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Charleston, SC, United States
"Fear is a stranger to the ways of love. Identify with fear, and you will be a stranger to yourself." -ACIM

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Wedding; Another Experience

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the blog and don’t know how weddings in my Azeri village work, let me give you a little update. There are a thousand little traditions and steps that need to be taken over the two-night affair. The first night takes place at the girl’s house; the second at the guy’s. The girl’s family hosts the guy’s family and friends the first night and after much music playing, dancing and of course drinking, everyone goes home.

Last night in Muganlo was night two of my host-family’s cousin’s wedding. This guy is pretty cool and has always been a friend to me ever since I got there. So night two was at his house which is right next door to our house and of course I had to be there. And being as where I am considered one of the cousins and being a younger guy, I actually had a role to play in night two.
Here’s how it works. All the males get together at his house at about 3:30 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon and start drinking. Thankfully it’s not that much since everybody knows we have a long night ahead of us. This is what we do to keep ourselves occupied while all the women of the family set up for the huge feast that is to come. Sure, every now and then we move a table or a bench here to there and back again, but for the most part we don’t do too much. That is until 5 o’clock. At five we load up with one last shot and start the procession to the girl’s house to “take” her. This is all traditional at this point and all we’re doing is taking her back to his house for night two of feasting and then she stays there for good.

But, half the fun of this is the procession. It is led by two boys who each carry a sheep around their shoulders. Behind them come all the guy’s male friends and relatives dancing, clapping and yelling. Behind the males is the band consisting of a drummer, accordion player and clarinetist. After the band come the female members of the family carrying gifts for the girl from them as a welcoming to the family. After the women come the cars all honking and flashing their lights. In the front car is the groom, his best-man and either parents or siblings. The cars behind them rank by family status or friendship. For example, one of my host-brothers was driving the second car since he is a cousin and close friend of the groom and he was carrying in his car some older female members of the family who couldn’t make the walk. The other two host-brothers were out in front dancing and marching with me.

Now this dancing procession takes as long as it takes to get from the guy’s to the girl’s house. In last night’s case it was about 30 minutes. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been in one of these, but it was the first time that I’ve ever been in one that has to pass a house that is currently hosting a funeral. Normally the goal of a wedding procession is to make as much noise as possible to draw people out of their homes to see them and congratulate the family. But, as we rounded one corner the groom’s brother yelled out and told the band in not so polite terms to, “shut the hell up!” He then proceeded to run back and yell at the women and then the cars holding his hand in the air.

So, for the next “block” (we don’t really have blocks, but it’s what I would call a section of the street) we all walked in silence. As we passed the home where the funeral was taking place, all the men removed their hats, the women lowered the gifts and the cars turned off their lights. But, as soon as we got off that street, the brother lowered his hand and yelled “Dance!” “Music now!”

After we had a few songs in I noticed he ran up and berated the boys up front with the sheep for taking us down that street. But, none the worse for wear, we made it to the girl’s house. Her father comes out, opens the gate and then the brother of the groom kills the first sheep at the entrance. After the thing is dead, we all go in. Here we (the males and females) must dance some more in the courtyard as if to say ‘we’re here and we’re here to party then take your daughter.’

At this point, as is the case in every culture, we’re just waiting on the girl to get ready. The female members of the male’s family all go upstairs to help get her things together while the men stand around and drink anything that was left over from the night before. This last for about another 30-45 minutes before eventually the groom’s mother or aunt calls down for he and his best man to come and ‘take’ the girl. This is also the cue for the procession to form up again and get ready for the march back.

This time the numbers grow just a bit as we take on more cars for the girl’s close family and a few friends will also join the marchers. This time our leader (the groom’s brother) insists that we take a different route as to not go by the funeral. The boy whose job it is to carry the second sheep back is not too enthused with this as it will add an additional few minutes to the march. But the brother was obviously not moved by his complaints since the boy received a swift kick to the back-side for his whining.

The march back is the same as the one on the way there just more people and cars. But, once we get there the family has strung a giant red ribbon over the entrance blocking our way. The only way to get in is for the bride and groom to walk up to the ribbon and cut it as the new happy couple. But where is the knife you ask? Well it’s here! being used to cut the throat of the second sheep. Here you go brother, use this bloody knife to cut this ribbon. Hurray! goes the crowd.

Once the bride and groom walk in everyone else follows and finds their places at two long tables set up for the feast. Men at one table women at the other of course. Thankfully last night I found a seat next to my host-dad, uncle and one of the male teachers from my school. Once you sit down at one of these things, there is no switching seats so seat selection is key. By this point its near 8 o’clock and time for the feast to begin. The groom’s father makes the first toast welcoming everyone and appointing a toast-master or ‘Tamada.”

Really after this there are no real points of interest. Music plays, the Tamada makes a toast, everybody drinks. Well, everyone except the women of course. They’re out of there after about the 5th or 6th toast in order to clear the table for other guests and to prepare more food. After that it’s loud music, toast, and drink; repeat. There is a whole set of dancing rules and in which order which people dance, but I’ve yet to develop an interest in figuring that one out. I just go when my host-brothers go or when my host-dad tells me to go in his place. It’s not that interesting trust me. And, dancing here is easy. You just move around in a circle with the other people with your arms in the air flicking your wrists back and forth yelling “O-Paa!”

All of this goes on till well after midnight and I really have to hand it to my host-dad because even after these long nights he is up at 7 in the morning and on his way to work. I can’t say the same for my host-brothers since they were still asleep when I left at 9 this morning.

