This wedding was very different from the dozens of Istanbul weddings I’ve attended.
The Istanbul weddings I’ve been to are one-shot deals, where all the components — drinking, socializing, eating, dancing, and of course the ceremony itself — are wrapped up into a single 4-6 hour event.
This village wedding, on the other hand, was strung out over a couple of days. The party I attended was actually just the first of four scheduled events. It was 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,” which I would have thought it would be, and more a dance party for the whole community.
The second event was the mevlut, taking place on the second day, where the guests are fed lunch and then listen to a speech given by a holy man. I participated in the first part of this event but then had to leave early, since my host had to be back at work in the city.
The third event is the “gelin alma,” the ritual claiming of the bride away from her family. I’ve 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.
The first of these four events, the “kina gecesi,” was clearly a night for women, at least at the beginning. 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 last 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 in my younger days: 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. 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 and, I am told, will soon be appearing somewhere 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.
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.