Saturday-Sunday, 15 and 16 September 2012
The next day, Saturday, Metin and I took a car to his village for the wedding. Our first stop was in another small village to pick up beer and some snacks for later on in the evening.
Our second stop was Pamukkale, one of the most famous tourist sights in Turkey. Pamukkale means cotton castles and is known for its white limestone terraces, mineral baths, and many natural pools of water. Metin asked if I would like to get out and go inside.
“No,” I said. “Let’s just get out and take a picture by the gate so I can have a picture of myself at Pamukkale for the web site.”
I had lived in Turkey for a number of years and had seen many famous sights. My job at hand was to walk across the country and let that process change me—that involved walking and interacting with people and events as they unfolded in that process, not being side-tracked by sightseeing, as wondrously beautiful and ancient as these places were.
So we stopped the car and left it running as I handed Metin my camera. He took a photo of me standing against the fence with Pamukkale in the background. Then I took a picture of him.
After that we drove to his parents’ house and sat with them outside in the garden. Theirs was a very clean, simple little village house with limited electricity and limited running water, but the garden was lush with lots of trees and a grape-leaf trellis. It was shady and comfortable. Metin’s dad cut open a few different kinds of melons for the four of us to enjoy. After our snack we went inside and took afternoon naps before the wedding.
This wedding was very different from the dozens of Istanbul weddings I’d attended, which were one-shot deals, where all the components — drinking, socializing, eating, dancing, and of course the ceremony itself — were wrapped up into a single 4-6 hour event.
This village wedding was strung out over a couple of days. On the first night Metin and I attended a party called the kina gecesi, the application of henna onto the bride’s hands and forearms. The event was open to all and was less a “hen party” than I’d thought it would be. It was more a dance party for the whole community.
The second event was the mevlut, taking place on the second day, where guests are served lunch and a holy man gives a speech. I participated in the first part of this event but then had to leave early, since Metin had to be back at work in the city.
The third event was the gelin alma, the ritual claiming of the bride away from her family. I’d witnessed this at a few other weddings outside of Istanbul. It serves a purpose similar to the giving away of the bride in a Western wedding, but it’s a little louder and more showy, involving plenty of music and a lot more people. Imagine a hundred people standing outside the bride’s house banging on drums and blowing on flutes and demanding she come out.
The fourth event is the actual wedding ceremony.
My favorite of these four events was the kina gecesi. At first, this event seemed clearly a night for women. Ninety-five percent of the people crowding the dance floor were women, and 95% of the people sitting in the rows of chairs surrounding the dance floor were women.
Most of the men in attendance at that point stood towards the back, hanging out on the periphery, just watching.
Way out back, out of both sight and earshot, a few of the men were already getting started with parties of their own, crowding around tables drinking and eating sunflower seeds.
As the night wore on the number of women in attendance shrunk, and the number of men grew. At one point I made the conscious decision to break a party-going rule I’ve maintained for decades, which is the moment the men outnumber the women, leave, no matter what.
When the guns came out by the dozens, I broke another rule I have, which is stay away from parties with guns. But that night it was “When in Rome….”
At no point in the evening did I lack for social opportunities, even though I began the evening knowing only a few people. I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being called over to join one of the parties taking place within the party. Even after six years in Turkey I am still amazed that all it takes to break the ice with a Turk is a smile, a hearty hello and a handshake, and a look straight in the eyes.
I’m not a big fan of hanging out with drunken men while they dance around shooting live ammo in crowded places, so by the time we left I was, shall we say, open to the idea of getting out of there.
A bunch of us loaded in the car and stopped off at the home of the groom’s grandparents to pay our respects. Respects paid, we piled back into the car and headed out again.
We grabbed some more beers and drove up a dirt road high into the surrounding hills to engage in an activity treasured by young men in small towns around the world, including me: late-night drinking on some remote, deserted dirt road far from the nearest light source.
We even engaged in a competition to see who could scream the loudest for the longest time. I participated in this competition, of course, and in doing so I discovered within myself a talent for holding the same piercingly high note for a freakishly long period of time.
One of my displays of this talent was caught on video, I was told, and would soon be appearing on Facebook.
The previous record-holder and I bonded over our common talent, and in fact began calling each other “kanka,” a term of endearment translating loosely into “blood brother.”
Throughout this entire second act for the evening I was entirely sober. Years ago I stopped drinking more than a few sips per evening, simply because heavy drinking makes me feel confused and disoriented.
I have, however, refined the skill of walking around with open bottle in hand, appearing to periodically take a swig just so as to not be a party-pooper. Drunk people are fun to hang out with, I just don’t like being drunk.
A new kanka made and the local record for sustaining a single note at the top of one’s lungs broken, I piled into the next car headed down the hill towards my bed.
It turned out I made my escape just in time — as we pulled away I heard the die-hards we left behind making plans to go for iskembe, a soup made from cow stomach. I am not a big fan of soup made from cow stomach.
The next morning, Metin and I drove back to Denizli in the big petroleum tanker truck that was parked in their driveway. It had to be returned to the station.
I had enjoyed the weekend. I’d felt like a kid again growing up in Yakima, Washington.