A Somali Wedding in London

In my last post I mentioned that one of my cousins living in London was getting married. It was wonderful. More in “look at all this great food” sense rather than “aww, what a sweet couple they make” sense. To be fair, they seemed like a very nice couple together, but my main concern was pigging out on the impressive feast of Somali food there. My mum and sister told me off a couple of times for snatching up all the sambusas and I left with one heck of a food baby, which no one could see under my guntiino (loose fitting Somali dress).

While I won’t add any photos from my cousin’s wedding, I found quite a few photos from other UK based Somali weddings (and elsewhere) to give you all a picture of what it was like. Also, you can take a look at 2nukollection’s post on Blogspot where she has some several photos of a British-Somali wedding. Another nice post with some info plus a video can be found on worldinmybackyard.com.

If you are ever invited to a Somali wedding, the first thing to take care of is finding the right dirac or guntiino to wear for the occasion. Some women use it as an excuse for a trip to Dubai (lucky bitches), but sadly we didn’t have enough prep time (or funds) to do such a thing.

A dirac is more commonly worn, especially by older women. They’re large, colourful and made of soft, silky material.

 

The other most popular option is the guntiino, as mentioned, which is also made of nice silky material and is wrapped over one shoulder. With a guntiino you would normally leave your hair uncovered and your shoulders bare, but I’ve seen them worn in a variety of ways before.

 

Sometimes men and women will celebrate together in one aroos (after party) and other times the men and women celebrate separately. The ceremony itself is nearly always mixed. My cousin’s had the men and women party separately. The aroos is also something that starts late in the evening (say 9pm-ish) and goes on into the night. Sometimes they last only one night, others they last for days. My guess is that they tend to be shorter in the UK since work is less flexible and people need to be somewhere in the morning.

Weddings that take place in the UK and probably many other Western countries where Somalis live usually take a more Western approach than in Somalia. For example, it’s uncommon for the groom’s family to pay meher (dowry) to the brides’s family, or at least in the cases I’m aware of. I’ve sometimes heard of ‘meher’ being used to talk about the engagement, but I’m more used to it meaning dowry.  Also the ceremonies in the UK focus more on the couple rather than the family as a whole. In a traditional Somali wedding, neither the bride nor groom actually has to attend; their families can arrange it all on their behalf.A bride might also wear a Western style wedding dress and there may be a wedding cake. I’ve never actually been to a wedding in Somalia (or Kenya or Ethiopia for that matter), but I know many who have and they’re always keen to describe every detail.

In both the West and Somalia the bride is decorated in wonderful henna designs. My sister and I wore a little henna ourselves, but were careful not to make it too elaborate. To have nicer henna than the bride would probably be similar to wearing a white dress at a Western wedding i.e. not recommended.

 

No matter where the wedding is being held, there will likely be an abundance in Somali treats! Lots of xalwo (Somali sweets) and sambusas (otherwise known as samosas) plus much more.

bbff986abaef33d8be88f2c28730e4c6

I’m no longer in London, so perhaps the updates will be more frequent from now on (hopefully). That said, I have exams soon and should be spending as much time as I can bare hitting the books. A nice update now and again could make a decent study break though.

Back to London

Royal-Scotsman-scenery4

(Not my picture, but illustrates the journey fairly well)

It’s funny how you can almost instantly tell once you have crossed the boundary between Scotland and England. All the pretty hills become ironed out into smooth, flat farmland followed by a sign that says “Welcome to England”. England looks rather depressing in comparison. Not that I’m at all sad to be back. I’ve missed my family back in London, especially since I didn’t return for the winter break. I tend to call it “winter break” rather than the Christmas holidays simply because I feel odd calling it that, as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. And yet what others call “spring break”, I still call “Easter holidays”, as senseless as that is. Perhaps because it just sounds too American.

I get to abandon “Henna”, my dancer persona, for a couple of weeks and go back to being nothing but my normal self. I’m writing this from my old room that I grew up in while my family bustle around downstairs, completely ignorant of that persona and the blog that goes with it. I was almost tempted to bring along my favourite pair of dancer shoes, but thought best of it. They are so comfortable and good for an ordinary night out without getting painfully blistered feet my the end of the night like normal high heels do. Plus most of my family couldn’t tell the difference (providing that they aren’t the clear plastic platforms that practically scream “stripper!”).My big sister is also hear for the week and would have questioned those shoes in a heartbeat. Part of me really wishes I could check out the local gentleman’s clubs just to see how they differ to the couple in Scotland that I’ve worked in, but I don’t see that being possible. The risk of wandering into another Somali here in London feels just too high.

