We thought the henna night was supposed to start at 8:00, but we weren’t socially ignorant enough to arrive on time. We got there at 8:30, but the tea garden was still empty. Workers strung up lights and prepared the sound system. Finally at 9:30 the first guests arrived.
Bahar’s parents hosted her henna night in their village 5 days before the wedding. At this important celebration, the bride and groom’s hands are tinted with henna as a sign of blessing.
We’d arrived at the village in the afternoon. Young men toted trays of food to guests seated at plastic tables in the garden of the municipal building. Bahar was gone to the hairdresser in the next town, but her mother welcomed us to a meal of chicken, fried eggplant and peppers, rice, salad, white beans, cola, and wine. The old men drinking at the table next to us kept things lively with their loud folk songs.
Bahar had invited us to a ribbon ceremony at 5:00 when Mark, her fiancé, would pick her up from her father’s house, but by about 4:30, everyone we knew had disappeared.
“What do we do now?” the kids asked.
We didn’t know. We didn’t know where we were staying, and we didn’t know where Kemal bey’s house was, so we took a walk and asked a random man on the street.
When we got to the house, they said the ribbon ceremony was cancelled because everyone was running late. Her mother rushed out to the hairdresser’s. Bahar arrived at 6:00. I helped her into her dress, and she gave me the red ribbon.
“At least you guys are here, so let’s go ahead and do this,” she said.
We enjoyed a tender moment watching her father tie the ribbon around her waist and kiss her before she and Mark drove off for a photo session. Everyone left, so we got dressed for the party.
At the tea garden that evening, the bride and groom appeared at 9:45, and live music and dancing began. The atmosphere was jubilant, and we had a great time. The altin takma, when family members and guests pin gold and money on the couple, was at 11:30.
By 12:30 a.m., Mark, who danced non-stop for hours, was looking tired. He came up to me and asked, “Do you know what time the henna is going to be?”
“I have no idea,” I said. I was beginning to wonder where on earth we were staying that night. I finally asked someone, and Bahar herself introduced us to our host. (Relief.)
The henna ceremony started at 1:00. Now in a traditional Turkish dress and veil, Bahar sat down with Mark, and her aunt danced around them carrying a decorated henna tray lit with candles. As other women danced around the couple, the aunt applied the henna to the palms of their hands, and then passed it around to all the guests.
At 2:30, we finally found our accommodations and fell into bed. The following morning, I got a call from Bahar.
“Why don’t you come for breakfast at my parent’s house,” she said.
“What time should we come?” I asked.
“I don’t know!” she said. “This is a village, and no one knows what time something is going to start. Yesterday I just made up some times to have something to tell you.”
Suddenly the events of the previous day made more sense as I thought about how we live tied to the clock. I was reminded of how important flexibility and going with the flow are to cross-cultural living. I didn’t have to know what time everything was starting or where I was staying to enjoy the henna night.
Have you had an experience lately where you had to demonstrate flexibility?