September 15, 2012, Day 36 – Bukhara, Uzbekistan

This morning we had to stop by our seamstress’s house for a final fitting. This was a fun morning and we were surprised how well she had made the outfits without any patterns. With just a few minor adjustments we left her house with a little girl guide, to return later that night for our final products. I found Barbie and Bea’s outfits to be exquisite.  The detail in the trim was amazing plus their fabrics were glitzy, which suited them and the Uzbek dress style.  Terry and my outfits were also nice but a little more subdued and casual. All of our fabrics were velvet but Barbie and Bea’s had bolder designs with jewels embedded in the velvet. If I ever get a chance to do this again, I will pick a “blingier” velvet fabric.


Someone told me there was a book written, called “Dead Souls” about farmers having extra people on their payroll who were not really working on the farm. This was a situation happening in Uzbekistan. Businesses had people on their payroll that did not actually work in the business. The person who was supposed to work in the business got credit for working there and accumulated a pension fund. The managers who allowed the extra person on the payroll kept the absent person’s pay cheque (less the taxes which were paid to the Government). The companies filed the tax returns not the individuals. There was corruption in Central Asian countries because wages were so low that people had to be creative in ways to increase their pay and standard of living.


For lunch Yuri took us to his apartment.  They had a feast set up for us and we met his wife, two children and mother-in-law. The food was fantastic and his daughters were darling. We especially enjoyed the company of his daughter, Kyra who was around 7 years of age and loved her daddy. This was an extremely generous experience for Yuri to organize because Yuri was not our guide until we reached Tajikistan. He just wanted to introduce us to his family.


Walking through the city of Bukhara there would be missing manhole covers so you had to be careful, especially at night.  We always took flashlights with us to walk home. Apparently the manhole covers could be sold as scrap metal to China so it was hard for the local government to keep covers on their manholes.


For dinner that evening we were invited to a local wedding and we were very excited to attend.  Batir had arranged for us to meet up with the groom and his friends on a street near his house. The groom had to go get his bride from her home and we got to follow him and watch the traditional wedding procedures from the start.


While waiting for the groom and his friends we visited a local neighbourhood mosque. Previously, wealthy people would build minarets or mosques for people in their neighbourhoods to enjoy because every good deed balanced out bad deeds and they felt that building these structures for the people would go well for them on Judgment Day. This particular monument was unusual because it had 4 minarets all decorated differently. That was because the man who built the mosque had 4 daughters, all with very different characters. He built one minaret to represent each daughter. Today the mosque was not active; it was shown as a monument of the past history in Bukhara.


Most families in Central Asia wanted sons because daughters got married and left them to live with their husband’s family.  Sons stayed with their parents and continued the lineage of the family name. Batir said that when his grandmother got married (matched marriage) she did not know that her husband had already been married before her. His first wife had died and they had two children. His children were sent away to live with relatives. When his grandmother got married, they had the celebration and three days later, two children arrived at their house. She asked who are these children and was told they are now yours! Big surprise!! Yikes, wonder how that marriage worked out?


Most marriages today were still arranged in Uzbekistan but a little differently than in the past. Usually the sons were asked if they had a girlfriend? If yes, they tried to arrange a marriage with that person. The boy’s family paid the dowry, which usually covered the cost of the wedding. (Previously, it was money paid by the husband directly to the bride because if they divorced the bride had nothing but her dowry money. To get a divorce the man had to say three times, I divorce thee! And poof they were divorced). Today, the costs were shared and the girl’s family bought all the furniture and supplies for the couples new home.  But because they moved into the son’s family home I couldn’t imagine it would be all that much.


If the boy did not have a girlfriend the women in the family (mother, sisters and aunts) would make a list of eligible girls to review.  The women interviewed suitable girls and their families to see who would be a good match for the boy. They would check out the cleanliness and order of the household. They would review whether they were hospitable, could the girl do embroidery, etc.? They were concerned about the suitability of the girl and her family with their family. I have to say I think this was a good process because whom you picked as your partner could determine the happiness in your life. Maybe by interviewing the family you could save yourself a lot of grief later on?? If they all smoked and you hated the smell of smoke, don’t marry the person! That type of thinking is good.


After meeting each other the two families would consider the viability of a marriage between the couple. Not all of the girl’s families accepted every offer. They too wanted a suitable match for their daughter. Agents representing the groom’s side would have another meeting with the bride’s family to negotiate the terms of the dowry. If the girl’s family were not interested they would give a diplomatic reply such as “sorry our daughter is too young at this time, to consider a marriage”. They would never be direct and say no way! If everyone were in agreement to the union, the families would arrange for the boy and girl to meet each other to see if they approved. If either of the couple did not want to be married to that person, the process would start over again with someone else. The boy would bring a small gift for the girl. If he was interested he would give the girl the gift and if she was interested she would accept the gift from him. If the girl came home with a gift the family members would know each of the couple were interested in each other.


The two families would then meet again over a tea and bread ceremony. When the bread was broken and shared around it meant that the deal was done and the couple was now engaged to be married. At that time the relatives, friends and neighbourhood were all told about the good news of the engagement. Previously, the couples were young when they got married, 18 – 21 for the girls and 20 – 23 for the boys.  Today the couples were a little older, 18 to 25 for the girls and 25 to 30 for the boys. Batir, our guide guessed that today 40% of marriages were arranged and 60% were based on the couple being in love.


On the day of the wedding the boy’s family served plov to the neighbourhood men early in the morning.  The government had now fixed the time between 7 and 9 a.m. because it used to be too early and it disturbed too many people not included in the ceremony. While they served the rice dish they played music and made loud noises announcing the wedding. The men in the neighbourhood plus an Imam would come for free plov (pilaf) and they would say special prayers to people who had previously died and they made good wishes for the future of the new couple.


