Monday, May 31, 2010

So, how did you meet?... Oh, we are cousins.

In the last few weeks I have heard about several Gulf Coast Nationals marrying cousins. Today when speaking to a colleague when I asked how he met his wife, he simply stated her father is my uncle. It was the most natural thing in the world for him to just state this. Another woman stated that her husband was her cousin and felt this was an advantageous connection for her future as his wife. I know I am coming from a very, very, very, American perspective when I say the following: gross.

Consanguineous marriages are common in Qatar (and the Gulf region) and this is an issue that supposedly is being addressed by the Qatari government. Marriages within close-knit communities often lead to people being too closely related, and to intra-family marriage. Up until relatively recently the geographical and tribal make-up of Qatar has necessitated marrying those you might be related to; however, in the past 100 years or so the culture plays more of a role in family marriages than the desert. This issue is a hot topic right now with the government and in the academic context.

The government is considering policy changes, and has already approved some measures, that are meant to decrease and stop marriages of those to whom you are genetically similar. The problem is that the culture works in direct opposition these changes. If you want your son to only marry a woman who is “pure” and has an intact reputation, what better way to assure this than to have him marry a cousin who you have seen grow up and know how she was “controlled”? If you want family connections to remain strong what better way than to have your daughter marry the son of a powerful uncle? Another major reason for the marriage of family members is the restriction of women’s social lives. Most women primarily socialize with other female family members. If you are looking for a wife for your son, because your son can’t date, what women have you interacted with? I am sure there are much deeper reasons for these marriages, in my short time in Qatar these are the only reasons I have seen first hand.

Over the past year I have learned more about the genetic consequences of marrying someone with genetics that are too similar to your own than I ever thought I would. This topic comes up surprisingly often in the Gulf. I have seen posters related to this topic. Medical experts have come to lecture on this topic. Newspapers have run articles several times this year on this topic. Even with all of this attention on the subject and recent government regulations, there will be a wedding this weekend between cousins.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Here comes the Qatari bride…

Yesterday I was able to attend my first (and most likely only) Qatari wedding. One of the women I work with was getting married and she invited all of the women in our office to attend. Two days before the wedding she passed out very fancy invitations with our admission tickets. You might be thinking this is late notice… this is normal notice in Qatar. You might also be asking, “a ticket for a wedding?” These are big events; tickets are checked at the door by security.

When planning for the wedding I asked around about what I should expect and what I should wear. I was told by more than one person that there was no possible way for me to go overdressed, so I should wear my most fancy outfit, and if at all possible it should be shinny. Another individual told me that no one will be looking at me, and they all want me to look at them – so in the end it does not matter what I wear. I ended up wearing the dress I had made in Doha (thankfully it was a little shiny) and great jewelry.

The night of the wedding we arrived at 9pm for an 8pm wedding (we were told it does not start on time and getting there at 9 is fine). We found the building and began looking for the ballroom. As we walked down a hallway toward the conference center, we saw a female security guard and asked her. She said “this way” and we walked past boards and screens shielding the door from view. Once around the boards the wedding was obvious. We when to the registration table where they checked our invitations and took our tickets. My purse was searched and the camera was taken for the night. At this point we were granted entry to the wedding. This might also be where the excitement ends.

Once inside you find a place to sit – and then you sit. We sat for about an hour and a half before the bride arrived. The room was a large ballroom filled with tables set for 12. About halfway into the room, dividing the room in half, was a cat walk that lead to a large stage. The cat walk was white and skirted in white. The backdrop to the state was really bright hot pink velvet wall draped in white tool. Sitting center on the stage was a large “Roman” style white couch with hot pink draping. While we waited for the bride the sisters of the groom and some family members danced on the “cat walk” area. Occasionally they were joined by a few other guests, but it was mostly family dancing. The women were dressed mostly in very fancy ball gowns that ranged form bad prom dresses, to dresses that could rival those on the red carpet for the Oscars. A few women at tables were covered in the typical black, but most were dressed up for the event. At one point an announcement was made in Arabic and the women rushed to their seats and pulled black abayas out of bags and covered quickly, wrapping scarves over their hair. This announcement was a false alarm, and not man entered the room. The women began taking of the garments and dancing again.

Around 10:30 the announcement was made again, and this time it was the real deal. Almost all the women in the room covered with the exception of myself and the two other western women present and the groom’s sisters. I realized when the bride entered with the groom and their fathers that the groom’s sisters did not need to cover because they were related to the men. The bride was dressed in a beautiful, but very ornate dress. The dress had a large skirt with hoops, and the dress reached the stairs before the bride, so she had an attendant who would lift her skirt so he could get up the stairs. Several pictures where taken with the bride, groom, the groom’s family and then the bride’s family. The sister of the bride was fully covered, including her face. It was obvious she did not want her face shown in the picture, but it was also obvious the bride wanted her sister in the picture. At one point the father of the bride whispered to the sister, and very quickly her face veil was lifted and she smiled (though clearly unhappy) for the pictures. The father’s then left and another announcement was made in Arabic. The sister’s of the groom rushed to their tables to cover and the bride’s brothers began entering the room. One of the groom’s sisters could not get her abaya unbuttoned and she bolted for the emergency exit to assure she would not be seen. More pictures where taken, and eventually the men left the room.

This is when the party began – kind of. For many of the women in the room this is when the abayas came off and the dancing began. For most of the room… it was still just sitting and watching. The bride was carefully perched on her sofa watching the festivities, and would remain seated until the groom returned to take her away for their wedding night. I was amazed by the dancing. Some of the dancing was traditional Arabic dancing that you might see in a cultural video… but some of the dancing could of come out of any club/bar in the US frequented by college students. When these women are alone and free to act as they choose, they let loose, and absolutely enjoy themselves. I watched for a while until it was safe for me to give my regards to the bride and quietly exit. This celebration would go on well into the night, even after the bride had been taken away. It was definitely an experience.