Wherever we go in Tajikistan we are given food and drink by the people we meet. The last village we visit before returning to Dushanbe has a wedding planned. Weddings here are a little different to those in the UK. In Tajikistan, the Mahalla Committee (see earlier post for more on Mahalla Committees) takes charge of the event, advising the couple on how they can reduce their wedding expenses – a wedding can cost up to US$3,000 and will take the couple many years to pay back.
The committee members also take charge of the invitation list (!), helping to prepare the house, washing people’s hands on arrival (before entering someone’s house you have your hands washed by one of the family), and making sure the plates are full.
The village people had attended a celebration at the Mosque the previous evening. Today is for the relatives of the family and we’re invited to join them – fortunately for the couple it is only Steven, Daniel and Tolib (our translator) so we’re OK to go. The house has two rooms separated by a veranda. The women are on one side of the house and the men are on the other. We’re led into a room and sit on mats placed around the edges and food is laid out in the centre of the floor.
Bread is sacred in Tajikistan and it’s traditional to break bread for one another. We eat rice and meat with our hands – the bread, cooked with cotton oil is delicious. As we drink yet more green tea, the groom is ushered in to meet us.
Zaimidin is 25 and he looks scared to death.
We eat some more and he tells us that he does not have a job at the moment and, although his dream is to build a house, he will live with his wife in this house, which is already home to four families.
It’s nearly lunchtime and the groom has to go and get ready to meet his bride. For 40 days he is not allowed to be away from his wife, a tradition that endeavours to avoid the ‘evil spirits’ [of temptation] and secure the foundations of their marriage.
We move outside and see an old white car being decorated with flowers. There are a few women looking from the opposite side of the house, children and villagers are everywhere. We wish Zaimidin good health and a long life - it is time for us to go.
So different to our own experiences of marriage ceremonies, we’re hugely impressed by how the villagers pull together in this way. It is based on the principle of ‘Hashar’, meaning work done by everyone in the village. Once again we find that these villagers have given us so much more than tea and food – they’ve reminded us of what it is to have a community.
On the way back to Dushanbe I think of my lovely wife, Sam, back home in England. She offers such great hospitality to guests in our home. I’ve always liked how much effort she puts into this… but now, finally, I understand it.