Published February 16, 2010 - Muscat Daily
Every town in Oman has its own set of characteristics that makes it unique. Living in Salalah has its charms but I think it's safe to say that weddings are probably the most stressful aspect of life here. In fact, they're so stressful that I'm going to have to dedicate this entire article to wedding preparations alone.
A couple of days ago I was talking to a friend whom I hadn't spoken to since she graduated from university six months ago. I asked her if she'd found a job yet and her response was 'I can't look for a job.. My brothers are getting married in August'. No, you don't have to check your calendar. It is indeed February 16th. So why do people need to spend a year preparing? Aren't weddings supposed to be simple, happy occasions? Not in Salalah!
I think we've reached the highest peak of wedding insanity in this town. After securing a bride, young men (regardless of whether they have a good salary or even a job) are expected to pay anywhere from five thousand to fifty thousand rials as a dowry to the bride and her family. Some families demand gold in addition to the dowry. Once the dowry part is over, the groom spends long weeks and months worrying about preparing the bridal suite - normally a five-star bedroom and bathroom in his family's house. Many families refurnish their entire house for the celebration. The women in the groom's family will often take over the whole process of selecting the best tiles, the most expensive carpets, glittery gypsum, curtains, and furniture. The man is left to pay the accumulated bills. The main purpose of all this is simply to impress relatives and guests. Quite often both the bride and the groom end up hating the décor in their bedroom (over which they've had no say).
Meanwhile, as the women work on the suite, the man is busy trying to figure out how many cows or camels need to be slaughtered for the men's and women's separate celebrations (usually held over a period of two days), which restaurant will cook the food, which hotel or wedding house will host the women's part of the wedding, how many people will attend, and how much it'll all cost. Overall, if we add up the dowry and wedding costs, I'm guessing a young man can spend up to 50,000 rials just to get married.
The bride's side of the story is even more bizarre. As soon as the wedding date is set, most young women go into a 'beautifying' frenzy. This can involve months of whitening, softening, fattening and other preparations. Salalah still believes in the concept of 'fattening the bride for marriage'. A common trick is to drink a potion made containing ghee, brown sugar, cinnamon and milk three times a day. A bride spends months buying 'necessary' items for her trousseau - thousands of rials worth of velvet, silk, abayas, lingerie, makeup, perfumes, frankincense, watches, bags and shoes. Most brides are kept in hiding at home for at least a month before the wedding because being 'seen' at that point is still taboo for many families. Just before the wedding, many families invite relatives to view the bride's trousseau, which is laid out in the majlis to impress guests.
When did this all become the norm? These aren't 'our' wedding traditions from the past. They just aren't. What they are is a reflection of how we as a society have adapted to the modern world. Since when was marriage about getting into terrible debt and spending your life's savings (if you have any) just to impress people? What happened to the idea of opening a new page with your spouse and starting a new life, young and free? Weddings are so stressful and expensive that families have started marrying off two or three (or even more) sons on the same day to cut costs. Smart move.
Don't get me wrong here. Not every family is falling into this societal trap. I know some people who are trying to break away from these materialistic insanities, and I salute them for trying. But have many succeeded? Not really. After having observed the results of too many ostentatious weddings, I encourage couples to start out simple. You won't regret it. In the end, nobody's going to remember the how many perfumes you had on display or how much you spent on the bathroom tiles!