Kabul's Neon Wedding Halls
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Segregation of the sexes in Afghanistan is so pervasive, even weddings are typically broken up into men's and women sides, with the happy couple perched on thrones on the women's side. Still, it is the rare opportunity to really party. And so out of the ruins of Kabul, in the midst of war have risen dozen and dozens of elaborate wedding halls.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: In any one of these wedding halls you'll hear this song, the Afghan version of, "Here Comes The Bride."
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)
MONTAGNE: When I was in Kabul recently, I stopped by one of these wedding halls. It was on a street crowded with them. The area glowed like Las Vegas: neon orange, green, purple was draped across all the buildings and twinkled in tall bouquets of light. At the Kasir Benezir(ph) Wedding Hall, owner Abdul Samad paused in the preparations for this night's festivities to tell me that he got into the business right after the Taliban were driven out and it hit him, he should seize the moment.
Mr. ABDUL SAMAD (Owner, Kasir Benezir Wedding Hall): (Through Translator) Those people could not play music. They could not dance. And now that they've got their opportunity they want to get together, and they want to play music and they want to dance.
MONTAGNE: Since 2001, around 70 wedding halls have been built in Kabul. It's one of the city's few booming industries.
(Soundbite of traffic)
MONTAGNE: Families are arriving at this wedding hall by the carload, guided into the parking lot by uniformed valets. The women are in gowns, jewels, high heels. Upstairs on the woman's side, it's pretty much a burqa-free zone. Small children in party clothes scamper past marble fountains, across the divide. Outside, some of the guests, all men, are contemplating the cost of it all. Did I mention Afghan weddings can mean thousands of guests? It's the groom's family that foots the bill, usually more than they can afford, says Shafeek Amad Danish(ph).
Mr. SHAFEEK AMAD DANISH: It is a competition between families. Oh, my cousin has spent $11,000, I have to spend $15,000 because we're challenging each other. And last week, I was in a wedding. This was from a brother of mine, one of my classmates. And he had invited 4,000 people, and he had spent more than $40,000 only to the wedding hall.
MONTAGNE: Four-Oh? $40,000?
Mr. DANISH: Forty, yes, four-oh-oh-oh-oh thousand dollars.
MONTAGNE: Just for the wedding hall itself.
Mr. DANISH: Just for the wedding hall, and it was the fifth day of their wedding.
MONTAGNE: Most traditional weddings do go on for days. Shafeek Danish is himself married, a wedding for which his family shelled out big money. He added that this arms race in weddings prompted one tribe to try to outlaw the custom - ultimately, without success. But it's an idea that this recent groom heartily approved of.
So did you think your wedding, a couple of years ago…
Mr. DANISH: I had to.
MONTAGNE: $10,000 - $20 in the end…
Mr. DANISH: I had to, yes, yes.
MONTAGNE: Do you think that was a useless expenditure?
Mr. DANISH: Yes, yes, of course, that was.
MONTAGNE: Was it worth it?
Mr. DANISH: And then next month, it is my sister's wedding. I hope that I can hold it at home, because if you hold a wedding party at home, we can spend one-tenth of the…
MONTAGNE: Your poor sister, your poor little sister, so she gets her wedding at home?
Mr. DANISH: I couldn't. This cannot be eliminated so easily.
MONTAGNE: Much of the rest of the world thinks of Afghanistan in the middle of a war. So this is - well, it sounds incongruous for that reason.
Mr. DANISH: Of course, people to get rid of all these disasters, conflicts, fightings, they want to enjoy. And getting together and having a fancy wedding is one of the ways that they can get rid of this conflict and these disasters.
MONTAGNE: And with that, Shafeek Amad Danish and other friends of the groom took their leave of the parking lot to join in the festivities upstairs at the Kasir Benezir Wedding Hall in Kabul, Afghanistan. And guess what? We've got wedding pictures at npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.