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Back in black (aka wedding prep)

Okay, so here’s how the real deal went down while Rick was off having fun with the boys in the market demonstrating how not to barter.

Firstly, in a Mauritanian wedding ceremony the men and women are separated so they don’t see each other all day. So, after the lengthy but ineffectual wedding documentation process with the bureaucrat took place, I was dropped off at 11am with the women, who were supposed to dress me up like a traditional Mauritanian bride with henna’d hands and headdress. Easy peasy.

Step number 1: I was told to sit on a mat



Okay so a few things happened in between which I will describe for you in as excrutiating detail as possible so that perhaps you might get an inkling of my pain.

11am: I sat on that mat by myself listening to Bollywood on TV from 11am to 12:30. Now don’t think I got to escape the mat at 12:30, far from it.

12:30pm: Still sitting on the mat. The women, kind and bosomy and wonderful, but Arabic speaking, bring me lunch of goat and potato and tea. They begin ripping black gauzy material, for what I don’t know yet. The fortune teller has returned, in her bright pink and black patterned robe, and an older woman, the one who showed me how to dance yesterday, her in olive robe with purple underneath, and all sorts of children in orange and yellow and blue with hot pink spots and hot pink with blue spots. And lastly Bia, in pink and white (a lot of pink here), my wonderful wedding helper, plump and round and voluptuous – the Mauritanian standard of beauty – who I could not communicate with in the slightest (a different Bia than Alioune’s male friend Bia). Bollywood is still playing.

1:00pm Still sitting on the mat there are flies crawling everywhere, because the goat had been placed in front of me with remnants of food remaining once removed. I half-heatedly wave them away, a pointless exercise. My eyes glass over and I try and see if the flies are creating some type of pattern with their jerky tramping across the carpet. Perhaps there’s an ancient message in there only I am meant to see. Bollywood is still playing.

1:30pm Still sitting on the mat, with barely a word said to me in hours, I begin to tear up at thoughts of spas and massages and body wraps and all the fun things one is supposed to do before a wedding that funnily enough don’t include sitting on a mat (I’ve never had a body wrap, but I am sure I would like it). And I am feeling very, very, very alone and lonely and still sitting on the f**king mat, which I am starting to feel a deep-seated hostility towards. And Bollywood is still playing.

2:00pm Still sitting on the mat. In front of me a boy pushes his sister. Bia grabs a strap and runs to belt the boy but a man, maybe her brother, maybe her husband, intervenes. Everyone is yelling. The man convinces Bia not to strap the boy so she starts belting him with it instead. Bollywood is still playing.

Side note: if any of you have been in a confined space with Bollywood on TV for an extended period of time, you will know that it is a Clockwork Orange mind control type experiment designed to send one Stark Raving Mad. For those of you that haven’t had this pleasure: AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

2:30pm Still sitting on the mat, which has reached a special level of hatred in my esteem. Women start cutting their toenails. I worry that my fingernails are dirty. I remember the dream where Rick said I had dirty ears. The women bring me tea, which they pour from above, one tiny glass cup into another until it is frothy. It’s been 3.5 hours – when are we going to get started???

2:35pm I have a brainwave! I think that maybe me getting up to use the bathroom is some type of signal to commence proceedings! Brilliant. I walk 6 feet to the bathroom. Of course this is the solution, why didn’t I think of this before? Although it is a squat toilet the bathroom itself is heaven. So clean! I breathe in the ambrosia of bleach, letting it fill my nostrils like a fine wine (if I drank fine wine). A heavenly aroma compared to Kassim’s squalid hole. I’m luxuriating in every breath until a boisterous child barges in on me, pants down and all (my pants, not hers). I shriek and she shrieks and my harmony with the bathroom vanishes, and I exit with utter embarrassment.

2:45pm No, my brilliant plan did not work. Still sitting there. But finally Bollywood has ended, thank all the lords and ladies and Allah and Buddha, and Arab Idol has started.

