Carrie Hasselback (Afghanistan)

Carrie Hasselback (Afghan Women’s Network - AWN): Carrie received a B.A. from Michigan State University. During her undergraduate studies she also studied in Argentina and Italy. Carrie then worked for The Peace Corps in Romania for two years teaching English to children. At the time of her fellowship, she was studying at New York University pursuing a Master’s degree focusing on International Development and Nonprofit Management.

Armed Guards and Sprinting Waiters

17 Jul

I came home from work a little early Thursday afternoon eagerly anticipating the wedding that I had been invited to that night. I had never even met the bride or the groom, but I was excited at the chance to attend the ceremony.

Things immediately erupted into chaos when I arrived home. The driver pulled up to my gate and I saw an armed UN guard sitting there. I had to reach around him to ring the bell. This was confusing as I had never seen him there, there are no UN employees in the house, and the issue of a guard was never brought up while I was around. So I asked a housemate when I got inside. She had been unaware of the guard, but was vehemently opposed to the idea. The two Afghan men who work in the house weren’t very keen on it either. Other housemates wanted the guard and I was indifferent. Eventually it was worked out that the guard would not sit directly in front of our gate, but closer to the neighbors. Apparently the idea of sharing a guard had been discussed between the neighbors some months before, but most of us were in the dark.

My indifference to the subject spurred some jokes from the Afghans who did not want the guard. They thought the guard made us sitting ducks. I thought there were pros and cons to the situation, so in the end I really didn’t mind either way. They had seen my reaction to cockroaches before and found it ironic that I run and scream at them, but the man at the gate with the AK47 didn’t cause me to blink an eye.

Once the excitement from the guard ceased, the excitement for the wedding emerged. I was lucky enough to be invited to go to the beauty parlor before the bride went to the actual wedding party. The bride gets all made up; they make their skin so pale it is lighter than mine. I think they used three bottles (literally) of hairspray on the bride, and she was wearing a mint green, frilly dress. The beauty parlor has one half devoted to scenery for picture taking. There were lots of fake flowers and an arbor. The groom came there to get the bride and take pictures. One of the many interesting things about Afghan weddings is that the bride has to look sad all night. She is not allowed to smile. She is supposed to be sad that she is leaving her family. The man, on the other hand, can be as happy as he wants.

We went straight from the beauty parlor to the wedding party. There was a bit of sensory overload in the room. It was really hot and there were hordes of people impatient to get a look at the bride. When the couple entered the room, guests who had been waiting for hours swarmed them. I was jostled to the back where my main mission was to remain on my feet.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long for the food since we arrived with the bride. I had been warned before that weddings are a lot of waiting around for the bride to arrive and then the food. It was really fortunate that we were able to bypass that part. Once the food did start coming, it came fast. The waiters were literally sprinting like it was 100-meter dash with trays of rice and meat. This was probably the most amusing part of the entire night. They were sweating profusely and panting. I was sitting poised with my camera, but they were too fast to capture.

Aside from sprinting waiters, I was not prepared for the insane mass of children either. I had only heard wedding experiences from men who remain in a separate room from the women and children. I am pretty sure there were about 5 children under the age of 8 for every adult.

The bride and groom typically spend most of the time in a separate room with the family during the wedding. They change their clothes several times throughout the night, though I don’t know why. I was able to go into the room for a few minutes to check it out. They put me to work and I felt really important with the integral part I played in the wedding (sort of). I got to mix the henna. I didn’t stick around long enough to see what they actually do with it though.

I did peek through a window to see into the men’s side for a minute. It was a lot calmer without the masses of children. The men were all dancing together without any women. An odd sight for a wedding. I kept waiting for the chicken dance, but to no avail. I left at 11:00, but apparently the wedding went on until 1:00 am. It was all very chaotic. People were staring at me unabashedly and I had an entourage of children as I made my exit.

Posted By Carrie Hasselback (Afghanistan)

Posted Jul 17th, 2005

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