My Big Fat Uzbek Wedding

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

Wedding time. 


Two women were saying hello to me and my fellow Brooklynite BFFN Jonathan. I didn’t know what they were saying or who they were.

“You don’t even recognized them!” our hosts Aziza and Kutbiya jokingly scolded us. “This is my cousin. She cooks for you.”

True, out of context of the Antica B&B, I couldn’t place them, especially when they were all dolled up at a gaudy event space in the modern part of town.

“Oh!” I realized. “You look very nice.”

It was me, Jonathan, an Italian couple, and a Belgian couple who had accepted our hosts’ extended invitation to attend their cousin’s wedding. We hadn’t even entered the main hall, but was turning out to be a big lavish Uzbek affair. Jonathan started shooting photos of outfits, like it was the red carpet at the Oscars.

“Where are the men?” Jonathan asked as we sat at one of the tables with our group. At a glance, it appeared there were only women in the “orchestra” section of the venue. Jokingly, I raised my hand. “Well, I’M here.”

“No, there are men here,” Aziza answered him. Upon further observation of the 600 people filling up the tables, there were in fact men in orchestra, with their darker colored clothing almost overshadowed by the colors of women’s dresses. Above us on the mezzanine level was almost all men, and Jonathan initially thought there might be a gender separation.

“No, they are the neighbors, the other people,” she said. “I don’t want to sit them them. They are not family.” Apparently the second tier group of invitees was physically on the second tier.

“We’re like Group A on the wedding list,” I told Jonathan. We were amazed at how lucky that was; all we had to do was chip in ten bucks for a gift, and put on our nicest clothes. A button down shirt seemed okay; most of the other men didn’t wear suits.

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The unveiling of the bride. It was pretty easy to get this footage; there were so many videographers and cameras on site (even a jib with a camera to feed out to the internal jumbotron) that blending in was no problem.

Unexpected nights like these make independent travel so much better than package tours. Scenes from the dinner table.

Dinner was a three-course meal, starting with the array of salads and meats spread all around the table. There’s even pork and caviar, along with vodka and Uzbek wine. The Italian tourist at our table was really diplomatic when giving his opinion of the wine. “Well, you see, the tastes are different in the West,” he said.

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Dinner entertainment includes a live band with a DJ, and four dancers who perform traditional Uzbek dances in traditional clothes. When the floor eventually opens up for everyone to dance, the professional dancers dance with you for tips, which they share with the band.

A modern Uzbek wedding reception is pretty much similar to a Western wedding reception. After the bride and groom’s grand entrance, they are presented as man and wife. They eat from the same ceremonial bread, and received tokens from the families. There’s a first dance, and speeches by the parents.

Two times during the evening, there was a slideshow on the big screen, with heavily-filtered photos staged by professional photographers showing the couple in made-up scenarios, looking like models in a simple story of how they met in the countryside. Obviously there were “ooohs” and “aaahs” at each person’s individual glamour shot.

“Wedding is big business,” my host Aziza told me. It’s all part of a package these days, each one trying to outdo the other. Aziza told me that now that the economy is better, there’s a mentality to flaunt wealth, and a wedding is the perfect venue to do so.

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Killer drum solos, Uzbek style.

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Early in the evening when the party was just getting started, this dude starts dancing with one of the professional dancers. But she’s stolen away to go to another dance circle, leaving the guy to get down on the dance floor by himself. Check. Out. Those. Moves.

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Scenes from the dance floor.

“I think we’re officially in the wedding video,” I told Jonathan.

“Did you sign a release?” he joked.

“No,” I said. “I got some pictures of you on the dance floor.” I showed him.

“Oh, I have the white man’s overbite bad,” he said.

Selfie with the groom’s grandfather, selfie with the bride’s cousin, selfie with the bride and groom.

A video posted by Erik (@theglobaltrip) on

The dance floor was in full effect near the end of the wedding reception. I looked at my watch. “It’s not even nine o’clock,” I told Jonathan.

“It feels like it should be at least 11:30,” he answered. But the wedding reception was pretty much a three-hour event that started at six, and many people had started to leave.

We bid congratulations and farewell to Aqorbir and Dilafruz, and then took taxis back to the Antica B&B.

“Well, have a good trip. Send me those pictures,” Jonathan told me.

“I’ll see you back in Brooklyn,” I said. He turned in for the night, but I had a few final moments with Aziza and Kutbiya, my new aunt-types in Samarkand. Aziza showed me some family photos, including the professional staged portraits of Diora.

The relatively early night was fine by me; it gave me more than enough time to freshen up for my late overnight train ride in a sleeper car to my next city in Uzbekistan: Bukhara.

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Next entry: Night Train to Bukhara

Previous entry: Lost Backpacker

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This dispatch is one of over 70 travel dispatches from the trip grouped and titled, "The Global Trip: 'Stan By Me." It's an archived compilation of Instagram and Facebook posts which chronicled a trip through three countries in Central Asia: Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

Next entry:
Night Train to Bukhara

Previous entry:
Lost Backpacker


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