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A spiritual encounter in the sand and a wedding there too


On the morning of April 24, Emily Arnold and Youssef Ait-Khouya walked the dunes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park outside of Kanab, Utah, chose a location to get married and started to accessorize it. They laid Moroccan rugs and pillows, set up a portable table, and decorated it with vases of flowers, a tea set and Moroccan lanterns. The surrounding dunes continually changed shape due to the almost constant wind. A sign inside the park reads: “When you left your car in the parking lot, you left the stability behind.”

Before the start of the wedding, the wind really picked up. “Where did the carpet go?” asked the bride, who wore a taupe tulle dress, a sparkly capelette and sparkly sneakers. The small rug the couple intended to stand on while saying their vows was now buried in the fine, yam-colored sand.

Ms. Arnold, 34, grew up in a Mormon family in southern Jordan, Utah, and was known to be studious and devoutly religious, but also adventurous and independent. “Super duper” is one of his favorite phrases and one of his favorite books is “I Married Adventure” by Osa Johnson. “I loved the idea of ​​wanting to marry adventure, not just the boy next door or someone from school,” she says.

In 2007, while a student at Utah State University, she spotted a flyer advertising a trip to Europe and signed up. “I spent a month overseas as the only Mormon, the only conservative girl, on a bus of young people in their twenties who were there to party,” she said. “I hadn’t been exposed to people who drank or didn’t believe in God.” She tasted alcohol for the first time, which she confessed to her parents. “They were like, ‘I can’t believe you would do this,’” she said. “‘I can’t believe you would push the boundaries like that.’ ‘

After that, she started to travel as often as she could. “I was always on the lookout for foreign connections and friendships that might show me that humans were the same everywhere,” said Ms. Arnold, who now lives in Richmond, Calif., And is deputy director of volunteer programs. at the University of California, San Francisco.

In September 2017, she and a friend were traveling to Europe and trying to decide how to spend the last days of their trip. “We designed straws: a road trip in Spain or on the back of a camel in Morocco?” Mrs. Arnold said.

Soon they were on top of the camels in the Sahara with Youssef Ait-Khouya as their guide. Mrs. Arnold did not like riding a camel – “I had a very sore saddle,” she said – but she liked Mr. Ait-Khouya.

That night the two stayed up late talking around the campfire. “I asked him what is your favorite place in the world and he said, ‘My favorite place is the earth’. It really struck me. I was like, ‘Oh, mine too!’ She added, “I thought he was cute, but I didn’t say to myself, ‘Oh, I want to go kiss this guy behind the tents.’ “

Mr. Ait-Khouya thought Ms. Arnold was “exceptional,” he said, more open-minded and curious than most tourists. “I liked the way he looked, the way he spoke and his opinions,” he said. Mr. Ait-Khouya, 24, grew up in the desert of south-eastern Morocco in a nomadic Muslim family. “Our life moved from place to place in search of plants for our animals,” he said. They usually lived in tents, although they sometimes built a small mud shelter which he described as: “He doesn’t even have a door. Just leave it and someone else can use it. “By the time he met Ms. Arnold, his family had moved to Merzouga, a small village near the Algerian border, and he was about to resume his studies at Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, Morocco. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in English in 2019.

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A few days after Ms Arnold returned to California, he messaged her via Instagram. Ms Arnold responded right away and the two were meeting soon every day on WhatsApp. “We talked about everything, really,” she says. “Where we live, the goals we have, the places we want to travel. One of the first questions he asked me was, “How many children do you have?” I said, “I have no children. I have to find their father first. At one point, he sent her a photo of his name that he had scrawled in the sand, the equivalent of carving initials in a tree, but much less permanent. “I could tell he liked me a bit,” she said.

In March 2018, they planned to meet again, this time in Marrakech, Morocco. She arrived after midnight and found Mr. Ait-Khouya waiting for her in front of the apartment they had rented, holding a single rose. “We had a hug outside, but when we got in the elevator I said, ‘I need another hug,’” he recalls.

