Each platter was placed in the centre of each elaborately decorated table and the traditionally dressed female waitresses turned and marched in time with each other back to the kitchens and returned minutes later with obscene numbers of side dishes that were delicately and precisely placed around the large silver platter centre stage.
As guests we sat patiently and waited watching this parade and spectacle take place until it was indicated by the concealed male voice that we could begin to help ourselves to dinner. One of the elder matriarchal Arabic women at our table stood and lifted the dome from the silver platter to reveal a whole roasted goat...head and all...ordaining the platter in the middle of our table. There was head, legs, tail, and feet...so you can now visualise how big this platter was. This large roasted goat slept in the middle of our table lovingly festooned with local herbs and leaves, it was a true work of art.
The waitresses parade continued collecting and removing the silver domes from each table and then immediately each of the Arabic woman lurched into the goat dissecting every limb and fighting over who was going to get the pleasure of the head. My English friend and I just sat mesmerized watching this ungainly debacle. It is one of the only times I faked vegetarianism, much to the chagrin of the Arabic womenfolk sharing our table. Everything about that meal was difficult; nothing was to my taste, strange flavours, textures and mixes but to refuse was considered rude, disrespectful and extremely bad manners in this culture. Boy, did I find eating that meal at that table grim; swallowing became awkward and at times impossible. I have to confess I did spit the most unpalatable mouthfuls into my napkin on several occasions.
The most delicious part of this meal was the traditional desserts, especially Arabic rice pudding, absolutely delicious, traditionally accompanied by the standard weak Arabic sweet syrupy tea (which I had now become accustomed to) served in the traditionally beautiful miniature glass mugs delivered to our tables by the “parade” of the female waitresses once more. Every little glass mug had been intricately engraved with the interwoven initials of the bride and groom and the royal family crest.
As we enjoyed the sweet tea and admired the glass tea mugs, Arabic music cascaded and wafted into the very pink decorated tent and swamped the guests. Whispers, rustles and hushed chatter enveloped the entire space and.....then, as we waited in anticipation....from the far end of the mile long cat walk under a pink flower laden arch and from behind a voile curtain appeared the most serene apparition.....the bride.....innocent, shy and composed, dressed in the most beautiful white very “poufy” dress with an enormous train flowing behind her, she began to walk incredibly slowly and gently down her bridal mile, making her way towards a two seater “pink” sofa in a shrine type setting at the far end. She stopped and twirled occasionally in order that no one missed a single ruffle, frill, pearl or diamond on that poufy dress. Everyone watched and gazed in awe for at least an hour, as this young woman, paraded relentlessly, until she reached the flower adorned sofa where her family assisted with her dress and train in order that she could sit, and sit comfortably, and wait for her groom to join her.
At this point I suddenly noticed that now we were being secured and guarded by an armed, all female security attaché that mingled between the guests for the remainder of the evening tapping feet in time to the music, hollering and dancing with the guests from time to time with pistols slung on their hips. What a strange and contradictory sight. After several hours of dancing, hollering and warbling and young girls provocatively snaking their hips in the middle of the round dining tables where earlier we had been devouring our goats, suddenly the atmosphere changed. A steady hum radiated through the women and around the tent like a Mexican wave followed by a rapid rustle of abayas, scarfs and veils which swept across the room within minutes; once again the room was clad in black rather than coloured satins, voiles and diamonds. It looked more like a funeral than a wedding. Not a single lock of hair was visible other than the blonde locks of us two English teachers who were unclad and showing our wears. To a fanfare of local musicians and male dancers at the flower enveloped arch, the groom finally appeared in traditional royal white and gold robes and with eyes only for his bride he proceeded to take his own parade along the mile long catwalk, stopping occasionally to the seductive hollering and warbling of the women and girls until he reached his bride.