2007.04.13: April 13, 2007: Headlines: COS - Guatemala: Journalism: Iraq: The Statesman: Guatemala RPCV Larry Kaplow writes: Group Wedding Reflects Iraq’s Poor Economy, Lack of Security

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Guatemala: Peace Corps Guatemala: Peace Corps Guatemala: Newest Stories: 2007.04.13: April 13, 2007: Headlines: COS - Guatemala: Journalism: Iraq: The Statesman: Guatemala RPCV Larry Kaplow writes: Group Wedding Reflects Iraq’s Poor Economy, Lack of Security

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Guatemala RPCV Larry Kaplow writes: Group Wedding Reflects Iraq’s Poor Economy, Lack of Security

Guatemala RPCV Larry Kaplow writes: Group Wedding Reflects Iraq’s Poor Economy, Lack of Security

"First we saw the soldiers, heading past us with their AK’s and camouflage. Then we saw the women carrying the giant bouquets. We were in the lobby of the Babylon Hotel, one of many hotels in Baghdad that were once modern and near-grand. Now they are empty. My translator and I went down the hallway to check out the commotion and in the ballroom found a group wedding sponsored by the Iraqi government’s Ministry of Youth and Sport for its employees. One of the perennial stories about any Arab land in hard times is about the difficulties getting married. By custom, the groom is supposed to pay for an apartment, furnishings and ample gifts for the bride’s family. So the ministry decided to help its employees a little, giving 20 engaged couples a group party and a two-night honeymoon in the hotel. Camouflaged troops guarded the door and plain-clothed guards watched from balconies overhead. A entourage of guards surrounded the minister when he entered and took to a small stage." Journalist Larry Kaplow served as a Peace corps Volunteer in Guatemala.

Guatemala RPCV Larry Kaplow writes: Group Wedding Reflects Iraq’s Poor Economy, Lack of Security

Group Wedding Reflects Iraq’s Poor Economy, Lack of Security

By Larry Kaplow | Friday, April 13, 2007, 11:35 AM

groupwedding.jpg

First we saw the soldiers, heading past us with their AK’s and camouflage. Then we saw the women carrying the giant bouquets. We were in the lobby of the Babylon Hotel, one of many hotels in Baghdad that were once modern and near-grand. Now they are empty.

My translator and I went down the hallway to check out the commotion and in the ballroom found a group wedding sponsored by the Iraqi government’s Ministry of Youth and Sport for its employees. One of the perennial stories about any Arab land in hard times is about the difficulties getting married. By custom, the groom is supposed to pay for an apartment, furnishings and ample gifts for the bride’s family.

So the ministry decided to help its employees a little, giving 20 engaged couples a group party and a two-night honeymoon in the hotel. Camouflaged troops guarded the door and plain-clothed guards watched from balconies overhead. A entourage of guards surrounded the minister when he entered and took to a small stage.

While the brides stayed a couple steps behind, the minister leaned down to each groom, gave him congratulatory handshakes and kisses and handed him a check for 1 million Iraqi dinars, which is the equivalent of about $833.

The event felt a little formal and awkward but it was heartening to see some institution try to makes things easier on people here and liven things up a bit.

The first couple I saw was also somewhat affirming - a Sunni man marrying a Shiite bride. It was the kind of secular pairing that used to be prevalent here before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The bride was one of the few women without a headscarf. A couple of brides even wore the full, black face covering.

It turns out this couple was famous. Talal Hatem, 46, is an Iraqi ping-pong coach and his bride, Wassan Abdul Retha, 28, is the country’s foremost wheel-chair ping-pong champion and bronze-medal winner in a recent Asian tournament.

There were several Iraqi television crews covering the party, meaning anyone willing to be there wasn’t too worried about the security risk involved in giving me their names or letting me take photos. I had some of the cake (served before a big lunch was served).

Though lean and athletic, Retha lost movement in her legs after some kind of bad injection as a child, they said. They asked if I knew any way to get treatment outside of Iraq that could cure her and I referred them to some doctors in the Green Zone who help arrange foreign treatment for Iraqis with rare ailments.

Like any efforts at merriment here, it was a mix of happy and sad. This isn’t how Iraqis prefer to get married and the armed men were a constant reminder of the insecurity outside.




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Headlines: April, 2007; Peace Corps Guatemala; Directory of Guatemala RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Guatemala RPCVs; Journalism; Iraq





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Story Source: The Statesman

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