Antigona, me, and Ardelina with makeup and hair for the final Albanian wedding. (Photo Credit Dave Strouse)
This week I was invited to the four-day wedding celebration. I have usually been invited to one or two parts of a wedding, but never all four days. My family through all my transitions here, the Alili family, invited me to experience four days of the wedding. I have always found weddings boring and too loud of music. Of course my first wedding was really exciting because I got to see all the traditional clothing.
All the recently married women (sometimes up to 4 years recently) dress up in their wedding dresses along with three other dresses and the traditional dimija. The dimija is this traditional pant/skirt that is a large amount of fabric collected at the waist and a long sleeve top that is embroider with gold thread. These brides/nuses dance around in a circle with these outfits in super high heels and lots of gold around their neck. The more gold a bride has the more wealthy the family she is marrying into is. It is a sign of status when these brides wear their expensive outfits and gold.
These past couple of days at the wedding have been the best. I couldn’t understand why the others weren’t as fun. Then, I realized, everyone at this wedding is smiling and laughing and truly enjoying themselves. If I ever get married and I decide to have a wedding I hope that everyone will be celebrating with laugher like at this wedding.
Antigona and Ardelina, the two sisters that took me in as their own sisters for the second I met them, created a safe and fun environment for me. The second I stepped into the dancing circle they grab my hand and smile. One of my goals in the Peace Corps was to make just two or three real friends. Make friends that I thought would last me the rest of my life. Little did I know that these two young ladies are more than friends, they are my sisters. Right now tears are falling down my face because I am scared to say goodbye to this precious family. Their mother calls me her daughter and defends me with passion. Their aunt teachers at my school and is the biggest advocate of any ideas I have. What more could you ever want? I knew the Peace Corps would be hard, but little did I know that honestly the hardest thing will be saying goodbye to this amazing family.
Anyways, back to the wedding, the first day of the wedding celebration is just with the groom’s family. This is the day that the groom’s family gathers all the clothing for the bride. This can vary from three dresses to eight dress…I know eight dresses for one night pretty intense. This night was filled with baklava, an amazing sweet layered dessert with walnuts and honey, loud music and lots of dancing. Something that I thought was really unique about this first night was half way through the night the loud music stopped and then the women got out traditional tambourines and sang traditional Albanian songs and danced. This was really enjoyable because I felt like I went back a hundred years. I was dancing to live music with the singers surrounding me. I am currently sick with a little scratchy voice and thus unable to produce any singing, but I clapped along and enjoyed the company.
While this was going on girls and women would take turns being in the middle of the circle and showing off their traditional dance moves. This is not an american wedding so keep in mind the traditional dance moves were very similar to some traditional Indian moves with the hands moving as graceful swans. My wonderful friend Antigona pulled me into the center. I was only used to doing the traditional dancing while holding hands with other people. So this was the first time doing with without the hand guide and looking at other people’s feet to get on beat. Needless to say, I was an epic fail on my first attempt. But, later in the night I was pulled into the center again and apparently rocked it. There was one point were some old women were standing and clapping around the outside just enjoying my terrible interpretation of the Albanian traditional dancing. I was later pulled into a room where all the outfits were being collected. There were outfits worth thousands of euros and gold necklaces worth even more than that. Everyone has their priorities and goodness did Albanian have their priority set on weddings and the pure enchantment with the whole ritual.
The Alili family is unique because part of her family is Macedonian/Bosnian Muslim where the other part is Albanian. So there was several family member at the wedding that didn’t speak Albanian. I struggled with my Macedonian while I enjoyed the night with them. One of the sister’s Aunts joined the dancing circle during the night next to me and taught me a Bosnian version of the dance. I later found out she never dances because she has some serious knee problems, but she took the time to show me her culture and her traditional dance. This is what I am going to miss. These kind individuals excited to show me their world and I try to embrace whatever comes my way. So by the end of the first night I was full of juice, baklava and my feet hurt from so much dancing. Luckily I didn’t wear heels (ya…I don’t think that ever is going to happen) and I can’t even imagine how those poor brides/nuses feel with their poor feet dancing all night in high heels. There were three nuses at this first day of the wedding. They were all dressed in use outfits for this occasion.
