That Moment Where You Realise You've Inadvertently Married into a Central Asian Crime Family

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That Moment Where You Realise You've Inadvertently Married into a Central Asian Crime Family

('Just do a new thing, write about anything you like, it'll save me from having to find something new to fill the slot,' commanded the h2g2 Post Editor, paraphrastically. Knowing from personal experience how this job can drive someone crazy, I can only obey. Great literature I may struggle with, but the prose equivalent of ready-mixed filler is certainly within my grasp.)

There was something twisted about the whole business, so naturally we did the main events backwards. For peculiar reasons to do with the byzantine legal system of the Kyrgyz Republic and the fact a lot of my guests would shortly be leaving the country, we ended up having the celebratory wedding party over a month before we signed the paperwork. The paperwork got done in a branch of ZAGS, the local registry office; the celebration happened in a large hall just down the street from the tower block where my intended resided with her parents, in a suburb of Bishkek unexpectedly called Wimbledon (or sounding very similar to it).

We turned up in Wimbledon round about twelve noon. 'We' was me, slightly bemused and dissociated from reality, in a slapped-together black suit, and my flat-mate, Osbert, who was doing double-duty as best man and Russian translator. He seemed to be dressed as Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird; not inappropriately as it turned out as (after an unsuccessful tilt at a political career) he is now an attorney in Victorville, CA, specialising in DUI cases..

I was quite thoroughly in retreat from reality and had been for some time, and so the fact a camera crew was present seemed perfectly normal. My intended was still getting into her costume and so I passed the time playing chess with the cameraman and chatting with them via Osbert.

My intended emerged, having clearly gone for the full meringue, and was briskly pelted with sweets by her immediate family (just one of those traditional Kyrgyz customs I guess). We were not due at the hall for the party for about another five hours, but we had a packed itinerary lined up, and so we descended (fourteen storeys, via the stairs, the lift having terminally packed up) to where no fewer than three limousines were waiting outside. She, Osbert and I would be in one, the camera crew would be in the second, and a gaggle of wedding guests would be in the third. We would be touring a number of sites around the city of Bishkek, stopping for drinks and bits of cheese and filming opportunities several times.

My intended was radiant, seemed excited, and looked like a million som (the local currency; so roughly about $12,000 at 2021 exchange rates). Naturally there was only one thing I wanted to say to her. 'Am I paying for all these limousines and the camera crew?'

'No, it's fine. They owe my brother a favour.'

So off we cruised, zooming around the broad thoroughfares of a slightly decrepit former-Soviet city, with the camera car coming up alongside now and then to take shots through the side window. First stop was the Eternal Flame, either representing love or peace. Here we would be releasing doves and drinking a toast. It was an impressive bit of civic architecture but I couldn't help wondering how the bit with the doves worked. Did the guy have to get new doves every time after they were released? Or were they trained? It wasn't much of a release in the latter eventuality. Nobody seemed to want to talk about it, though. We 'released' the doves anyway, did some toasting – hardly anyone seemed to speak English apart from my intended and Osbert, so my contribution was to say 'Here's mud in your eye' in Klingon before we got back in the cars.

Stop at a park for spirits and bits of cheese; stop at Manas Land (a low-rent theme park memorialising the Kyrgyz Republic's great culture hero); the afternoon wore on. Occasionally we stopped for painfully contrived and cheesy filming opportunities. This only appealed to my innate tendency to ham it up and did not help me treat the day's events any more seriously.

Eventually we arrived at the hall, where a sizeable man in a white suit greeted us. 'He just said keep smiling and drink everything they put in front of you,' translated Osbert, helpfully. The man in white was to be our toastmaster, or tamada; basically the MC for the proceedings.

We took our seats at the top table, with about twelve or fourteen others filling the rest of the bright and spacious hall. The first of many dishes began to pass in front of us, along with the first of many bottles. I was commendably restrained, I thought: so was Osbert, who was nervous, having to make a speech. (My role in events seemed to involve being wholly passive and paying for things.)

