VIEWPOINTS FROM TANTA - Based on conversations with Menna Elkhateeb
No, I won’t talk about politics and the situation in Egypt. I refuse to watch the Egyptian news and whenever my parents turn on the television I ask them to spare me from this chatter and to switch to some documentary about wildlife in Africa instead. Why? Because the media has become the parrot of the new government and we are its puppets. This is not what I dreamt of after we had pushed Mubarak from his throne.
Thus for now I have decided to concentrate on myself to be able to go on with my life, even if this means that I live in my own bubble. All I strive for is to be a good and happy person, to focus on my career as a graphic designer and above all: to get ahead with my wedding preparations.
To prepare for her wedding is a big thing for every woman. The wedding preparations here in Egypt however are slightly different from those in Western countries. They have their own special turns and twists.
And this is what I want to tell you about.
Mohamed and Menna
....if she is lucky to find a man
I am 26 years old now, the average age for an Egyptian woman to get married - if she is lucky to find a man. Many women find this very difficult. Some of my girlfriends, for example, are still single. They say, that it’s easy to bump into guys, who talk nicely with you and flirt with you - and then disappear. These guys just want to have fun. My friends are very upset about that. They don’t just want to have fun, they want to have the real thing, a husband and father for their children. And here you can’t just live together with a man and leave if you don’t like him, as you do in Europe. Our Islamic religion doesn't allow this and it's deeply refused by the Egyptian culture as well.
Dating sites? No thanks!
Nowadays there is a lot of advertising for online dating-sites: “Are you searching for a good man, come here!” , they scream. But I have never been interested in online dating. I have always wanted to meet somebody without any pressure or expectations, as it is when you meet new friends. Mohamed and I were studying together. Somewhen we became best friends and then we got attracted to each other. That is the way I wanted it.
By Menna Elkhateeb
We were engaged one and a half years after we had met. During all this time we spent together as friends we haven’t really talked about getting married, though. Well, let’s say, not in a concrete way. When Mohamed proposed, it came kind of out of like the box. One evening, he simply proposed to me on the phone. We were talking about this and that and all of a sudden he said: “Ok, I love you and I want to marry you”. Honestly, it took my breath away. I was of shocked. I was just able to say: “Ok….?” It wasn’t romantic at all.
A few days later we had lunch together and discussed things through. And until then I had started to feel thrilled.
Now we needed an appointment with my dad.
I told my parents a few days later after dinner that I have a friend, who wanted to marry me and had to meet with them. My parents can’t have been utterly surprised about that, as they knew about Mohamed, so they said: “Ok!” My dad asked me for Mohammed’s number, and Mohammed asked me for my dad’s number. He called my dad, and my dad welcomed him. They set a date.
The first time Mohamed came to our home, he came on his own. We all sat down and had tea. I don’t have to tell you how nervous I was. I could feel my heart beating in my entire body. Mohamed talked about himself, about his parents, his family and his work. And explained exactly where in Cairo his flat would be, how big it would be and how it would look like. That’s important, because he couldn’t get married if he couldn’t afford a flat. This is a huge problem for many young people here in Egypt as apartments have become very expensive. It’s basically very expensive to get married anyway, so the age of marriage is rising constantly. Mohamed is lucky, he has a good job in a bank.
Like an audition
If this meeting seems like a kind of audition to you, you are right. It was indeed a kind of audition. And Mohamed did great, I think. After his performance Mohamed asked my dad to call him and tell him whether he was considered a suitable husband for me. And my dad nodded. He promised to call, as soon as he had made up his mind.
Mohamed was extremely nervous, and so was I - event though I was sure that my dad would say “yes”. He knows I love Mohamed so he would never have said “no”. But our tradition demands that the parents of the bride research their future son-in-law thoroughly. The parents are obliged ask about him and his family, they want to make sure that this guy has a good reputation.
I can’t remember exactly how long we had to wait. Two days, maybe. Then my dad called Mohamed and told him that he had passed. We were allowed to get married.
Then we had another date, this time with Mohamed’s family. They came to our place on a late November afternoon. I was again horribly nervous, I was scared to death to make a mistake, to say something wrong, to spill my tea. But the evening was very nice. Mohamed’s parents are good people. I felt that at first sight deep in my heart.
The man has to take care of the flat, the woman of the furnishing.
Shortly after we all met in my home to perform the ceremony of the al-Fatiha. This is the opening sura of the Koran. We sat in a circle on the sofas and chairs and read the al Fatiha, we confirmed that we all agree to this engagement and bless it. Then our parents said: “You go now, you are blessed to be engaged.” We asked for a good life and exchanged congratulations.
Then we turned to more pragmatic issues: We settled, who had to buy what for our future home and how much money our parents would support us with. According to our tradition, the man has to take care of the flat, the woman of the furnishing. So, Mohamed deals with everything that has to do with the apartment. When he bought it, it merely consisted of red bricks and some walls. It needed to be painted, the electricity as well as the toilets and sinks had to be installed. I am obliged to buy the kitchen stuff, refrigerator, stove, towels, lamps, the furniture for the bedroom and the living room, the carpets, mattresses and the tv.
I'm even planning to buy some stuff from Ikea. I know that you love Ikea a lot, actually so do I. I went there with Mohamed a few weeks ago, and really, I got fond of everything there: the candles, plates, kitchen tables and chairs. Mohamed bought me a very nice sketchbook from there as a souvenir of this first visit to Ikea.
By Menna Elkhateeb
Kaleidoscopic view into my future.
I store all these things on the upper floor of our house. It looks like a warehouse. You can't imagine how crammed it is. My heart beats faster whenever I take a glimpse at my new belongings. They give me a kaleidoscopic view into my future. I admit: I am as fearful as I am happy and excited. It will be the first time to be together with someone, the first time to experience life with a man at my side. This will be an adventure. Thus I love reading about married people, about their stories, experiences and problems, and about what they do and how they solve them. I am optimistic, as Mohamed is wonderful, totally uncomplicated and fun to be with - but sure, it will be a different life.
I will keep my job as a graphic designer, even though I plan to work from home as the office is far away from our apartment and it can take hours to travel across Cairo. This perspective makes me nervous as well. Will I feel lonely at home? And I fear I will miss my parents a lot. Actually, this is what I fear the most.
The timing of the wedding dress
I guess you can’t wait to hear about my wedding dress. I know from my friends in Europe that the wedding dress takes the central stage in their wedding preparations. It’s crucial here as well. But before I buy my wedding dress, Mohamed needs to finish the apartment, and I still have to get curtains, mattresses and carpets. As soon as we have mastered this, we will set the wedding date and decide on the day we venture for the wedding outfits. We will go shopping together. He has to help me choose my dress. I hope I find what I want: Something white, clear cut, nice and very simple.
I don’t want to have a big wedding. Mohamed and I went to a wedding of friends in Cairo: Two hours in a big hotel cost around 50000 Egyptian pounds, about 5700 Euro. That is too much! We will rather save the money for our honeymoon. Our wedding will be simple. I would love to have it at one of those beautiful mosques in Cairo that have lush gardens in front. Then people can come, spend time together and congratulate us.
I love Mohamed so much. And he is very romantic. He buys me flowers and chocolates and yesterday he sent me a big bunch of roses. That is lovely. I know, that everything will be fine.
By Menna Elkhateeb