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Weddings Become Big Business

Expensive parties in hotels have become the rage, but for some the choice is between picking a wife and paying the rent.
By Shahabuddin Tarakhil

The black-bearded 22-year-old groom, wearing a grey suit, stands outside a beauty parlour in Kabul, waiting for his bride.


Inside, assistants arrange her wedding gown – a white dress and veil. They put the final touches to the pale make-up on her face and the thick liner and eye shadow around her eyes.


But the groom is a worried man – and not just because he’s about to get married. His wedding is taking place at one of Kabul's biggest hotels, which has been especially built for just such occasions. It has huge party facilities - and prices to match.


To pay for the food and live music to entertain their guests, the groom borrowed thousands of dollars. "Even though today is my wedding party, I am worried about how I will pay back the loans," he said.


Since the collapse of the Taleban regime, large, expensive hotel weddings are growing increasingly popular.


In the capital alone, there are 34 wedding hotels. The owner of one of the biggest said that "in the last two years, the number of people who prefer to have their weddings at a hotel has increased every day".


For ordinary Afghans, the thousands it costs for a sumptuous hotel can leave them starting married life deeply in debt.


This young groom, who asked that his name not be used, will have to pay about 3,000 US dollars for the wedding party. In addition, there will be another party at his home, which he says will cost an additional 2,000 dollars.


In addition to paying for the wedding party, the groom or his father is expected to buy jewellery for the bride and to pay for four separate dresses for her – to be worn before, during and the day after the wedding.


It’s more than some can afford.


“No one will lend me money and [the father of the intended bride] tells me that it’s his daughter’s wish to have a wedding party in a hotel,” said a 27-year-old staff administrator at Kabul University.


Naqibullah, 27, who operates a wedding-party business at the Aria wedding hotel in the Khair Khana district, said business is booming.


Red, yellow and green lamps hang from the ceiling of the hotel’s first floor, where florists and photography shops abound.


Two years ago, he began renting three floors of the hotel at 2,000 dollars a month to stage elaborate wedding parties. Since then, his business has continued to grow. Today, he employs 20 people and said his profits last year were 130,000 dollars.


High season for weddings is from April to November, when he hosts between 40 and 50 parties a month. Almost all the customers are from Kabul but occasionally they come in from neighbouring provinces, he said.


In addition to renting the facility, the groom or his father must pay for meals for the guests. Naqibullah said most select the fixed-price menu that cost 5.30 dollars per person.


Bridegroom Sherzad, 33, recently celebrated his wedding at the hotel, hosting a party of 700 friends and relatives. He said he has no regrets.


"I am really happy to have spent 2,400 dollars on my wedding party,” he said. “A young man only has this happy moment once in his life and so he should spend money."


For some, such costs are simply prohibitive.


Zulmai, a taxi driver, makes about 140 dollars a month. He supports five people in his family, including his widowed mother. Rent alone costs 80 dollars a month.


Zulmai said that when his mother approaches another family about a possible marriage for her son, they ask if he owns a home, what his level of education is and whether he can afford to pay for a hotel wedding party. In addition, the groom’s family would be required to pay between 4,000 and 5,000 dollars to the bride’s parents.


"Should I pay the rent on the house, look after the family or marry?” he asked.


"I would prefer to marry a widow than a girl," he said, since marrying the former would cost him little or no money.


Life under the Taleban was better, he said, because you didn't have to spent a lot of money and celebrate your wedding in the hotel.


"No one pays any thought to Islam. Having a party in the hotels has became a competition among people,” he said.


Under the Taleban, such elaborate wedding events were forbidden. Some religious scholars still criticise excessive celebrations.


Maulawi Shaikh Zada, 48, an Islamic teacher in Kabul's Deh Sabz district, said that according to Shariat law, if someone sells his daughter for money or land, that property will become fire in the next world.


"It [the sale of one's daughter] contradicts Islam and Shariat law and God doesn't like people who spend money uselessly,” he said. “They have disobeyed God's commands."


Shahabuddin Tarakhil is a staff reporter at IWPR in Kabul.


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