One Wednesday I went to lunch at the Vocational Higher Education School in Çorum. Tony (my fellow American English teacher) and I got our trays of food and sat down at a table full of strangers and one woman who came to our weekly discussion groups. Before we had even been formally introduced, the man sitting next to Oznur, the woman we knew, invited us to his daughters wedding. He handed us an invitation to share, told us his name, and then picked up his tray and left. Oznur explained that he wanted “the Americans” to experience a Turkish wedding and it just so happened that his daughter was getting married that coming Saturday. We were delighted because as everyone in Çorum knows, there is nothing to do on a Saturday night except listening to live music at Baraka (a local café) or going to a wedding.
That Saturday morning I asked Aslı (one of my friends) to borrow a dress for the wedding because unfortunately when packing for Turkey I had not considered packing a suitable party outfit as I was much too concerned about dressing conservatively. It turns out even in Çorum people wear sleeveless dresses to weddings. She invited me to her room where her and her two roommates went to work taking out all the dresses in their closets for me to try on. With every dress I put on there came an “ooh” or an “ah” and finally we were down to two choices. The black lacy dress was my favorite but I was worried about wearing so much black to a wedding. My friends told me that wearing black to a wedding was completely normal in Turkey. I took the two dresses back to my room as well as a bottle of bright blue nail polish. I painted my nails and I put on black tights and grey socks. I decided on the black dress, but was still worried that I was wearing too much black. I did my makeup (eyeliner and all) and I went back to her room for approval. As she opened the door the first thing out of her mouth was “Çok güzel!” (very beautiful). She said something to her roommate and pulled a chair out in front of the mirror. “Sit” she said. She took out her hair blow dryer and plugged it in. She began brushing and drying my hair. After it was dry they spoke in Turkish again and she pulled out her hairspray and curling iron. I didn’t protest. One girl held the majority of my hair while the other curled it. In the end I looked like a grown up Shirley Temple. Then Aslı took out her earring wall (which is indeed a corkboard wall full of earrings) and picked out a pair of bright blue feather earrings that matched my nails. I put them on, Aslı took what seemed like one hundred photos of me and my hair, and told me to meet her in the canteen at four.
Aslı and our friend Rosana (from Spain) met me in the canteen at ten after four and since I had a lesson at four thirty Aslı said they would walk me to my class. I told her it was no problem and that I could go alone, but she tsked at me (meaning no) and said it was dangerous for me to walk around alone looking so pretty. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and it was still light out so I wasn’t worried, but since she was I let her walk me to school.
After our lesson Tony and I were picked up by a car with two men who we also met that Wednesday. They drove us for five minutes or so until we reached a street covered in lit up signs saying “Leblebi” (Çorum is famous for it’s leblebi which are roasted chickpeas). Our driver rolled down the window and said a few words in Turkish to the car next to us and we were ushered out of the car we were in, to the next one over. The woman in the passenger seat of the second car was Oznur. From there we drove for about ten minutes to a salon or banquet hall outside of the city center of Çorum (the city of Çorum is small and has a concentrated population, but the province of Çorum stretches very far in terms of land). We approached the banquet hall, but shortly realized that there were two weddings happening in two different parts of the salon. We stopped to figure out which side was the right one. Oznur gestured for us to follow her and we walked up a red carpet lined with beautiful white roses. Inside the banquet hall there were about twenty five long tables that each had sixteen chairs. Since this wedding was not necessary to RSVP to, every seat was paired with a plate of baklava and a salad as well as another large plate (which told me more food was coming). The chairs were white and wrapped with an iridescent pink bow. Upon entering we shook hands with what seemed like innumerable people including the grandmother of the groom and bride, as well as the brides father (the professor who had invited us). Each of them took our hands and said “Hoş geldiniz!” (welcome) to which the correct response is “Hoşbulduk!” (something along the lines of thank you for welcoming me). We took our seats and began eating our salad and baklava. After I had finished my baklava and people were still arriving the woman across from me who had just taken an English class in New York offered me her baklava because she was on a diet. Obviously I said yes and I told her that it was no problem because I did pilates everyday. Immediately she invited me over to her house to do Pilates because she was a Pilates instructor and loved to work out with friends. We exchanged numbers and she said she only lived about a ten minute walk from my apart.
Finally the procession started. I had been wondering about the television screens around the room, but it became immediately apparent that the entire wedding would be videotaped via a live feed and would be screened upon these televisions so that everyone could see every part. The bride and groom got out of a car and began walking along the red carpet. Fireworks went off above them and like paparazzi there were about ten or so people surrounding them, taking their photos. Inside they had a bride and groom dance and then family members were welcomed to dance among them for the second song. After this everyone sat down to eat. The bride and groom were alone at their own table in the front of the room, side by side, like royalty.
The food was delicious (like Turkish food always is) and after three more courses including soup, borek, rice and meat, a table was brought out to the middle of the dance floor and the bride and groom rose. At the table a man (I can only guess he was officiating the marriage) said a few words, the bride said “evet” (yes) and the groom said “EVET!” The entire room erupted in applause and they signed a piece of paper and the whole thing was over in under five minutes. They removed the table and the dancing began! I danced to every song and some of the Turkish women took it upon themselves to teach me how to spice up my Turkish dance moves by adding more shoulder. In Turkey men and women both dance with their arms raised and snapping while moving their arms back and forth. The only dancing that was not like this was either a slow dance or halay. Halay involves linking pinky fingers with the people next to you and following the dance steps led by the leader (the first person in the line who is holding a shiny swatch of fabric in one hand). Usually the dance moves get faster and faster as the music continues and can be challenging at first, but after a while the steps become second nature. The dancing was stopped due to the cutting of the cake. A large cake was brought out and the bride and groom cut it with a very long sword. They fed each other bites and the cake was taken away (it later returned in small pieces at our seats). The gift giving commenced. In Turkey there are two gifts you can give at a wedding: you can pin a gold coin onto the bride or grooms dress or you can pin money. At some weddings they announce “Susan gave two gold coins, Doreen gave fifty lira, George gave three gold coins,” etc. However at this wedding they did not. After the gift giving, which took about half an hour the dancing began again. There were over 150 guests, but only thirty of us were dancing.
At the end of the wedding we took a picture with the bride and groom and they thanked me in English for my attendance. They said they were very happy to share their special day with an American (or so I gathered from the bits and pieces of Turkish I understood). I thanked them in Turkish and we left. Oznur handed me two of the dancing leader swatches and told me to keep them as souvenirs. Oznur’s friend drove us home and when I walked into Bilge Apart I began dancing halay by myself. My friend Aslı joined in and so did Gül (meaning Rose) the nice woman who works the night shift. We danced into the kitchen where we picked up Sate Teze (the chef) and we danced for a bit longer until we were tired. They asked me if I was hungry and I said no and ran to my room. I know very well that “are you hungry?” is not a question and no matter how you answer it, if you stick around long enough food will arrive in front of you.
The generosity and kindness of the Turkish people extends far past anything I ever could have imagined. I look forward to attending many more Turkish weddings in the future, and was even lucky enough to get invitations to four weddings in the Spring.