(actual events far more boring than pictures may suggest)
Last night we got stuck at a Kyrgyz wedding. I say “stuck” because neither of us had any intention of going. We had planned to go to the gym, and had somehow, mistakenly, missed the connection to pick up our invitation. Whoops. It seems like we had gotten out of it. But no. Around 6:30 yesterday (on Wednesday) the groom to be calls to ask where we are – where all of us are. E, Me, B (E’s co-workers and friend who happens to live in the apartment directly above ours), B’s girlfriend Diana, and another Turkish friend. So we pretty much had to go – you can’t exactly sneak away unnoticed when somebody calls you from their wedding. So dressed we got and down we went to the ostentatiously-appelled, glittering, gregarious, skin-deep “Golden Dragon Hotel” in downtown Bishkek for my first Kyrgyz wedding in Kyrgyzstan.
Like many of the men we know in Bishkek, Akim is an Engineer (though once I heard he was a lawyer…). He popped up last year in this blog. Babyfaced, loose at the edges, inexact in everything but his perfectly executed disappearances every time a bill is produced. I hadn’t seen him for a year; E for six months or so. I positively dislike him; E feels more lukewarm. The bride is a petite, coutured Kyrgyz girl who finished her Master’s (in communications? chemistry?) at a Midwestern university last year and came back to marry and settle into a respectable, polished middle class lifestyle. She and Akim clashed immediately – she, meticulous; Akim careless, dropping all the details, forever unforgivably late and incapable of understanding why this was such a problem, always brushing away complaints with excuses. But in Kyrgyz culture (and in a country where bride kidnapping is still relatively common) couple character compatibility is sometimes seen as a moot point.
So with little to celebrate (hopefully they’ll be content together, maybe?) we went off to the wedding and were quickly escorted to our table festooned in fake flowers and frills, and covered in platters of unappetizing Kyrgyz food. Like the Uyghur wedding we attended last year, there seemed to be an emphasis on huge amounts of food – but little of it actually well-prepared. Emphasis is on presence and table-breaking quantity, not taste.
The wedding was an odd mix of tradition and the city. When we got there we could see why Akim had called us – in this room of 150 people, there were few groom-side friends. A table full of younger Kyrgyz women in full regalia and fake lashes; another table of Kyrgyz cousins and co-workers in almost matching starched white shirts; and every other table was filled with relatives. The bride and groom sat at one end of the giant banquet hall, across from a mirrored stage fixed with neon lights. The MC, dressed in a white jean jacket from the gap, was thrilled that I was an American, as we completed college in the same state (Oregon) and he could finally spice up his night by interjecting random commands in English. In enthusiastically garbled English-Russian-Kyrgyz he announced singers and stiff traditional dancers and lines after lines of family members who stood by the stage to give long, seemingly similar speeches to the new couple. Compared to the exuberant Uyghur wedding last year, I was surprised how not emotional it was. Diana turned to me and said, “Kyrgyz weddings are always boring”. Song. Long line of speeches. Dance. More repetitious speeches. Song. Speeches. Dance. Speeches. Song. Dance. By the end it seemed like an ordeal. Periodically the room would half-empty as men went outside for smoke breaks in solid droves, and women flocked to the restrooms (where half of them preened and took pouting selfies in the gold-rimmed mirrors). Three hotel-hired photographers flitted around taking glamorous photos which they then sold to guests at the table (a practice I’ve never encountered before, though Erdem says it’s also quite common in Turkey too. What they do with the photos they don’t sell, I don’t know). Then there were photos with the bride and groom. And after a few closing remarks by the MC waiters came by and deposited plastic bags at each table. The two Kyrgyz women at our table grabbed a handful and began stuffing them with leftover bread, fruit and butter knives. Butter knives? Apparently it’s a Kyrgyz tradition to take the knives after a wedding for good luck. I ended up with a bag of browning bananas and three sacks of horse meat, and one butter knife. If anyone has any suggestions as to what to do with several kilo of smoked horsemeat, I’d love to know.
If you are in Bishkek and want it, it’s yours.
And then it was over and we kind of ended up outside and finally went home around half past twelve. Of all the wedding ceremonies I’ve been to, this was the oddest. It had the modern trappings (cupcake bride’s dress, cream-colored roses, big glossy hotel) along with shows of Krgyz tradition (long lines of speeches, hired dancers in felt caps). But none of it seemed empowered with meaning. We were just going through the wedding motions, like a script run where everyone reads their lines flat.