Later in the day, the couple went to the civil registry office to be married in front of witnesses and received a marriage certificate. Sometimes the couple went to a mosque or at other times an Imam would go to the bride’s house to give a blessing and a prayer for the couple to have a good life together. In the past men in Uzbekistan could have 4 wives but now they could only have 1 wife legally. After the marriage was registered the couple went to city monuments for pictures. The wedding celebration would be held in a “Toy” building that evening with usually 200 to 300 guests.


After the wedding night the bride would move into the groom’s family home and for 40 days afterwards the bride would dress in special brightly coloured and sparkly clothes with lots of makeup as she was introduced to the groom’s family. They called it “showing her face” and she received gifts and got to know her new family. We noticed lots of young new brides in the market, all dressed up during this 40-day tradition (they wore special hats so they were easy to spot).


Having children was very important in this society. If a couple did not have a baby within 5 years or so, the groom’s family would put pressure on him to divorce his wife, pick another woman to marry and have children. The Prophet Mohammed stopped the custom of killing female children. (Apparently the Arabs used to bury them alive because they wanted a son). The Prophet said that both boy and girl babies were gifts from God and no babies were to be killed.


We waited on a street corner in the groom’s neighbourhood for our wedding couple to come back from their photo session. The bride was returned to her house and the groom with his friends met up with us near his house. There were 3 young boys all dressed up and walking on stilts with castanets. They danced down the street while a drummer and four men with long horns blasting out the announcement of the marriage to the neighbourhood. Nobody would be sleeping through this noise; it was really loud and exciting. The groom changed out of his suit into a traditional costume with a long black cloak embroidered in gold thread and a golden turban on his head. Two additional men carried flaming torches. The fire was a tradition carried over from the Zoroastrian religion. After announcing his marriage to his neighbours we all boarded a bus and went to the bride’s house a few miles away.


At the bride’s neighbourhood, the boys on the stilts, drummer, horn players and fire carriers were all back in full force, dancing and making loud noises as they walked to the bride’s house.  The groom was encircled by his friends as he was trying to walk to the girl’s house and they were preventing him from doing this by pushing and pulling him every which way except towards the bride’s house. It was all in fun and made the walk to the girl’s house go very slow.  Outside of her house the friends of the groom made a large bon fire and the groom with his friends still trying to stop him walked around the fire 3 times for purification, another Zoroastrian tradition.


The groom finally got to the door of the bride’s house and from somewhere in all of the chaos a large bouquet of flowers was handed to him to give to his bride. Then out came the bride and groom towards the cars. An Imam or elderly relative blessed them as they walked towards the crowd standing around outside. The bride was dressed in a beautiful wedding gown and she was absolutely stunning. A very petite, and beautiful girl with dark hair pulled up in a bun under a white veil. She wore a white wedding dress with a full skirt and the bodice was decorated in pearls and jewels. The night was jet black but the yard was lit up with the bon-fire and this beautiful bride, looking like a movie star, in her gorgeous dress, walked up to us foreigners with her groom and bowed 3 times. We were in shock! She bowed to us; we should have been bowing to her! Then she was helped into a car and they drove away honking the horn.


We all ran to our bus and drove off towards the “Toy”, wedding reception hall. At the wedding hall, the horns were blaring, and drum beating as the bride got out of her car with the help of the groom. She bowed 3 times to the fathers of the bride and groom to show her respect. The bride kept her head down, looking at the ground the whole time, as they walked her up the steps and through a large pink heart covering the entrance doorway.


When we got inside the hall, which was packed. There were way more than 300 guests in this room. We were escorted to our table, which was situated right beside the bride and grooms table!  This was another shock, we thought we would be in a corner in the back of the room but no we were on display right beside the bride and groom. Oh dear that was a little bit of a problem, us being on display but it was a blessing as well because we didn’t miss a thing during the whole wedding celebration as we sat in our primo spots.


At the other tables, women were at one table and the men sat at another. We sat beside our spouses at the only mixed table. The bride and groom sat at a raised table on a platform so everyone was able to watch them.  There was a drink table beside them and people came up to the bride and groom, toasted them with vodka or pop then had their photos taken beside the couple up on the platform. The bride and groom drank juice or pop, no alcohol at all. The whole time the bride kept her head down and bowed at the people who came up to toast them. The groom stood tall with his right hand over his heart to thank everyone who came up to them.


The strangest thing for us to watch was the bride with her head bowed the whole night!  How could the bride have fun looking at the floor all night? Her neck must have ached by the end of the night? Anyway it was the tradition in Uzbekistan for brides to keep their head bowed because she wanted to show respect to her family and not be happy to be leaving them, to go live with her husband’s family. And it was demonstrating respect to her husband and new family that she would be submissive (I am thinking).


The rest of us sure had fun. We danced with the guests and each other.  Watched the entertainment of belly dancers and paid money to them just like at Cosmos Restaurant. We gave toasts to the bride and groom and had our photos taken with them.


At one point the friends of the groom took him down from the platform and started to throw him up in the air and catching him. They did this for 5 or 6 throws. Lucky for the bride they didn’t drop him. The bride and groom danced for about ½ a waltz and the rest of the time they sat or stood on their platform. They didn’t even eat. I do not know how much fun they had? Their guests, including us, sure enjoyed themselves, eating, drinking and dancing the night away.







  1. Hi Russ & Ellen, we are so enjoying the blog. We feel as though we are right there with you.
    A wedding…how fun and love the outfits!!

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