Love in Le­banon

Alexan­dra Chen and Mo­ham­mad Zakaria’s wed­ding was a cel­e­bra­tion of the coun­try at the heart of their ro­mance

Hong Kong Tatler Weddings - - Contents - Tam­sin Brad­shaw

lexan­dra Chen and Mo­ham­mad Zakaria’s whirl­wind ro­mance was the stuff of sto­ry­books— and so was their wed­ding. Our pro­tag­o­nists are a Hong Kong­born, Har­vard-ed­u­cated child pro­tec­tion and men­tal health spe­cial­ist (Alexan­dra), who is Chris­tian and works in con­flict zones, and a Pales­tinian Mus­lim refugee work­ing as a civil en­gi­neer in hu­man­i­tar­ian aid man­age­ment, who has lived through wars and bomb­ings (Mo­ham­mad). Their story be­gins in a refugee camp on the Syr­ian bor­der where they are both work­ing. Their time to­gether is fleet­ing and, yet, in just five days they man­age to fall head over heels in love.

“In the midst of this mael­strom of vi­o­lent armed con­flict in Syria, the heated elec­tion in Le­banon and im­mi­gra­tion bar­ri­ers that made our long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship al­most im­pos­si­ble, I met the love of my life while serv­ing refugee chil­dren and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Alexan­dra. “Our shared vi­sion of mak­ing the world a bet­ter place is a huge part of our love. Our mar­riage, and our wed­ding, was the im­pos­si­ble made pos­si­ble.”

Le­banon is at the heart of their ro­mance. Mo­ham­mad pro­posed at Harissa and the cou­ple were for­mally en­gaged last year in an Is­lamic cer­e­mony and party for 200 in Tyre on the Feast of the An­nun­ci­a­tion, a day that is im­por­tant to both Mus­lims and Chris­tians. Although they of­fi­cially wed at Hong Kong City Hall in De­cem­ber 2017, it is here in

Le­banon that they chose to cel­e­brate their mar­riage, with a three-day party in May this year, in­clud­ing sight­see­ing and other spe­cial events be­fore and after the par­ty­ing.

Aside from Le­banon’s sig­nif­i­cance in their lives as a cou­ple, they both felt this was an op­por­tu­nity to bring their worlds to­gether and “to not-so-sub­tly en­cour­age my friends and ex­tended fam­ily to fi­nally travel to the Mid­dle East and en­counter the world that is now my home,” says Alexan­dra.

Le­banon is a cul­tural melt­ing pot, and so too was the wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion. It be­gan with a tour of the sights and the food of Le­banon, with fam­ily and friends vis­it­ing Beirut, Baal­bek, Beited­dine, Saida and Tyre (where Mo­ham­mad was raised). The fol­low­ing day, cel­e­bra­tions of­fi­cially kicked off with a Chi­nese tea cer­e­mony at The Blue House, a pri­vate tea sa­lon in Beirut.

“Our amaz­ing brides­maids and grooms­men trans­formed this pri­vate venue to host the first Chi­nese wed­ding in Le­banon,” says Alexan­dra, who wore a qi­pao she de­signed her­self, which was made by 1.618 Cou­ture & Bridal in Hong Kong. Mo­ham­mad, mean­while, wore a Tang jacket from Blanc de Chine.

A rare op­por­tu­nity to share cul­ture aside, “the tea cer­e­mony was key for us to thank our par­ents and grand­par­ents for lov­ing and sup­port­ing us un­con­di­tion­ally,” say the cou­ple. “We wouldn’t be here with­out them.”

The main event fol­lowed on Satur­day May 5, with a Chris­tian cer­e­mony, an Ara­bic zaffe (a wed­ding march with drum­mers, dancers and fire­works) and then a party for 250 peo­ple at Do­maine du Comte in Harissa. Over­look­ing Beirut, this stun­ning 18th­cen­tury venue was the per­fect set­ting to cel­e­brate a fairy-tale ro­mance. “We must have seen 25 venues to­gether and Do­maine was the last on our list,” says Alexan­dra. “The minute we walked in to­gether, we squeezed each other’s hands and knew this was it.”

Sur­rounded by for­est and sea, the beau­ti­ful bride, who pos­i­tively glowed on the day, wore a white dress con­cep­tu­alised by the groom and made by Le­banese fash­ion de­signer Ab­bas Hara­jli, a dear friend. Later, she changed into a Chi­nese-style blue gown de­signed by Le­banese de­signer Naja Saadé in a nod to Alexan­dra’s her­itage. Her groom wore a tra­di­tional abaya for the zaffe wed­ding march, fol­lowed by a tuxedo by Saint Lau­rent and lo­cal brand Mous­tache. The fin­ish­ing touch to his out­fit? “Cus­tom-made dopamine mol­e­cule

cuff­links from my nerdy psy­chol­o­gist wife,” jokes Mo­ham­mad.

Dancing was a big part of the main event, with ev­ery­one taking to the dance­floor be­fore and after the speeches. “Per­haps the most touch­ing re­marks we heard sep­a­rately from sev­eral of our guests were, ‘Your wed­ding is a vi­sion of what heaven looks like—peo­ple from all over the world just dancing to­gether and cel­e­brat­ing love with so, so much joy,’” re­calls Alexan­dra.

Their guests came from 25 coun­tries; among them Afghanistan, Cyprus, Swe­den, Ukraine, Iraq and, of course, Hong Kong. Alexan­dra and Mo­ham­mad wanted to em­body this mix of cul­tures in their cel­e­bra­tions, and it came through in the food by Le­banon’s

lead­ing caterer, Faqra Cater­ing. “Our menu in­cluded Le­banese, Pales­tinian, Ar­me­nian and Ital­ian, French, as well as Asian-in­spired desserts,” says Alexan­dra, whose sweet tooth prompted her to cre­ate a spe­cial dessert ta­ble laden with more than 30 desserts. Also rep­re­sent­ing the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of cul­tures, and of Chris­tian and Mus­lim creeds, were ta­ble frames con­tain­ing the cou­ple’s favourite Ara­bic love po­ems at the main event, and an Is­lamic teapot and cups from Xin­jiang at the tea cer­e­mony.

Alexan­dra and Mo­ham­mad are no or­di­nary cou­ple, and this was no or­di­nary wed­ding. As well as giv­ing their guests a taste of Le­banon’s ca­pac­ity for cel­e­bra­tion, they also gave them an in­sight into their work with refugee chil­dren, ar­rang­ing for friends and fam­ily to vol­un­teer at the camps they both work in, be­fore and after the wed­ding. “As hu­man­i­tar­i­ans first and fore­most, this was a pri­or­ity for us,” say the cou­ple.

Also un­usual was the po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy hap­pen­ing in the back­ground. The third of­fi­cial day of wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions co­in­cided with Le­banon’s elec­tions. “It was a bit risky,” say the cou­ple, “but none of our guests en­coun­tered any trou­ble at mil­i­tary check­points, al­ham­dulil­lah [thank­fully].” A happy and fit­ting end­ing to this most unique wed­ding— and a fit­ting begin­ning to the story of our pro­tag­o­nists’ lives to­gether.

A day or two be­fore the wed­ding, un­plug from all the plan­ning and host­ing and make time for just the two of you to be with one an­other. Go on a date. It will al­low you, as a cou­ple, to fo­cus on what re­ally mat­ters, your love, and go into your wed­ding day to­gether—Alexan­dra & Mo­ham­mad

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