Two weddings, no funerals

December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

In America, weddings aren’t complete without agonizing over dresses, food, the wedding party, location, music, guests.  The same seems to be true for Turkey; over-the-top ceremonies and clothes, and more painful tightly-curled updos than a high school prom.  But the agonizing appears to stop at the guest list.  How do I know this?  I’ve been invited to two separate weddings either the day of or three days before.  Would that fly at the Huntington Jewish Center or Crest Hollow Country Club?  There was no hand-wringing about extra plate settings  or grumbling about last-minute attendees; just invitations to share in happiness.

The first wedding happened my first full weekend in Tekirdag.  Over coffee and cigarettes with my colleagues on a Friday afternoon, I was invited to a wedding of a teacher I had yet to meet.  “For real?  For really real?” I asked.  Yes.  And the wedding was in 5 hours.  A frantic afternoon at the police station applying for our residency permits gave way to girly-girl prep time.  In our finest American duds, Alex and I waited at the Burger King for the rented minibus to carry us to unknown Trakyan distances.  Bumping over the rolling brown hills with people I barely knew past garbage fires, I was excited.  Then the sun set, it got cold, it was 90 minutes later, and the minibus driver got lost.  For all I knew, we were headed to Greece that night.

But finally!  We arrived in Uzunkopru and were hurried into Gizem (the bride’s) family’s house for a homecooked meal of meat stew, rice, soup, immeasurable quantities of bread, baklava and Turkish delight.  I was delighted.

Alex and I, overwhelmed and stuffed. But that's generally how we feel every day in Turkey.

We hurried back onto the bus and arrived at what I can only imagine is the Turkish equivalent of a fire hall.  The building appeared to be an all-purpose hall ready to host your wedding, circumcision, any cause for a gigantic party.  We lined up outside for what seemed to be the longest receiving line ever.  Meanwhile, I stared at this poster and tried to figure out if I had met Gizem before:

She looked vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t sure.   Then,  as we entered the building, this beaming woman greeted us

and I remembered.  After greeting their families and throwing in some newly-acquired Turkish etiquette (kissing the elders’ hands, they love it) we gave Gizem a huge hug and tried to avoid getting caught on her money sash.  Turkish brides traditionally wear red sashes to which guests pin money and gold coins that the couple later cash in to fund their new life together (Macy’s has fertile ground for registry marketing in rural Trakya).

The bride and groom take photos with all of their guests (hello, receiving line traffic jam) and sell them to you during the reception.  Of course I splurged—but not on a scanner.  Sorry readers, you’ll have to wait.

Here I discovered the secret of the non-guest list.  Everyone in the whole town came wearing everything from expensive gowns to t-shirts and jeans.  And as they come in, the hall staff adds more tables and chairs.  That’s all—they simply add more space.

It’s less of a hassle to add more spaces because there is no sit-down dinner served at this particular reception; just Pepsi, mixed nuts, and wedding cake.  Gizem and Cemal had already had their official wedding ceremony, so the night we attended was simply celebration.  A DJ blasted mostly Turkish tunes mixed with American love songs and salsa.

The couple’s first dance, with fireworks

Alex and I were amazed at how into the traditional dancing the teenagers were.  No hesitations about grabbing each other’s shoulders, and, legs flailing, dancing in wild lines across the floor.  Just pure glee.

I loves me a good line dance and was only too happy to learn some new steps and wave my gold sequined handkerchief around.

Unfortunately our minibus was scheduled to leave at 11:30 pm so we missed the henna ceremony.   Not surprisingly we got lost on the pitch-dark ride back to Tekirdag, but we were so exhausted from the multitude of new experiences and riotous dancing, we didn’t mind much.

Nighttime party bus

Readers, do you think I’ve developed a case of the royal we?  I spend so much time with Alex it seems that I can’t explain any experience without including her.  Well, except for this next one.

