Shotgun Wedding

M-16 actually but shotgun sounds better. When Suleiman invited us to his wedding in Wadi Rum, we knew we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. After telling some of my colleagues in Amman that I had been invited to a Bedouin Wedding, their reactions told me how special it was: my boss said “Jonathan how is it that in 25 years I’ve never once been invited to this type of wedding and you’re here for a few months and… ??” I had little idea of what to expect other than lots of sugary tea, chain smoking, and guns. We were not disappointed on any count.

We headed down to Aqaba to stay with Katrina and get our crew of ajnabis together. All together we were five: Paco, Alcira, Katrina, Victoria, and I. The following morning we piled into the Sunny and headed for Wadi Rum. Paco and I considered trying to find dishdash (Arabic robes) and keffiyeh (traditional headdress) but opted out as we didn’t want to show up looking too ridiculous, offend anyone, or shell out the money to buy them. The girls however came prepared. Katrina secured three traditional Egyptian dresses for them to wear. 

When they got ready and we were about to head to Wadi Rum Paco said “You guys look you’re ready for the circus.”

We showed up to Rum Village around 1pm and were picked up in the parking lot by one of Suleiman’s buddies. He drove us a short distance in the sand to a group of long L shaped open goat blanket tents. There we met our friend and the groom of the day.

The Groom

We met Suleiman back in November through our friend Florence, who first described herself as “the French girl who knows a Bedouin guide.” You can read about my first Wadi Rum experience in Rum Diary. Flo has since returned to France and since November we’ve been back to Suleiman’s Fox Camp a half dozen times and continue to refer him to friends. When we arrived at the tent area Suleiman greeted us warmly and introduced us to one of his brothers and his father. 

Entering the long tents, there were carpets on the sand, a few chairs, a bunch of boys at one end, and a few men in traditional attire sipping tea and chatting at the other end. We sat and were offered traditional Bedouin coffee, a courtesy that guests are offered when they first arrive. When you are served you’re meant to drink your small cup down in three gulps or less and then signal your server that everything is alright and that you are finished by shaking the cup in your hand. If you don’t shake it means the coffee’s no good, you want more, or that you might have a beef with your host. 

Suleiman and his Father

Another Bedouin tradition I learned is that if someone shows up at your home he is not obliged to tell you his name, where he’s from, or what he is doing there for three full days. Conversely, it is rude to ask him any of this during this time. After three days you may ask who he is and what he wants. We witnessed this once when I was driving near Petra late one night on a dark windy road. After taking a turn towards Little Petra, I flashed my high beams and saw that around 50 feet ahead the road turned to dirt and I was about to run over Little Petra. I slammed on my anti-anti-lock brakes and grinded to halt stopping just short of some souvenir tents and a few ancient ruins. Immediately, two Bedouin men were at our car window and I tried to communicate that we were looking to get to Seven Wonders Camp. They  had no idea what I was talking about so I called the camp and passed it to one of the guys, then I told my buddy he’s probably going to get in our car now. He did. The guy was in his sixties and sported a wide grin and eyeshadow. 

We drove back the way we came and he gave me a series of dogri, yamin, shamal which are three out of the seven Arabic words I know. We made it to the camp and our new friend came in with us and sat down for tea and cigarettes. We went to our tent and cleaned up for dinner and when we came back he was still there hanging out. The next morning there he was at breakfast and we sat with and smiled and drank tea. We packed up and he told that it would be better if we walked to Petra through Wadi Araba with him. We politely declined and packed up our things, he hopped in the back, and we were off. I took him back to the spot where I had almost destroyed the ruins and we said goodbyes and were on our way. The camp we stayed at treated us, and him, with the utmost courtesy from start to finish.

Back to the wedding, we drank our Bedouin coffee and shook the cups. The girls were escorted to the women’s tent and Paco and I stayed with the men. We started with the first of 87 cups of tea that day. Bedouin tea is incredibly sugary, almost sickeningly so when you first try it, but after a while it starts to grow on you and soon you’re gulping it down. Every so often we would hear gun shots in the distance and Paco and I would start to duck and cover. After about an hour a kid showed up with an M-16 which he displayed to us proudly. It had “Property of the U.S. Government” stenciled on it. He turned, still sitting down on the cushions on the floor of the tent, facing away from the people and aimed up towards Jebel Rum and fired off a few rounds. The shots cracked the quiet of the desert and echoes thundered through the canyon while a group of young boys ran to collect the shell casings. Later a guy in his early twenties told us he had an AK-47 but ammunition was very expensive, around 1.5 JDs (around $2) per cartridge.

More men would arrive sit, say hello to everyone, drink coffee, then tea, and sit around the tents and chat. This is how it went for the better part of eight hours.

At this point we started smelling food and walked between the men and women’s tents to check it out. If you go to a Bedouin wedding you can expect to eat Mansaf which is Jordan’s national dish. We watched as wide pieces of shrak bread (like a huge tortilla) were laid on round pans. Afterwards they were covered in a yellowish rice which had pieces of herbs, peanuts, and pinenuts on top. Then pieces of lamb to top it off. It was a serious operation with probably around 25 guys working to prepare the food. They moved through the assembly line- lying out the bread and putting huge piles of rice on top with a snow shovel and then topping it off with lamb. They told us they killed ten goats for the event and that this was a relatively small wedding.

Around dusk everyone is shuffled back under the tents and seated on blankets. Adolescent boys set platters out in front of groups of eight to ten men. All we saw were men but Victoria, Katrina, and Alcira had the unique privilege to move between the segregated male and female tents and they sat with Franciso and I and a few Bedouin men for dinner. Another boy came around with a large tin pot and poured a brownish broth of fermented and dried yoghurt. The call to prayer sounded and everyone starting digging in with his hands. Each person works on a small section of the huge dish and not surprisingly the Bedouin made much less of a mess than we did. When we finished the boys picked up the platter and we were told more meat and sauce would be added and the food would be brought to the bride and the women in their nearby tent.

My first Mansaf and first wedding in Jordan- Shukran- Alf Mabrouk Suleiman. 

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