December 7th, 2011.
I woke up to an electric feeling in the air. I heard voices and movement downstairs, as things were busily being prepared, but upstairs I enjoyed a magic stillness – knowing at that moment that a very special day was ahead of me and wanting to remember and feel every minute of it. I stayed in bed for a long time, then tiptoed downstairs to greet the family that had arrived early to clean the house and cook lunch. I had a big portion of couscous and then left for the hairdressers with my dress, shoes and accessories and my fill-in sister for the day, Mariem.
I had spent a tiring 8 hours the day before searching for a last-minute wedding dress with my mother-in-law. The wedding date had been set just a week before, but Mansour and I had been waiting over a month to marry because we didn’t have the necessary documents to satisfy the municipality (they had rejected my birth certificate as being “too original” so I had to order a new one that wasn’t issued on the day I was born).. So when we finally heard somebody tell us, “yes, you can marry now” we were so happy that we asked to be married later that afternoon. And we would have happily married in our everyday clothes had Mansour’s family not been able to pursuade us to wait one week. Thus the wedding planning began, little did I know.
I thought to buy a simple blue or grey dress but quickly found that I was limited on options in Sfax. In Tunisia simple and wedding don’t generally go together and everytime I asked for something “classic” I was shown a leapord-print dress.. luckily Amel was very patient and understanding with me. The last boutique we visited laid out a white dress, and although I had no intention of wearing white I tried it on to be nice. Once it was on my body I loved it, but I had to leave the store and come back a half an hour later with Ahmed and Sarah’s approval before convincing myself to buy it.
The night before the wedding I was taken to have my eyebrows tweezed and my face waxed with honey. I was also informed that I’d have my hair and make-up done professionally, which I had planned to do myself.. I began to have frightening visions of being turned into a Tunisian-style bride with pounds of make-up and overly-coiffed hair which led me to panic and cry..
In fact, the hair salon gave me a beautiful chiffon bun and our neighbor Olfa didn’t overdo the make-up so that when I looked in the mirror I could recognize myself. As we were still painting on nail polish and sticking on french fingernails, my colleague Houda told me “It’s high time for you to get married”.. and she was right because the guests had been waiting for the bride for a half hour and I could hear Kerkennian music slowly drifting my way. Suddenly there was a mad dash to get me into my dress. We had 5 girls in the bedroom helping me get dressed so that I was ready to go when my father-in-law showed up at the door ready to take me downstairs. He took my hand and we made our way down the staircase and onto the street. I saw Mansour walking towards me with our friends and family and the musicians trailing behind him. This is a moment I will never forget.
We walked to his house and danced on the street before going upstairs to sign papers and make our marriage official. The two Lotfis were our witnesses and my mom, sister Katie, and Aunt Kim were watching on Skype as two men recited verses from the Koran and then asked for our signatures. Then, we were married! We made our way around the room receiving mabrouks from our family and friends and danced to the Kerkennian music that we had danced to at so many weddings before, but now it was our wedding and our music.
We had a beautiful white cake which read “Happy Wedding Mansour and Brittany” (luckily I was there to correct Mansour the day before when he wrote on a slip of paper “Happy Weeding”..). We served our guests juice and small pastries and danced in the living room for the next two hours, after which Mansour and I left to get our pictures taken at a studio.
When we returned a half hour later many of the guests had left and everyone was relaxing in the living room. I went upstairs to change my dress and when I came back down I found Mansour face down on the couch (he was very sick that day).. so at that point he went to the pharmacy to get a shot in his butt. He was much more himself after that and had the energy to dance for the second half of our celebration, which was a disco we set-up on the street complete with strobe lights and a DJ. We danced with our friends and neighbors to traditional music and club music until 1 in the morning. I danced so much that the next day my legs were sore, but I just couldn’t stop. As everyone was stacking chairs and people were getting ready to leave I went to my new mother and father in-law and told them “Thank you for giving me the best day of my life.”
That concludes the story of how a girl from Boulder, Colorado fell in love with a boy from Sfax, Tunisia after a terrible accident they were in together and agreed to marry him 5 months later. Two weeks later and it still feels like I’ve just walked out of a dream…
Thinking back, my first year in Tunisia was probably the loneliest I have ever felt. But I was content and I wasn’t looking for love. In fact, during that period Mansour and I were aquainted and I had blown him off several times. I remember he invited me to lunch once and had arranged a big feast of fresh fish and seafood at a restaurant downtown, but I called to cancel last minute. Before the accident, all we had really shared together was a two hour bus ride to Sousse during which he taught me the colors in Arabic and he told me all about his Kerkennian grandmother, without either of us having the slightest clue of what the universe had in store for us.
So maybe it was fate that put both of us in the back-seat of a car which never made it to Tunis. Because it was only after moving in with Mansour’s family, with broken bones, that I finally opened my eyes and discovered the love of my life. Just five days after I moved in I told my best friend Ahmed, “I’m afraid that I’m becoming attached” and just five months later I made the biggest leap of my life to date, and one that I quite honestly never thought I’d make – marriage, lifelong commitment.
Now, the treasure of my life is in my last name, Ajroud.