SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
To Afghanistan now. It is one of the world's poorest countries, but a number of people there still have costly weddings. On most weekends, Kabul's glitzy wedding halls are packed with celebrating people. NPR's Sean Carberry sends this report from a recent Kabul wedding party.
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: I'm standing in a giant hall in the Uranos Palace wedding complex here in Kabul, I'm actually one of two foreigners in a room full of about 200 Afghan men. There's a divider in the middle of the room and the women are on the other side. Golden chandeliers hang from the 20-foot ceiling and massive curtains line the walls. Suddenly the musicians take the stage and the crowd perks up.
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CARBERRY: Then the groom, Nesar Faizy, the brother of my Afghan producer, walks into the garish hall surrounded by a few close friends and relatives. Nesar is quickly paraded past each table. Then, he and about 20 men circle together in front of the bandstand and dance to a few songs before he heads to the other side of the hall to mingle with his bride and their family.
In the meantime, men of all ages sit around the tables waiting for dinner. Most are wearing jeans, a button-down shirt and a sport coat, the standard fashion for young men in Kabul. At this wedding, there's no alcohol, no toasts, complete segregation and the actual ceremony took place in a closed room with the family still negotiating the payment for the bride.
My producer, Sultan, says that in the Uzbek region of northern Afghanistan where he's from, the traditions are far more liberal.
SULTAN FAIZY: They don't care about separating women from men.
CARBERRY: And there's even alcohol, even though it's illegal for Afghans to drink. Sultan explains that his brother's wedding was two years and nearly $25,000 in the making, and that doesn't even count the $20,000 dowry payment.
FAIZY: When they got engaged, his in-laws were very happy and they were saying that we are not expecting you to spend lots of money.
CARBERRY: But it didn't turn out that way. During the engagement period, Nesar spend several thousand dollars on gifts like gold and sheep. Then came the wedding itself. In parts of Afghanistan, like Kabul, it's traditional for families to hold three events. First a pre-wedding party for the women, then the giant wedding party and last a smaller party for the bride's family.
FAIZY: In my province, we actually can celebrate the three parties in one night because people are now understanding that they don't have to spend a lot of money for just a wedding.
CARBERRY: But that wasn't an option for Nesar, who was marrying a woman from Kabul. Her family wanted three separate events, so he sold his car and borrowed money to cover the costs including tonight's party with more than 600 guests. The pressure for large weddings has become a particular burden on Afghanistan's middle class.
It was much different during the reign of the Taliban. Sultan recalls his sister's wedding back in those days.
FAIZY: We had a very small party in one of the rooms which was covered with thick curtains and the doors, everything was locked and we played the music with a very low volume and then had a few dancing and that was very risky.
CARBERRY: But on this night at the Uranos Palace, the band is loud as the waiters bring out platters of food, traditional Afghan rice dishes and roast chicken garnished with potato chips.
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CARBERRY: After the meal, many guests filter out, while some stay for segregated dancing and one universal wedding custom - complaining about the music. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.
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