Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dasem Mania

An Albanian Wedding Story

This past weekend I was invited to return to my training site outside of Elbasan to attend a wedding as a guest of the bride. The bride Regjina, a woman I had only met once before, was the sister of my sixteen year old babysitter, Roven, while I lived in Shirgjan. Rovena helped my family take care of the kids, clean the house, cook meals, and on one occasion stayed the night in the house specifically to keep me company while the rest of the family left town for the night. I had grown close to Rovena, who's father wouldn't let her go to school anymore, and accepted the invitation to go to her sister's dasma. The following is an account of my experience, which I believe to be typical, of an Albanian wedding.

First of all, let me say that while Albanians claim there is no work in their country, the wedding industry is alive and kickin'. The two main businesses in the villages I used to work in were hair stylist/beauty shops and bar/restaurant lokals. While both make money of a day to day basis from $1 hair cuts or $.50 coffee and rice respectively, they rely totally on weddings during the weekends to make a profit. So essentially, weddings are big business in small villages and a constant conversation topic for people. My old host mother was a hair stylist and owned a shop filled with wedding dresses. On the weekends she was often up at 5:00 a.m. to get the next bride dolled up for a wedding. Single girls watch out, small towns love dasems.

My Host Mother's wedding dress shop

As one might imagine, Albanian weddings differ greatly from a wedding in the states. The first notable difference is that a couple has two separate weddings on Saturday and Sunday, one for the bride's family and one for the groom's family. I attended the first party for the bride and her family and friends. The day started with paying a visit to the bride's home to drink raki (if you are a man) or a coffee liquore for women and be served a chocolate or small dessert. After shaking hands, kissing cheeks, saying gezuars, and wondering where the bride was, I left the bride's home for the party venue down the street, the town lokal where men normally congregate to drink beer, raki, or coffee. The tables was rearranged in the lokal to make room for dancing later and the band was setting up for the afternoon. While still waiting for the wedding party, the waiter began passing out beers, baskets of bread, and dishes of food. The first dish was filled with four different kinds of grilled meat, fried potatoes, a tomato and cucumber salad, olives, sauteed peppers, and a wedge of cheese. Even though the married couple had not arrived yet, we began eating. Shortly after the bride arrived with her family and took her place at the head table with her sisters. She was wearing a white and gold dress, her hair was sprayed in place ontop of her head and her makeup used a large variety of colors. Where was the groom?

the meat platters

The music started as the band kicked into gear playing the clarinet and keyboard mainly. While waiting for the groom the wait staff brought out more food, this time with sals cosi, a cheesy cucumber dish, and with a traditional liver and cheese dish. After wondering for a while if the bride was being stood up, the groom arrived with several of his family members to 'take' the bride away from her family. Regjina, the bride, did not smile and looked indifferent during most of the ceremony. Albanian brides are supposed to be sad and cry on their wedding days at being taken away from their families. After some words from the father of the bride, the dancing began. Albanian dances do not differ for the occasion and the party guest assumed the familiar cicle, hand holding formation to start what I call 'the circle dance', two left steps and one right, repeat it, you can dance in Albania. While the bride danced beside the groom the guests stepped up to put money in their hands. Eventually the money ended up on the floor and in small piles. Every wedding also has a video guy filming the entire even so it can be relived later. (I have seen many a dasem video). He makes sure to film the dance from every angle and get all the guests in the video. I was eventually pulled into the dancing circle and wowed the guests by my amazing ability to pick up their moves. It might be a repetitive dance, but its fun when you go fast. After sitting back down, the wait staff brought out more food, this time some meat on a stick, a thin grilled steak, and more fried potatoes. It's quite stunning to be served seven different kind of meats in one meal. While the guests worked on filling their tummies, the bride left with my host mother for a 'costume change' and came back twenty minutes later wearing a different dress and sporting a different hair style. Part of the fun for the bride is playing dress up.

here I am with the bride, her sisters, and the groom

The party winded down after more eating, drinking beer, and circle dancing. The groom and his family left first while the bride stayed with her guests. The next day the ceremony was most likely repeated in a similar fashion in the grooms village a couple of miles away. Before the evening was over for the couple, they had to get their pictures taken in town. The bride went for her third costume change, this time a green dress with a sheer red overlay (she would wear a total of four different dresses over the weekend). After the pictures were taken, Regjina returned to the hair stylist shop to dye her hair blond for the next day's wedding with the grooms family. The next hairdo would be curly and the dress would be white again.


Marissa said...

I have one word to say to Albanian weddings: Wow.

Joy Beard said...

Thank you so much for your blog! I met my fiance online and we spent time in Greece together and I will be traveling to Albania this summer to HELLO! GET MARRIED! I am also a hairdresser by trade. Your blog helped me very much I am excited but curious as to what to expect when I go there and I really enjoyed reading your blog so thank you for sharing!!!