Being married into a Jordanian family means that I certainly experience some events that as a tourist you almost certainly never would. If you are lucky as a tourist you may be extended an invitation to attend a wedding party, or have dinner in a local’s house and gain some insight into the lives and cultural practices of the locals, but being invited to a funeral or being witness to the cultural practices in regards to mourning is almost certainly something that you wouldn’t be asked to be involved in. Unfortunately a tragic situation just recently meant that I had to partake in mourning for a first cousin of Atef’s.
If there is a death in the wider Nawafleh family then I’m not expected to have to be involved in the mourning practices, but when it’s a closer relation then I need to attend.
In saying this I find it extremely difficult to be expected to partake in the mourning practices in their entirety. Atef does at least understand how difficult this is for me so I only attend for a brief period. Let me explain.
The mourning takes place generally over 3 days. The men attend the burial and then go to the diwan (hall) of the extended family of the deceased. The women attend the family home of generally the closet relation to the deceased. The women sit and comfort those close to the deceased and each other but there is no real out pouring of emotion. Grief is kept in check and there is only a controlled expression of grief. A room is set aside for those who are struggling with their grief so that they can go and grieve in private and regain their composure so as not to create a disturbance or upset others.
Close relations will stay at the family home for the 3 days (or longer depending on the relationship). Extended family will attend for a period of time on each of the days. People outside of the family who are wanting to pay their respects might only attend for a period of time on one of the days.
I’m mindful of needing to respect the culture and observe the customs of mourning, but I find it overwhelming to have to spend more than about an hour in the house with the women. I go to pay my respects, but I’m totally outside of my comfort zone sitting in a houseful of grieving women (depending on which time of the day I go there can be up to 80-100 women in the house), very often with no one there who speaks English.
Even within the Amra family I don’t know all the women by name, and then there are the women whom are part of the Amra family, but have married into another family and become part of that family and will only attend the odd Amra family occasion and I never get the chance to really met them. There are aunties (and uncles) of Atef’s that I’ve never met face to face even though I’ve been told that they came to our wedding and there are a whole bunch of first cousins, let alone their children, that I have never met and who didn’t come to our wedding. I suppose when Atef’s dad has 7 siblings and his mum 12 this is what happens in a large family where you don’t speak Arabic and they don’t speak English.
But of course they all know me! I kiss and greet lots of women, offer my condolences (I have learnt the appropriate Arabic condolences) and then try and find a seat somewhere out of the way and hopefully next to someone that I do know even if they don’t speak English.
Attending a funeral and grieving when you understand the practices and know what is expected and acceptable is hard enough – here I’m completely out of my depth.