Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wedding Roots

About a week-and-a-half ago Amny told me that I'd been invited to the wedding of the son of one of the women (Nama from the video a few posts ago).  Awesome! I was really excited to see a Bedouin wedding.

About 4 days ago Amny told me that it wasn't actually the wedding ceremony, but part of the week of celebration leading up to the ceremony.  Still cool!  Several of the other women I've been working with said they'd be there too.

About an hour before we arrived at the celebration Amny told me that once we got there, I'd be sent to the men's areas, while she went to the women's area.  Quick mental calculation...number of Bedouin women I've met while working with Bedouin women's organization: dozens; number of Bedouin men I've met while working with Bedouin women's organizations: zero.  I got a little nervous at that point, but could only laugh and go with the flow.

We arrived pretty late in the evening after the party had been going on for a while.  There were two large, courtyards, one for the men, and another one, this one with walls, for the women.  There was no mingling of the men and women except as they arrived or left the party.  Amny found a group of teenage boys and requested that one of them escort me into the men's area and show me around.  I was quickly adopted by the little guy in the middle.  He wasn't at all shy and knew enough English to show me around a bit.  The men's area was a big open area with blankets and pillows and fires heating the tea characteristic of the Bedouins.  Some men were just lounging around on the pillows while others were singing and dancing together.  For about 15 minutes my guide enjoyed having me as the focus of his show-and-tell show. Once he'd introduced me to everyone he had the patience for, he deposited me on a blanket and wandered off. 

At which point I was adopted by another little guy who introduced me to some older guys.  These two guys and I hit it off and spent the rest of the evening talking about America and Israel.  They wanted to visit America, but were nervous about the reception they'd receive.  I was glad to reassure them that there are plenty of Americans that don't hate Arabs.  

This wedding celebration was unusual for me, for obvious reasons.  It was also unusual by the standards of a significant number of Negev Bedouins.  This wedding was the first, and likely to be the only, wedding for both the bride and groom. In comparison, it's estimated that over one third of the marriages in this region are polygamous.  The man is allowed to have up to four wives and often exercizes that option.

As I've mentioned several times in this blog, I'm interested in root issues or problems that contribute to other problems.  Last week while we met with a representative from the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Amny described polygamy as a root issue in this region.  It's hard for me to fathom the emotional and mental impact of being one of four spouses, a not so significant other.  The saying, "If momma ain't happy, nobody's happy" takes on a different meaning.  Rates of depression among the women are disproprotionately high.  This naturally has an enormous negative impact on her children.

All of the Bedouin women's groups that I'm working with are trying to tackle the issue of polygamy, though many of them can't approach it head on.  It's too sensitive in this culture.  Instead, they address economic empowerment among women, or they weave women's rights into literacy courses, or they talk about mental and emotional health in the clinics.  After four weeks here, I can't say that I understand the complexity of it, but I am more and more in awe of the pioneering women I'm working with.  They've made significant progress in just 10 years.