Friday, June 3, 2011

$10,000 Wedding

Well, it’s been an eventful weekend. I know it sounds strange to say that on a post that I’m writing on a Friday night, but that’s because my weekend just ended. Afghanistan celebrates weekends on Thursday and Friday because Friday is the holy day, the equivalent of Sunday in the States. Some government and other agencies are campaigning to switch to Fri-Sat for global business stuff, but that hasn’t gotten much support from the people.

I had a day and a half long weekend, which is more than I’ve had since Christmas, I think. On Thursday morning, we had an exhibition debate at one of the universities, but after that ended, we were free until later that night when we were invited to attend a wedding for the daughter of the cook at the Partnership in Academics and Development office, where the Banyan Tree Network is located. The wedding started at 7, and I know it makes me sound like a girl, but I was really nervous about what to wear. My debate clothes are hardly appropriate, and the colorful things I brought are all too form-fitting or short sleeved. Hajar, my female Afghan friend from the office, finally told me to wear a short-sleeved pink top I’ve had for a long time- she said it was colorful enough to look good and that since it would be all women, we didn’t have to worry about having long sleeves or wearing a chadar, a scarf. That made it worth going right there!

Weddings in Afghanistan are a big deal. Eloping is unheard of, and it’s not uncommon for a wedding to cost upwards of $10,000. This is in a culture where people only have to pay income taxes if they make over $100/month. Weddings are expensive. Kabul boasts a whole neighborhood of wedding halls, giant buildings with neon lights worthy of Vegas. The couple has to rent two halls, one for men and one for women. The ceremony itself is conducted elsewhere and broadcast into the two halls via television screens in the corner. Then the bride and groom get into a decorated car (no words, just flowers) and drive to the wedding halls, where around 400 guests are waiting. They go first into the women’s hall and climb onto a dais and sit on a throne. After about 15 minutes of accepting congratulations and greeting people, the groom leaves for the men’s hall. I don’t know what he does there- as you can imagine, I wasn’t allowed in!

The insides of these halls are ridiculous. Each holds about 30-40 tables, and the guests filling those tables are SO colorful! Í saw some crazy outfits- long dresses of purple and fuchsia and gold. Everyone is covered in sequins and flowers and ribbon, and jewelry! Hajar told us that the more decorated girls are married, because Afghan men buy gold, especially gold bangles, to demonstrate their love. Some girls were wearing tiaras and gold bangles on both wrists and ankles. Their hair was done so elaborately that they must have used a can of hair spray apiece just to make it stay like that.

The dancing was the coolest part. Picture Bollywood style music, with a Middle Eastern twist. That’s what they dance to. It was really cool music, and I wanted so badly to go dance, but I didn’t know how. Hajar promised to teach Rachal and I, so we went into the little fitting room, and a bunch of kids followed us. Soon, a couple of the kids were showing off their moves and Rachal and I were just trying to keep up. They were so good, and although we could hardly communicate with them, we had a great time speaking through motion and smiles and giggle fits. Who needs a translator?

At about 9 pm, they started serving dinner. That part was crazy too. Each table had about twelve people sitting at it, so two-three waiters would come running up to the table carrying a loaded tray. No joke. They were sprinting from the kitchen to the table with a full tray balanced on one hand and the other hand out it front to part the crowd, football style. When they got to the table, one woman would start unloading plate after plate after plate after plate. Rice and rice with beans and naan (bread) and watermelon and meatballs and chicken and lamb something and pudding and green pudding and bananas and more rice and another chicken dish and salad and… the dishes just kept coming! They were stacked on top of each other in the middle of the table, leaning over or piled two high, just to fit them all on.

And then everybody dug in. They passed us the dishes first, since we are guests, but both Rachal and I had already eaten dinner at the guest house (lamb kabobs with naan and watermelon! Man, I love this place!), so we weren’t hungry as much as thirsty. My stomach was also a little upset, and we had to be careful about what we ate- a lot of meat dishes, vegetable dishes, and dairy dishes are dangerous for us foreigners with untested immune systems. So Rachal and I turned down a lot of dishes, and I think we actually insulted them a little bit. I felt bad, so we asked Hajar to explain that we’d eaten too much food already and had slightly upset stomachs. I think they understood. I hope so.

We ended up leaving fairly early, around 10, because our ride was leaving, but I’m really glad we got to go. Despite the clothing anxiety and being unable to dance and feeling odd because we were segregated, it was a LOT of fun. I’m so happy we went- when will we ever get to see an Afghan wedding again!? It was totally worth it.

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