Cycling Iran we are constantly stopped by cars offering food and chai in return for a selfie. However on one occasion we were stopped by Alireza and Afsar. Their offer was different to all the others before: they invited us to their wedding before they even knew our names or where we come from. Of course we accepted.
3 days of riding later we arrived at the home of the brides mother. We were welcomed into the house as if we were family members. It was only 2 days before the wedding, but the household seemed as calm as ever. We then learnt that an Iranian wedding usually consists of two evenings. The first night is a family affair, they told us. With only 200 people, this is the “small” celebration. The second day of the wedding would have 800 guests, the calmness of the whole family including bride and groom then seemed even more surprising.
On the first night of the wedding we entered the building side by side but were directed our separate ways. Men and women celebrate separately. As explained in a previous blog post, Iranian men and women do not really associate with one another unless they are siblings or married. At a wedding male and female are separated to ensure they feel comfortable and women can wear short sleeve dresses and no headscarf. This is also the reason why there are no photos of the women’s room in this blog post, they don’t want to be seen in public without the hijab.
Without even a goodbye, we were dragged apart at the entrance of the first wedding night. Women go to the women’s room and men go to the men’s room. Due to this reason we are going to colour-code this blog post: What Matt saw is written in blue, what Jasi saw in pink and what we both saw in black.
The 1st night of the wedding
At the beginning of the first wedding night, Jasi was ushered away by the doting women and I was surrounded by young men with curious questions. Chai was on tap and coconut mini biscuits was all the energy one needed for the dance floor.
In the meantime, bride and groom sat in the middle of a dance circle in the women’s room. The mother of the groom handed me over two glittery pieces of fabric and showed me how to swing them through the air like all the other girls were doing it. Only the bride put away her headscarf and coat. All the other women kept their scarves, leggings and long coats on because Alireza was still in the room. As soon as he left for the men’s room and the doors closed, one girl after another put aside her headscarf. Some girls took it off immediately, some waited a bit and then laid it down and some, mostly elderly, women kept on their hijab the entire night. The dancing continued as the music got louder and louder.
Soon, big sacks of glittery clothing were brought into the room. One young girl took me by the hand and dressed me up in one of the glittery traditional dresses. More glittery pieces of fabric were contributed and we all lined up in front of the door. They made sure everyone had a headscarf on again and then opened the doors to the men’s room.
Halfway through my fourth chai came a loud LA-LA-LA howl from 40 plus women. A burst of colourful women parading the Bride into the room.
As quick as the women came, they vanished again. Flaunting their dance moves and twirling their dresses for just a moment to the men. For the men it was just a momentary pause to the dancefloor and they quickly resumed after the women were gone. Men’s Iranian dancing is a well-practiced art. The men shook their hips and twirled their hands in the air. I was quickly dragged into the circle and did my best attempt at this dance. The men laughed in hysterics at my inability to shake my hips and twirl my hands, I was a fish out of water! I persisted until they decided that I must show them how us Westerners dance to traditional techno music. “Just two minutes of techno solo please Matt” was the request from the groom. So away I went.
Finally the women reemerged. They danced with colourful fabrics above their head in a congo line style headed by the bride. This continued for an hour before the line was broken and men and women danced freely together. This was pure celebration and happiness to be a part of. The music was deafening, colour was everywhere and all were twirling their hands in rhythm. Alireza was hoisted onto mens shoulder and was given money from all as he danced.
Then came the all-important marriage unification custom: The henna-ritual. Plates with glittery brown star shaped thingys were carried into the room. A girl with one of the plates came up to me and offered me some. They looked like Zimtsterne (a brown, star shaped Swiss Christmas cookie) and the girl stopped me just before I put one of the stars into my mouth. She then explained that it is henna and smashed one of the stars into my palm. Alireza and Afsar were seated in the middle of the crowd. A man smashed some henna stars into their palms, another one put green leaves on top and the rest brought more money bills to them. A Persian tradition says that henna comes from paradise and brings luck and well being to the couple. After the henna tattooing, fire work thingys were lit in the middle of the room (yes inside) and everyone danced around it.
After 6 hours of non-stop dancing and cheering, all family members piled into the cars and developed a 30 car convey. The convoy loudly snaked its way through the town momentarily stopping for more dancing and fireworks. Arriving back to the mother in laws home finally at 2am. Everyone then sat on the carpet and had dinner together, yes it was 2am.
Somehow the next day we had to muster the energy for yet another night of intense celebrations. But this time with 4 times the amount of people.
The 2nd night of the Wedding
To get ready for the second night I went to a make up studio with the sisters of the bride. I have heard and saw that Iranian women love make up but I was yet to learn about the make up of the more important and more formal second wedding night. I had to stop the girls putting on my make up and doing my hair half way through the process, I literally looked like a drag queen.
As we arrived to the wedding location Matt was dragged into the men’s room before I even got to say goodbye, it happened again. In the women’s room – let’s call it a hall – everything was getting ready for the arrival of Alireza and Afsar. As they entered the room and walked to their glittery decorated stage all the 400 women shouted their loudest LA-LA-LA towards them.
Lines and lines of tables, enough seating for 400 men all waiting for their chicken and rice and of course to greet and wish Alireza all the best for his future. The dancing started at 8pm, stopped briefly for the meal and continued until 12pm. Alireza shook hands with every single guest and I took a selfie with everyone. There was nothing more to the night for the men.
On the women’s side we danced, saw a video clip of Alireza and Afsar’s photo shooting (without the headscarf on, so it wasn’t shown to the men), ate and danced more. There was also a special knife dance of the bride and groom before the wedding cake was cut. During the dance more money bills were handed over to the bride and groom. After a while, the brother of Alireza entered the women’s hall with a big empty rice sack. All the women put their hijab, leggings and coats back on and got envelopes out of their bags. The brother walked from table to table to collect the envelopes, count the money that is in there and note it down with their name. It was explained to us previously that Iranians give big amounts of money to the newlyweds, they note it down and then return the money back to them on their wedding. By big amounts of money I mean amounts up to 8.000 USD.
Also on my side the number of selfies taken almost exceeded the amount of fake lashes worn. As we arrived in Shiraz two weeks later, a girl recognized us because she has seen us on a selfie that was sent to her of the wedding. Incredible.
When the celebration ended, a convoy of perhaps 60 cars left for the 30km drive to Alireza’s mothers house. Fireworks, flares and dancing ensued for the entirety of the trip. We arrived as a sheep was sacrificed at the entrance and traditional music filled the air. The party was not over just yet. Small dance parties continued inside the house and the wedding cake with chai was served to all. After two hours we made the drive home and were in bed at 5am.
What a wedding! Thank you Afsar and Alireza, you made us feel like part of your wonderful family. We wish you two all the happiness together.
In the meantime we arrived in Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. We will take a ferry to Dubai in a few days and then cycle to Oman. From Oman’s capital Muscat, we plan to take a flight to Mumbai, India to meet two Swiss friends. Irina and Fabian will fly to Mumbai, buy cheap bikes there and then cycle India with us for four weeks. Exciting times ahead!
And before we forget it: Have a wonderful Christmas and thank you so much for following our journey. You guys really keep us going!
Matt and Jasi