I wanted to share two really beautiful events from the past week: celebrating the election and attending my first Tajik wedding.
The U.S. Election
Contrary to the excitement that most were feeling on election day, I was feeling lousy. Here we were, on the edge of something truly great, and I was not able to participate. Of all the elections in all of the world, why did I have to miss this one?
Tajikistan is 10 hours ahead of the East Coast, so it was fairly obvious that Obama was winning by the time I got into work on November 5th. Judging from e-mails and Facebook postings, I could tell that all of my friends and family were caught up in the excitement back home, regardless of their political leanings. But all I could do was sit at my desk and watch the little states on the CNN map turn red or blue. I felt so helpless and, worse, so far away.
Then it happened: McCain conceded and Obama accepted. I read the transcripts of the speeches, browsed through the pictures of the celebrations, and cursed the very very slow Tajiki internet connection for not letting me watch any videos. And, being the cheeseball that I am, I started crying – not a lot, just a few tears ran down my cheeks.
After a couple hours of throwing myself a pity party, I decided to take matters into my own hands and throw a real party. I grabbed one of my co-workers and headed out in search of the biggest, most chocolatey cake I could find. My co-worker even chipped in for a bottle of RC and Orange RC (another food tradition I don’t quite appreciate here: washing down sugar with more sugar).
We set up the conference room and then went around to each office and invited all of the staff to help celebrate. At first, they didn’t realize what was happening and assumed that it was my birthday. But once I explained that I was throwing an election party, they got even more excited.
In good Tajik tradition, I had planned a lovely little speech in order to explain the reason for the celebration (mostly to explain that this was in no way an endorsement of Obama by myself or by Kiva). But my speech would have to wait: everyone wanted to express their hopes and prayers for my country first: “I hope that your country finds peace and happiness” “I hope that the people in your country will move out of the economic crisis and be able to make more money” “I hope that he will be the best president ever” and on and on and on. I was just blown away – I’m here to help support economic development in Tajikistan and they’re praying that people in the U.S. find wealth.
I felt really blessed and surprised that everyone cared so much. I don’t think they cared too much that Obama won, they seemed to care more about what the election would mean to the people in the U.S. And, not for the first time since arriving here, I felt really privileged. I felt the weight of what it means to be from the U.S. and the responsibility that that can bring. But, most importantly, I no longer felt pity for myself for being here instead of back at home.
I should start this section off with a disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of weddings. I’m not against the concept of weddings, I just don’t like how much stress and money goes into preparing what should be one of the happier moments of your life. And, unfortunately, the extravagance that accompanies most weddings in the U.S. is not a foreign concept here in Tajikistan. Up until last summer, the happy couple would be expected to throw an exuberant, multi-day affair with 500-1000 of their closest friends.
I know what you’re thinking: you don’t even know 500-1000 people, right? Well, that’s because you’re not thinking hard enough….you’re forgetting that you need to invite your brother’s coworkers and your neighbor’s aunt. In addition to feeding all of them, you would be expected to provide housing and cover travel expenses for those who were visiting from out of town. Families have gone into debt, or sent their men off to work in Russia, just to pay for their children’s weddings.
I will admit, 500-1000 people is over the top, no matter what country you’re from, but what are you going to do, make it illegal? Well, that’s what the President of Tajikistan decided to do last summer. He set a cap of 150 people for all wedding celebrations (and funerals….because, yes, they can be equally as debt-inspiring). Considering these recent constraints, I was feeling pretty flattered to be invited to my first Tajik wedding.
Overall, it was a pretty amazing event. The bride and groom were welcomed by loud horns and drums; the guests were fed approximately 8-10 plates of food each (notice how the plates are stacked on top of one another in the pic); the families danced for several hours straight; and the bride spent the entire evening bowing in gratitude to the guests. As always, everyone was a gracious host to me: I was invited to sit at the head table, was welcomed by many of the families’ elders; and learned how to dance. Despite my general disdain for weddings, I had a great time.
Although, in the event that you one day find yourself at a Tajik wedding, I will offer you some sage advice…..if someone asks if you would like to congratulate the bride, kindly decline. Otherwise, you will find yourself standing on a podium, with a microphone in hand, making a speech for the new couple, whose names you do not know.
Here’s a short video of the horns, dancers, and bowing bride: