Traditional Turkish village weddings can go on for 2-3 days. Time restrictions meant our’s only lasted one day, and I skipped the traditional henna night. Since we had a long way to travel, we woke up at 4.30am on the Sunday morning and drove the 3 hours from Fethiye to Berkay’s family’s village in Beyağaç, Denizli.We arrived there just before 8am, bright and early, and preparations for the day’s events were already well underway. When we got to the house, everyone was out at the local marketplace (where the wedding was being held) taking the delivery of the tables and chairs and getting the food started. After a brief reunion with our dog Boncuk, we jumped back in the car and went down to join the others in the town centre.
At this point, things were calm, everything was fairly relaxed. I greeted Berkay’s mum, dad and brothers and then our attention was drawn to a small gathering of 4 women by the side of the road. They were cooking some of the food for the wedding. When you have 5000 guests invited, you have to do everything on a larger scale… and they certainly did. They had 4 huge pots (rather like cauldrons..) full of various things, one of which was keşkek. Keşkek is a very traditional part of Turkish weddings and they take great pride in cooking it. It’s a weird food, served at special occasions, weddings, funerals, religious celebrations etc. A lot of people are involved in the preparing and cooking. It’s made from wheat, locally produced from the villages in most cases, and ground meat, and is lovingly and slowly cooked in these huge cauldrons. It’s a hard job to mix it with the huge wooden spoon as it is so thick, it’s definitely a good arm workout! It’s reminds me of porridge… but porridge mixed with ground meat, butter, and lots of oil… once it’s ready it’s often slopped in a bowl and covered in spicy pepper sauce. It certainly doesn’t look, or sound very appealing but it doesn’t taste as bad as you think and it’s a good, hearty food that definitely feels like it’s been lovingly homemade by your grandma.
Aside from keşkek, there were various other dishes being cooked up by paid chefs in the market place – rice, beans, cacik, a meat stew, brain soup (yes… BRAIN soup) and hundreds of loaves of bread. We were the first ones to try the food at around 9.30 am, just before the official 10am start time of the day part of the wedding.
After sitting down with some members of his family to eat the food, Berkay left me to go and help the men of the family carry on laying out the tables and chairs. 100 tables, 500 chairs, huge rolls of tissue tablecloths, hundreds of packets of napkins, jugs of water… it was certainly a mammoth task to get everything ready.
At 10am the steady flow of people started arriving. Most of them I’d never seen before, only a handful would even recognise me in a lineup, and thankfully I didn’t need to wear my wedding dress until the evening, so I could blend in a little. We didn’t greet everyone who attended, as there literally were not enough hours in the day, but we did get called over every now and then to greet important guests, the older generation, old family friends or those who have a higher standing in the village. I must say, in the most polite way possible, that it was very much more of a thing for show. Berkay’s dad has his own business and is very well known in the village and nearby areas – he sells animal feed, and since everyone owns a farm there, he clearly has a good client base! As a result, he spent most of the time standing greeting people and talking to his friends, gesturing for us to go over and say hello every now and then. It was much less of a celebration of our marriage, and more of a ‘look, I’m such a wonderful dad doing this huge wedding for my son’ kinda thing, and if you’ve read my previous posts about Berkay’s childhood you’ll know why that leaves a bit of a bitter taste.
Anyway, as the day went on and lunchtime approached, the marketplace became very busy, with hundreds of people coming to join in and eat. Berkay’s brothers, younger cousins and family friends were running around like headless chickens trying to make sure everyone who arrived got their tray full of small silver dishes, filled with the different foods from the kitchen. It’s normal in Turkey for 5-6 people to share from one bowl, although everyone has their own spoon, so that helped minimise the washing up! As you can imagine, it took a lot of work to make sure the bread was restocked, fresh tablecloths were placed on the tables after each group of people left, the water jugs were refilled, the empty plates and trays were taken away, washing up was done in a little washing up station behind the kitchen area, chairs were rearranged, tables cleared, tea glasses filled and delivered, making sure the elders and the important people were greeted as a sign of respect… It was a lot of work for them, and really very overwhelming for me. At this point I was sitting alone with Berkay’s aunts and female cousins who were really trying to do a good job of looking after me, they could definitely sense the panic in my eyes! Berkay was rushing around helping but I was told to sit down and drink tea..
I’m not entirely sure just how many people turned up during the day for the food giving, but I can say with some certainty that it was over 2500 people. Just to put it into perspective, Berkay’s family slaughtered one of their cows, which provided 60kg of meat, they also had another 30kg of beef gifted to them so that makes a total of 90kg. Half way through the day, all 90kgs of beef had been eaten in the meat stew and they had to rush out and buy another 12 chickens to cook!! 90kgs of red meat, all gone, and we’re not talking about whole steaks for each person that came, we’re talking a few small cubes of meat in a bowl of stew shared between 5-6 people at a time over a period of about 7 hours, so that should give you an idea of just how many people came to enjoy the food!
Each family that came gave Berkay’s parents a small envelope with money in, to help cover the costs. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this, and some say that it’s normal, other’s say that it’s not normal at all and that any money given should be for the bride and groom, and not for the family. It seems that each village has it’s own customs and traditions, and this is one of theirs. Over 13,000tl was given to Berkay’s family throughout the day, again emphasising just how many guests actually attended!