3:00pm Still sitting on the mat to eternal damnation. A second lunch is served. Goat with oily rice. Now I seriously apologize to anyone this might offend because goat is probably considered a delicacy and I am sure I am an ungrateful wretch for not being appreciative, but if there is one thing in this world I cannot stand is FATTY MEAT. I am gagging on the memories as I write this. As a child my tactics for fatty meat (and vegetables) were hiding it under the fork or running to the bathroom with a full mouth and spitting it out. There are no forks and I’ve just been to the bathroom so both those options were nixed. Still, the benefit of communal eating is that I’m able to employ tactic number 3, just eat the rice and discreetly slide the goat away from my side of the plate.

No, that didn’t work either. These woman are so kind that they WANT to give me all the goat. They are pushing it towards me on the plate and I am pushing it back and they are pushing it towards me and it becomes this ridiculous finger dance until the older woman, so lovely, rolls me up a ball of rice and fatty meat and gives it to me. Everyone is staring at me and there’s nothing to do but take it. In slow motion my hand goes to my mouth, and I’m hoping that something, a tornado, or a tsunami or something, will come crashing through and divert the path of meat to mouth and save me. But no such fortune. So the ball of fatty meat and rice is in my mouth and I think, maybe, just maybe I could wash it down with a huge swallow of water, but too late I realize the water isn’t bottled so undrinkable in this part of the world (probably not actually true but that was what I thought at the time). So I try and swallow but all I do is gag and I want to spit it out but there’s nowhere to hide.

Until suddenly a break! For a split second no one is looking at me so I seize the opportunity and spit the meat into my hand. But now there’s nowhere to put it so I sit there with the goat in my left hand, pretending to eat with my right hand, wondering just what the f*** I’m going to do to get rid of it. But because I’m kind of twisted sideways trying to hide my left hand I’m spilling rice on myself with my right hand and so the kindly older woman starts picking the rice of me. But I can’t just let her do that, or I’ll look like the queen of Sheba, and my right hand, like everyone else’s, is covered with oil and rice, so there’s nothing left to do but use my left hand. What to do, what to do? I slide the piece of meat under me and free my left hand but now I’m sitting on that bloody thing and I can feel it burning into me like I’m on hot coals. So now I’m praying, please, please don’t let this be the time where I’m supposed to stand up and get off the mat, and I’m freaking out because all of a sudden I realize there’s a very small child to the left of me that has seen the passage of the delicacy and is edging her hand underneath my skirt. Oh Christ, what do I do?

And then, a godsend. The henna woman walks in and everyone turns to greet her and I take the opportunity to slip the errant piece of fat and flesh under the serving tray, which is on top of a larger tray. The small child is still watching me but fortunately she’s too young to speak and I’m giving her the evil eye for all it’s worth.

And then I’m helped to stand and being led a couple of feet to the room where I’ll get the henna and I glance down and I can see an oily stain on the hated but aesthetically beautiful mat and I’m sure everyone knows where it came from. And in the middle of the flies and the fatty goat debacle and the heat and the kind ladies I’m reminded of the time as teenagers where we used whiteout to cover up a tiny spot on Karen’s parents ceiling, where we were convinced they would figure out that the whiteout was used to disguise the misdirected trajectory of a champaign cork and realize we’d been drinking and we’d all be grounded.

You think this post is long? Now do you feel for me, sitting four hours in the same place?

3:30pm But no, still not over. Now I’m on a different mat and it’s time for henna and all of a sudden all the men have appeared (except Rick) and are laughing and dancing and celebrating even though I’m lying down at an extremely unsightly angle. But one of the women senses my discomfort, as my skirt rides up, and throws a sheet of material over me, and then Ryan, Rick’s son, is there too and he’s dancing and he’s doing a great job and finally I start laughing at the absurdity of my dilemma and at what a wimp I am. And Ryan gets me some much needed bottled water because I can’t move, one hand is being held by the henna lady and she’s painting some intricate design on me which, you guessed it, takes a very, very long time.

5:00pm Henna on hand number one complete. At this point I’m just lying on my back, oblivious to how ungainly and ridiculous I look.

6:30pm Henna on hand number two complete. Yippee!! Time to get this party started. Only took 7.5 hours.


They do feet too.

