Turkey 1983

I went to the wedding with the bearded stranger and my uncle. My uncle was as grumpy as always, while the stranger was quite excited - and became a centre of attention. He had earlier come into the tourist office in Diyarbakir after spending the day walking around the city walls: 5.5 kilometers of solid black wall, gate houses with massive inscriptions, views of the river Tigris from the ramparts. I practiced my languages with him and we agreed to meet up later. So in the evening I took him off to the wedding, in the garden of a large block of flats, lit by bulbs on a high wire.

 Diyarbakir city walls

Diyarbakir city walls

There was loud music, Kurdish – this was a Kurdish wedding. The richer guests were in one corner, the teenagers huddling in another, the little kids darting around everywhere. Many people were in Kurdish clothes: waistcoats and pleated trousers baggy down to the knees. The guests were all men, this was the wedding party for the groom.

A bear-like singer, a drummer and a lutist finally got us into the line-dance: hands behind our backs and joined to the next man. Knees shaking, up and down we moved, forward and backward we stepped. Then it was the turn of the individuals and pairs who wanted to dance, wilder rhythms, white hankies whirling: stamp and jerk, preen and prance, slap hands SLAP HANDS! The stranger’s individual effort looked a bit like disco but more flashbulbs went off than at any other time.

Finally, late in the evening the groom was seated in a chair. Money was pinned to his shoulders and thrown towards him (joining the notes which had been ceremonially swallowed and spat out during the line dance), then his hands were covered in hot wax - as his bride’s will be tomorrow.

All through this, my uncle sat on his stool criticising everything. He told the singer he was too close to the microphone. He shouted to the host’s brother that more raqi, our alcohol, was needed. He started the suggestion that the stranger should dance. He loudly insisted that there should be a knife dance (that’s illegal nowadays!). Actually, what I just said isn’t quite true: the old grump did shout these things but, each time, he started his complaint by saying, untruthfully, “The bearded stranger, our honoured guest, says….”.