The second day of the wedding started in the evening with juices and sodas. Then everyone started dancing and singing songs about each member of the family that was going to get married. The mother, the mother-in-law, the father, the father-in-law, the sisters, the brothers…okay you get the point. I was amazed at how many young women knew these songs. They were like girl scout songs of the culture, engraved in the young girls’ minds for when they would have to carryon the traditions.
Then, there was a long time spent putting every woman, lady, and child in a car. I found this comical because in the states this would have already been planned out beforehand with charts and numbers. Alas, this is Macedonia. Finally we were in the cars and on our way to a village. This village had a family member of the groom in it. On the way to the village all the cars filled with women ready to dance into the night beeped and honked down the street with streamers decorating each car. Everyone in Tetovo (the city I live in) now knows that there is a wedding.
Once we arrived at the house we stayed in the front yard and danced for a long time. We sang the traditional songs that were sung at the groom’s house and were given by the hosts soda, water, and a piece of candy. Then, the most important thing, we were given several chickens. No, these were not live chickens. These were killed, plucked, and feathered chickens that had been roasted steaming hot and ready to eat.
In my head I was hoping we would just go home after that. We had some wonderful chicken to feast on and goodness what I hungry. Jo, jo, jo (no, no, no) that would be too simple. We ended up going to seven more houses and singing and dancing. I learned when we went through all these different houses that they were literally asking for chickens from the hosts. This day is apparently called the chicken calling day. These houses were not next to each other either. They were at least 15 minute ride away from each other.
By the time the night was finished I was exhausted but lustfully thinking about all these roasted chickens we got from the families. Then, we returned to the groom’s house and THEN proceeded to go around to all the neighbor’s houses asking for chickens. Finally, at 2am in the morning we all sat down and enjoyed the fruit of our labor. It was the halloween of weddings. There were juices, sodas, chocolates, peanuts, cookies, chicken, rice, and lots of bread. I ate smiling and laughing at this odd but fun tradition. I fell asleep so quickly that night with chicken nestled in my stomach.
The third day of the wedding is where the groom’s family (who I was with) went to the brides family and danced to celebrate her coming their home. So the bride lived up in a very high village above some other villages. It was an hour drive on some rough mountain roads. There were several cars along the way that had to stop for some poor women who got carsickness. Luckily it was an extremely hot day in Tetovo, 41 Celcius, over 100 F and so when we went into the mountains it was instant gratification for the cooler temperatures. A month before this wedding I went on a hike and it ended in this village, Novi Selo (in Macedonian means new village). I thought is was cool I got to see this village from a hiker’s perspective and from a local wedding perspective.
Celebrations on the third day of the wedding before they left for the village: at the groom’s house.
I am no expert on weddings, but oh, my, goodness this wedding at the brides house was intense! There were about 30 brides there. I have never seen so many brides in one place. The groom’s family speculates that the whole village was invited to the wedding. When I danced in the big circle to celebrate this young woman’s marriage with the man (that was not present, he is not allowed to come until the next day), I couldn’t help but realize how I have integrated over the past two years. Two years ago I would have just sat in the grass and watched the dancing taking place because I wouldn’t know how to dance or how to join the dancing. Now, I am confident and I “sort of” blend in. People didn’t know I am an American until they talked to me for a while and my accent stood out.
This is in Novi Selo village and the three women in pink are in the traditional dimija outfits. The woman in white is another nuse (recently married bride), but this is not her wedding.
Adorable Antigona dancing in the wedding in the village. Love her ❤
We waited a good amount of time before the bride joined. She was in her house changing. She was in a red dress; this is the traditional color the day before the big wedding, which is the fourth day. Something else that’s interesting in about eight other people were wearing red. It isn’t a taboo to wear the same color as the bride. I wore a white dress to this part of the wedding because it is appropriate in this culture. This bride was crying. She had tears running down her cheeks and wiping the expensive and extensive makeup that was on her face. I asked someone why she was crying so much. She was crying because she is leaving her family and having to live in a new family. She is going to have to leave her mountain village that she calls home for the city life. She is also going to have to live with several people for the first that she probably just knows from causal meetings.
The bride in red for the third day of the wedding celebrations.
