Artist in Yemen

I will be in Sana'a, Yemen, May 27-July 10 2006. I'll be working on my Arabic language skills and painting every day, walking around asking questions about food and gardens and perfume and incense. I'll be studying and living at the Center for Arabic Language and Eastern Studies(CALES)in the Old City of Sana'a. Although I usually paint in reverse on glass, in Sana'a I'll be working in watercolor and mixed media on paper.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Najat's Wedding, Day one

I've just come back from the first of three days of Najat's wedding celebration. The women celebrate separately for three days, the men for one.
Since her house is small and simple, it was held a a house nearby, a beautiful old tower house, freshly painted for the wedding. There were many rooms full of women, all unveiled and dressed in gorgeous sparkly colorful clothes, shouting and ululating and having a great time. It was the first time I've seen Yemeni women's faces and hair. Beautiful strong featurd women with lots of warmth and energy to match.
I was lucky to be invited to stay in the room while an older woman put layers of traditional Yemeni jewelry on Najat, gorgeous old tribal silver with red beads and coral: Bracelets and rings and necklaces and belts, and a forehead ornament that had add-on big dangly things at the sides that moved with the bride. This with a sheer black veil so you could see her face through it. She was gorgeous.
Wonderful smells at the party, including big bundles of rue (Ruta graveolens) with its exquisite bitter skunky smell. Little bunches of rue were sticking out of sleeves and cleavages and jewelry, and one of the women gave me two sprigs and advised me to keep them in my armpits (!) the better to smell the rue. There were also garlands of Arabian jasmine on the bride and many other women, and women were passing around baggies of loose jasmine that was thrown around like confetti. And of course all the guests were perfumed. I was in olfactory heaven!
I was served tea and qat.
Each room had a different social scene, and I would have loved to have slipped off to the room where the older women were smoking a water pipe, but the younger women kept me hostage (the closest I'll come to getting kidmapped in Yemen) in their room where there was great music and they were all dancing. Everyone here knows how to bellydance!
I had such a fun time. I miss my girlfriends at home, and it felt so good to be squeezed into a room full of celebrating women. Yemen is such a male place on the surface, and it was a relief to be let into the women's private world. I was made to feel very much at home. People here are so kind, and go out of their way to make me welcome and comfortable, wherever I go.
Tomorrow I go back to Najat's house in the afternoon for the henna party. There is a special black henna unique to Yemen, called khudab, that I am eager to try.
Thursday is the European style, white dress celebration.
I'll keep you posted.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. -Jelaluddin Rumi