Thankfully, Berkay’s family’s house was only a 5-10 minute drive away from the marketplace and we were able to go back to the house a couple of times for around half an hour just to sit with no eyes watching, use the wifi, speak to my family, play with Boncuk and most importantly, breathe.
Initially, we were sent back to the house to retrieve ‘my’ gold. I say ‘my’, but effectively we just rented it. As I have already mentioned, the whole day really felt more about ‘keeping up with apperances’ rather than really being a celebration, and this tradition of the bride wearing gold is another which really made this clear. It’s normal for the groom and his family to give the bride gold, and lots of it. Unfortunately gold is very expensive at the moment, and we are not rich! The day before the wedding we stopped at Ortaca, near Dalaman, and went to the nearest gold shop, where Berkay purchased five 22 karat gold bangles which cost the best part of £1000 – even then, I had to convince Berkay that that was enough, and he would have happily got into a lot of debt and bought more just so my arm looked a little more decorated! Clearly after the wedding we would have no use for £1000 worth of gold bangles, so we planned to sell them straight back the day after, and we were prepared to lose a little money in the process. (As it happened, when we did sell them back we would have only lost around 90tl but I decided to keep 2 of the bangles as I liked them so much!) I’m not a person for expensive jewellery or designer items, so I had never worn anything worth so much as all this gold. Berkay’s mum let me borrow her gold necklace, and her sash, which was covered in cloves and gold coins, but we forgot to wear this! It’s apparently tradition in this village to wear it across the body which I had never heard of before. We did genuinely forget about it until it was too late, but I’m quite glad because the clove smell reminded me of the dentist, and I am terrified of the dentist so it didn’t help to calm my nerves!
After going back to the marketplace in the afternoon and greeting more guests, it was time to head off to the hairdresser to get ready. Berkay dropped me off at the ‘salon’ (a concrete basement with a sink in the corner, a mirror and a chair) with his cousins and aunt while he went off to get changed, go to the barber and get the car covered in ribbons.
Despite not being able to communicate much, the 4 hours I was sat in that salon room were quite enjoyable. It appears that this is the only hair salon in the whole village and she was very busy.She started with Berkay’s cousins hair, then the children, then his aunt, and eventually it was my turn. The whole time I was in there people were wandering in and out, and lots of little girls coming in and out waiting their turn too. I could sense people’s excitement. A young girl sat next to me completely fascinated, she kept staring at me and edging closer and closer, almost sitting on my lap and kept nudging my arm. Another little girl came in and spotted my dress hanging up on the back of the door and her eyes lit up – I guess every little girl loves the thought of being a bride and Turkish little girls are no different. After what seemed like a lifetime of curling and pinning my hair, the hairdresser then started on my makeup. “Sade”, Berkay had told her when he dropped me off, which means plain. I knew from friends who have had their own village weddings that I wasn’t getting out of that salon without bright blue eyeshadow, thick black eyeliner and bright red lipstick, I’m not sure what the significance is between blue eyeshadow and brides, but apparently the two go hand in hand! As predicted, I ended up wearing more makeup than I’ve ever worn in my life, which was the furthest thing from ‘plain’, but I actually liked it as it made me feel different, I guess almost like a mask, which I definitely needed to help with my confidence to get me through the evening – I even asked for extra glitter which was then sprinkled all over my hair and chest.
Next was the part which I had been dreading the most – putting on my dress. Thankfully, it was a corset dress so it allowed for a few extra lbs that I’d gained since the last time I wore it in April, but it was very difficult to do up. Berkay’s cousin and aunt were in charge of lacing me in, although I knew it didn’t feel quite right, so the hairdresser done some final tweaks to make sure it was done properly. I was so concious of my wedding dress as most of the villagers are very, very traditional and even having shoulders on display is a no-no. I had come prepared with shrugs and shalls to cover up but everyone reassured me that it looked fine – a lot of the guests had never even met an English girl before so I didn’t want to give off the wrong impression, it was definitely a lot of pressure!
Finally, after 4 hours of being beautified, I was reunited with Berkay, who was now dressed in his suit, freshly shaved and covered in hair glitter which looked a lot like sparkly dandruff…interesting. With a lot of help, he got me and my dress up the stairs and into the car which had been decorated with ribbons, flowers and fancy number plates, letting everyone know that we were the bride and groom, just in case the outfits didn’t give it away! We went back to his house, I mustered up the courage to have a last minute pee, which was very difficult in my dress and definitely a two-person job, thank God they have a ‘normal’ sitting toilet and not just a hole in the floor, otherwise that could have gone very, very wrong.
Eventually, about 7.45pm it was time to get back into the car and make our grand entrance.. We pulled up outside the marketplace and Berkay jumped out to speak to his brother’s about the plan of action.. I was sat in the car hyperventilating and lots of little girls came running over to the car door. ‘Gelin! Gelin! Bak, gelin!’ – ‘Bride, Bride, look, Bride!’ they shouted out to each other and to their mums. They were so excited to see me and my dress and it was weird having so much attention and excitement directed at little old me!
Once Berkay had had his instructions, it was time to get out, take a deep breath and make our entrance together, with all eyes on me, the ‘yabancı gelin’ – foreign bride…