Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE WEDDING – най-добри (THE BEST)

THE WEDDING – най-добрият  (THE BEST)

 Life is often marked with  seminal moments, tough decisions, or special events  that change your life; the birth of a child, graduation from school, a new job, moving far away, illness, or … getting married. 

One of those special events happened to Lynn and I this past weekend.  It was a wedding.    It was the marriage of Kay and Tyler, two volunteers from our group, who chose to marry here in Bulgaria because this is where it all began.  Their wedding symbolized so much of what our two years here have been about.  It was the cherry on the cake, the capstone event of a wonderful two years.  It was simply “The Best!”

Kay's house perched on the slope
Kay's Village is nestled on the center of the slope of the mountain
It took place in a small mountain village in the Southwest corner of Bulgaria about a 7 hour bus ride from Plovdiv.  Although it was only 7 hours away physically, like so many things here in Bulgaria, it was like stepping back 50 years in time. The wedding blended Bulgarian and American traditions. It was a perfect example of why we are here: to learn about other cultures and to share our American culture with other nations.  This event touched Lynn and I in several ways, and it is impossible for us to simply write one blog entry about what this all means.   So.... over the next few days there will be several blogs from both of us talking about our perspectives of the wedding.  We have a couple hundred pictures, and will share some of them in each of the blogs. 

Their Wedding "evite" picture!

Kay is from the Minneapolis area, and Tyler lives in Jacksonville, Fla.   They met the first day as B25s, and went through PST (pre-service training) together.  After pre-service training, Kay was placed in the Southwest Bulgarian Mountains, and Tyler in the North central plains – probably about 7 hours travel from each other. They were both teachers, and somehow they kept the relationship going (and growing) - - not an easy thing to do here in Bulgaria. 

Kay's village is tucked into the side of a mountain. There are about 800 people living there.  There is one road running through the village, with a few side “paths” off the main road. Most of the houses are built into the side of the mountain on the “up” side of the road, or are built on pillars on the “downside” of the road.  The main road ends about 5 Km beyond Kay's village at another small village.  There is one bus out of town early in the morning, and one returning at 5PM.  There are plenty of horses, goats, and horse drawn carts.  The village is on the south side of the mountain, and the views into the mountains of Greece are spectacular. It is the kind of place we all imagine ourselves when we start our Peace Corps application.  

The culture of the village is “Pomak”.  Pomaks are native Bulgarians who were forced to convert to Islam during the Ottoman rule, and now continue to practice Muslim traditions. In many of the wedding pictures you will see the women in the traditional “working or dress jacket”, and colorful scarf.  Kay is another one of those amazing volunteers who has been able to integrate into the village life, and speaks flawless Bulgarian.  A strong bond formed between the village people and Kay.  Kay and Tyler were sure they wanted to marry, but were not sure about marrying here in Bulgaria. About 6 weeks ago they decided to go for it, and once that was decided, the village took over; just like the old quote about it “takes a village to raise a child”.  Well, at Kay's, the whole village enjoys a celebration, and they helped make it happen. .As you look at the pictures, you will see the wedding parade blocks the one road through the town (thankfully there are few cars going through), and then takes over the town square (well – it more of a triangle). Like everything else in Bulgaria, weddings take time - - lots of it.  Following is the time line of events for the wedding. 

4PM – The 20+ volunteers who were staying at a hotel at the bottom of the mountain get picked up by a Van. (I wish I had a picture of this Van, and the 20 volunteers crammed into it.  It was kind of like that old college world-book challenges about how many kids can fit into a VW bug.)  It is about a 30 minute drive up the twisting, and curvy mountain road, and we arrive at 4:30. 

4:30 - When we get there, we all go to the small school where Kay has worked. Tyler is there, and his grooms men  help him prepare for the day.  The rest of us roam around checking out the small school, and the new athletic area just completed as one of Kay’s projects.. 

5:00PM – A small (but very loud) three piece band (clarinet, drum, and accordion) lead about a dozen of Kay’s students to the school.  They are there to formally pick up Tyler, and then lead him down to Kay’s home. If the groom lives in the same town as the bride, the groom’s friends and family would meet him at his home and begin the procession. But before we leave the school, there is the some horo dancing to be done on the new soccer court. A few villagers watch from the street above.

