When we went into Ali’s house I had no inkling that an Amazigh Berber marriage proposal was on the cards. We all sat and had tea and Brahim and Addi disappeared one by one to have a thorough wash before prayers, then we heard the muezzin call and they set off excitedly for the mosque. No sooner did the last heel disappear from the doorway than the girls pounced on me. Mama with her daughters Fatima, Hassna and Miriam with baby boy Youness just chuckling all the way through the proceedings. There is no point in trying to hold on to dignity or modesty when faced with a group of determined Moroccan women. Any vestige of British reserve has to be cast aside. You have to go with the flow and enjoy it. The girls viewed me as their own personal barbie doll and were very dissatisfied indeed with my outfit (which I thought was pretty cool) of khaki shirt with co-ordinated trousers.
MY WEDDING DAY
‘Today, Zahra, you are going to be a bride!’ Hassna crowed. They disappeared off into the back bedroom and came back with mounds of clothing. ‘Stand there, arms up,’ I was told firmly. I did as I was told and regardless of the fact that it was pretty warm, I was layered up. First an emerald green kaftan with paisley print was pulled over my head. Then, a long piece of white satin was draped around me and tied at both shoulders to make armholes, a bit like a toga. Hassna, who was about 13, proudly brought out a long, woollen red cord with three enormous tassles on the end and spangles along it. ‘This is mine,’ she sighed happily, stroking the belt, ‘I made it myself for my wedding. Isn’t it beautiful?’ It was tied round my waist and the white satin ruched up. Mama produced out a red headscarf which was hand beaded all around the edge and tied it round my head so that all my hair was covered and the beads hung down to frame my face. The top went up to a little peak. Fatma wound pearls round my neck and then Mama added a necklace of amber and orange beads. To top it all off, a traditional Amazigh black shawl with bright splashes of embroidery was draped over my head and shoulders.
I felt like a giant parcel but we weren’t finished yet. A large, jolly neighbour arrived. I could feel the force of her personality as soon as she came in. From her bag she whipped out kohl, lipstick and perfume. Kohl was liberally applied round my eyes and the lipstick rubbed in to my cheeks as well as my lips.
The girls were ecstatic, ‘Beautiful, beautiful, so much better!’ fluttering around like little birds and coming in to fold a piece of material properly or make sure my head coverings were just so. It was such a moment of innocent fun and happiness and after weeks with the men, I enjoyed being back in female company.
LETS TALK ABOUT SEX
I was pressed back into the cushions and the neighbour fixed me with a gimlet eye. ‘You have never been married? No children?’ I admitted that was so. She gave me an exploratory squeeze. ‘Hmm, good.’ I felt vaguely worried. ‘Now, you have the clothes, you can marry Ali, and become his second wife.’ I glanced over at his first wife who was sitting opposite me nodding along in apparent agreement. The rumbunctious neighbour made a circle of two finger and poked another one through it vigorously and with inescapable meaning but just to make sure she carried in . ‘You and Ali, lots of fucky fucky and then you will have a baby.’ Ali’s wife and daughters all joined in with gusto, ‘Yes, yes, then you can live with us always.’
I was wondering how to get myself out of an idea that appeared to be gaining quite a lot of ground without causing offence when I heard the sound of the men coming back. Saved! They were chattering and laughing, happy to have been able to observe Friday prayers in the mosque.
Addi and Brahim came in first and did a cartoon comedy double-take when they saw me. Addi made the clicking sounds in his cheek that are his highest form of approbation and Brahim said, ‘This is good, you have changed for the better.’ Couscous was served and we all ate hungrily. I was allowed to take my wedding dress off but gifted with the red beaded headdress and the necklace and then we loaded up the camels and set off again.