I never envisioned a wedding that would have tears. Weddings seem to me to be a joyous occasion. Something to celebrate life, love, and future. Then again, in the United States when you get married you know you will easily be able to see your family again. In this culture when you want to see your family again you have to ask for your husband’s permission. Now, this is very traditional, there are families where the bride is free to do what she likes.
Then the bride changed into another dress. She changed into a queen-like green dress. She seemed to be happier, or just exhausted from the heels, but she wasn’t crying anymore. Another interesting thing is she never really looked up. Her eyes were always focused on the grass. Apparently good brides don’t make eye contact with anyone. Can you imagine? This is your day but you are not allowed to make eye contact?
This is the formal henna for the bride. She is given henna the day before the big wedding brought by the groom’s family.
She gave all the groom’s family a gift of henna. Heck yes! I got a little baggie full of powdered henna. I going to have a henna tattoo party with my girls at my school. We said our farewells and made the long mountain road journey back to Tetovo. I can’t wait to see what she looks like in a white wedding dress and the traditional dimjia. Te shofim, We will see!
The last day of the wedding started early in the morning with music cranked up and people dancing to celebrate. I did not go to this celebration because I had school. After I finished school I went over to Antigona’s and Ardelina’s work place and we walked over to a hair and make up place together. This is the first time in my life I got hair and makeup done professionally.
Okay, once when I was in second grade (or third grade I can’t remember) for my birthday my mom got a lady to come to my house and she did princess hair and makeup. I remember having a blast.
Me before the makeup and hair.
Anyways, so this was the first official time as an adult. As many of you know, I am not a makeup oriented person. This week for the wedding I put on mascara and some lip gloss, which was extravagant for me! Well this big day of the wedding I got all decked out. First was my hair. I wanted it up because it is always too hot at these events so I didn’t need to sweat more than I already do. They curled my hair and then the professional hairdresser teased my hair. I felt like a lion.
With my hair being teased.
Ardelina and I with our makeup and hair…pretty intense.
Then she put my hair in a very beautiful design. I never felt so glamorous or pretty with my hair. I feel like I go all out when I french braid my hair, so this was very special! Then came the makeup. She put on loads and loads of makeup. It was really intense…I felt like I was a movie star from the 60s or 70s. I had to admit she did a really good job on my lips and my eyes did really pop out. I got a really big compliment because she didn’t need to use fake eyelashes on me. Woot! 😉
My hair looked amazing!
Antigona and Ardelina got their hair and makeup done too. They both looked absolutely beautiful, but I think they look drop dead amazing without makeup on.
Anyways, we rushed to their house so they could throw on their dresses and then bust a move over to the wedding venue. The interesting thing about this wedding venue is the music teacher at my school, her father owns the wedding restaurant. So when we got to the wedding venue I got oodles of stares and talking. Many people said I looked like a princess. The sad thing was many young girls told me I looked prettier with makeup than without makeup. It is a shame that some of the women in the culture think this is true. I think everyone looks better without makeup on. They may look different, but they look more pure and natural that way.
Ardelina and I at the wedding. Her hair ins naturally curly. 🙂
So because I was attending the wedding with the groom’s family I ended up dancing almost the whole night. My feet and legs were exhausted the next day. I did enjoy doing the traditional dancing because I knew most of the groom’s family now because I got to know them throughout that week or I knew them before if they were related to Linda and Gona’s (their nicknames) family.
Antigona and I at the wedding. She looked like the beauty in Beauty in the Beast.
After an hour or two of dancing the bride came. She had a glamorous white dress on and everyone had their eyes glued to her.
The bride and groom at the final wedding day.
This wedding was different from the traditional weddings in the villages in that nobody was wearing dimjia (traditional bride outfit) and half the night they played Albanian and Pop music.
The dance floor and everyone doing the traditional dance called the valle.
There were a couple of slow dances in there where I had a blast playing around with some of the women. Thank you college ballroom dancing class!
Ardelina and I doing a slow-dance song together.
I also enjoyed dancing to the pop music because it made me think I was at an American wedding.
These four days of wedding preparation and celebration were by far my favorite wedding experiences in Macedonia. I want to thank the Alili family for including me and making me feel a part of everything! Faleminderit Shume!
Here I am during the final wedding night. I can’t even recognize myself.