Bachelorette Party, Uzbek Style
Buston Travel Blog› entry 7 of 83 › view all entries
The first officially planned event of the wedding festivities was the bride's to'i, traditionally a get together of the bride's female friends, but nowadays including family members and male friends as well, but no groom. It was held in the Restoran, a deceptive misnomer in this case because the family had to bring everything including the dishes--nothing plastic of course!--and food. A duo of traditional Uzbek singers and a hostess together with an audio system that was nearly deafening served as the premier entertainment. The relatively dingy room was spruced up enough to look festive and featured a center stage table where the bride sat with her two best friends and looked demure not to suggest she was enjoying herself beyond reason. After all, it's a family event! Surrounding the front of the table was a heart-shaped illuminated wire and behind them a flashing neon sign reading "Baxt Bo'lsin" or "Much Happiness." Cake and a couple bottles of champagne flanked the sides.
Jackie and I seemed to be the first people to arrive, other than the singers, but slowly people started trickling in, coming and going as they pleased. There were probably about 100 people give or take that passed through, with a core group of about 70. Need I say that there was vodka, and being a party I couldn't resist a few shots. However, before I had anything to drink I went in search of a bathroom and was led by a young boy through the kitchen and out back and in trying to see in the hazy distance where a bathroom could possibly be, I miscalculated the steps and twisted my ankle. A lawsuit in the US, just a pain in the ankle here. I don't think it's officially twisted but I'm much more sure-footed now. There are open drainage ditches, potholes, manholes and general trippable surfaces everywhere so it takes constant monitoring.
Luckily the ankle thing was only painful if I turned it on its twisted side, so I was able to partake in some Uzbek dancing when that commenced, which wasn't too far into the party. In the past, I would usually have to be pulled so that my arms were almost out of their sockets, but I knew I would have no luck this time and did little resisting when approached to dance. Uzbek dancing is more with hands than feet anyway, and I think everyone wanted to know if I even remembered it. After dancing I hopped from table to table doing the requisite shot (or sip) of vodka with people who were in their early teens the last time I saw them. No longer little Aybek was cutting the concrete quite well with his wife Zamira, making everyone laugh with his antics.
The final portion of the evening featured a line-up of family and close friends to give toasts. One family friend, Rahima, or the "Russian lady" as I used to call her because of how she pronounced the word "Russian" so energetically, invited Jackie and I to make a toast as well. Once everyone made their toasts, the bride with her two girlfriends approached the line and hugged everyone. She began to cry when she hugged her parents. In this culture the parents literally give their daughter away to the groom's family so it takes on a new meaning. Ogiljon's new family probably won't enslave her like some families treat their kelin, but after the official wedding she must stay with them at their house and serve them for at least three days.
Sunday the festivities continued with the groom's family members arriving from Tashkent to be given the hospitality treatment. There were probably five different events going on at the same time: 1. the most important people--the men from Tashkent and other VIPs--in the dining room at a table; 2. important people in the town like the directors from schools, government and local businesses (that's where I ended up); 3. wives of Tashkent important people; 4. aunts, grandmothers and other women; and 5. neighbors, other family and pretty much everyone else outside where the street was blocked off and a large tent erected and tables set up. Some of the male cousins and friends were serving the important people groups, a sign of respect. I had my share of vodka shots and it wasn't even mid-afternoon. I managed to outdrink Samandar, one of the directors of the lyceum where I taught for a semester. Everyone was hazing him for it, too.
Later in the afternoon they took a few people, including a fun-loving uncle of the groom's, up to Ayaz Qala. This, along with Toproq Qala, were literally in Buston's backyard, only 45 minutes away and magnificent. Ayaz Qala now even boasts a tourist camp of yurts with modern facilities I was shocked to discover. The lonely road just out of town took us the 10 kilometers to Ayaz Qala and a grand fortress of adobe greeted me just as I left it. Ayaz Qala dates from 2000 BC or more and is amazingly intact owing to the scant precipitation in the desert. From the top you can see for probably 40 miles or more. It is completely unprotected, though, and even as we were there someone had climbed up on a wall and it crumbled. Before we left some of the guys motioned for me to go behind one of the outcropped walls and they giddily pulled from the back seat of their car a couple bottles of vodka, Fanta, mineral water, mixed nuts and a big pot of meat and potatoes. Of course, it was time to drink again! And what better place to do it than atop an ancient ruin? Foolishly falling for their "just 5 grams" request, 3 shots later we were on our way to Lake Akchakul to repeat the drinking/eating process with a stunning view of the reedy lake with the low sun painting a golden stripe across the still water.
Finally the evening ended with us back at the house, this time I got prime seating in the dining room with the remaining important people, and we had dinner (I was already full) and of course more shots. While I didn't actually drink all of the shots that day, I maintained a buzz from about noon until I went to bed when all the guests left and the house was finally quiet, at about 8:30 that night. And this was just the beginning.