Thursday, April 5, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Chinese tea and Pakistani Walima

I had an interesting and fun day on Saturday.  It began mundanely enough.  Two of my princesses went to gymnastics (the King drove them) and I stayed home with my middle princess.   Following gymnastics, my oldest princess had a playdate with a new friend she had met at gymnastics whose Mom and Dad are from China.   

When I went to pick her up at their house I left extra time because I knew the girl's mom and I would want to visit for awhile as we had never met since the King always drives to this Saturday morning class.   We had exchanged emails a couple of times to arrange this post-gymnastics playtime, and she had invited us to attend an upcoming performance of Shen Yun, a traditional Chinese dance troupe that shares ancient Chinese values (compassion, truth, etc) that I was interested in learning about.  

I had learned that most of the members of Shen Yun are members of Falon Gong, an anti-communist group that the rulers in China have been persecuting.  I think more than 2,000 Falon Gong advocates have been killed.  What confused me is the group's spiritual beliefs.   I was curious to know what this lady believed and why.  

 Drinking Chinese tea, we had a marvelous conversation about Falon Gong and our spiritual beliefs.  She described herself as a very moral person who tries each day to do better to live a good and upright life.  She definitely believes in Karma (which I always think of as the proverbial "you reap what you sow").  She wants her children to upheld the truth, show compassion and be independent, self-motivated individuals. 

I told her that I was in agreement with her, nothing would make me happier than to know that my family and I tried our best each day to seek the Truth and show loving compassion.   I then told her that it was interesting to me about how many commonalities we share--as wife, mothers, daughters, friends.  I told her that when Jesus came He declared, "I am The Truth." Isn't that interesting?  I believe that He is.  I also shared a little bit about how I believe that we are innately and inherently self-focused and full of self-will..and that I call this "sin." My sin separates me from God, who is perfect and holy and cannot tolerate sin.   That's why I am so happy that Jesus came to make a way for me to get close to God again, despite my sin.   

 "Yes," she said, "I am not a Christian but I like to read Christian magazine."  She then went to her bedroom and brought back a thick journal in Chinese.  When I left I said that I'd love to learn more about ancient Chinese values and if she ever has any questions about Jesus or Christianity I'd be happy to try to answer them.  

She was so lovely and kind, I am so glad we are becoming friends.  Her daughter and my daughter also adored each other, which is such a blessing because my eldest princess is very shy especially around her peers.  

I brought that princess to piano lessons and hit the gym for an  hour.  Excellent work-out, all bundled up to make me sweat more.  : )  Ran and did inclines and then picked her up to bring her home. 

After showering, cleaning and making an early dinner we headed out to Kohl's for their big sale.   We ended up being on line forever and ran into our previous babysitter whom we hadn't seen all semester. It was so good to catch up with her.  

Then we rushed home and got all dressed up to attend our neighbor's Walima Celebration.  They are Muslims from Pakistan and the mother of the groom, Annan, invited us to this special ceremony to celebrate her youngest son's recent marriage.   Annan has five sons and two daughters and many grandchildren.  They all live in one big house down the street.  I am friends with her eldest daughter, Sima. This was the second Walima we attended for this family and I knew my princesses were in for a treat!  

We drove to a stunning hotel not far from our house. I told the girls that we would be in a room with just other women, while the men would be in a different room.   I also told them that they would get to see women with reddish-brown tattoos from henna on their hands and arms, and this was considered very beautiful in their culture.  They were not looking forward to this evening.  Nothing I said seemed to interest or intrigue them...I usually have that effect on my two older's usually okay with me.  

What I did not prepare them for was how gorgeous the women looked.  We barely recognized Sima my friend.  For the first time my kids saw her hair---to her waist, thick and dark and perfectly straight.   She was wearing make-up and thick eyelashes and looked absolutely stunning.  Her two older daughters also looked beautiful and carefree without their head coverings.  The women's dresses were fabulous.  Many women wore sarees or salwar kameez and dupata (salwar are loose harem-style pants, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom; kameez is the long tunic shirt; and dupata is the wrap/shawl that gets draped over one shoulder).  Many of the guests wore their dresses from their own walima.  (Muslim brides in Pakistan often wear a red, burgundy or orange bridal dress--something bright-- and then they pick out whatever color they wish for their walima.)  These outfits were often made of gorgeous materials encrusted with crystals, beads and sequins.  Like walking jewelry. 

