In Aravan, We're a Bunch of Old Maids

By GIRLWITHABOOK Co-Founder, Olivia Curl 

I’ve been to several weddings outside of the US. I don’t believe I was explicitly invited to any of them, but so often weddings in the rest of the world are steeped in tradition, culture, and religion, and exist well outside of the maticulous Pinterest board planning we find in the states. The kinds of weddings where the happy couple would be aghast if foreign strangers showed up at random, with no invitation, or at the very least the protection of so-and-so plus one status.

I’ve been to weddings in Egypt, Jordan, and now Kyrgyzstan.

In the small, mostly Uzbek town of Aravan, outside of Osh in the south of Kyrgyzstan, women are typically married by the age of 20 or 21. Our 26, 26, and 23 year old selves were well approaching old-maid status, as was pointed out to us several times. Despite our advanced marital age, the women of the groom’s family ushered us into their home and the bride proudly displayed the many dresses, cloaks, and veils she would don throughout the afternoon’s ceremonies.

This was the third day of her wedding. They day when the groom’s parents and his female relatives welcome her into their home and family. We scampered from the house through the small courtyard, dodging icy rain drops to sit in a large rectangle along with the other women under a covered overhang. Our cameras gave us away, and the family designated us the official supplemental wedding photographers and videographers. No pressure.

When the bride emerged from the house and made her way towards her in-laws, all of us found our breath caught in that universal moment of anticipation when a bride comes into view. Utterly unable to see a thing due to her veil, her friend and aunt guided her to stand in front of the place where her new in-laws sat. She bowed repeatedly, a full and proper right angle, all while the wedding singer wailed and drummed in the corner. Her father-in-law’s eyes grew teary as she finally knelt in front of them. The groom’s parents heaped white flour and sweets and wrapped candies into her outstretched hands. All meant to symbolize her welcoming into their family, and a sweet, clean, and pure beginning to a good marriage.

As we’ve seen repeatedly throughout our time traveling, marriage for so many young girls is perceived as the ultimate life goal. The finish line. There is little talk of what comes after, and most girls will grow into women who get married, stay at home, raise children, and never leave. Good or bad or something different altogether, this is the truth for so many of the world’s women. Be it in Pinterest-planned unions in the West, or Uzbek communities in the south of Kyrgyzstan. There are universal expectations of women, that manifest themselves in different ways, but all share a common root.

What isn’t universal, is the loving eye of a father-in-law who weeps upon welcoming his new daughter. Or the persistent squeezes of a new mother-in-law who lifts the bride’s veil to kiss her into the family. Love, sadly, isn’t always universal, but on an icy day in Aravan, there was nothing but love to be found.

Check out our Kyrgyzstan Photo of the Day series for for more photos of this wedding.