Baja Village and a Pashtun Wedding
This past weekend we journieyed to Khurram’s family’s village. They have been the landowners since the village was founded in the mid nineteenth century. The Family was assembling to memorialize one of the family matriarch’s passing, an event which is marked by cooking huge quantities of food and then serving it to several hundred villagers. Baja, in the Swabi district was just a two hour drive away from Islamabad and reminded me a great deal of the villages in the Kathmandu Valley, especially the hills near Pharping. One of the Uncles took us on a tour of the village, and it is full of tiny & winding streets. You round corners and tumble out into boys playing cricket, little children dragging about even younger siblings on one quest or another. Houses are walled off with mud walls and the Khan family has a host of residences with shady courtyards and white walls.
Before we left, Liz and I bought our first shalwar kameez, which we wore in the village. The village is more traditional than Islamabad, so we needed to keep our heads covered when we were outside of the family house.The Shalwar are the pants, the Kameez is the shirt, and the Dupattr is the shawl.
One of the Aunt’s also has a school for women and girls on the outskirts of the village. In addition education, this center offers skill classes and Quranic studies. We took what ended up being a trixy climb to visit some old “ruins” atop a hall. The hills around Baja differ from those in the K’Du valley in that they are filled with thorny bushes–just the sort of bushes that like to snag on your clothes and cut your arms. And the “ruins” reminded me yet again how ultimately unsatisfying I would have found a career in archaeology . They were definitely there, but consisted of walls of what had clearly once been rooms. Not loot though, alas. Throughout the day I supplemented my delicious Pashtun diet with pounds of Burfi and Gulub Jamun..my two favorite sweets in this area of the world. Apparently, there is always one teacher at KMT with a huge appetite, and it looks as though I am that person for this year.
After a day in Swabi with the immediate Khan family, we headed to a nearby town (still in Swabi district) for the Mehndi for one of the extended family member’s wedding. The Mehndi is one of the stages of the marriage ceremony and is celebrated separately for men and women. For this one, we first went to a house (i think grooms because we were shown the wedding suite), ate, socialized then drove to The Officer’s Club, where the celebrating continued in the basement. In a room full of brightly dressed women, I felt a little dull in my store bought shalwar kameez, but we secured front row seats for the dancing. Groups and individual gals went to the center of the room to dance and folks threw money over their heads, which was then given to the bride. The amount is noted and the married couple must give at least that much or more at the next wedding. Not entirely sure on the exact rituals, but here are some pictures to give you a better idea.
…eventually one of the older ladies had the idea to have the foreigners dance…and much to my complete embarrassment Liz, Jenny and I found ourselves in front of the crowd, facing one of the lovely gals who we’d befriended earlier (also one of the best dancers of the evening). She asked us if we wanted an English song, and recommended it saying “I think it is better”….and then WE LIKE TO PARTY BY THE VENGA BOYS CAME ON!!! oooohhh yes, that was our English song! And so we managed some sort of dance, women threw money on us and just as we thought we might run off and hide in a corner the song segued into traditional Pashto music..which we also couldn’t dance well to. Eventually we managed to flee. Women told Jenny afterward that our dancing “made [us] more attractive”, it certainly endeared us to the older female set–and other members of the family had already been alerted via text to our performance by the time we arrived back to our host’s house later that night. In case you’ve forgotten how “wonderful” that Venga Boy’s classic is, have a listen!
The next we headed back out for the Walima, which was held at the groom’s family’s house, and celebrates the couple after they have been officially married and spent their first night together. Again, this was celebrated separately for men and women, with our festivities held under a red cloth tent. As the morning went on more and more folks brought up our dancing and how much they enjoyed it..and low and behold we were asked to dance again. Jenny abstained so it was Liz and myself dancing to some pretty silly American top 40 song i dont know the name of. According to Jenny, we looked much improved and received compliments on our dancing throughout the day. Dancing in front of crowds with varying degrees of skill seems to be a wonderful constant in all my travels, and Pakistan has proved to be no exception!…this performance was filmed and photoed, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that footage somehow pops back into my life again