It has been wonderful being around everyone from home again and hearing Somali being spoken all over the house. I hadn’t even realised how much I missed Somali music either.My sister feels it necessary to correct my pronunciation every once in a while whenever it sounds slightly too Scottish for her liking. It all sounds straight up English to my ears! I’m sure my Scottish pals would laugh at her for thinking anything I say sounds too Scottish. I also heard my mother speaking to one of her relatives in French and Tamashek the other day, which made a change. My mother’s side of the family is not Somali, but Tuareg. Most of her family still live in West Africa and are difficult to track down for a visit since they live a nomadic lifestyle. As a result, I’ve always felt more connected with Somalis and Brits.

One of my many cousins is getting married next week, so my mother, sister and I will need to have a dirac or guntiino ready. There will be relatives coming from Somalia, Kenya, the USA and New Zealand plus probably many more. They had better stock up on bariis! Needless to say, I’m very excited for the occasion!

I might not be able to update too frequently until I get back to Scotland. My sister is terrible for snooping and I really would rather she didn’t find the blog. I can already imagine her endless lectures if she ever found out about my exotic dancing habit. How funny it would be if I found out she was one. She’d never be able to play Holier than Thou with me again!

In the meantime, Salaam to you all.

My Dear Anushka, the Stripper

 

shoe pile 2

 

It was a while before I finally found out that Anushka had been stripping. She had probably been at it for a good month or two before I caught her out, which is impressive since we live in a small flat together and have relatively little privacy.

One afternoon we were expecting a group of friends around for supper. I had finished making lamb curry (microwaved from Tesco’s) plus some fluffy rice and angero (not from Tesco’s), so I was focusing on looking presentable before everyone came over. Anushka was still in the kitchen working on her kapsa (Saudi chicken and rice).

I asked her if I could borrow a scarf of hers I liked. “Sure,” she said “It’s in my wardrobe somewhere. Go have a look and if you can’t find it I’ll help you.” So I went to her room to search for it. Now, it’s rarely easy to find anything in Anushka’s room. She is great at keeping the rest of the flat clean, but her room invariable looks as though it has been hit by a hurricane. Simply walking over to the other side, a mere four meters or so, can be extremely hazardous. It was tidy once, but this was long before she had moved in. Nevertheless, I made it over to her wardrobe without breaking anything. With difficulty, I manage to open her wardrobe doors and an avalanche of shoes come flying out. Anushka really is a shoe queen. I swear, she must have at least fifty pairs of shoes in there, which is incredible as it is such a tiny box-sized thing.

I find the scarf, the green McQueen, on the top of a pile towards the left side and put it on. Not bad, I thought to myself. Only the scarf’s skull design, it did give me a slight “Somali Pirate” look. I then gazed at Anushka’s massive shoe collection in chaotic pile at the bottom of the wardrobe. She has so many wonderful shoes. If we were the same size, I would borrow them whenever possible. At the top of the pile I could see a fair few impressive labels. It was too tempting not to have a quick rummage while I had the chance.

I dug in and began to explore. A pale pink Miu Miu mule sat at the top. An understated, yet sleek black kitten heel by Prada. A brightly coloured ballet pump decorated with cherry blossom by Mary Katrantzou. Many red soled Louboutins. How did she ever manage to find pairs? No wonder she was always running late! Then, my fingers wrapped around what looked like a clear plastic stripper shoe. Huh, she must have bought this to take to pole class. That’ll be interesting to see, I thought. She’s only danced in flats and bare feet before. Now I really wanted to fit in her shoes. Curse my big feet! I went rummaging again to see if I could at least find its partner. I didn’t find the pair to the clear stripper heel, but what I did find was even more interesting.

It was a giant stripper shoe with a platform decorated with a pattern of pound notes, Euros and Dollar bills, plus some I didn’t recognise. Then I looked closer and saw that it wasn’t just a pattern. The platform was stuffed full cash! And there was a wee slit on the side with Tips in big golden letters. What had I just found? The heel had to be a good eight inches tall! I was fairly dumbstruck for a minute before deciding that there was probably a very ordinary explanation. Anushka hoarded all kinds of one-of-a-kind shoes in her collection. Mind you, I suppose being a stripper was indeed a fairly ordinary explanation looking back.

I decided to question her quickly before our guests came. “Hey, Anushka! Are you sure the scarf looks alright?”

“Come here and show me then!” Drat, I had forgotten she would still be cooking. I could hear the voice of our other flatmate, so didn’t dare take the show out to her.

“Please? It will only take a minute. And I’m trapped in your maze of a room.”

She gave a heavy sigh. “Really? Fine I’m coming. If my rice burns it’s your fault.” As soon as she popped in, I practically shoved the shoe in her face.

“What is this?!” I said waving it around like a loony.

