Meeting my husband in Colombia was really good, because he got to have a taste of the Colombian lifestyle. Both cultures are really different, and I think a part of that is the landscape of the place. That’s why my Love+Culture Haven talk was named “ From the Amazon to the Sahara”. In Colombia, everything is super green with rivers and mountains, and then when you are landing in Egypt, it’s like an apocalypse with all desert and little houses covered in sand. It’s a completely different landscape that affects the way you impart your culture.
When you are younger, you connect with each other on things that are not necessarily culture based. For example the type of music we listen to, the type of activities we like to do. And that for me was really surprising. How can I connect so deeply with somebody that had a completely different childhood from me.
When I was thinking of becoming more serious with our relationship, I decided to move to Egypt for 6 months. To see if that is a culture I want to have for the rest of my life, or is it something that I definitely can not handle. But after living there, I realized that I really love Egypt. I love its culture, and even if it’s super different from Colombia it also has a lot of similarities. Especially the way we treat each other and our family. How hospitable people are. Other things like religion and language are different, but the core of what was important for me was there.
It was culturally very important and a big dream to my husband’s parents to see us get married. But since we didn’t get married religiously, it was more about the culture and the party.
Arab culture has a lot of misconceptions, there is always a certain fear. So I really wanted my Colombian family, aunts and uncles to see the culture. After the wedding they all said, “I can’t believe how happy and nice Egyptians are.’ They all danced to latin music and it were so lively.
In muslim traditions the week before the wedding you go to the Mosque to sign a book that’s like the wedding contract. It’s similar to going to the courthouse. But since Naira is not muslim, they legally got married in Colombia. Then validated the papers in Egypt, and celebrated the marriage with a big reception party.
The parties are really similar to the US wedding receptions, because of the cultural influence. With white dress, big hotel room, music with a DJ…etc. I really wanted a small wedding, but my husband’s mom wanted to invite 300 people. So at the end we compromised and had 100 guests in a small outdoor garden venue.
The entrance to the party was with a traditional Egyptian music band. Ten men were wearing a traditional ‘Galabeya’, which is a long white tunic. They have drums, flute and tambourines and sing marriage songs about the bride and the groom. As the musicians start to walk in, we are behind them dancing with everybody around us. We do this for about 30 minutes until everybody gets to the dance floor, where the main party starts. The meaning behind it is to give good energy to the couple and welcome them to their new life.
In multicultural weddings, besides the party and the fact that it’s a fun event, it’s important for the families to meet, because maybe they will never see each other again. So the wedding being the only opportunity for that alone is worth it.
I was on my way to the airport from Barcelona to Cairo. I fell down the stairs and my ankle just swole up like three tennis balls. But I needed to take that flight, because I had my wedding on Friday. So we flew to Egypt, and in Cairo we went to the doctor, who said I need a cast. I cried for two hours and felt like this is the worst thing that can happen. Or that I have an evil curse. My father-in-law is such a kind soul. He told me “when bad things happen to us in muslim culture, we just say ”Alhamdulillah”. Meaning “thank God” that this happened to us. Even if it’s something bad, we just say thank you. This happens for a reason.” He also promised me that I will be able to dance on my Henna night.
Henna night is usually two nights before the wedding, and it’s like a bachelorette party. With only the women, you paint your hands with henna tattoos, dance, and all the women in the family can give advice to the bride. On that night, I had to do a belly dance that I have practiced for months.
But everything turned out fine in the end. I danced with my cast up on the top of a chair, sitting down, or with crutches. So the cast was the cool thing that I was wearing.
It was actually a blessing in disguise, because we were super nervous about the wedding and this accident kind of took off a lot of pressure. It doesn’t matter if the flowers were not in the correct place, or the food is cold, because the bride has a cast. So just let it go! The big issue was how am I going to walk and dance. Not the seating chart.
I wanted to have a pinata for my wedding, so I brought one from Colombia to Egypt. It’s not a Colombian tradition (more like Latin and Mexican), but I wanted to do it anyway. Inside the pinata were the decorations and props for the ‘La Hora Loca’, which is the ‘crazy hour’.
It’s a Latin American tradition we have at weddings. Since Latin American weddings are until 4am, at midnight you have the ‘crazy hour’. The waiters usually come out with face masks, glow in the dark paints, glitters, hats, huge glasses, bead necklaces, and light up rings that I brought all the way from Colombia. All of these things were inside the pinata. So when the pinata exploded everyone took the decorations and then the ‘Hora Loca’ started. This hour of the party is the craziest, with all the good songs and all the hits. You have to dance like crazy for that whole hour. I had a super specific playlist with all the Reggaeton hits and everyone loved it! All the Egyptians were telling me later ‘omg, I want this at my wedding!’
Since I wasn’t in Egypt, my mother in law was planning everything. I was also planning all the logistics for family and friends that were traveling to Cairo. They were asking us a lot of questions about hotels, down payments and tours. So I had to let a lot of things go, because if not, I’m going to go crazy. Like having a Colombian food, or fireworks. At that time my husband was in Spain, I was in Colombia, and we were planning a wedding in Egypt. So I said, if we start fighting about small details, we are going to break up.
When my husband’s parents met me they saw that our relationship is about moving forward together and making each other better. So the thought of me not being in the same religion wasn’t as important.
I love Egypt! I love Egyptian traditions. And there are some traditions that are religious, that I still like to celebrate. For example, Ramadan is a religious holiday that is the Christmas of Muslims in the sense that it’s a holiday based on sharing with family, or being generous. So this is something that I also like to celebrate. And if I ever have kids, I want them to celebrate that too. Despite the fact that they are not religious. I like the values that some of these events have. They are religious values, but they are also life values. Like being generous and kind.
I was worried a lot about what happens if the cultures don’t really mix. When the latins are dancing reggaeton, the Egyptians are going to be all shocked. Or what are the Colombians going to think if a lot of women are veiled. But worrying about these things were literally out of my control.
“My advice would be to focus on what’s the funnest part of the wedding for you. The wedding ceremony, the reception, the picture, or the food…? Don’t try to focus on everything to be perfect, only what’s super important to you. And then just relax and delegate. Because if you are trying to do everything, you will go crazy.
Connect with Naira Bonilla:
Amor Diverso Podcast: @amordiversopodcast
Photography by: Lamis Magdy