 5:20 We all move up the steps from the school, and follow the band slowly down the street to Kay’s.  Along the way, we begin to pick up more Baba’s, young students from the school, and locals.  When we get to the house, the way is blocked by a rope strung across the street. There are several traditions Tyler must go though in order to see Kay and be allowed to “take her away”. Much of it had to do with offering MONEY. Kay’s school director acted in her behalf and made sure Tyler was offering enough!!!! I believe he was given some money along the way from villagers to insure he had enough. While Tyler was negotiating a bride price, Kay was inside surrounded by women, peering through the window, looking through a ring searching for her future husband. Once Tyler was allowed inside there were a number of other rituals. Tyler had to find Kay’s wedding shoes and stuff them with money.  We were not a part of proceedings inside and are not sure what else happened, but it took awhile!.  At last they were escorted out by the school director. (think Dad). 

6:00 Kay is out of the house, and the next batch of horo dancing begins, lead by Kay.  The street is very narrow here, and the temperature is in the high 90’s, so most people just watch.  The crowd somehow multiplied at this point.

6:15 – Just before the band is ready to start leading Kay and Tyler back toward the center, the Babas on the balcony of the house opposite Kay’s start throwing candy into the crowd.  Just like in the US, this creates lots of excitement as all of the children (and many volunteers) grab for the candy.  One of the Babas showed Kay how to hold her wedding gown out to catch the most candy.  

When the candy has all been tossed out, the musicians lead the procession back through town.  It was amazing.  There were Babas on every balcony, rooftop, and side street watching, and then joining in on the walk.  I really can’t explain what it was like.  The band, Kay and Tyler waving to people as they walked by, mobs of people and friends coming up to them as they walk along all made this an experience like I have never seen before.     

The Town Center - Dancing in the streets

6:40 What would normally take 10 minutes, took about 25, but alas we finally arrived at the village center.  A big sound system was set up there, and our little band now had a male and female singer, plus an electronic keyboard.  But most importantly, we probably had almost 400 people with us, and they were all ready to DANCE!  And that is what we did!  For the next two and a half hours!  The only things that slowed us down were the horse drawn hay wagons, cars, and one big truck that had to break through the horo dance line in order to get through the square.  It was here that Kay threw the bouquet to the single women. Since there were only American women and some small children prepared to catch it, the assumption is that this is not something done in Bulgaria or at least not this village.

9:00 The 107 official guests entered a small hall in the center where there was an official ceremony, food - - and of course  - - more horo dancing. We are still not sure if Kay and Tyler are “officially married” in Bulgaria, but since we heard the question of each with a response of “DA” from each, and a signing and witnessing of a document……it is quite possible it is a legal marriage. Rarely is there a church wedding here, and the signing of the document is actually the ceremony. During the reception, the volunteers took over occasionally, with songs prepared especially for Kay and Tyler, sung by our very talented B25s. We sang our theme song “Are we Human or Are We Dancers”, John Denver’s “Take Me Home”,  and generally had one last bonding session.  

12:45AM   The van showed up, and we began the process of trying to find all the volunteers, to be stuffed back into the van for the ride back to the hotel.  Kay and Tyler, and a couple other volunteers were in the car in front of us. 

1:30 – Back to the hotel.  Sunday morning everyone was up early, coming and going by poolside as we all prepared to go our individual ways again. We then start another stage in the Peace Corps experience - - but more about that in a future blog. 

That was the flow of events, but the flow of emotions is much harder to chronicle.  Lynn and I have never experienced an event like this.  And we were part of it with some very special friends.  The hundred degree heat, the hours of dancing, the long hot bus drives getting there, the crammed van rides up the mountain, filled with laughter and song all made this weekend very special - - and very hard to adequately explain or describe.  We hope some of the pictures will help us share it with you.   And that the future blogs will give you some more insights into why we felt this was so special. 

Thanks for reading,
Mike and Lynn

She never left her post of the second floor window above the square!

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