The henna lady wraps my hands in toilet paper so that I look like I’m right out of my elementary school play where I was an Egyptian mummy, swaddled in toilet tissue. My line was “I am super mummy, I hate the dummies, I like the funnies” except the toilet paper started coming undone while I was on stage in the middle of my line and everyone except me erupts in laughter but it’s hideously embarrassing to an eight year old . And here I am, 35 years later, and still not seeing what’s so funny about being wrapped in toilet paper.

And now I’m serious prey for the flies because I can’t move my hands or one foot and I’ve got the scent of goat meat on me and they are crawling on my arms and face and I’m jerking like broken robot trying to shoo them off me and the henna lady’s getting a bit tetchy because of all this action, but that’s not really fair because it’s not like the flies are on her or anyone else. They’ve chosen to make me the sole focus of their attention.

7:30pm Foot number one done.

8:30pm Foot number two done. I’m reminded of my absent spa again, as they scrape the henna off my toes.


No. What? Yep, another mat for me to sit on and consider my sins.

I’ll try and hurry it up so you don’t fall asleep reading.

Sit on new mat for one hour. Now I seriously need to pee, thinking I could hold on until it was over, but at this point I realize this will never, never be over, and that this is my punishment for blasphemously converting to Muslim over the Internet, on the off chance it would help enable the wedding proceedings (recall the Imam not wanting to marry us?). It would be relatively easy to use the toilet except now I have henna on my feet and I’m awfully worried that I’ll pee on them and the henna will run and everyone will look at me and see the running henna and remember me as, ‘there’s the bride that peed on her feet’.

My legacy.

So I try and meditate, but that works as well as the last time I tried it, the first time I hung out with Rick, except that back then I fell asleep and today there’s no way I can sleep because I’ve now been wrapped head to toe in the black gauze they were ripping earlier. I mean head to toe quite literally. Everything including my face and toes is covered, Mauritanian tradition. We’d told Alioune I had my own dress, but everyone insisted on two ceremonies, one traditional Mauritanian so here I am, in black. Mauritanian weddings take place over three days. We’d tried to shorten it to one, being anti-social and all, but that wasn’t to be.

9:30pm Bia hands me my makeup bag and I try to put some on, to cover up the fact that the left half of my face is red and windburned from sitting in the car, but it’s dark, so I end up looking like a cross between Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love. But the black sack is brilliant, no one can see me anyway.

Women occasionally come and sit with me, but the conversation is stilted. They keep adjusting the black layers but no matter what they do I am like a two year old that keeps taking its clothes off, the gauze is hot and scratchy and perfumed. My head is itchy from the headdress they’ve woven into my hair. I keep unwrapping the robe and they keep wrapping it up. Tut-tut-ing me gently.

Henna, headdress, and a veil that refuses to stay in one place



I think evil thoughts about Rick and all the fun things he’s been doing today and realize that all this sitting is designed to make the bride so utterly and thoroughly fed up that she will be beyond excited to see her husband, to escape the mats of endless boredom. And then I realize that after 11 hours of doing nothing but sitting on a mat my brain has run out of thoughts. There are no thoughts left on my brain! Is this possible? I can’t consider, because my brain won’t process anymore. It has atrophied!

And then, as if to inflict just that tiniest bit more torture, Bollywood comes back on! Argggg! A single thought returns to my degenerated brain. That all I want to do is rip off my head and start throwing it against the concrete wall.

But finally! For real this time! There is honking and hooting and hollering outside and Rick is here, a few steps behind the rest of the men. Argk! They scream at me, cover yourself. Bia rushes to fix my swaddling wrap so I can’t be seen and then Rick and Ryan are there looking all the world like Catholic priests in their traditional white in scripted bou-bous and there is spontaneous dancing and cheering, except by me who I am told has to sit there in silence for the entire ceremony, but I push this thought out of my head – they must be speaking in jest – and after eleven hours I get to stand and at 10:15pm we head to the location of the ceremony.

Finally I see Rick!


Rick and Ryan in traditional bou-bous


Rick and gang, getting ready while I am sitting on the mat of ages


Next post: Wedding ceremony #1. I promise I won’t drag this out (much) longer

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