Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wedding in Atlantis....the adventure continues

Before the adventures of the new weekend begin and the last are just an ancient memory I should try to recapture what it is like to go to a Jordanian wedding at the Atlantis resort in Dubai. Rawad and I were invited by a young woman, T, we interviewed to come work for us. This was about my third day in the office. T arrived for her interview, a beautiful, confident young woman, wearing a scarf over head but no abaya. Her education and experience are just what we are looking for. As she was leaving we wished her well on her upcoming wedding and she enthusiastically invited us to attend. (This was before we had attended Abdullah’s bride’s wedding night celebration). We subsequently have given her a job offer but it arrived two days before her wedding. She is off on her honeymoon now and we have not heard back but we are hopeful T will join Transpo’s Abu Dhabi office soon.

In the week following the interview we received an invite to her wedding celebration held at the Atlantis Resort in Dubai. After having one great wedding experience and the chance to see the Atlantis on Palm Island, how could I refuse? Friday, after taking most of the day to recover from the Lebanese night club experience from the evening before, Rawad and Melissa and I hopped in the car and headed for Dubai. The second visit into this crazy town held just as many surprises as the first. Our first stop was at the far side of town to the City Center mall. To get there we drove past the same odd buildings sited the first time through, past the Burg Kahleefa (aka Burg Dubai…the tallest building in the world) and so got treated to a whole new assortment of buildings. We drove past the new Dubai airport and over a convoluted series of ramps and turns (thank Goodness Rawad was driving because we would have never been able to find it ourselves) and arrived at the Mall. This mall was bustling with activity. The busiest mall we’ve been to yet. This is the sales season. All the stores were sporting large signs. The sales at this and other malls end on August 9, just before the start of Ramadan. Then apparently things go back to normal prices. Rawad told us that the stores do not normally have sales as in order to advertise a sale the store has to go through government paperwork to get permits. Too much hassle so they just have sales once, during the sales season. I have tried to get paperwork done by the government here. I would avoid having to do that if possible so I now understand this sales pattern. We found an H and M store and I was actually able to find a suit that fit (a few days later I took it to the woman’s tailor a few doors down from our office. They hemmed the pants and jacket sleeves for the equivalent of about $8 US and were ready for pick up in three hours). The suit, not on sale, came to about $130 US. I still can’t figure out pricing here: while housing is extremely expensive, and some restaurants, the ones in the hotels, you can spend an arm and a leg to feed yourself, other food and restaurants are inexpensive. And I can buy a sharp, classy business suit for well under the $400 dollars I would expect to pay in the states. (Those that know me know I am not into designer labels and chatting about how much I paid for this or that. I usually cringe when someone goes on to tell me how much they paid for this or that so it feels a bit awkward doing that here. I think I am doing so here because the shopping and pricing here still have me confused. The exchange rate is currently around 3.6 dirams to the dollar. Though I am getting better at doing the division in my head I sometimes stumble and gasp at what the tags say and am so relieved to figure out than instead of being extravagant on spending on myself I am giving myself a good bargain).

Anyway, back to the Dubai trip. The wedding invite was for a wedding to start at 8 PM. I have learned that that means don’t dare arrive at 8 or you will be there before they are even set up. We got to Palm Island around 8:30. The center spine of the island is lined with these opulent gold residential buildings. It looks like quite the hot spot to live. However the economy in Dubai has been hit so badly that even these homes are a great bargain. At the end of the spine (or palm trunk) we see the Atlantis gloriously displayed before us. We duck into a tunnel and pop out on “the crescent” which is the ring around the palm tree island. This lushly planted wonderland has a magical feeling about it. Like arriving in a special Disneyland for adults. We follow signs to the wedding reception which is located in a ballroom at a far side of this huge hotel complex. After valeting the car we walk into the lobby straight out of someone’s fantasy.