The bride was breathtaking.  She wore a green sharara with sequins, beads and crystals.  Her gold and jeweled bracelets covered her wrists to nearly her elbows.  On her forehead she wore something that looked like this:

Sima introduced me to Rida, the bride.   She looked about 16 years old.  Not kidding. I knew this was an arranged marriage and Annan had traveled with her son for the wedding ceremony that had been held in Pakistan earlier this month.  I was dying to know how old she was.  Her youth freaked my kids out.  "How come she's so young and getting married?!"  they demanded.  I wanted to tell them that if they were still living in Ethiopia they would have been married at age 13 so don't judge. I bit my tongue because I knew I was judging, too.  

After the elaborate cocktail hour (which went from 7:30pm to 10pm) we entered the ballroom for the dinner,  that began about 10:30pm.  There were wonderful Pakistani dishes made by Tandoor Caterers. 

We sat with a lovely Chinese-American lady who owns the real estate that the groom's family rents for their businesses.  We had met at the previous Walima three years ago and we picked up like it was yesterday.  Sitting to my left were friends of Sima's also from Karachi.  They were great.  I asked them a million questions and the 13 year old daughter at the table was more than happy to answer and explain.  

At one point I went back up to the bride to present her with a card and gift.  English is taught in Pakistani schools so she was completely fluent.  I welcomed her and her sisters to America and asked if this event was overwhelming.  "Oh, yes!" she cried.  "I am used to being outdoors for celebrations.  This is strange to be indoors."  

"And all the people," I insisted, "it must be overwhelming to be in this crowd of people you don't know well yet."  

"Oh, no, this is small.  At our wedding we had 1,500 guests," she explained.  

No joke.  

I think what struck me was how much fun everyone was having.  There was no alcohol, no music and no dancing...just women chatting and laughing, and dozens of young children running around high on kulfi (Pakistani ice cream so sweet it makes their teeth ache) with their cousins and having a blast. 

The hotel wait staff looked exhausted by midnight when some party-poopers (including yours truly) started to gather their coats and children.   I loved being there and was so grateful for the opportunity to see Annan and spend time with her beautiful family and friends. 

Apparently some Pakistani wedding customs have no foundation in Islam; those ceremonies and traditions have been adopted from Hindu culture.  Here are some descriptions I found on line:

Mangni is the engagement ceremony that marks the formal engagement of couple. The small ceremony takes place in the presence of a few important members of would-be bride & groom’s family. Prayer and blessings for the couple are recited and the wedding date is decided in Mangni.

 Mayun is custom of the bride entering into the state of seclusion eight to fifteen days before the wedding. She’s made free of all the chores and errands around the house. The bride and groom are not allowed to see each other after the Mayun; bride is not allowed to leave her house. The beautification rituals begin during this time.

Uptan is a paste made from turmeric, sandalwood powder, herbs and aromatic oils, which groom's mother brings for bride. She blesses bride and applies “uptan’ to the bride's hands and face. Groom's sister also does the same, and a thick string called a “gana” is tied to the bride’s arm. “Uptan” is applied to the bride's skin each day leading up to the wedding. Similar ceremony is held for the groom, where bride's mother, sisters, cousins and friends bring “uptan” for groom and rub it on his skin. 
Dolki is a popular ceremony of singing traditional wedding & popular songs accompanied by two or three percussion instruments Dolki being the main. The girl is officially treated as bride (dulhan). She wears traditional Pakistani yellow outfit. Her brothers, sisters, and cousins bring her (bride) in the dholki party. 
Rasm E Mehndi (Henna Party) takes place a day before the wedding. It’s a ceremony mainly of women. They apply Mehndi (Henna) to the bride's hands and feet, sing, dance, and bless the bride. Sadka (warding off evil) is performed on the bride i.e. donating money circling three times on the bride’s head. Traditionally mehndi was brought by groom's parents. Mehndi (Henna) is applied in beautiful floral designs and sometimes groom's name is written in designs. After the ceremony dinner is organized for the guests. Traditionally, the bride is not allowed to take part in the celebrations and keeps her face hidden in veil. Rasm E Mehndi is organized for grooms also in some parts of Pakistan. 

