We had the joy of witnessing a Pakistani wedding! We were welcomed with open arms, participated in a beautiful evening, and made nice encounters!
Following the 8-hour drive we had the previous day, we woke up in Dera Ismail Khan, a big city in the South West of Islamabad. This city is much more conservative than Islamabad, and the only few women we saw wore their niqab and even a burqa (covering all the body including the face). We were there for the wedding of a friend of Faisal, our host in Islamabad. Even if he had told me in Islamabad that I am free and do not need to cover my hair, here he had recommended me to wear my scarf to do so. For those who asked me if I wear it, I like to wear my scarf on my head as for me it is a sign of respect for local culture (that we try to respect as much as possible everywhere we go). In Islamabad, lots of women did not wear it. We still wonder if women choose to wear it for themselves, or if society and religion want them to do so. Tough question, because it is neither all black or all white and I don’t want to start a debate here!
So that morning, we went to the groom’s house to meet the family that Faisal knew. They warmly welcomed us and offered us the breakfast. This wedding lasted three consecutive days and we would attend the second day.
Actually, on the first day, there was a traditional ceremony, called Mehndi, during which the groom, the bride and guests decorate their hands with henna. The groom’s friends and family bring along sweets and henna for the bride, and the bride’s family does the same for the groom. The event is traditionally held separately for the bride and the groom. In the bride’s ceremony, the groom normally does not participate, and similarly on the groom’s event, the bride stays at home. We missed this first day.
The second day which is called Barat is the one we would attend. It is when the groom comes to the bride’s house to have the official marriage ceremony and take her back to his house. When we arrived to the bride’s house, we were told the bride’s family is very conservative, so women and men would not spend the evening together, but separated in different parts of the house. So I headed with the women while Alex followed Faisal to the men’s room. Hopefully the lovely women I had met the morning took great care of me. We started to dance together to the music of a drum played by an old woman. The girls around me would let their hair out of their scarf, but I saw that only the groom’s family was dancing, the other women kept their scarf covering their hair and faces, and did not dance. I wondered if they enjoyed seeing us dancing so freely. After an hour of dancing and chatting, food came and we ate delicious beef pulau (rice) and halwa (dessert made from sweet semolina and cardamon). Then the bride came. She was beautiful, she wore a beautiful dress yellow and red with lace, her hair was delicately covered with a red and golden scarf, she looked so quiet. She would keep her eyes down. I felt a bit of surprise because I remembered being so excited during my wedding and here she did not look so happy but rather quiet. Faisal told us after that this is the way brides should behave on their wedding day in Pakistan.
Actually, the wedding was an arranged wedding, and by taking part in it we also became aware of the cultural gap that we have with Pakistan on the subject of marriage. Before attending this marriage, we were far from imagining that arranged marriages still account for the majority of marriages in Pakistan. We still find it difficult to understand the implications of a marriage without love, meeting your partner for the first time on the day of your marriage, knowing that you will spend the rest of your life together without knowing their opinions, their values, their habits to which you will have to adapt. In a loving relationship there are things that we discover on the other one as we go along, and that make us decide whether this person can be our companion or not for the rest of our lives. To marry without knowing these things is to accept the other one, whatever you are going to discover about her or him, and to show an unfailing adaptation to accept it.
The parents had agreed their children would get married, and the groom had only seen pictures of the bride before. So today was the day he would see her for the first time. I thought that the bride was praying or felt the moment so deeply that she was in her own thoughts, or maybe she was so stressed out to meet her husband for the first time. Girls would dance and sit next to her to take some pictures of her. I sat next to her and congratulated her, she smiled at me and asked me if I was fine. I did not dare to ask more. In France, I would not expect a woman I do not know sitting next to me at my wedding and starting to ask me deep questions about my commitment!
After a few minutes, the groom arrived and sat next to her. They exchanged a few words, women and girls around were dancing and yelling happily. Then after ten minutes the groom left. The ceremony was over!
Here is what happened on the men’s side, from Alex’s report. He was welcomed very warmly by the men and got the seat next to the groom himself. A great honour! He spent the evening talking with the groom and other very friendly young Pakistani men. Before going to see the bride, there was a ceremony held by an imam between the groom and the father of the bride.
Then the groom left to go on the women’s side to see his bride ! and came back a few minutes later.
Alex and I met again when leaving the house, and all the groom’s family and the bride left to go back to the groom’s house. The groom and the bride, still keeping her look down, sat on a little stage in a big room in the house, and the music started better than ever. The girls dancing and making a happy atmosphere. When dancing, people would throw rose petals at us. I loved the traditional dances and we had a lot of fun!
After a while, it was time for us to leave. The groom’s mother hugged me and offered me some dates and we promised to meet each other again, Inch’Allah.
When we went out of the house, we were surprised to see that a military escort was waiting for us. A pick up with three armed men at the back. They escorted us until our hotel… where two other armed men waited to guard our room for the night.
The next day, we left early to reach Islamabad in the afternoon. This time, there was a Police escort waiting for us when leaving the hotel. But it was not driving fast enough for Faisal, who got rid of them. We have to say that our host Faisal is an amazing man but his only default is his way of driving: too fast, too close, too stressful. He would have never got his driving license in France! So we were kind of disappointed when the escort left, leaving us with his driving. This patrol was supposed to escort us until the boundary of the province, where another patrol would take the relay. We tried to make Faisal lower his speed and prayed that the other patrol was not too far. But at the boundary there was no patrol, or at least we drove so fast that we did not see it! We thought that security was a bit light if they stop escorting us when Faisal asks them to leave, without asking Alex or me what we think about it! We felt we do not need an escort, but if they give us one, they should be able to follow on us… After an hour driving, we made a break in Mianwali, a city where a colleague of Faisal offered us a gigantic super good breakfast with prata, fried eggs, omelets, chicken croquettes, toasts, homemade yogourt, ready made yogourt, homemade lassi, cream, sweet pratas and milk tea! But when taking the breakfast, Faisal received a phone call of what we understood to be the police unhappy that we left without the escort and trying to locate us. They found us in the house and brought us to the police headquarters of the city.
We were leaded in the office of the Police chief, a big room in wood with a huge desk sitting in the middle. The Police chief did not look very happy that we left without the patrol, but he started speaking to us in French and we had a nice chat. He told us we would get an escort until Islamabad and we thanked God (whoever he is) for that, because we had to reduce to the speed of the Police car who drove in front of us. We stopped in Namal College, a beautiful facility built overlooking a beautiful natural lake. The men from the Police patrol even asked to take selfies with us!!
The road went through rocky hills, date trees, crossing camels’ path. From the road we could see dozens of chimneys that serve to produce bricks. The patrol changed once again and left us at the highway to Islamabad. During the drive back to Islamabad, I indulged in my favorite occupation: watching the beautiful Pakistani trucks on the road.
When arriving to Islamabad, the rhythm of the previous days and the fatigue just urged us to get some rest. We spent the next days trying to catch up with all that we learnt during the previous weeks about Pakistan, religion and politics!