Anushka’s facial expression froze for a few seconds before she collected herself. “You found them! That’s where I keep my cash stashed for emergencies. I haven’t been able to find it in ages! Thanks!”

“You’re telling me you use stripper shoes as some kind of piggy bank? Huh.” I was a bit crestfallen then. That actually made sense. But wait a minute… “So you keep like seven different currencies in here just in case?”

“Leftover money from holidays and stuff. Yeah.”

Drat. That checked out too. But hang on… “Okay, okay. Yeah, I see the leftover Euros from Spain in there. And the Austrailian Dollars from that trip you were talking about. But what about the Hong Kong Dollars? You’ve never been there.”

My aunt gave those to me because they look cool.” She told me coolly.

“Your aunt just gave you three $1,000 bills as a keepsake? I know your family has money and all, but come on! That’s like, 90 quid each! And three 1,000 bills look exactly the same.”

And then she crumbled. She closed the door hastily and hissed at me. “Okay, fine. But you must swear what I tell you must not leave this room.”

“I knew it!” I hissed back. “Why Annie, why?!” I was both shocked and fascinated. Shocked that Anushka had hidden something like this from me and that, well, it was Anushka doing something like this. Had it been one of my non-Muslim friends, I would probably still have been shocked, but not like this. I was also fasinated about the whole thing. What did she get into it? Why did she do it? It certainly wasn’t for the money. What was it like?

I bombarded her with questions until the smoke alarm went off.

 

 

From Halaal to Haraam

 

burka-babe-slut-walk

It’s weird, I never thought I would ever be associated with the word “stripper”. If you had come up to me, let’s say four months ago, and told me I was going to be an exotic dancer now I would probably have laughed in your face. Mind you, many of the other girls around here say the same thing. No one imagines themselves being a stripper growing up. Imagine the outrage if there were children’s toys available to show them it was a career option! Still, it’s definitely not a permanent career option for me. This is my way of having some wild times in uni before returning to the real world once I graduate. I study structural engineering so hopefully I’ll get paid to build stuff afterwards. My parents keep suggesting that I find work in Dubai (Somali parents all seem to be obsessed with Dubai. If you want to get something from them, just tell them it will help you move to Dubai), but I’m keen to help rebuild Mogadishu or Laascaanood in Somalia once I finish.

Anyway, you may be wondering how a good little Muslim girl found her way into this type of business. To be honest, my story is similar to many others. I’m sure you have all heard those stories about good Catholic girls and Mormon girls who grew up in a strictly religious environment and want to find their rebellious side? And those who were a bit nerdy in high school who are looking to prove that they have a dark side? I’m really just another cliché only no one ever seems to think that Muslim girls can be sexy too. We’re just like everyone else.

My friend Anushka was the one who talked me into it. She is Saudi, but spent her a fair chunk of her childhood in the UK as her dad spent years earning various degrees courtesy of the Saudi government. She had a hard time fitting back into life in Saudi Arabia when they eventually moved back. The lifestyle is entirely different as is the weather. I’m not surprised she decided to pursue her studies here to experience the life some more now that she’s older. And without parental supervision. I thought that by keeping close to other Muslim girls at uni, I would stay away from haraam things that typical Scottish students like to do (i.e. excessive drinking), but it seems to have lead me in the opposite direction. Well, the other girls I know are all fairly well behaved. It’s just Anushka who’s going to be the end of me. In fact I would hate to think what any of the others might say if they found out! That is partially why I thought I should start this blog. There are so few people I can tell about the things I’ve been up to recently without getting myself into trouble. It doesn’t particularly matter to me if no one reads it. The fact that I have somewhere to publicly vent helps ease my mind.

I am very keen to keep Anushka’s identity under wraps (Anushka is her stage name), so I’ll be very selective in what information about her I give. She goes back to Saudi Arabia once her studies are done and it would be unsafe for her to return if her current activities got out. Honour killings are no are occurrence there and while I doubt either of her parents would do such a thing, there is always the risk of extended family. Not to mention girls have been killed for much less than being a stripper. One woman was killed by her father for chatting to a guy on Facebook* for crying out loud! There is no doubt that being an exotic dancer has it’s own risks when you are a part of a highly religious family. However, I would like to make it clear that I do not believe that these so called “honour” killings have any part in Islam. It is a disturbing cultural issue much like FGM is in the Somali community. Girls have been murdered by their families for all sorts in all parts of the world to families of various religions.

Nevertheless, I would love to share with you as much as I possibly can. Anushka and I have our fair share of stories to tell and it has only been a few months since we first started. I hope you will enjoy reading some of them as I sure as hell won’t be able to share them with anyone else.

*Saudi Woman murdered for chatting on Facebook: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1583420/Saudi-woman-killed-for-chatting-on-Facebook.html