Baraat is procession of family, relatives, and friends of groom that accompany the groom to bride’s home for official wedding ceremony. Groom makes his way to the bride's home on a richly decked horse or in a car and “baraat” follows in different vehicles. Groom is given warm welcome by the bride’s family with flower garlands and rose petals. Family and relatives of the groom and the bride exchange glasses of juice or sherbet along with money. Guests are welcomed by the bride’s sisters by playfully hitting them with a stick wrapped and decorated with flowers.

Nikah is purely Islamic official wedding ceremony that usually takes place at the bride’s home. Nikah is attended by close family members, relatives, and friends of groom and bride. Usually, the men and women are made to sit separately, in different rooms, or have a purdah, or curtain, separating them.
Nikah-naama (document of marriage contract) is registered in Nikah. The Nikahnaama contains several terms and conditions that are to be respected by both parties (bride & groom). It includes bride’s right to divorce her husband. Nikahnaama specifies “Meher,” the monetary amount the groom will give the bride. Meher includes two amounts; one that is due before the marriage is consummated and the other that is a deferred amount given to the bride at a time to be determined. The Meher guarantees the bride's freedom within the marriage, and acts as the bride's safety net.

The fathers of groom and bride (Walis) act as witnesses to the wedding. If father is not available, the senior male, brother or uncle performs the ceremony. Islamic Imam (called maulana or maulvi in Urdu) reads selected verses from the Quran and waits for the Ijab-e-Qubul (proposal and acceptance) of wedding. Usually, the groom's side makes proposal and the bride's side conveys her assent. Maulvi and witnesses (gavah) take the Nikahnaama to the bride and read it aloud to her. She accepts the Nikahnaama saying 'qabool kiya,' meaning 'I accept and signs it. The Nikahnaama is then taken to the groom and read aloud to him. He accepts saying 'qabool kiya and signs the document. The Maulvi and witnesses (gavah) also do sign the Nikahnaama contract and the wedding becomes legal. The Maulvi recites the Fatihah, the first chapter of the Quran, and various durud, or blessings to mark the closing of Nikah ceremony. 

After the wedding is legally announced, dishes of dates and misri (unrefined sugar) are served to the groom's family. Groom is then escorted to his bride where he’s allowed to site beside his wife. This is the time when sisters-in-law of groom play pranks and tease the groom.

Mooh Dikhai is the ceremony of first time “showing of the face” after the Nikah. The couple is made to see each other in the mirror and the bride unveils her face that she keeps hidden during the Nikah. The custom of Mooh Dikhai is also called “Aarsi Musshaf.” The bride and groom share a piece of sweet fruit, such as a date and family and friends congratulate the couple and offer gifts. Dinner is served to the guests. The sisters, friends, and female cousins of bride take this opportunity to steal the groom's shoes and demand a sum of money for shoes. This is very popular custom and groom usually carries a lot of cash, due to the popularity of this custom. He pays money to get back his shoes and girls divide the money among themselves.

Ruksati is the ceremony to bid farewell to the bride before her departure to the groom's house. She says goodbye to her parents, close friends and family. The Quran is held over her head as a blessing. It’s a pretty touching moment. Although this practice is not Islamic but a lot of Pakistani families have come to adopt it.
Several traditional games are played at groom’s house. A tray full of a mixture of water and milk is placed before the couple and a ring is thrown into the mixture and husband and wife are asked to find the ring. The one who finds the ring is considered winner and dominant partner in the relationship. The couple is asked to untie the “ganas” (thick strings) that were tied on their writs before wedding. The one who unties it first is considered the dominant partner in the relationship. Bride eats kheer (sweet, pudding-type desert) out of the groom’s hand. This customs are designed to make the couple more intimate before the physical relationship. Groom washes the feet of the bride in a basin of water that is sprinkled into the four corners of the house. It’s believed that this brings wealth, prosperity and luck into the home.

Chauthi is the custom of bringing the bride back to her parents' home the next day, or on the fourth day after the wedding (depending on family tradition). Usually bride's brothers perform the Chauthi and goes to fetch their sister home.

Walima is the ceremony to announce the wedding to community and friends. It’s a grand reception hosted by the groom's parents. Relatives, friends and community people are invited to the reception and wedding is celebrated with great fun and festivities.