture shows some of the people who were at this wedding. All the musicians wore uniforms with bright red shirts and blue vests like the one worn by the tabla (drum) player in this photograph. The little girl in this picture is Aiyah, the "What's your name?" girl. Click on the photo to see it in more detail. Everyone was very friendly, but unfortunately we couldn't talk much because I didn't speak Arabic and they didn't speak English. So we communicated with smiles and gestures as best we could.

People at the Wedding

Eventually, it came time for the bride and groom to be whisked off in a car and the festivities to come to a close. We walked the block back to our hotel and called it a night. At 1:00 a.m., it was finally time for us to get our beauty sleep.

I'd like to thank the Egyptian family who made us feel so welcome at their joyous celebration.



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