Again, they stayed up late talking. “I remember falling asleep when we heard the first call to prayer, early in the morning at sunrise,” she said. “It was super natural.”

She visited him again in Morocco in October 2018, and in March 2019, when he introduced her to his family. “I was very nervous because mother’s approval is very, very important in Moroccan culture,” Ms. Arnold said. “She was as graceful and charming as Youssef.

In November 2019, he proposed while they were traveling to Bali. “We decided we wanted to have a special commitment that we will remember for the rest of our lives,” he said. “She suggested Bali in Indonesia. I had never heard of Bali. Ms. Arnold, who is known for her supportive personality, chose her own ring, a conflict-free diamond in a rose gold band with a hue similar to that of the Sahara. “I gave her the first day of the trip and told her, ‘Here you can surprise me whenever you want’,” she said.

On February 13, Mr. Ait-Khouya arrived in the United States on a fiance visa and moved into Ms. Arnold’s condominium in Richmond, where he began brainstorming ideas for his own business, possibly organizing events. tours in Morocco or designing websites. Easy-going and generally smiling, he said the only problem he had adjusting to his new home was trying to figure out how to cook with a tagine (a clay pot) on an electric stove rather than on a fire.

They had two weddings – a civil ceremony on February 26 at Contra Costa Superior Court in Martinez, Calif., Led by Stephany Alvarez, former deputy commissioner of civil marriage in Contra Costa County, Calif., And one on 24 April. , where they conducted their own ceremony in the dunes. Although the wind and sand may have been annoying for some people, it was heartwarming for Mr. Ait-Khouya. “My favorite color is sand,” he says. “It’s the best color for my eyes to see. It feels like home. “

There were six guests, all of the bride’s family. They watched the couple say their vows while standing next to an A-shaped wooden structure. “It had a lot of shape symbolism to us,” the bride said. “The symbols of mountains, dunes, a tent.”

Mr. Ait-Khouya wore a gray suit for the ceremony and then turned into his idea of ​​more comfortable clothing: a black turban, a cobalt blue kaftan, gray pants and yellow slippers. He began his vows with “My beautiful Emily”, as if reading her a letter. He called her a “woman of integrity, intelligent and strong” and promised to cook her food “tasty and juicy”, to keep her feet cold warm at night and to make her laugh. In her greetings, Ms Arnold said: “Just as this landscape has been shaped by wind and water, I know that our life together will become even more beautiful as we weather the storms of life.”

Next, the groom held up a soda bottle containing sand he had collected from the Sahara while the bride held another bottle which she said was filled with “gypsum, crystals and earth” from Price, Utah, where they live. His grand-parents. They poured the two into a glass vase, symbolizing the mixing of their different lands and lives.

At the end of the ceremony, Rebecca Vogel, the sister of the bride who married a fellow Mormon and lives in Utah, gave a brief speech. “I have always admired your love of adventure and your courage,” she told the bride. “I also found myself jealous of your travels.”

She added: “Now you are going to conquer the world.”


When April 24, 2021

Or Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Kanab, Utah

The reception After the ceremony, the small group sat down in the dunes and opened a cooler full of sandwiches for lunch. “They will really be sandwiches today, ”said Brent Arnold, the father of the bride. The groom handed out dates and poured tea, but it was a short picnic. “We were blown away,” said the bride.

The cake Mrs. Vogel, the bride’s sister, made the Neapolitan wedding cake, which measured almost a foot and echoed the colors of the surrounding landscape. Ms Vogel also gave the couple a binder filled with letters from other family members and distant friends who couldn’t attend the wedding.

Their different religions They don’t seem particularly concerned. “I don’t know how our religious traditions will intersect in the future,” Ms. Arnold said. “We’re both pretty spiritual people and will definitely be implementing spirituality in our lives.”

Honeymoon A road trip back to California.

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