Experiencing Azerbaijan

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Location: Kansas, United States

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Azeri Wedding

Weddings are another cultural event where I see a closeness and companionship that I envy. I have been to five weddings. That is a monumental number for the average westerner but does not come close to a nearby Peace Corps Volunteer who has been to forty five. Never mind that. I have yet to describe a wedding because they tend to be formulaic and I don’t want to write A Typical Azeri Wedding. Weddings are major social events. They are loud and long and tedious. They are also filled with love and good will and hope. Last week I was at the wedding of one of my student’s cousins. There were twenty three tables, twelve people seated at each table, and very few empty chairs. I sat facing a table of ten men. I watched them talking and hugging each other. I watched the endless toasts when the men from the further reaches awkwardly stretched forward to tap glasses of vodka at each toast. One man often wrapped his arm around his friend’s shoulder and leaned into a confidence or as much of a confidence is possible when the music is at a very non-traditional, augmented volume.

The weddings are ALL like this, varying only in whether the women sit with the men from the beginning, or are segregated for the meal and join the men later, and in the quantity and quality of dishes served. When I sat down at this last wedding, there were nineteen different dishes on each end of the table so, thirty eight dishes of food, and twelve bottles of drinks, everything from carbonated water to vodka. There were salads and pickled vegetables, cold cuts, baked fish and baked chicken, cheeses and greens, radishes and caviar. The bread was brought to us fresh; our dirtied plates were frequently changed, and we sat and plowed through the thirty eight dishes. All this time, the music is loud and constant. I am a rare person I like the music. I love the traditional instruments. When the music becomes too modern, or too synthesized, I think of leaving. Dancers slowly come to the floor and at first they are typically the younger women. They dance in the way we westerners have seen in movies and cartoons sinuous, with delicate wrist and finger revolutions that are seductive in their subtlety. Eventually the young men join the dance and display their rapid foot movements. Older women sway and twist gracefully and finally, the old men who have been making vodka toasts for three hours, take to the floor. I asked a friend, Do many old men die at weddings? Their faces are florid and flushed even their friends who stand by only watching seem in imminent danger of collapse. And here again is the sameness of this traditional society in the dance because everyone dances in the same manner. Some are better, some feet zip back and forth faster, some women undulate their shoulders more enticingly but still, it is the same dance. I love it, and I wonder how long would it take to become Azeri.

I have introduced the wedding but I have not described how in the afternoon the extended family of the groom drives to the bride’s house, a chosen male relative ties the ‘bundle,’ a length of red, crocheted ribbon, around the bride to show she is a virgin. The bride takes her place in a car and the procession drives around the town honking and waving. The wedding procession that I was a part of here in Lenkoran included over forty cars. We took the bride to the groom’s home where all the women, about one hundred or more, took turns having their picture taken with the bride, and you might imagine that her smile was becoming a bit fixed near the middle of this duty. Sometimes, the groom and bride have one joint wedding, but often there are separate ceremonies. If the group of family and friends is large, there must be two weddings in order to fit all the people into the wedding ‘palace.’ This wedding was the groom’s wedding so his friends and his side of the family tootled off to the wedding palace where the women were crowded into a small dining room, and the men drank and smoke in the big room filled with men and smoke and music. After three hours, the women joined the men and the dancing began in earnest. It was a long day.


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