Monday, November 06, 2006

Wedding - Afghan Style

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.

Thankfully, at this point the only female coworker who showed up found me and sat with me. She was with her sister who had just returned from 6 months of studying in Japan. We said our hellos and made small talk until the bride and groom arrived. As they walked down the open aisle, women from the groom’s family tossed flower petals in front of them and the groom’s mother followed them carrying a Qur'an over their heads. They walked somberly forward (a bride is not supposed to be happy or smile on her wedding day because it would dishonor the family she is leaving behind). The bride was wearing a lime/neon green dress and about 40 lbs of make-up (brides spend about 8 hours at the salon before their wedding, having all their body hair removed, and elaborate hair and make-up treatments). The groom was wearing a white suit and snakeskin boots.

As I watched them climb onto their marital dais I thought about the conversation I’d had with the groom two days earlier. My boss asked him what he wanted for a wedding gift from the staff and he said, “another wife”.

As they sat on their bridal couch the professional photographers swirled around them, snapping photos. Different arrangements of siblings and parents climbed onto the stage to be photographed with the unsmiling couple. The women wore pink, orange, teal, purple – the more festive, the better. Yet it seemed strangely in contrast to their expressions. Only the mother of the groom and his sisters, the hostesses, seemed to be having a good time. After they were settled on the couch the music started again, and the men danced some more.

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 Afghanistan, but none of the other women were dancing besides immediate family members and pre-pubescent girls. So, Samira, stood up and went out to the dance floor by herself. Now, at work Samira is extremely quiet and mousy – she keeps her head down and doesn’t talk much. In the middle of the dance floor, directly in front of the video camera, she spun and jumped to the drumbeats, her hair flying around her gracefully. She was beautiful and alive in a way that no one else in the room seemed capable of. When the song ended she returned to the table laughing and out of breath. Bashir’s mother came over and thanked her for dancing.

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.

***pic is of Nathan and I in Afghan garb


Anonymous said...

I hope you have more pictures than that of the wedding!


Anonymous said...

wow wat a great story... well it sounds about right, i can say that coz i am afghan. i have alwys had weddings and funerals as my lest favorite places to be lol...sometimes weddings can be fun but more often it is a show rather than a celebration for the groom and bride and 50% of the guests, especially in the hall... pre wedding day celebrations are held at home for woman mainly and that is much more fun there u can actually get to c the real personalities of women...i dont knwo what it is but i think we afghans are shy or lack self esteem watevr it is we r not very warm in the first meeting and yea its very common for ppl not to talk to you especially when they cant speak ur language...i am impressed by ur obersvations and how accurate they r but dont let the expressions(it is more politics and u when in case the camera goes on them they want to look respectable and but it could also be that we afghans have forgotten to smile with the war and other problem such as poverty) fool u weddings are the only thing everyone really wants to go to rather than being dragged by others(parents+husbands ...etc)

i cant imgine how hard it must have been for you and i hope in fuuture uhave better experiences in afghanistan...

Anonymous said...

Wow thats a very descriptive expression of your experiece. Im afghan but i have never experienced an afghan wedding like thag