I had briefly met Recep when he served as translator during a brief conversation about my new apartment in late October.  He had been completing his military service in eastern Turkey and had only just returned to teaching duties at NKU.  I didn’t see him again for 2 weeks, when he reappeared to invite me to his wedding 8 hours away.  Not one to turn down a celebration, I packed my bags for the first weekend of November and headed to the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Safranbolu.

Recep and his fiancé, Sule, were in Konya with Sule’s family and wouldn’t arrive in Safranbolu until early Sunday morning.  Given bus times and teaching responsibilities I wasn’t able to stay for their apparently huge (500 guest) Sunday lunch, but I spent Friday hanging out with fellow Fulbrighters Rachel, Hayfa, and Dara in Safranbolu’s evil twin town of Karabuk.  Saturday, Recep’s friend Mehmet guided me and Sule’s closest university friends on an in-depth tour of Safranbolu.  Mehmet spoke some English, but luckily for me Sule and her friends were all Translation majors and spoke perfect English.  We laughed and took tons of photos while exploring an old Roman aqueduct and a mysterious and beautiful cave system, and sipping sahlep while gazing at the preserved Ottoman wooden mansions that landed Safranbolu on that coveted list.

We strolled through the center’s winding streets and ate far too many free samples of the town’s famous Turkish delight.  We also stumbled upon a man selling mushrooms in the street at 9 p.m.  Because that’s when I want mushrooms.

But the real party started after Mehmet dropped me off at Recep’s family’s house for Saturday night.  Remember that Recep and Sule were in Konya?  I walked into a living room of 4 Turkish women whose age range was vast (12 to 70) but whose English was…well, about existent as my Turkish.  I can’t being to express what thoughts went through my head when I entered the boiling hot living room and saw an old woman eating su boregi and watching half-naked models grinding on PowerTurk, but they were along  the lines of, “My god, what on earth can I say to fill the next 4 hours?”  A smile and basic Turkish compliments go a long way, as do enthusiastically eating everything offered to me.  The two girls loved showing me their family photos on Facebook and discussing their dresses for the upcoming wedding.  Somehow we happily passed 4 hours stuffing my face, smiling, and watching TV—and then the Recep and Sule caravan arrived.

The wood-burning soba which heated both the room and our tea to uncomfortable levels

It was already 12:30 am and I couldn’t imagine that the night could go on much longer.  But the caravan of families was hungry.  Men went into one room, women into another, and out came the midnight feast: meat stew, lentil soup, salad, baskets of bread, stuffed grape leaves, rice, and baklava.  Princess Cruises buffet, eat your heart out.

My baklava fantasy come to life

I was tired and had been feasting my way through Safranbolu all day.  I was content simply to sit back and watch the crowd descend.  But seeing as how the wedding party had been staring at each other all weekend, I became the center of attention.  Everyone wanted to know who this yabanci was.  And after they found out who I was, they wanted to feed me.  My humble protests of “Doydum, doydum!”  (I’m full!) resulted in a showdown between me, Sule’s mother, and one grape leaf speared on a fork tine.  Beneath the gazes of about 20 Turkish women, I cracked, gave in, and ate the proffered leaf.  Then another one, and another one, and then some baklava.  In between, women I barely knew squeezed my leg, smiled at me, and offered me both cooking lessons and their sons.  I continued to smile.  It’s not so bad being the yabanci sometimes.

About an hour and a half later, I gave my best wishes to Recep and Sule and stuffed my stuffed self into a van headed to an unknown destination.  I arrived at another apartment where I gladly passed out in the cozy bed offered to me.

The happy couple!

The next morning I was barraged with simit and su boregi before my bus.  Everyone was disappointed I couldn’t stay for the Sunday lunch, and though my stomach couldn’t take any more food, I was disappointed as well.  Turks are great at making you feel instantly part of their family and I wanted to share in their immense wedding joy.

A bit much for one entry.  I need some more time to reflect on feelings and not just events and food.   But in the meantime, more photos!

NKU colleagues at Gizem's wedding

Aqueduct in Safranbolu

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