Road stories #24: Hanging out with a local celebrity and attending a Tajik wedding
After a bit of a Couchsurfing disappointment in Khojand, we headed south. Little did we know that in the unpromising Istaravshan we would met the legendary Tajik hospitality, make a good celebrity friend and attend a Tajik wedding!
Hitchhiking to Istaravshan
“Oh no, taxi…”, I thought and mentally prepared myself to reject him.
By this stage, I have learnt how to say in perfect Russian: “we don’t need taxi, no we really don’t, we don’t have money, we are hitchhiking, we really don’t need a taxi, thank you very much, somebody will take us, no, we really don’t need a taxi“.
But by the time I even got to the driver’s window, a marshrutka appeared and started shouting at the driver. The driver shouted back in Tajik and there was some kind of argument going on between them. Then, an old man in a traditional Tajik hat got out and told us in Russian to jump in. I started my “we don’t need a taxi…” but he said he knew we were hitchhiking and he just argued with the marshrutka driver that we were his guests and he would take us for free.
He drove us right to the spot we needed, outside the bank where we were supposed to meet with our host. We had arranged on Couchsurfing to stay with the family of a student who was at the time on an exchange in Europe. All we knew about the family was that they don’t speak any English so our Russian would have to be sufficient.
Istaravshan: Tajik hospitality and meeting a local pop star
After meeting the father of the family, he walked us to his house where his wife treated us to a platter full of all the different kinds of sweets. Then she disappeared again and after a while brought some tea, bread, two kinds of soft drinks, sausage, smoked cheese, cream and butter. A real feast! And just think she had only learnt about our arrival just two days before but being welcoming to guests (even strangers) is something absolutely normal in Tajik culture.
After having some rest we went to look around town. As we didn’t have a map and didn’t know where anything was, we decided to climb the castle hill to get our bearings. We crossed the river and as we were walking past a restaurant two guys beckoned us in. They offered us beer, soft drinks and snacks, and we learnt that the older one was the chef and the younger one, called Khorshed, the owner of the restaurant. Khorshed was also a local celebrity (he’d released one album and one DVD from his concert) and the owner of two other businesses in town (a record shop and a studio). We didn’t get to the castle hill that day as instead we got drunk with Khorshed who was really happy to have foreign guests. He didn’t speak any English and our Russian is very limited but even so we got on really well from the beginning. After spending time with the ultra-religious guys in Khujand who preached that music was a sin, it was great to spend some time with a young musician whose philosophy was to seize the day, live the life of pleasure, drink, smoke, sing and wear a beard. It was actually Jon‘s own beard which drew Khurshed’s attention in the first place as in a country like Tajikistan having a beard equals being an outlaw.
The next day, after a lovely breakfast prepared by the mother of the family, we tried to walk the castle hill again. This time Khorshed wasn’t in, but we met a bunch of his friends and again got drunk on free booze. This time, however, we climbed the hill and the view from the top was truly beautiful.
On the third day of our stay in Istaravshan we were invited to a Tajik wedding. In some ways Central Asian weddings resemble their Western counterparts. There is a bride in a white dress, there is food, guests, music and speeches. But that’s about it with the similarities. What struck us most was the fact that the bride and groom didn’t participate in the celebrations. After their arrival they were sat at a white table on a plinth and for the whole time observed their guests having fun. They didn’t speak to each other and the bride looked on the brink of tears throughout the party. Later Khorshed told us that it’s because of the fact that she will miss her family, but it could also be because of the fact that people here tend to get married very young, driven by social pressure and family obedience rather than love. All the guys we’d met in Istaravshan were younger than us but they’d all been married for some time and all had one or two kids. Even so, they hardly spend any time with their families (as they were in the bar drinking with us) and cheating on their wives was not uncommon either.
I must admit we were quite nervous about going to the wedding as being a foreigner in a country like Tajikistan means being constantly in the centre of attention. After going through the door, we were sat at a table and immediately there was food served and alcohol brought before us (do I have to mention that Tajikistan is a Muslim country and there was no other alcohol on any other table?). Then a procession of old ladies came to say hello and by the way they greeted us I assumed they were the bride and groom’s mothers and aunts.
As the young couple was sitting at their table, far away from the other revellers, a tamada (toast master) came to the microphone and gave a speech. Later there was music played by many live musicians (Khurshed was one of them) and people started to dance.
After having some food we were brought by Khurshed to a small room at the back of the stage where the real party was happening. There was vodka and cognac and everybody was already drunk and in prime festive moods. After spending some time in their company we got out on the dance floor and danced, much to the joy of other wedding participants. There were some mobile phones filming us but at that stage we didn’t care too much.
The party finished after only 3 hours according to the Tajik law decreed by the president. Don’t ask me what the reason for that is, as there are many ridiculous regulations in this country.
After the wedding we stayed in Istaravshan for two more days as we both got quite sick which had nothing to do with the alcohol we drunk at the party. We both got bad stomach bugs and had to stay in bed for an entire day before braving it and hitting the road to the mountains.
written by: Ania