The end of my first week in Iran, if it hadn’t been momentous enough, culminated in the formal engagement of Ali Reza, Feri’s nephew, and Arezou his intended bride. The hard work and slick organisation which had been carried out behind the scenes by all involved whilst a normal family life continued regardless, only became obvious when the celebrations began.
The betrothal ceremony in Iran is traditionally a far bigger affair than the actual wedding which takes place at a later date; usually one year later but it can vary between 3 months and 3 years.
To start the public proceedings on the Friday, 600 people were invited to an afternoon/early evening gathering held at an orchard “Bagh” which was specially hired for the event. The orchard was appropriately decorated to accommodate the Iranian traditions of the “Bride” and “Groom”. Ali and Arezou arrived together in a car decorated with bouquets of flowers; the bride wore a long, white dress complete with head-covering, the groom was smartly dressed in a dark suit. On arrival they took their place on the “love-seat” so that the guests could view the happy couple, offer them congratulations and hand over the gifts. The first part of the proceedings was attended by both men and women, but this all changed at the ring of a bell.
Once the bell rang, the men and women separated. The men, including the groom, disappeared behind the screen dividing the orchard whilst the women remained with the bride in their woodland “quarters”. Women everywhere having been to the beautician, nails beautifully manicured, hair curled and coiffeured, were wearing wonderfully glamorous evening dresses and I felt a tad underdressed to say the least. I had also made the effort to put on “my face” and was quite proud of my efforts. Foundation, eye-shadow, mascara, lipstick; what I considered the “Full Monty”. However, I was rather taken aback when I was then asked if I wanted some make up to put on. I guess “less-is-more” has not reached these shores yet!
Now ready for the real party to start, some of the more sedate guests looked on from their seats and took the opportunity to catch up with family news whilst the dancing commenced. At the Iranian parties I have attended in England, I have managed, so far, to avoid Iranian dancing. Being in charge of the photographs and feigning ignorance works successfully there. Not so here. But more of my Iranian dancing lessons later.
As the only English woman amongst 300, it could have been quite overwhelming with everyone staring curiously at my very English features of fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks. However, the Iranian people are so friendly and welcoming and their interest and curiosity is only well-meant and not at all offensive that their polite nature made it a lovely and fascinating afternoon, for which I am truly grateful. I felt very much at ease with so much attention which is unusual for me and is testament to the amazing ambience which they manage to create.
It was also my good luck and great pleasure to be introduced to a lovely Iranian lady, Moazam. Moazam is an English teacher in Iran currently studying for her MA in English studies. Moazam very kindly helped me to converse with the Iranian ladies who wanted to meet me and ask questions, and acted as my translator all afternoon. For her attentiveness, kindness and boundless patience I am indebted and hope that one day I can repay her benevolence. Kheyli motashakkeram Moazam.
So, back to the Iranian dancing. Modern Iranian music has a very western feel to it but the dance movements are very different to the discos and parties I remember in England (maybe I need to go more often) and are based on more traditional sequences. Some dances replicate the growing and harvesting of rice-but I gave that one a miss since I have no experience or knowledge of this practice. I don’t think there is an equivalent beetroot harvesting dance in England. With some individual tuition and some coordination left over from my younger days however, I was able to copy and follow the moves of some of my newly-found friends quite competently. That was a good job because I was then taken round each separate area of the dancing platform whilst everyone clapped to the rhythm and watched this strange-looking person try to perform their dances. I don’t think that I made a complete fool of myself but I noticed that I caused quite a bit of merriment….and not an alcoholic drink in sight. And don’t forget, this was all in front of approximately 300 people who all knew how to do it properly. Most importantly for me, they appeared to appreciate my efforts to join in and, whilst dancing is really not my thing, I was more than happy to oblige on this occasion.
At the end of this first session of celebrations which came to a close around 7.30pm, the men joined the women again, and a huge three-tier cake was assembled and eaten. The guests gradually started to drift away leaving the 50 or so friends and family invited to Ali’s home for further festivities.
Before I was allowed the leave the orchard however, the owner of the venue personally invited me to a guided tour of the whole area, showing me how he had created such a lovely and beautiful area for these kind of celebrations. He had retained an old stone flour mill which still works together with the nearby well, and the canopies covering the seats and tables were draped with grape vines complete with bunches of ripening fruit. I was very privileged for the invite and again, this demonstrates the hospitality, warmth and willingness to please of this nation which we do not often get to witness.
Returning home, the party continued with more dancing, music, food mostly outside in the late warm weather which makes such a difference. When everyone had eaten and could hardly put one foot in front of the other, it was time to call things to a close and say Goodbye to everyone.
What a wonderful day, not just for Ali and Arezou, the lovely couple whose happy day it was, but for me to be able to experience such an amazing family occasion as part of their family and to be treated with such friendliness and respect all afternoon.