A few weeks back, I (Curt) was surprised to receive a phone call from my friend "Mitch."  I hadn't seen him for a year and a half, but he got my phone number, and called to tell me he was getting married the next day.  This is a typical invitation in this culture- at the last minute!  He told me to arrive around 5:30 for the banquet.
It was a Sunday, so I went into our Cafe to work in the morning.  Mitch then calls me around 2:00, telling me, "Hey man, you gotta come at 3:00 and hang out with all the guys before the wedding!"  I knew an interesting experience was coming.
I had planned on leaving work and going home to change clothes before the wedding, but at this point I had no time.  So I did what any Kansas guy would do: I asked if it was ok to wear my jeans, flannel shirt, and tennis shoes.  He said no problem, so I went out, grabbed a cab, and headed to the local banquet hall.
I arrived to see a dozen or so Central Asians in a small room around a table, mostly drinking (yes many Muslims here do drink).  They were passing around a shot glass- I knew this would be tricky, because it's quite impolite to refuse a drink.  It came to me and I introduced myself and said I would take one drink, and that's it.  They were happy enough with that, so I toasted Mitch, took my shot (it was intense!), and that was that.

Next, it was time for all us guys to go out to the other restaurant, where the bride was waiting.  I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I was experiencing some serious culture!  The guys were all riled up, and as we walked, they were all hollering, "Happy wedding!  Happy wedding!" in their language.  And of course there was a guy with a horn, two guys with big drums, and another guy with an accordion.  Surely many of you have seen the famous Will Ferrell "more cowbell" sketch from SNL- well i felt like that with the accordion guy.  Anytime it got silent, someone would yell, "more accordion, we need more accordion!" and he would start up again.  Love it!
We arrived at the bride's restaurant, and her and her friends were in a private room as well.  So all us guys burst in, and the groom went through the traditional custom of pulling the bride away from her friends.  The friends pull back and pretend that he can't have her, but eventually they give in.  They sit together for awhile then while people take pictures, and of course the accordion is roaring and guys are still singing.

Then we ran up into a restaurant banquet hall, where their parents were waiting.  We all did a dance.  I just can't do the local dancing in tennis shoes; seriously, it just doesn't feel right unless I have black, pointy shoes on.  So after I danced one song, a guy comes up to me and says, "not bad for your first time dancing."  Ugh!  So the parents come out and do a blessing over the bride and groom, including a custom where they wave a piece of the local flat bread over their heads.  I asked around and apparently it's for good fortune.  Interesting.
Now it was time to drive an hour outside of town to a park to take pictures!  I'm getting tired at this point, particularly of the drum and accordion, but I thought hey a nice car ride.  Oh no.  I got in the wrong car, of 5 guys, me in the crowded back seat with two others.  The driver drove so fast and so crazy that I nearly asked him to pull over and I would catch a cab home.  And of course they were smoking in the car.  The driver was sober, but was racing another car in the wedding party.  I asked why no police would pull him over, and he said, "we are in a wedding party and have a sticker on our license plate for it, so we can drive however we want!"  Oh great!
We arrived at the park, and what do we do?  For 45 minutes the 20-25 of us dance while the bride and groom take pictures.  It's about 40 degrees out, so I'm pretty cold and not in the dancing mood after that car ride, but what choice do I have?  So again I danced a bit, this time in the grass with a Tajik guy.
So finally now we drive back into the city for the real banquet.  Our flurry of cars arrives at the banquet hall, accordion and drum still howling of course!  Below is the picture of the lead car, where a guy plays his little horn for the whole trip.
In the banquet hall, two things happen: Eating and dancing.  Well two more things happen as well: drinking and smoking!  But mostly eating and dancing, so I enjoyed a very nice meal of rice and carrots, fruit and nuts, some candy, tea, and my favorite dish in this land, translated to English as "Big Plate Chicken."  It's as if they go at the chicken with a big saw and put all the parts that come out in a huge bowl with seasonings and vegetables.  Honestly, it's really good, as long you avoid the weird parts of the chicken.
So I snapped a few more pics, danced a song or two (still didn't feel right in my tennis shoes!), gave my gift and got out of there early before they tried to push me to drink more shots!  The gift giving is interesting: a friend of the couple goes around to the tables with a notebook, and everyone gives cash.  Then the friend writes down your name in the notebook, and exactly how much you give.  I hope I gave a reasonable amount!
So below is a picture of Mitch and his bride, with me as the weird white guy in the background.  A very nice couple.  I had dinner with them a week or so later and they are an enjoyable pair.  So that's my wedding experience!

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