The wedding

16 August - I get up at 8, ready to take care of my passport. I drink coffee with my hosts, then the boys give me a lift to the otogar. I meet yesterday's drivers and Semih accompanies me to the shipping agency. They tell me my document is still travelling, they don't know where, and may arrive tomorrow. I go back home resigned and I am offered Turkish breakfast, accompanied by a long conversation. The husband is a calm guy, speaks Arabic with propriety. They are a family converted to Christianity from Alawys they were, but the husband hasn't been baptised yet. He tells me that when he was working in Saudi Arabia, some relatives phoned him to say they had seen his wife on television being christened. A scandal broke out, then the relatives disowned them. This man may not have felt up to take the step, even if, so states his wife, Jesus is already in his heart. But he is now thinking of going to Sudan to work with a brother.

As I'm bound to stay, I'll go to the wedding this afternoon. They tell me I should be at home by half past 3, at which time they have hired a bus to the mountain village. I expect it's got to be rubber time, and in fact when I turn up slightly late I don't see anybody ready yet. The women are all at the hairdresser's.

At home, though, I meet the very peculiar character who is the grandmother. No sooner have I entered the yard, that this nice old woman, dressed in modern style black, a small black kerchief on her head to gather her hair, hugs me, kisses me and starts talking non-stop in a dim voice, a bit intermittent as if broken by a sob, telling things that I must sometimes guess at. She doesn't ask me to introduce myself, she may have been told already I am a guest. She came back this morning from a pilgrimage to the alleged Virgin Mary's house near Izmir. She's euphoric. She says she's 86 years old and I just cannot realise how she could stand 18 hours in a bus. What's more, I learn she will be at the wedding tonight! She recounts her pilgrimage, talks about the crowds, from time to time she gets emotional and a teardrop twinkles at her eye while her voice flow is broken off for a few seconds, but then resumes with plenty of involving enthusiasm, that I've never felt as strong in anyone before. She rambles with related stories of dreams that led her to conversion only a few years ago. A faith without doubt, hers is, that is really moving. Lucky her!

At 5 we are still waiting. The driver has got nervous and has gone for a walk. Comes a pan with meat and vegetables and I'm invited to have a snack. If I stop for a while, the grandmother spurs me on: "Come on, eat, sweetheart!"

The women eventually turn up with such heavy makeup and such an artificial hairstyle as to border on a vulgar effect. Undoubtedly I preferred them as I met them last night, but I must place a good mannered compliment. At last we're off.

At the village, which we get to after half an hour's driving enlivened by music, hand clapping and vibrant expectation for the celebration, we find two people playing a shrill trumpet and a drum, with young people around dancing to cheerful traditional songs on the road. Then the already numerous party moves to a porch where we can smell stable odours – we are in the country here – then we go up into the bride's flat and find her waiting in the living-room, all dressed in white.

The bride doesn't indulge in the slightest smile, but modestly stares to the ground and looks as if she were waiting for the gallows.  Those who manage to cram into the room can follow the continual playing of music, with occasional hand clapping and long shrill gurgles uttered by the women. The bridegroom arrives, takes the bride down to the road and a cheerful procession is formed marching  to the church. While I'm walking in the group, I keep asking myself how on earth I could get into this situation: I'm in Turkey, among people of Arab descent, Christians, and I'm about to attend an Orthodox wedding!

The ceremony is simply beautiful. Two priests in red and gold cassocks and one in white officiate the rite, with chanted readings and sung replies. The audience, partly sitting, partly standing, is scattered without order in front of the altar and behind it, before the iconostasis. I don't hesitate to take pictures, as everybody does after all, even if I feel a bit guilty for giving too much importance to image and not following the rite,  in spite of being profoundly impressed by it. I feel not so guilty, though, when I see that one of the priests takes a shot of the married couple on behalf of a lady. The ceremony is celebrated in Arabic. As they told me, this is one of the reasons why young people seep into to the Catholic church that uses Turkish, a language they are more familiar with. Arabic isn't taught in schools, and is for the younger generations just a spoken language. At most some Orthodox parishes teach how to write.

We move on to the restaurant nearby where we have dinner in the open air, then dance. It's a nice party and I enjoy myself in earnest, happy with such a heart-felt invitation. In all the joy for the newly wed, however, today's protagonist is beyond doubt the grandmother. I observe her at my table having fun, follow the music, clapping hands, smoking a cigarette; at some time after dinner I unbelievingly watch her get up and join calmly in the dances.

The band also plays a song about Jesus that sends everybody in rapture and triggers applauses at every quartet. We round off with the henna ceremony and I daub some on my little finger too for fun. We go back at 2 am. I am tired, but the grandmother looks as if nothing were the matter, as if she were not just back from an 18 hour long journey from Izmir.