Our guests joked after the wedding that the next wedding will have to be in space in order to beat this one. We didn’t intend to set the bar that high, but sometimes things just work out.
Adam and I are Travellers with a capital T and an Australian spelling. We met at a couch surfing event in Australia after we both relocated from our respective home countries: America and Jordan. We are not “traditional” by any definition.
Neither of us had a dream wedding on our dream boards and when the time came to publicly proclaim our love we felt a tour was more fitting than a classic wedding. So we chose Jordan as the destination and gave our friends and family a save the date with 2 years notice.
Originally we had intended to skip a proper “wedding” and just have the tour of Jordan as our celebration, but our guests were adamant: “when is the ACTUAL wedding?” You have to keep your guests happy! So we set about finding a way to have a ceremony that was special in a land that prides itself on doing the exact same wedding party for everyone. The only thing that varies is how much money is spent. Being different is not rewarded; one of the reasons Adam moved to Australia. So our efforts to avoid a big hall with brash lights and loud dance music were constantly challenged.
Then a good friend suggested the Amphitheater in Jerash, a well preserved Greco-Roman ruin north of Amman. We were skeptical but went to explore with new eyes. Visiting as a tourist was fun, but visiting with the intent to hold an event made it magical. Somehow it made me feel kinship with the people who built the place so long ago. They used it to communicate and celebrate and entertain, and here we were nearly 2000 years later doing the same thing. It felt right and I fell in love with the idea of creating a special moment in time in this special place on Earth.
We then set about constructing a 7 day tour of Adam’s homeland, trying to balance the desire to see everything within our time constraints. Our American guests struggle to take long holidays, so most of them came just for our week of events. Most of our Australian guests added 1-2 extra weeks around our tour to see places like Jerusalem, Turkey and Hong Kong. An interesting contrast in work/life balance between my homeland and my adopted country; one of the reasons I moved to Australia.
We had never toured a country with the intention of bringing others there in the future. It was a great way to get special attention, but I was surprised that most of the staff assumed I meant next week rather than next year. Some of them stopped being interested when they knew we were planning a year ahead. Talk about living in the moment; Jordanian tourism service providers are ready for the last minute traveller!
In order to keep track of all the elements and costs in the tour for all my guests, I built a prototype web application called YouLi, as in “YouLive to Travel”. I now plan to complete the product development and launch a version for everyone to use later this year, be sure to Express your interest.
With the venue selected and the 7 day tour validated – the plan all seemed doable, in theory anyway. We had just one year to bring it to life from the other side of the world, in spite of my non-existent Arabic skills and against the protestations of family.
The positive response we got was stunning. At one point we were afraid 50 people would come! We love them all but we knew we couldn’t handle that many people easily. Life conflicts winnowed the number down to the final headcount of 30. Still twice as large as I had expected. Clearly our friends shared our passion for travel and they were in for the adventure. They came from the corners of the world: mostly the US and Australia, but also Asia, Germany, Argentina, Lebanon, Qatar, and France.
A few had to overcome parental or personal fears of traveling to the Middle East. This is not surprising given the negative focus in the news. It makes this complex land seem to be a constant set of dangers even though many areas are actually safer than New York City, where I lived safely for 8 years. Part of my dream for this tour was to help them see a positive side to the Middle East and bring home tales of friendly bedouins and peaceful sunsets. Some of our guests merged the two and dressed in the local attire during our camping adventure in Wadi Rum.
When we landed in Jordan 2 weeks before our guests arrived, everything was settled for the tour but the wedding plans were in chaos. I quickly understood why I was told by my mother-in-law that weddings in Jerash “just aren’t done”.
But then I watched a transformation come over Adam. When we were in Australia he was distracted by work and immersed in his Australian life. When I asked him to do a task for the wedding, he did it, and then moved on. Once in Jordan, he was like a fish in water. Suddenly he knew people who knew people who were responsible for the things we wanted. Anyone exposed to traditional societies understands this is the only way anything really gets done, but it is all softly done. It is difficult, if not impossible to make these things happen on a particular schedule. And so I watched the plans I had agonised over for 2 years come to life in this magical way through the power of just being there and having the right conversations. All I had to do was to let go and ride the wave, trusting in my fiancé and accepting the best of what came our way.
Travel is like that, you can do only so much planning and then you have to immerse yourself in the experience. The beauty of growing older is that I’m getting a lot better at finding the balance between the two.
May 10th came and all of a sudden, there we were, standing on the stage in the South Amphitheater in Jerash, Jordan. The local Jordanian band was playing a traditional wedding Zaffe to trumpet our arrival. Our friends were dancing and many locals had come to see what all the fuss was about. Our ceremony included a beautiful rendition of “Feeling Good” by our friend Yasmin with Gemma on the guitar, no microphones, just using the natural acoustics of the space. As we progressed through the ceremony tourists would stumble upon us and then take their places in the seats to watch the show unfold. I wonder how many social media feeds our wedding has ended up in!
The Zaffe was one of the elements from traditional Arab weddings that I loved and wanted to include. We were lucky that the resident band in the Jerash amphitheater was able to be our Zaffe band – and open the back door to the theatre for us. Yes, those are bagpipes and their inclusion is a surprise to many. It turns out bagpipes were likely invented before the romans and even Emperor Nero is reputed to have been a “piper”.
My shining moment came when I spoke my Arabic vows. As mentioned above, I don’t speak Arabic. My wonderful sister-in-law translated my vows and taught me the words I needed to know. I memorised them, including her pacing. It was the only real surprise I had for Adam and later he told me he liked them better than my English vows. That made all the time I spent memorising worth it.
Vows are not part of a traditional Arabic wedding celebration. Yet I found that they were an important aspect of a wedding in my mind. They are words from your own heart that express what is most important about the life you envision together. Regardless of the religious or secular laws that define the marriage, I firmly believe it is the intention of the couple to create a shared vision that makes a union last. I promised to learn Arabic someday because I’ve come to understand that each language comes with it’s own perspective and I want to share that with Adam.
After the vows and ring exchange we danced in Dabke circles and hugged and cried and clapped. It was the most joyous I have ever been.
The day after the wedding we packed 30 of our guests into a tour bus and headed south for the rest of the tour that included Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba/Red Sea and the Dead Sea – arranged by Spice Road Travel. It was everything I hoped – a rich set of experiences with some of the most important people in our lives. Our hosts took care of us and honoured the special occasion of our wedding at every stop – with songs, gifts and flowers. Our guests came away with the experience of Jordan as a welcoming place with adventure, fabulous food, ancient history and modern comforts (most of the time). I hope they will spread that joy with their stories so that more people have the courage to experience this amazing country.
When I met Adam he told me he never wanted to get married because he hated weddings. On our Epic Destination Wedding tour he told me “we should do this again”. Our guests are all clamouring for a reunion and you have to keep your guests happy!