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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Wedding, a Funeral And Not Many Women

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- My friend Galya got married last week. It was a sumptuous affair. There were 280 people on the guest list and two extra tables in case anyone else turned up.

"Good heavens, 280 guests!" I said to Galya. I don't think I even know that many people."

"Oh, they're not my friends," she said. "They're Ilham's. I'm only allowed to invite 15."

The dining hall at the Beh Beh (Yum Yum) restaurant looked like something out of Jason and the Argonauts. Swaths of vine leaves trailed from pillars. The tables groaned beneath bunches of grapes and bursting pomegranates. Flaming torches hung with purple satin lined the walls.

At six o'clock, the guests started to arrive. They were mostly men. Women, and Galya's family, sat at the back of the room. There were no grapes or pomegranates on our table, just half a dozen tired apples and a banana.

At half past six, Galya and Ilham arrived. They walked slowly between the center tables -- less to acknowledge their guests than because Galya's flounced taffeta dress stitched with crystals was so heavy it restricted her movements. At the front of the room, they sat down on crushed-velvet thrones beneath a bower of lilies.

After we'd eaten the whole roast pig, slices of sturgeon quivering in aspic and stolichny salad, the speeches began. After each one, we raised our glasses of vodka to the newlyweds. First up was the groom's father, then his grandfather, then various uncles, then a long line of best friends. Galya's father was 23rd at the microphone. The evening becomes a little hazy after that, but the last person I remember speaking was the man who had circumcised Ilham as a child.

Two weeks before Galya's wedding, I was invited to a funeral. Our neighbor, Aydin, had slipped while adjusting the aerial on his roof and fell four floors onto the pavement.

In Azerbaijan, the mourning party takes place outside the home of the deceased. There's rarely enough room for all the guests in the family home, so they erect a marquee in the street outside.

I couldn't see much from the back of the tent. They'd put me next to the barbecue, where clouds of smoke were pouring off the whole roast pig. The girl next to me said they'd started giving the speeches. We clinked glasses and remembered Aydin's first day at school, his wedding day and the births of his five children.

"Now we have a surprise guest," the toastmaster announced. "Please put your hands together for Ilgar Bairamov, the man who circumcised Aydin when he was a child."

But by then the smoke from the pig beside me was too much, and I escaped under the canvas into the fresh air outside.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.