I’ve now lived in Jordan long enough to know that you can find almost anything in this country and that so many things here break from the stereotype of a conservative Arab society. But probably my favourite experience of this so far has been Samer and Jana’s wedding.
The bright light of the car headlights lit the winding road ahead of us as we drove through the dark to the Scandinavian Forest that sat at the top of a large hill, just North-West of Amman. Apparently a Swedish King had inaugurated the land, which is how it got its name.
Being quite familiar with the desert plains, dry grassy hills, and rocky valleys of Jordan I expected that the name “Scandinavian Forest” was just a colourful title rather than a description of what we were to find there. So I was surprised when we arrived and found ourselves standing amidst a slightly scraggly, yet enchanting forest of pine trees.
The reception area was a simple, large concrete circle that lay in a clearing beneath a tall pine with a messy string of fairy lights hanging in its branches. Lamps made of brown paper bags and candles were placed around the concrete circle, which was surrounded by tables and chairs to seat the arriving guests.
When we gazed out from the mountain, beyond the pine trees that circled the clearing, we could see the outskirts of Amman, which was a sea of multicoloured lights like tiny campfires burning in the distance. All these surroundings made it feel like we were in a fairy woodland party, rather than in the heart of the Middle East.
After arriving, I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, looking for my friends who had not yet arrived and preparing myself for the boring small talk you might expect at a wedding. But it wasn’t long before my friends came and I discovered that this wasn’t going to be a pretentious wedding with small talk and frequent glances at our watches.
Nothing about Samer and Jana is conventional, in all the best ways. And naturally their wedding was different from any other I had been to in my life. As the proceedings commenced, Samer and Jana stepped into the circle where their marriage contract was read aloud by close friends and family—in line with Islamic legality, yet written to suit them as a couple and their liberal beliefs. Jana is from Germany so this was a cross-cultural wedding. This meant there was a mix of guests present, some wearing conservative Islamic attire, while others wore short dresses. Whether liberal or conservative it didn’t matter. All were welcome and accepted.
Both bride and groom wore crisp, white linen shirts and loose fitted trousers. Samer wore a colourful patterned skullcap and had since changed out of the long traditional skirt that he had been wearing earlier in the evening. His mother had laughed to me about how he had been wearing a skirt while Jana wore trousers. But it wasn’t convention that had made Samer change his outfit—quite the opposite in fact. Instead of dancing a waltz as you may expect at a traditional western wedding, the pair prepared to fight Capoeira.
All guests gathered around the circle and watched on as the couple danced and fought, lunging and suspending themselves on their hands, kicking the air and moving together in harmony to the rhythm. Their Capoeira friends stood by, singing and playing traditional Capoeira instruments.
For those unfamiliar with Capoeira, it is a martial art that hails from Brazil where in the 16th Century, West African slaves combined dancing and fighting to disguise their training to rebel and escape their Portuguese colonist masters. Many Capoeira fighters used the art to break free and form rebellion groups known as Quilombos, outside of colonial control. If only those early inventors of Capoeira could see how far their influence had spread—even to the top of this mountain in the Scandinavian Forest in Jordan.
Samer and Jana had first met at Capoeira training, so there was no better way to celebrate their wedding than fighting together. But after the Capoeira, there were more dances to come, and more traditions to be shared. Arabian Dabke dancing was next.
The beat of the drum echoed through the trees as a long line of people holding hands were led around the dance floor by a blonde Jordanian wearing a white shirt and bow tie. He had a full but neatly kept beard and short styled hair that was slightly puffed up—not unlike the hipsters of the West. Joining in, I tried to keep up with the dance steps. In a circular motion the line stepped and rocked, two and fro—back-forward-forward-back—the pattern of steps changing from time to time along with the dramatic beat and Arabian tunes. Each song was like a celebration chant or war cry of deep undulating voices.
Shortly after the Arabian music fell silent it was time for the Beatles to shake up the dance floor. We gathered in circles with our friends, throwing ourselves around and moving to the very different beat from before. “Baby you can drive my car. Yes I'm gonna be a star. Baby you can drive my car. And maybe I love you.” We shouted the lyrics of the songs as we danced and laughed.
And finally, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. As the song blared from the speakers, we stood with our arms around each other, swaying and singing at the top of our voices: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality…”
Samer and Jana’s wedding was, in many ways, more like a dream than reality. It was a time of fun and celebration, where we were completely free to be who we were. That night will always stay with me as a reminder of the many times Jordan has surprised me and shattered my preconceived ideas of how I had expected the Middle East to be.