Monday, September 20, 2010

A Crimean Tatar Wedding

Food prep in the back yard. My house on the right.

Waiting for the bride to come out. My door on left.
At the wedding.

It’s the wedding night. I’m sitting here at the computer, planning on getting dressed in a few minutes, listening and watching all the commotion outside as my neighbor’s large extended family gather in the street and pile into cars to take off to the reception, which is called “the wedding,” but as far as I can tell, is more of a reception.
These Crimean Tatar weddings seem to be pretty complicated affairs, complicated enough that I don’t quite get all the doings.
(Got interrupted by a call from Serdar asking where I was. Now it is Monday, and I'm at the library, not wanting to do my "real" work for some reason, so will finish this blog post.)
In the Crimean Tatar tradition, there are two weddings—one given by the bride’s family for her family and friends and one by the groom’s family for his family and friends, and even the bride and groom’s parents don’t go to both. These aren’t wedding ceremonies, but rather lavish parties which take place one night apart. And these two parties happen even if they all live in the same neighborhood. And somewhere in there is the actual ceremony and registration, the registration taking place at a “registration house” which we might call a wedding chapel, and the religious ceremony in this case at the mosque in the Khan’s Palace in Bakchseray. And even both families don’t attend these events—at least I know Maia and Server (my neighbors, the groom’s parents) didn’t.
It really was a “wedding weekend” and began the previous day when relatives started arriving at Maia and Server’s house. I had gone into the center to meet with my Russian tutor and then walked around some, checking out where to buy a camping stove, dawdling really. Finally returned home in the late afternoon. I was very tired from having slept so little the previous night, and just couldn’t get it together to go next door and join in the festivities, which meant speaking Russian. So I laid on my bed and read, ate a little supper, and eventually went over to Serdar’s family and hung out there for the rest of the evening. Felt a little guilty about not showing up at the neighbors’, which got intensified a million times when I did show up the next morning and Maia’s ancient mother was so glad to see me and told me she had asked about me yesterday, wondering where I was. Sigh…. Sometimes I think my life here is a series of wrong decisions!
But I made up for it, I think, because I spent almost the whole day at the neighbors, helping them prepare food for the wedding celebration that night where 250 people were expected. It was to be held at a restaurant, but the restaurant was only providing the meat dishes, and we all prepared the salads, cold cuts, etc. There were at least fifteen women or more working away at Maia’s—relatives, friends, and neighbors. I was on the backyard crew as we first sliced mounds of eggplant which were then fried in a large wok type pan over an open fire. Later they were smeared with fresh garlic and mayonnaise and rolled up with chopped tomatoes inside and a sprig of parsley sticking out. Quite lovely and very tasty. Went on to chopping artificial crab, cucumbers, peppers, olives, cheese for salads, and slicing huge chunks of cheese and sausages, taking a few breaks for beer and coffee (not combined!), and of course, talking and laughing the whole time. I really couldn’t follow the conversations, and as least some of them were in Crimean Tatar, but I loved being with everyone anyhow, participating in the work of the wedding.
We finally finished after about five hours, and all the food was hauled over to the wedding place. I went back to my home and put my feet up for a bit, and tried to wash the smoke out of my hair with what little water I had stored (I have no water after 1pm). Got dressed, wearing a swishy black skirt and frilly white blouse thanks to by fashion friend Cindy, put on the gold necklace of my mother’s, and even scrunched my not very attractive, callous laden feet into a pair of low heels that I had inherited from a PCV. When I went out my door, everyone was lined up in the narrow passageway between my house and my neighbor’s, waiting for the bride to come out. (Oh, I forgot that part. The bride is moving into my neighbor’s, and though I hadn’t seen her, I guess she had already shown up. I have met her a few times and really like her and look forward to another female presence next door).
I tottered across the street to Serdar’s house and the four of us took off (Safie staying home, as most children her age don’t go to weddings), getting a ride with their nephew who wasn’t going to the wedding, so Neshet didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving.
So much of the wedding was like wedding receptions we know in the States—food, drinking, music, dancing—all the basics. And here is what was different, what it made it a uniquely Crimean Tatar wedding:
For one thing, the food. There was soooo much of it, not enough room on the tables, and it kept coming all night. Many different salads, plates of cheeses and sausages and some kind of traditional meal jelly, chunks of bread, platters of camca (pastries stuffed with meat), chunks of mutton with potatoes, and a sort of breaded and fried ground meat that I forgot the name of. Also, each table had bottles of vodka, wine, juice, and water.
And then there was the music. I had heard about Crimean Tatar wedding music, indeed preserving its traditions is one of the missions of the NGO I have worked with, but apart from the music drifting out of the wedding tents in Ak Mechet, I had never really listened to it or seen it performed. I think it is what we would recognize as Turkish music but with a kind of joyousness to it. And the musicians were just fabulous—a violinist, saxophonist, accordion player, drummer, trumpet player, and maybe one more. I kept thinking that to hire a band like that for a wedding in the States would be a fortune. And that is the really interesting part of it all—the musicians are paid by people dancing with members of the wedding party. First, the sister and brother of the groom—people lined up to dance with them for a few minutes and give them some cash. Later, a pair of elderly twin aunts in identical dresses, two young men, and then finally the bride and groom. In between this dancing, there was general dancing that everyone joined in. Crimean Tatars do love to dance!
We left about midnight, but I think it went on until at least 2 or 3, because about 3:30 I was woken by a knock on the window by my bed, Maia asking me if some of the overflowing guests in her house could sleep in my extra bedroom. Of course it was fine with me, so a bunch trooped over and curled up on the three beds in that room and the mattresses we put on the floor.
The next morning there was still a gang at Maia’s house, but one by one they all left. I stopped over later to return the bedding, and poor Maia was so tired. But she had pulled off an immense task, a wedding she had been planning since I came here. And, as for me, I got to go to my very first Crimean Tatar wedding! And a great experience it was.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous! once again, can I adapt to the pickle project? I owe you a long email but have been busy--as have you it looks like. Hard to believe I'll be back in Ukraine in only 10 days or so...sure you don't have to come to Kyiv?