After a few introductory bits the toastmaster disappeared for a while and then came back in in a different suit, with fake eyebrows glued on. I quickly rumbled that he was meant to be Brezhnev now, and he proceeded to regale the guests with various jokes which had presumably been topical thirty years earlier. He certainly had them falling about.

This followed by some fun and games amongst the guests (mostly beer-related) and the first appearance of our belly-dancer (who was the daughter of a friend of my soon-to-be mother-in-law). Everything seemed to be going very well, and then the toastmaster came back on, now dressed as Lenin (which was a less successful look, it seemed to me). But once again, the crowd went mad.

'He's very good at this,' I said to my intended. 'Is he a full-time toastmaster?'

She looked at me like a madman (a look I would quickly get used to). 'No, he is the Kyrgyz Republic's second most popular TV chat-show host and comedian,' she said.

'Oh,' I said. There was a tiny pause. 'Am I paying for this?'

'No, he owes my brother a favour.'

Her brother had shown up by this point, and was sitting grinning at us from not far away. He had dispensed with the usual zip-up fake-leather jacket but was his usual substantial self otherwise. He always seemed to find me immensely amusing; it was like being adopted by a bear.

The evening wore on. Osbert popped outside to practise his speech (he was not usually this given to caution, having suggested that we play Scrabble for money before having any idea of my form; we had stopped keeping track of his losses once they reached three figures) and then came back in. 'You realise this is all just enabling alcoholism,' he said.

I did not, in fact, realise this. 'What do you mean?' He reported that the table full of loud Kazakhs immediately in front of us were knocking off a bottle of vodka every ten minutes, and that they seemed to be taking it in turns to go outside and pass out on the hall lawn: he had come across several of them sprawled there while rehearsing.

My intended shrugged. 'Is traditional Kazakh wedding tradition,' she said. Neither of us could argue with that. After some more speeches and another turn from the belly-dancer, who was technically doing Cossack dancing now, the proper music started and a young man came on and belted out a few pop songs. Once again, it went down a storm.

'He is really good,' I said, feeling a twinge of incipient déjà vu. 'What does he –'

'He is Kyrgyz Republic's third-best pop singer.'

'Am I –'

'He owes my brother a favour.'

The shark-like grin on the face of my intended's brother had, if anything, widened. What a well-connected man he was, I thought, especially considering he only had a rather vague job importing second-hand vehicles from Europe. Still, he seemed to look after his family all right. I wondered if he had it in mind to do me any favours, and what he might expect in return.

The pop singer cleared off, and a few enthusiastic locals got up and had a go at singing too: along with a couple of my friends from the English language school where I taught. Emboldened, I took the mike and treated the assembled throng to my version of the theme from Fireball XL5, 'I wish I was a Spaceman', which got a fairly muted response, I thought. Clearly the show had never reached Kyrgyz TV.

Everything seemed to be winding down, as we had had all the speeches (Osbert's was rather touching, although this did not stop us having a major row just before I left the country a month later, and never speaking again) and also the main course – a Kyrgyz delicacy called besh-barmak, which was basically boiled sheep's intestines on a bed of noodles (it's a taste well worth not acquiring). One of the English teachers had taken his shirt off and another was doing the Charleston in front of some baffled-looking Kazakhs. Having completed the allotted traditions by ritually feeding my future mother-in-law some wedding cake (my decision to adopt the 'plane coming in to land' approach with the spoon earned me another major telling off at the post-wedding debrief) it was time to go.

It had been strange. It had never been dull. There was lots of material there for amusing anecdotes to share back home, in the fullness of time, I thought. And if I hadn't learned anything about myself, I had certainly learned something about the local traditions. And I was very certain I would never do anything to put myself in debt with my intended's brother.

This was in May 2009. I am pleased to report that, twelve years on, my intended and I are both very happy. We haven't seen in other in over a decade, and live on different continents, and are both in serious relationships with other people, but we are still very happy in our individual ways. The mood of my former brother-in-law I am less certain about.

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