The floors are an intricate mosaic of marble. Carved palm tree pillars hold up a very high dome that is hand painted with an underwater scene. We turn Melissa loose to explore Atlantis while we find the wedding reception. We walk down a long hallway to a lobby where we are greeted by a group of older men who welcome us to the party. Servers stand by offering trays of various juices. I imagine how nice it would be if those glasses of juices were good red wine or chilled champagne. Especially as it would be nice to take the edge off of walking into a room of elegantly dressed strangers. I am once again grateful I had the foresight to get a nice long dress before I came that will stand in at these types of occasions until I can find another. If I am going to be going to weddings every weekend I will need to upgrade my formal wardrobe.

The ballroom is filled with beautifully decorated tables. A huge lighting and camera boom takes up a corner. Technicians are busily fine tuning the settings and testing the hydraulics. Young children sharply dressed up run up and down the aisle. At the end of the aisle are a dance floor and then a stage with a sparkly white lounge displayed. Based on this and the other wedding celebration we went to, it looks like rather than alters and candles, weddings in this part of the world have disco balls and lounges.

Rawad and I take a seat at a table at the back. Only about a third of the tables/seats are occupied yet. Looks like it might be a while before things get started. We get up and stretch in the lobby for a while and then go back. We are joined at our table by a beautiful young couple. She was a college mate with T’s new husband. She works for the Port of Dubai in planning. He works for a developer that does projects for the military. We exchange business cards and pleasantries. Along about 10 PM we hear joyful music and drums somewhere off in the distance. The couple has arrived…finally! Down at the end of the long hallway, a crowd has gathered. Men are dancing. A bagpipe is playing. A group of young men in gypsy clothes are singing. The crowd is throbbing. This is a celebration folks and I think how cool to start the wedding as a true celebration. T is in a beautiful white wedding gown and veil with train. She is stunningly beautiful and glowing. Her new husband is beaming receiving enthusiastic hugs from the men in the crowd. There is a bagpipe along with other native instruments and drums. It’s difficult to convey on page how truly happy this occasion and procession is.

The celebration continues outside the ballroom for a long time. We all go into the ballroom while the bride and groom are delayed by massive picture taking efforts. Finally they enter the ballroom. The big camera boom captures everything and broadcasts it on the big screen upfront. The bride and groom (no attendants) go up to the lounge and the dancer/musician troupe entertains the crowd for a very long time. The fast footwork and high jumping are impressive. The crowd sings along and claps. Finally the dance troupe leaves. In short order a cake is cut (with a saber), a couple’s toast is shared, and the bride and groom have their special dance. Then people from the crowd join the couple on the dance floor. The dancing goes on and on and on. There is a beautiful food buffet waiting in the lobby but nobody is making a move to start it. We have to wait for the dancing to end. It never does. Rawad and I want to give our best wishes to T and her husband before we leave. About 11 PM the couple leaves the room to the lobby. Rawad and I give them our congratulations and then take our leave. We still have to drive back to Abu Dhabi and I want to check out the rest of the hotel before we leave.

We join Melissa who has had several hours of wandering to learn the lay of the land. She has had an elaborate henna design put on her foot and shares her stories of her conversation with the henna ladies. She gives us a tour of the grand lobby where a Chihuly sculpture stretches from floor to ceiling. Breathtaking. The bustle in the lobby is an international smorgasbord of families and couples escaping the heat for the weekend. We walk through the lobby down another hallway. There are crystal shielded bars serving high-class customers. It all has a sense of an intriguing spy thriller. Minus the guns and espionage music. At the end of a long hallway with walls lined with fantastical art installations, is a glass pane of a five story high tropical aquarium. Skates and sharks mingle with brightly colored schools of fish. Outside we hear the throbbing beat of a crowded pool party. A band is playing pop music as young bikini clad girls grind around swim trunked studs. It looks like spring break on MTV. It is getting late and we have to drive back to Abu Dhabi yet so we don’t get to see the large water park with the tube that goes through a shark reef or the dolphin park area. Something to come back to in the future.

I will try to add in pictures but for now must post this before we start our Omani border dash adventure. I hope to be sitting by a pool, sipping on a drink with a little umbrella in it, falling asleep while reading my Kindle. I want to be OUTDOORS. So tired of being cooped up in air-conditioned rooms.

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