WRITTEN BY ERIC TWACHTMAN
Breakfast today consisted of omelets – huge 5-egg omelets served up by Aigul… who would not take ‘No’ for an answer. (Beck managed to share one through much protesting.)
After breakfast it was off for a tour of Astana. The capital city is only 12 years old and has grown at a dizzying pace. The buildings toward the city center are colorful and imaginative in design.
Our first stop was the ‘Khan Shatyr’ – the largest tent in the world –, which is a respectable sized shopping mall. Inside it is 4 stories with shops and eateries, the top most ring being a series of pools made to mimic a beach – complete with sand and trees. Altyn said that the price for entry is $60.00
From the steps of the mall we could see the central feature of Astana, the Bayterek tower. It is 200 or so foot tall slender tower with a 40 floor gold ball at the top. The ball has an observation deck. At the center of the tower is a large plaque with President Nazarbayev’s handprint. People were lined up to put their hands in his handprint for good luck. Next to that was a plaque with a globe carved on it, around which were name plates of the twenty or so signatories of a statement of religious tolerance: each name plate a representative of all the various sects found in Kazakhstan – Muslim, Orthodox, Lutheran, Jewish, Hindu and more. The price for the ride up: $3.00 each.
When we got back down, we were drawn to the model-T panel van inspired ice cream kiosk name ‘Bambino’ – which are a bit ubiquitous around town. We all got soft serve cones. After that, quick drive to see the president’s palace and the large pyramid shaped hall of religious harmony (where all the religions of the country meet periodically to have conferences. Even though this is nominally a Muslim country, the large Russian population means that there are many Orthodox Christians, as well as a few others of varying faiths – all of which are officially welcomed.)
All of these buildings – The mall, the tower, the palace and the pyramid are in line with each other down the center of the capital. In between ate huge beds of colorful flowers and reflecting pools. All together it makes for an impressive center of town.
Then it was back to the apartment to get ready for the wedding ceremony. Adlet, Altyn, Sterling and Wes left for the ceremony at 4:00 in a Limo. Mom, Beck and I were given a lift by a friend, and arrived at 6:00.
The wedding hall is a grand affair, 3 stories tall with marble columns and a blue dome. As we walked in to the antechamber, there were 6 women and one man dressed in stylized traditional Kazakh costumes standing on either side of the entry, which clapped as guests entered. There was also a 4- piece band playing traditional Kazakh instruments.
All the guests filed in for the 45 minutes or so and collected in the ante room. At 6:45 the wedding part arrived as we all applauded. Sterling came to stay with us. Wes stayed with the wedding party, as he was best man. After greeting the crowd, the wedding party went upstairs to stand at the balcony the overlooks the wedding hall, and wave at the guests as we found our seats in the large football field sized room.
At 7:00 Adlet entered in the main doors to a musical fanfare. This began 5 hours of almost non-stop events.
7:00 – 8:00
Adlet enters and comes to the center of the hall. The circular tables were arranged so that the 250 or so guests sat on both sides with a space down the middle. He is met by an MC that introduces him, and a woman dressed in a white fur trimmed robe and a tall hat. She asked him several questions.
Then Altyn entered to music and joins Adlet, where the MC asked her questions.
Attendants come in and roll out a 25-foot long runner. The woman then takes bowls of candy, seeds and coins and spreads them onto the runner. She then takes a candle and speaks as she waves it over the runner.
The wedding couple goes up and sits with Wes and the Maid of Honor under a tent at one side of the hall. Opposite that at the other side is a stage with huge speakers and lights.
Dancers in white robes and high hats perform.
A young female singer sings a contemporary song.
Grandparents make speeches for about 10 minutes.
A male singer sings traditional songs accompanying himself on the dombra (Kazakh lute).
Both mothers are called up and questioned, then have a foot race from one end to the other to see who can get to Altyn first and kiss her. (Aigul won).
Dancers in red and green robes do a traditional dance.
More family members are called up, quizzed by the MC and then make toasts. Drinks are downed after each.
The female singer comes back and sings 2 songs on stage with lights and smoke back up.
A second MC comes out and whips up the crowd.
Beck, Granny, Sterling and I are called up to give speeches. One of Altyn’s friends, Iskender, translates for us. I recited ‘The road not Taken”. Granny’s speech wins her a baby doll.
Singer number 2 comes back and sings and plays the dombra.
Both MCs take turns speaking.
Wes and Ylena (Maid of Honor) are brought down for a contest. Each is given a pair of baby tights. They are set out to collect money while the music plays. Whichever collects the most money determines the gender of the couple’s first child. Wes won.
More relatives speak and toast.
A sax player in shades a la Elvis comes on stage and jams.
9:00 – 10:00
During the music, several people come out on the floor to dance.
MC #1 comes back out to speak and invite more relatives to come out to speak – one of them in English.
Belly dancers come out and perform 2 dances.
Waiters process in (each table has its own…) with trays of gifts for each table.
The sax player comes back out and plays, giving more people occasion to get out and dance.
Someone offers a prayer. When anyone prays, everyone holds out their hands palm up. When the prayer is finished all say ‘Amen’ and ‘wash’ the prayer over their faces.
10:00 – 11:00
Speech by MC 2.
He then chose a woman from the crowd that he said had the most sexual experience. She then was tasked to find the man also so experienced. He was sent to find the woman with the largest breasts, who was sent out to find the man with the largest penis. When a full complement is found all of whom have some sexual prowess, they are asked to dance to show off their skill. I couldn’t tell who won.
3 numbers of disco dancing. Everyone gets out on the floor.
MC #1 comes out, clears the floor and calls for dessert, which is brought out by the team of waiters. It is cakes and petit-fours and dried fruit.
3 more speeches by relatives.
MC #2 with a speech.
A contortionist came out and squeezed himself through a tennis racket and a small hoop.
3 more speeches by family members.
A young male singer sings a contemporary song- some people get up and dance.
Adlet and Altyn were called to the floor – they were given a choice of chocolates: the choice of which would contribute to the gender of their child. Adlet then stood on a chair and was cheered.
MC #1 posed a game-show type question to the couple
4 relatives were invited up. Only 1 spoke.
MC #2 sang a ballad – more general dancing
12 or so age-level friends came up to speak – one of the (Iskender, our translator) won a badminton set.
MC#1 came up- a runner was rolled out from the dance floor to the exit. Adlet and Altyn came to the head of the runner and a speech was made and 2 prayers given. The couple then walked out of the hall as the crowed festooned them with rose petals. This was the symbolic acting out of Altyn leaving her family. As she walked out, she was not supposed to look back. (This explained why her mom and grandmother were crying as she left.)
At several times during the evening, people came up to Granny and congratulated her on her fortitude. Many were in awe of someone her age traveling and coming out.
We were told that most of the speeches consisted of good wishes for the couple, as well as expressions about how happy the speakers were at being there. Some of the speeches were nice jokes, which stood out for their freshness.
We then found our ride, aided by Adlet’s sister; we made it home at 12:45 or so. Wes and Sterling went with the youngsters out for a pub crawl (that’s right: some people had not enough alcohol yet – they had to go get more) ‘til 3 or 4 AM, when they finally prevailed on someone to give them a ride.
As noted at the last even, drinking figures heavily here as well. After each toast, everyone raised their glasses. If one drank each time, it would account for quite a bit of Vodka. Lucky for me that my seatmate of last night, Zholgoz was at a different table, and not able to enforce my vodka intake.