Saturday evening I went to my first wedding, Afghan style. I was a little nervous because I knew that most of the other women at the office weren’t going, although most of the men were. I would have been fine hanging out with the men, but most Afghan weddings (including this one) are separated by sex. So, I put on my new bright pink Afghan outfit, some make up and climbed into the car. When we arrived at the wedding hall, there were two entrances, one for men, and one for women. My coworker’s father escorted me into the banquet hall where about 100 vibrantly dressed women sat at tables.
Bashir’s father led me directly to Bashir’s sister, who promptly seated me at what I assume was a table of honor. It was next to the stage that the bride and groom would sit on when they arrived, and currently occupied by about 7 elderly Afghan women – none of whom spoke English. So, I smiled my best smile, said Salam wa Alaykum, and sat down to watch the show.
There was a band playing and a few young girls dancing. Some of the men from the bride and groom’s families were dancing in the center of the floor, and everyone watched them. I expected this wedding to be fairly similar to Middle Eastern weddings I’ve attended – but it was very different. As I scanned the room I noticed that none of the women were smiling. Hardly any were even talking to each other, they just sat and watched the event (the groom's family being the exception). And the event was watching the men dance. None of the women at my table even attempted conversation with me, not even the two young girls (maybe 6 and 8) who were also at the table. They just stared at me.
Samira, my coworker, tried to drag me out onto the dance floor, but I refused. I like to dance, and I know enough Middle Eastern dancing to fake it in
Shortly after that the bride and groom exited the banquet hall to eat dinner with their immediate families. My phone rang, and it was Nathan calling to see if I was ready to go. I’d been told previously that it was rude to leave before the food, and I mentioned that to him. He said, “Oh. We’ve already eaten. We’ve been done for a while.” While we were talking men carrying huge platters of food started dumping them down on tables. So, I told him I’d eat fast and meet him outside. We got our food, and then another man came around with a bucket, unloading Pepsis onto the tables. He unloaded 8 sodas and moved onto the next table. Before we had even reached for the drinks, a male guest (one of Bashir’s family) walked up, took 6 of the drinks from the table and left. All the women just stared at him. Someone found the drink boy and got some more sodas.
After inhaling enough cold food to be polite, I made my exit. Samira escorted me to the door and I called Nathan to tell him I was coming out. As I exited the wedding hall, I entered into a sea of suited men. There wasn’t another woman in sight (they were all inside). Nathan walked up to me and I said, “Wow. I really am in Manistan”. He escorted me to the car and the sea of suits parted for us, with the men staring as we passed. I climbed into the car and watched the men stare in through the open door and windows at me. Then we went home.
I learned afterwards that the pre-dinner celebration (for the women) is supposed to be low key because they are grieving with the bride for the loss of her family. The post-dinner celebration is supposed to be more upbeat. I’m glad I went, but I’m not sorry that I missed the second half. . . it would have been difficult to celebrate a wedding where the groom had said he wanted another wife as his gift.