Saturday night I went to my friend's kina gecesi (henna night party). A friend I made in high school when I was an exchange student here is getting married this Saturday (yippee!) and last night I attended what I like to call the Turkish version of the bachelorette party.
I had NO idea what to expect, really. I read on the internet that we'd be going to the groom's house late at night and then banging on drums in front of his house while singing and dancing. Yeah, that didn't happen. My guess is that only happens in villages.
The party started much like any other, with the pouring of drinks (mostly cola, although one girl did bring her own bottle of vodka, which was weird) and snacks. We chatted -- well, they chatted while I tried my best to keep up with the conversation. It was VERY difficult. I understood about 50% of the conversations, enough to know the general topic, but not enough to get the details. By the time I did figure out what was going on and was ready to say something, they'd be talking about something else! Thank goodness I'm taking Turkish lessons again!
There was dancing, of course, and then finally all the girls, led by my friend Muge, trooped upstairs while she put on her kaftan, an elaborate costume of deep purple velvet with gold thread hand-made in Macedonia, which is where her fiance's family is originally from.
Each girl, including myself, was given a small red candle to hold. We formed a line with Muge, dressed in her kaftan and covered in a red, bejewled veil, in the middle and shouted to the women downstairs to turn off all the lights. Suddenly, we were bathed in darkness and I heard music coming from downstairs, a song called "Yuksek Yuksek Tepelere" by Candan Ercetin, which I highly recommend you listen to (for free) on YouTube.
Slowly, we descended the staircase into the living room. Muge sat in a chair in the middle of the room while we circled around her singing the song. Since I didn't know the words, I had a hard time following along, but I did my best: it's supposed to bring the bride good luck if all her friends sing along. And it's bad luck, I suppose, if your crazy yabanci friend doesn't!
The song, which I am listening to as I write this, is incredibly sad. With lines like, "Houses should not be built on hills..." and "I miss my mother, my father, and my village..." it's enough to make even me cry. Which is exactly what it is supposed to do, in fact. Making the bride cry at her henna party is supposed to bring her good luck. Don't ask me why.
With the lights off and about a dozen young women, myself included, holding candles and singing as we circled Muge, it felt to me like a seance, like a spiritual ritual. I was trying to absorb everything all at once: the words to the song, Muge's facial expression through her veil, all while trying my damnedest not to get hot wax on my hand, which I was afraid would make me drop the candle and set the carpet ablaze. (Which, ahem, I have been known to do before.)
When the song ended, the lights came back on and Muge's future mother-in-law decorated her left hand with the henna.
Then several of the girls lifted Muge up in her chair. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what is happening here.
Burak, Muge's fiance, then got decorated with henna by his future mother-in-law.
Burak told me later on the car ride home, when he so graciously agreed to drive several of us halfway across creation, that the henna, which is green but turns to a burnt orange color on your hand, is supposed represent the sacrifice you make for your god, your country and your bride or groom. "I'd say 99% of Turks don't know that," he said, "but that's why we do the henna."
Preparations for Muge and Burak's wedding are nothing like what I went through two years ago. Jeff and I had already been living together for two years before we got married, so all we had to do was plan a simple ceremony and a big celebratory party. It was, relatively, quite easy. But Muge and Burak are literally moving into their new home the night of their wedding so they've been spending the last few months getting their new home in order, buying curtains, pots and pans and choosing furniture. So, as you can probably guess, they're both a little stressed and overwhelmed right now. But as I told Burak on Saturday night, despite the stress of planning, choosing, purchasing, accomodating family and working, he is going to marry his best friend, the one woman in the world who makes him happier than anything else. And that's worth all of it.