On the afternoon before his wedding day this fall, Hamid was sitting in an empty teahouse worrying a glass of green tea between his fingers, his brow furrowed in concern.
He confessed to feeling a certain anxiety at seeing his bachelor’s independence slipping away. But something else was troubling him, as well: the cost of his wedding.
In Afghanistan, grooms are expected to pay not only for their weddings, but also all the related expenses, including several huge pre-wedding parties and money for the bride’s family, a kind of reverse dowry. Hamid, a midlevel bureaucrat in the Afghan government who supports his six-member family on a salary of $7,200 per year, said his bill was going to top $12,000. And by Afghan standards, that would be considered normal, or even a bargain.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to think about it,” said Hamid, 30, who requested that his full name not be revealed because his employer forbids him to speak to the news media. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”
Extravagant weddings, a mainstay of modern Afghan life and an important measure of social status, were banned by the Taliban, which outlawed the instrumental music that is traditional at wedding parties and closed the ostentatious wedding halls.
But since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, the Afghan wedding industry has rebounded and is now bigger than ever. The growth is reflected in the proliferation of wedding halls. This freedom has been a mixed blessing. While grooms and their families are free to have the huge weddings that tradition demands, they are once again left with bills that plunge them into crushing debt.
Moderate guest lists can top 600 people; the biggest exceed 2,000.
The groom is also responsible for jewelry, flowers, two gowns for the bride, two suits for himself, a visit to the beauty salon for the bride and her closest female relatives, as well as a sound system for the wedding, a photographer and a videography team with a pair of cameramen.
All that, plus the dowry, known as the bride price, can run a middle-class Afghan man on average $20,000, dozens of Afghans said in interviews.
Even the poor do not scrimp. A laborer, for instance, making about the average per capita income of $350 per year, may well spend more than $2,000 for his wedding, Afghans say.