Friday, June 29, 2012

The Moment I've Been Waiting For

Since arriving in Bangladesh, there is one thing I have wanted to do pretty desperately. The problem is, it was not something I had much control over. It relied on me planting strategic, passive-aggressive comments in conversations and knowing the right people. Last night, my diligence and desperation paid off; I attended a wedding ceremony.

During my first week of work, I had expressed my curiosity of Bangladeshi weddings to my intern supervisor. She told me about how she had taken 10 days off of work for her five-ceremony wedding (the ceremonies are held every other day). When I told my host mom about this, she retorted, "Only five days?! That's a short one." During the field visit in Manikanj, I had a little sneak preview of a Bangladeshi wedding, which only further excited me.

Then last night, in the midst of a fancy meal at Spaghetti Jazz, The Lonely Planet's #1 restaurant recommendation in Gulshan, I received a text message from my work partner, asking if I would like to attend a wedding event with her. Obviously there was no real question here, and my friends and I gulped our dinners down as quickly as possible. The ladies raced home and suited up in our nicest kameezes, and our male counterpart dressed in his best panjabi (which he had to borrow from my work partner's father).

Ornately decorated stage.
Look at all the flowers!
On the ride to the event, my work partner explained exactly what this event was that we would attend. It is called holud, and it is a party that the bride and groom both have on separate nights before the wedding. Last night, we attended the groom's holud. By the time we arrived, we had missed the groom's ornate processional into the room, where he rode on some sort of throne under an umbrella while being fanned with giant, golden, bejeweledpeacock-feather-covered fans. In the front of the room, the groom sat with platters of sweet foods and turmeric powder. Groups of friends, family, and acquaintances came up to the stage, smudged turmeric powder on the groom, and spoon fed him sweets. What is the purpose for all this? When I asked my friend she giggled and asked her mom, who also giggled and asked the mother of the bride. The lucky mother came over and told us how the turmeric powder is supposed to brighten the groom's complexion and make him glow for the wedding. We feed the groom desserts to give him something sweet before the wedding.
feeding the groom rice pudding
My first observation was, of course, the extremely brightly colored and coordinated clothing. I asked my friend why most everyone was wearing red and green, and she told me people like to coordinate their outfits. Almost all the men wore green panjabis and many of the women wore red saris, particularly the bride's family. Their outfits were beautiful. I was particularly enamored with their earrings which were made with actual flowers. I am definitely making myself a pair of those for my wedding. Another interesting fact is our relation to the soon-to-be-married couple. My friend's mom's sister's sister-in-law's daughter was the bride. Does that make sense? The point is, Bangladeshi weddings are extremely inclusive, a trait I would also like in my wedding. Finally, I had to ask about the religious aspect of the wedding. Many of the women wore bindis (the small circles worn on the forehead, often seen in Indian culture), which I did not realize was prevalent in the Muslim religion. I also learned that this particular ceremony, though Muslim, was specific to Bangladeshi-Muslims. Having been part of India, a predominantly Hindu nation, Bangladeshis have mixed a lot of Hindu culture into their Muslim culture. The style in which Bangladeshis celebrate weddings would not be the same in the Middle East, for example.

Of course a South Asian event cannot be complete without adequately feeding the guests. The waiters rushed out of the kitchen with heaping plates of naan bread, yogurt sauce, fried beef cakes, and chicken. That was our appetizer. Next came the mutton byriani, a rice dish with goat meat and potatoes mixed in. Of course, the boneless, skinless variety does not exist here so I had to pull some gigantic bones out of the tender mutton chunks. The rich meat tasted divine; I could not come close to finishing my plate of food.

Next came my favorite part of the night: dancing. The men were the first on the dance floor. It was especially interesting to see a relatively modest crowd of women. I always feel I must beg most of my male friends to dance with me and my female friends willingly join. It was so fun to see everyone so happy and spirited. Many movies that westerners see about marriages in South Asia tend to have negative portrayals of the forceful, pressure-filled marriages. These certainly exist, but during this event, all these feelings of animosity were forgotten as families and friends came together, ate, talked, and danced.

This was probably one of the more fun nights of being in Bangladesh. It was a chance to experience one of the happiest aspects of any culture. In their state of merriment, the family graciously invited us to attend the wedding reception tomorrow, and I cannot wait!

The bride's family circling the groom. Check out their beautiful, handmade earrings. Those are real flowers! Some of them also have chains of orange flowers in their hair. They looked so beautiful.

A very happy groom.

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