Friday, November 14, 2008

Toy – Part One

Okay, before I explain why I’m giving this entry that particular name, I want you to ponder for a moment what a ‘toy’ is.

Finished? Alright, well, in Azerbaijani, a ‘toy’ can be a couple things. Two, by my count. If you look in your handy Azerbaijani-to-English dictionary, a ‘toy’ is defined as a wedding. Ah, I see. A wedding. What a cool name for a wedding.

But let me get something straight here. In Azerbaijan, a toy isn’t merely a wedding ceremony one goes to every now and then when a friend or relative gets married, followed by a reception. Oh, no. A toy is a party. A rowdy party. A party Azerbaijanis love to attend. And they happen all the time. Seriously, all the time. Now, remember, a toy can celebrate a couple things, but I will concentrate on the ‘bride and groom’ toy first.

So my host family said one day, earlier in training, “Let’s go to a toy in a few days.” Wait. It wasn’t quite like that. It was more like, “In a few days, we’re going to a toy.” They were excited, and I’d already heard at that point that toys were essential events one must experience in Azerbaijan. So I put on my Sunday best and went.

I guess I expected it, but we didn’t go to the actual ceremony. We went to the party. Everyone wants to go to the party. We walked into the reception hall in Sumgait, which was already pretty full, and took a seat at one of the tables. Food and shots of vodka were being served all around (except the vodka wasn’t served to the ladies), and the bride and groom sat there, on an elevated surface at the front of the room, in all their glory. They had a nice border decoration surrounding them, and they looked dignified. To be honest with you, I’d say the folks below, merrily eating, drinking, and dancing, were having more fun than the newly married. I suppose that, as a bride and groom, you are more like the hosts of the toy, while your friends and family are the ones invited and welcome to carouse in raucous merriment. I’d say that’s a good reason to want to go to one of these events.

Anyway, I went along with the crowd, and as you could guess, plenty of folks were delighted to have a foreigner join in on the fun. I sat at the end of the table and ate several platters of delicious Azerbaijani food, with several shots of vodka in between. I appreciate my host mother’s caution with my drinking, though. She would intermittently glance at me and tell me to keep it under control. This was a good thing, seeing as plenty of others were drinking more than they ought to.

Along with the eating and drinking was the dancing. Azerbaijani folk love to get the music going (especially with the zurna, a long horn instrument that makes a bagpipe-esque sound, and the sach (most likely spelled wrong), a lovely-sounding guitar-type instrument) and move their arms to and fro in dancing revelry. And when a white American comes into the picture, they welcome him with open, waving arms. I love the Azerbaijani dancing style. It’s not overly complicated, and I don’t make too much of a fool of myself when I do it. However, another component of the classic toy is a video camera. Somebody walks around the camera and films what’s going on, with a short-circuit connection to television screens all over the room. So, when the white dude decides to get up and dance, he becomes the camera magnet. My friend Laura, who was at the same wedding, took a picture of me on thee T.V. screen. wonderful.

One typical characteristic of a toy that I didn’t see was a fight. I can remember our Azerbaijani safety officer telling us that a fight can break out at a toy, I’m guessing due to the crowd of gentlemen imbibing great amounts and talking smack. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t on the lookout when one occurred, although Laura told me there was a small scuffle.

All in all, a toy is a good time, and I’m glad to have experienced one. But what about that other kind of toy?

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