The last few days in my site have been pretty crazy. After the harvest, people have a little free time and more money than usual. So that’s when the weddings happen. Weddings are a big production here, usually a multi-day affair.
On Tuesday I got invited to a sadaqa for a wedding. A sadaqa (which I described in detail in one of my first posts) is a sort of somber affair. The family feeds a bunch of people and the local religious leader (fkeih) chants passages from the Koran. It’s a way of giving thanks to God. The sadaqa was mostly older men. I really enjoy listening to the chants of the fkeih. There were two fkeihs at this sadaqa so the two men sing two different parts. It’s pretty cool. Then we ate sheep tajine and couscous. The food is good.
The next day was a bigger affair; everyone in the village was invited. Before the food is served, there is music (which I’ll describe in detail below) and some dancing. Then food, then more music.
And the next day was even bigger. People from neighboring villages came too. That day (Thursday), was the actual wedding ceremony. Everyone shows up early and there is music while we wait for the bride. The bride is driven up in a car and then she and the husband go in the house for the ceremony. I didn’t see the ceremony and neither did most people – the ceremony itself doesn’t seem too important to people. I don’t think it’s very long or formal. People just kept dancing and singing outside. Then we went home for a little bit and came back later for more music, more food and more music. Lots and lots of music.
Last night (Friday) there was another party sort of thing. The daughter of a man in my village is marrying a guy who lives far away. So there’s a party for her, which is pretty much the same as the other parties, before she goes away. The family parades all of her new clothes around, then there’s more food and more music.
Tonight (Saturday) I’m going to another party. This one is organized by a local association. Monday there is another wedding. So it’s pretty busy. The music normally lasts late into the night, maybe 3 a.m. or so. I’ve had work early in the mornings, so I end up taking big naps every afternoon. Today, however, I was awoken from by nap by more music outside my window. Once a critical mass of drums and people meet in the same place, music normally starts.
Now to describe the music. The most important thing to understand is that it’s participatory. You can just stand there and listen and watch, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to sing, dance and clap. The music is rhythmic and repetitive. It’s led by drums; there’s normally ten or fifteen hand drums at any given moment. There’s usually someone who has spoons that he bangs against a metal plate. And sometimes there is a flute sort of thing. As far as I can tell, there are a couple drummers who lead the music and dictate when a song starts and ends.
When we’re inside, everyone sits down in a big, empty room. The rooms are rectangular, maybe 50 feet long and 15 feet wide. And they get absolutely packed. Maybe over 100 people. Women on one side of the room and men on the other. First the room fills up along the walls, but then as more people come in concentric circles of people fill towards the center. By the end, you’re normally jammed in their with people pushing on you from every direction. It gets hot as there isn’t great ventilation. You sort of have to let the sweat and heat not bother you or you won’t have any fun. To start the music, a couple people sing the words to the song, which is normally just a few words long. Then other people repeat it. It’s just a simple call and response. Meanwhile, the drums get going and everyone starts clapping. You’re sitting shoulder to shoulder and clapping. People start swaying to the music and eventually a whole line of people are swaying back and forth, singing and clapping. While you sway, you sort of move your shoulders back and forth. The drummers end the song by speeding playing louder. Almost as soon as the song ends, someone else has sang a chant to start the next song. Sometimes, if there’s space in the middle of the room, two women will stand up and dance with each other.
When we’re outside, it’s a little different. Two lines of people form, facing one another. People stand close together, shoulder to shoulder. The dance is simple, you bend your knees rapidly in unison with your line while clapping and moving your shoulders back and forth. The singing is call and response, just as inside. After maybe 8 repetitions of the words, the drummers play a small interlude, everyone slows down for a bit, then the second half of the song is played faster and more vigorously. When the song ends, people normally start the same song up again almost immediately. For me, outside is a little more fun as you get to move more and it’s not as hot, but inside is good too because it normally gets a little louder and crazier.
It’s the most integrated that I’ve seen men and women be in my site. When we’re outside, women and men dance next to each other. It’s nothing explicit, but you dance shoulder to shoulder, pressed up against the two people next to you. Everyone’s having fun and you forget just a little about the divide between the genders. The music is mostly for younger people, but there are always a few older folks who are really into it and lead the way.
OK, so the music is technically as good as the music we listen to on a stereo at a party in America. I mean it’s just people playing drums and singing the same words over and over. But it’s much more fun because you’re involved in making the music.
I’m still not moved into my own house. My landlord is being super cheap about paying someone to dig a pit for my bathroom. He bargains with people about the work, but they haven’t come to an agreement yet. It’s frustrating because he should have started the bargaining earlier if he was going to be such a stickler about it. He has an incentive to just bite the bullet and pay someone because every day that I live with my host family is time that he’s not getting rent money. He’s already lost more money from me than the difference between his offer and the digger’s offer. But it seems more important to him to get a good deal on the job than to make money. Frustrating. Ramadan starts in maybe 9 days and if it’s not finished by Ramadan it won’t be done until the month is over. So I’m really pushing the guy to hurry the hell up.
Like I said, I’ve had some work. I’ve met with a few association presidents to talk about potential work projects, which has gone well. Right now people just throw their trash in the river, so one project that we’re going to try to do is build cement containers to collect and burn the trash in. Burning the trash is bad, but better than putting it in the river.
I’m also working with the guy in charge of running water in my town. Right now the town pays a lot of money for water to be pumped from a deep well. We’ve found a spring a couple kilometers away that is high up, so if we can collect the water and pipe it to the water chateau, we’ll be able to decrease the bill for the water. It’s also been good because it’s giving me a chance to talk about water cleanliness with people. Nothing has happened yet and might not for a while, but we’re working on it.