Tajik weddings hit by austerity law

Zebo in her wedding finery Eighteen-year-old Zebo will wear several dresses during her wedding day

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It has been raining all morning - not the weather the owners of a small household in Davlat-abad village in southern Tajikistan were hoping for.

This is the wedding day of their daughter Zebo.

The rain has turned the ground into mud. But it does not stop guests, neighbours and kids sliding into the courtyard where the party is being held.

Since early morning preparations for the big day have been in full swing. People are bustling around, some carrying teapots, others hanging up decorations - suzana - traditional hand-embroidered cloths in bright colours.

Tajik music is booming from a row of loudspeakers hired for the day and powered by a rented generator.

Life without gas or electricity in this impoverished nation is an everyday reality.

Life is hard in rural Tajikistan. Weddings are a source of entertainment - a rare opportunity for many to indulge in a moment of joy.

A man prepares pilaw ahead of the wedding The wedding food - rice, carrots and beef - alone poses a substantial cost to the host

The cooking area is in the far corner. A huge pot of rice, carrots and meat is ready to be served.

"Osh or pilaw is the main dish that we prepare at weddings," says the cook Rajabali, scooping the rice with a special ladle with a long wooden handle.

"Because of the wedding law only 150 guests are allowed to be fed so we had to buy 30 kilos of rice and about 10 kilos of meat. Carrots are very expensive now. Altogether the host spent 700 somoni, which is about $150 (£92) for this dish."

The wedding meal alone has cost the equivalent of three months' wages.

Wedding law

Traditionally, Tajik weddings lasted for days, with hundreds of guests all of whom needed feeding. The hosts were often forced into debt to pay for the festivities.

In 2007 the government introduced a new law to limit not only the number of wedding guests but also the quantity of food served.

"Weddings cannot last for more than three hours and only one dish is allowed to be served," says Mahmadrasul Sharipov, a local official in charge of making sure the wedding law is observed.

The bridal dowry The family of the bride must save up to invest in a dowry for their daughter

Massive penalties apply for those who break it.

These new regulations helped people like Murod, the bride's father who is currently unemployed, to keep the wedding costs down.

"I had to save up around $1,000. My friends and neighbours helped me with the wedding. One of my sons also works in Russia and helps me out," he says.

But he admits that it took years to collect his daughter's dowry, part of it - a collection of traditional dresses made of blue and red velvet - are on display for the day.

Away from the hassle and fuss at her parent's house, the bride is getting ready at a neighbour's place. Zebo is 18.

She is wearing a bright green bundle dress decorated with stones, flowers and golden brocade.

"I rented this dress in a wedding shop in the city for 100 somoni ($22)," she says.

It is one of several dresses that she will change throughout the wedding - another Tajik custom.

Goodbyes

"Are you nervous?" I ask her. "I am sad because I will be separated from my family," she replies.

Zebo has met her future husband only once, when the couple submitted documents to the local registrar's office. Like many marriages in Tajikistan this one has been arranged by the couple's parents.

The bride and groom The bride and groom have met each other on just one occasion before the wedding

"It is normal that she has not spoken to her future husband, this happens to many girls in the village," says Zebo's classmate Hadja.

"It is still a happy day for her because she is getting married."

The groom, 21-year-old Faridun, arrives in a white car with his two friends and a stern looking aunt.

A civil marriage ceremony is performed in front of all the guests by a local official. It is followed by a more intimate Islamic marriage ceremony.

The bride is hidden behind a curtain stretched in the corner of the room by her friends.

"I accept," whispers Zebo, as the mullah - an Islamic priest - reads the prayers.

Hugging her parents, Zebo is in tears. She is saying her last goodbyes, not just to her home but also to her childhood. Her sister and other female relatives are trying to calm her, some are crying with her.

"When I was getting married I also cried," says one of the women in the room.

"Every bride cries. My parents chose my husband for me. Love comes later, after you've lived together."

From now on Zebo will have to get permission from her husband before visiting her parents.

A wedding procession made up of several cars travels, horns blaring, to the neighbouring village. Another one-storey mud house with no electricity or running water will be Zebo's new home.

A teenage girl is collecting all the used cups and plates into a bucket to be washed in a nearby canal. Soon this and many other household duties will become Zebo's chores.

But for now the party goes on, accompanied by the sounds of tambourine and the flute, and a group of women cheering and dancing.

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