Terms of engagement: A match is made in Iraq
The Monitor visits the Methboub family as they joyously toast a daughter and her fiancé.
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"They said: 'This country [South Korea] wanted to be free, and this was the price. This we had to lose, to be free,' " Amal recalls. "I felt in my heart that it would be the same for Iraq, that we would have to pay."Skip to next paragraph
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"But where is the democracy?" asks Ali, the slightly built potential groom. "It's just killing. It's just body parts in the street. Saddam is still our leader, because the main reason they came was for weapons of mass destruction."
"Bush might get reelected? Maybe [Americans] don't know anything," says Nidhal. "They are losing a lot of their soldiers. They are still human beings."
"We are human beings, too," says Amal. "We used to hear only about Palestine. Now we are competing with them [to be more violent]."
The TV changes to Arab music videos that feature belly dancers and women in tightly fitting clothes - images that seem out of place in this conservative household, where the 12-year-old twin girls have been to religious school and often wear head scarves.
So the gathering shifts its attention, almost with a collective sigh of relief, to the couple and the business before them. The families have always been close; Ali and Zainab played as children, and joke with each other at every step of the proceedings.
Najjat's track record is good: She served as matchmaker to matriarch Karima herself, who was just 12 when she was married to her husband, Hussein.
"I am responsible for everything here," says Najjat, reminding Karima of their shared history, before assuming the stance of a market trader bidding for a priceless pearl. This is the first step; later the men of the tribe must negotiate the bride price and approve. Finally, the couple will go to court for a marriage license.
"He used to make a lot of trouble, but he's a good boy," says Najjat, speaking of Ali, a 25-year-old who works as a guard at a hospital by night and as a taxi driver by day. "It depends on you. Think hard, ask his cousins."
"I called everybody and got permission," inserts Nidhal, as if the union were a fait accompli.
"I am thinking hard. Zainab is our daughter," says Karima.
"For sure, it has to be this young man," says Najjat, pressing the case. "We don't want to do everything in a hurry. We can do it during [the holy month of] Ramadan, or the Eid [celebration]. We want to buy her gifts."
There is a pause, and Zainab and Ali sit on the edge of their seats. Then the quiet dissolves into rambunctious ululating and clapping. The deal is done.
"We wish it to be good for all, in both families," says Najjat, laughing. "It just happened. God made their love."
The next day, the Methboubs prepare for a party, to create a safe and happy parallel reality, if only for awhile. Orange soda is brought in; cakes are made ready, and their rooms in a decrepit apartment block spruced up. The daughters have changed into tighter, Western-looking clothes.
Zainab sweeps in with a radiant smile and a glowing satin dress. She is trailed by Ali, who looks dashing in a white shirt and tan trousers. A trumpeter and two drummers alert neighbors to the news. Sweets are thrown like rice and children scramble after them. Kisses are exchanged as the families celebrate their union. Zainab and Ali hold court, the TV plays, and the pumping rhythm of music makes everybody dance.
With ceremony, Nidhal places gold rings on the fingers of the husband-and-wife-to-be. Then Ali and Zainab lock arms, feeding each other bites of cake.
The band leaves and the daughters put on Iraqi dance music. The room is a blur of joyful motion. Najjat surveys her handiwork. "Now we have a happy story!" she beams.
But the troubled outside world won't be denied. With the party in full swing, a power cut stops the music and plunges the rooms into darkness. This time, everybody laughs.