A step inside a Libyan Engagement . . .

Tonight I attended my first engagement party ever.. and it was a Islamic engagement party, there were five of us that had been invited to our friend from Uni’s party. Over the course of this year I had become comfortable asking her questions that may offend others, I asked about the different culture practices, how she felt about Libya, what her wedding (a hypothetical at that point) would be like, the practices of hijab wearing and so on. So when she invited us to her engagement party, we jumped right in to asking questions.

Will there be men there? What should we wear? How will the engagement work?

Now since this was an arranged marriage we asked all sorts of things about that practice as well we learned as much about the practice as we could.

But when I entered this room it was still a shock, some of the most gorgeous women were dressed to the nines a roll away cart filled with Hijab’s and coats sat next to the door,a threshold where you no longer had to be restricted or worry about the happenings of the other gender.

These women had the most beautiful hair of all cuts, colors and styles they had curled it, straightened it, in updo’s. women I otherwise would have spent the night wondering about their hair now moved freely with gorgeous tresses on every head. These women were dressed in full make-up and gorgeous dresses, dressed up for each other, and themselves because truly that is who women have to dress up for everyday as it is. . .

I was lucky enough to sit at the table with the grooms family, Libyans via London, and the nicest women I have been in quite some time. They shared there customs with me, they told me what every piece of food I had on my plate was and invited me to London to relive this experience all over again in December.

While I am sure American’s have these same interactions at weddings, and make new life long friends there was something about this particular experience that was different, I don’t know if it was the fact that it was all women, and therefore no need to compete for the attention of the men in the room, or if it is a cultural difference that somehow in our capitalist, self preservation, separation  of Church and State society that we have lost. Something about this culture welcomed me in.

We ate, we talked, we laughed and enjoyed the celebration of our good friend, and new sisters engagement,  during the middle of dinner about 8 oclock, some women began to leave the various dining tables and make their way to the hijab holder, grab their beautiful over coats and hi jabs and make their way to the back of the room, almost out of sight but not quite. At first the 5 of us that were not Islamic were quite confused and then just as silently these women began praying, one of their 5 daily prayers, in groups of 2 or 3 women made their way back to complete this ritual. There was no interruption of the party even though the party of 98% women who partake in this act of Faith, they allowed the party to go on and each took part in their faith in their own way.

There is something beautiful about that, that these women did not feel the need to flaunt their faith or make their faith more important or better than anyone else’s this was a conversation between them and Allah and they were the only ones that needed to be involved. I think that this type of relationship with your God is a sign of true faith in whichever religion you are practicing.

Then came the dancing, a moment  when 30 women crowded on the dance floor to show off their moves to each other, there was traditional Arabic music and dancing, there was wonderful booty shaking that I think I could master with more practice, there was laughter and trilling that I could not get my tongue to manifest. Then in the middle of it, the music changes to . . . Trap Queen. and every one of these faithful women jumped onto the dance floor, began dancing away and singing every word!

In that moment I looked around, made eye contact with my two friends that were there with me and just thought, ” I love this moment.” ” I have never been more happy to have a new cultural experience than I am right now.

We spent the night celebrating, no competition, no petty drama, just women enjoying the moment in the life of our friend and each other.

And as I left I gave each of my new friends two kisses on each cheek, as four is traditional in Libya, as I learned and said goodbye and I hope to see them in December.

So how can we create these moments, these times when we are all so welcomed into a new cultural accepted as ignorant and unknowing but taught the ways and loved for our attempts at culture? When is there a space in our everyday life that we can invite someone into our culture and take the time to step into theirs? When we are comfortable enough to make the effort with no judgement no reservations?

I hope that I am able to find more times to step into other cultures to learn more about Libya and Islamic culture and to welcome them into mine.

❤ Kelsi Rae

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