But, that was a brief glance at what it’s like to take part in a wedding in Muganlo. Sorry, no pictures for this since I didn’t take my camera. All the dancing and marching can sometimes get a little rough so I decided to leave it at home. Also, you never know when a cousin from the bride’s family might have a problem with a brother or cousin from the groom’s family and start a fight. I’ve seen plenty of those and been involved in more than one unfortunately. But, when my host-brother start fighting, I’m there with them. Luckily, last night was not one of those type nights. Apparently everybody was friendly and in the New Year’s spirit.

Hope you all have big plans for New Year’s Eve and stay safe out there. I hear its cold in America these days. So far so good here this winter and it hast gotten too bad… yet.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The week leading up to Christmas

I’m getting the best gift for Christmas. No school until January 20th! I’m only bummed that my mom’s packages didn’t get here in time for me to have them for Christmas. I was hoping to have them so that I could give my host-family gifts on Christmas, and so I could have stuff to stuff my stocking with for Christmas morning. But, I got word this morning that they are hung up in customs and I probably won’t be able to get them until next week. No big deal, my family is Muslim, so they’d probably rather have them on New Year’s anyway. That’s the big holiday here and everyone decorates for it like its Christmas anyway.

This week was a fun one. I was not sick for the first time in about two and a half weeks and I decided to forego trying to teach my kids anything since half of them weren’t showing up for the last week of school and my counterparts were more interested in finally getting around to filling out the grade books in order to get the final semester grades in by Friday afternoon. So instead, I just played review games with them and on the last day tried to teach two of my groups Jingle Bells. More on that later.

This past Sunday was interesting. I came home from a weekend away to find that nobody was home. Not one of the 15 people living in my house for the past 3 weeks was there. Never in my 18 months of living there has this happened. So, I call the host-dad. My 15-year-old host-brother answers and said they were all visiting relatives in another village and to “jump” over the fence. Now this is no easy task since that fence is 9 feet tall. But, I managed even with an old lady who was herding her turkeys watching me with a look on her face that said, ‘Crazy American.’ After I climbed over I just hung out in my room for a few hours since the entire house except for the kitchen was locked up. Around 7:30 that evening the host-brother calls back and in broken English tells me, “Car don’t work. We be home late, you need eating. Go chicken and make. We home late.” Now only because I’ve lived with him for this long did I understand that I needed to go to the kitchen and make myself some food since they would be home later that evening.

Problem number one: I never go in the kitchen. That is my host-mom’s territory and she does not let people in there. So, I have no idea where anything is or even how to turn on the stove. Luckily, I’m not a complete moron and was able to figure out how to get the gas balloon to filter gas to the stove and get it lit. The problem was the only available options to me were: re-heat the boiled sheep, re-heat the eggs from that morning, re-heat some cow’s stomach or starve. I thought about skipping the meal altogether. Then, if the situation wasn’t funny enough already, Mom calls from America. While laughing it up with her on my current situation I found some oatmeal in one of the cabinets and opted to eat that. Thankfully, Mom was able to tell me the water to oatmeal ratio for a bowl of warm goodness. I had to eyeball it since there are no measuring cups, but it turned out ok. Mom and I chatted it up while I was waiting on the water to boil and till I made it back to my room and ate. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I finished my bowl of oatmeal, the host-family gets back. They were concerned that I hadn’t eaten, but I showed them that I had and all were satisfied even if my host-mom was slightly skeptical.

Also this week my family decided to bring back the mid-week shower. So on Wednesday we all got a hot shower and cleaned up. When I first got there last year we took showers every Sunday and Wednesday, but that stopped last winter and we were restricted to Sundays only. While I hate the once a week bath, I had forgotten how nice it is to get that mid-week shower and shave. It was awesome! However, I have my doubts as to whether this will continue in future weeks.
So overall the not being sick, having a night to myself and the mid-week shower combined to make this a pretty good week. Well we still have the visiting relative and the 15 people in the house, but whatever.

Like I said, I spent most of Monday through Thursday just playing games with my kids and making up grades with my counterparts. They are so lax about marking down grades during the semester so on the last week they all make this mad rush to calculate up the grades that I’ve written down in the grade books and add in some of their own to make the final score come out the way they want it. “Let’s give her a 10 because she’s a good girl and him an 8 because he’s good and for the kid that never comes, a 6.” They won’t let me fail anyone no matter if the kid hasn’t shown up at all or even bothered to make any effort. I washed my hands of that last year and now I just laugh at them and make sure that my favorite kids who do semi-consistent work get either 9s or 10s.

As a treat, like I said I played games with the kids who showed up and then took class photos. You’ll see in the pictures below my 5th and 6th grade classes. I didn’t bother with my 9th or 10th graders; none of them were there. I also had 15 minutes left in the semester to teach them Jingle Bells. You’ll watch a shortened version of two groups trying it out below. Not bad for just 15-20 minutes, but one group just couldn’t quite get it. I’m also glad that I don’t have classes on Fridays so I got to miss today New Year’s concert at school. Last year’s was a train wreck and nearly blew my eardrums and bored me to death at the same time. Another Christmas gift. No concert for me this year.

Well I’m off to watch some football games I’ve got downloaded and try and get some sleep tonight. This week despite the fun was not a good sleep week. Ugh. Why is 4 a.m. my brain’s preferred wake-up time? And then again at 4:30, 5:15, 5:35,… and so on till I have to get up at 7:30. Send drugs! I’ve had enough!

Never mind that. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’s! I miss you all and hope to hear from you soon.

6G (well, most of them)

6A (half of them)

6B (the only ones that matter anyway)

5B (with my Azeri counter-part)