Her father gave permission for me to marry his daughter after a required one year engagement period. Once the immediate family knew we were engaged two things changed immediately; One – she was no longer just the youngest girl in the family and last on the pecking order but was addressed much more politely by her brothers and sisters while I was present. Two – my weekends were no longer mine. Every Friday evening after work, one of her brothers escorted me to her home where I would spend the entire weekend with the family, then return to my place late Sunday. This was good, it gave us supervised time together to “get acquainted” and I was allowed to buy her small gifts and flowers (never an even number such as a dozen roses, only odd) from time to time, but was cautioned by her brother not to over do it.
Not everyone in her extended family was overjoyed at the idea of her marrying a foreigner in general or an American in particular, for that matter neither was my immediate family when I told them. One of her uncles was rigorously opposed to the marriage and for a couple of months was a major pain in the ass. I learned early on from one of her brothers that he talked crap about me to her father and had a couple of his buddies investigate me during my time in country. Eventually this asshole uncle’s meddling and opposition came to a head about three months into our engagement. Him, father, a couple of her brothers and me were up on the roof drinking tea when this character started criticizing where I was living. That did it. The short context of my much-less-than-polite answer was to inform him that I really did not give two shits about his opinions, sniveling or objections to my marriage; and it would really be in his best interest to keep his mouth shut from that point forward. I also reminded him that his permission was not a requirement or wanted since her father had given his; and if that offended him, he was free to go fuck himself. End of conversation. He left pissed off and we did not see him again till our wedding day; to this day we are still not on the best of terms but can speak civilly to each other for short periods of time.
Now we get to the business part, the negotiations. In the more rural areas a bride is often bought with a bride price (not a dowry which is the wife’s family giving money or goods to the groom and his family) and arranged marriages are still commonly negotiated between the girl’s father and groom’s father. However this was directly between her father and me so we spent one long afternoon negotiating the price I would pay for her until we reached a deal. She cost what I thought was a reasonable amount in dollars (a bit over $10,000 in four installments) that was then converted into equal value of standard 24k gold coins. It is expected that the husband-to-be provides certain gold jewelry for the bride to wear and display on the wedding day. There are shops (souks) that sell nothing but this type gold jewelry; dollars are acceptable but no one argues with gold. The standard bride bracelet are made of 1 ounce gold that looks like small twisted rope in a solid circle. The gold is really soft and bends easily so cannot be worn as daily jewelry, after the wedding the bracelets are put away for safekeeping. Since the husband-to-be is the only one to buy these bracelets for the bride (and I had a year to get them) how many she wears on her wedding day is an indication of what she is worth to him. And yeah, the neighbors and family women did count how many she was wearing. Through some not-so-subtle questioning I found out that the typical village bride might wear four to six bracelets, on our wedding day I made sure that my new wife wore five on each arm.
We threw an engagement party for family, her friends and neighbors to celebrate. I picked up the tab for a small cake, her dress and shoes, and a couple of boxes of cigarettes for the men. It actually did not cost me all that much for the party since the neighbors brought the food and drinks. Someone loaned us a tape recorder and a pair of speakers so we had dance music (I did not pay for the celebratory gunfire however). The party guests divided into men and women, ladies stayed in the house and in the enclosed back yard, the men were across the street in a neighbor’s yard. Can’t say what the women were doing at the time, but the men were talking, drinking, smoking, then somebody thought it would be great idea to have a knife throwing contest. I stuck the post a couple of time by sheer chance then quit while I was ahead. The cigarettes did not last long as everyone smoked including me, the local cigarettes are short, unfiltered and strong even for seasoned smokers.
Her mother stayed mostly in the background during our engagement and said very little except, I think, to coach her daughter on how to be a wife from time to time. We went out to eat once in awhile, had family picnics and bar-b-ques, went to the beach a couple of times (she could not swim), shopping or sitting on the porch spending together. About the shopping, she had a couple of hand me down dresses from her sister to wear which embarrassed her, but she never asked me for any money or anything else. I wanted her to feel good so one day I gave her a little bit of local cash to get some new clothes for herself. Her mother went with her and they came back in the afternoon with several bags of nice new stuff. What made this event special besides seeing her happy? She had not spent all of the money that I gave her and handed what was left over back to me.
About halfway through the year, I was talking with her father in the living room after dinner when she came out of the kitchen carrying a pan of water. It is important to know that wearing shoes in the house is not allowed (to this day we take our shoes off when we come in to our house), so all I had on was socks. She put the pan of water down, took off my socks and washed my feet while her father and mother watched. Was I surprised? Damn right. I did not understand what that was all about at the time but her washing my feet kind of sealed us together, she never did it again.
As our wedding day got closer she asked me a lot about America, my family (they never fully accepted my wife for many years and treated her badly at times when I was not around), where would we live and maybe some day I could teach her how to drive my car (I did try exactly one time to do that after we were married), it did not turn out well. Do you have any idea how expensive a street light pole costs?