ZARGHAR, Tajikistan -- Arranged marriages of couples who have never met are common in rural Tajikistan. But the August 27 wedding of village schoolteacher Saidsho Asrorov's to Marjona Hudoidodova is highly unusual.
Their marriage was arranged in less than one week on orders of the country's autocratic ruler.
President Emomali Rahmon was visiting Tajikistan's southwestern Khatlon region on August 16 when Asrorov, a 23-year-old history teacher, gave a speech praising "the leader of the nation and founder of peace in Tajikistan."
Asrorov expressed gratitude to Rahmon for his role in "supporting education and the upbringing of the young generation" and recited his own verses of Tajik poetry (see video below) to honor Rahmon, a former Soviet apparatchik who has governed Tajikistan since 1992.
Duly impressed -- and notwithstanding the kowtowing that routinely flows from his hold on power -- Rahmon asked Asrorov if he was married.
Asrorov, who would struggle on his paltry teacher's salary to pay a traditional "bride price" to the parents of a future spouse, responded that he was single.
"I was worried and excited during my speech," Asrorov told RFE/RL on August 22. "The president asked me about my life and family. He asked if I was married. I answered 'no.' Then he instructed the district leadership to decide on my marriage. And in just days, my wedding will take place."
Rahmon also ordered district officials to pay the costs of the wedding.
That set off an immediate search by the district government, which formed a committee of matchmakers led by Dilafruz Mahmadalieva, the deputy chairwoman of the Bohtar District's Department of Ideology.
When the matchmaking committee asked Asrorov if he had a candidate for his spouse, he said he would like to marry Marjona Hudoidodova -- a recent medical-school graduate and daughter of a physical-education teacher in Zarghar.
Asrorov told the matchmakers he had seen Hudoidodova only once when she was studying at medical school in Khatlon's regional capital, Qurghon-Teppa.
He said he was immediately attracted to the 22-year-old Hudoidodova, who has never seen Asrorov.
On August 19, the matchmaking committee visited Hudoidodova's family home in the nearby village of Gulzor.
"The matchmakers communicated with my parents," Hudoidodova told RFE/RL's Tajik Service. "My parents agreed to allow me to marry the man on the condition that I am allowed to continue to work."
"I want to continue working as a nurse in a hospital," Hudoidodova said, adding that she has always dreamed of marrying a man who would not interfere with her professional career.
The bride's mother, Savlatbi Hudoidodova, told RFE/RL that many young men have come to ask for the young nurse's hand in marriage.
But she said that when previous suitors heard the condition that the young nurse must be allowed to continue working after the wedding, the men "disappeared."
The mother said Asrorov is the first suitor to agree to let her daughter continue working.
Mahmadalieva told RFE/RL that her matchmaking committee was happy to be able to offer Asrorov "a trained, educated, and worthy girl from the village of Gulzor."
"[Asrorov] is from a low-income family and his parents are retired," Mahmadalieva said. "We organized the traditional matchmaking for him and we bought gifts for the bride and her family."
"We are covering all the expenses for the wedding celebration, and we will help the girl's family, " Mahmadalieva said, referring to the Tajik tradition in which the groom's family offers a "bride price" to the parents of the woman he is about to marry.
Mahmadalieva said the district administration has given more than 16,000 somonis -- about $1,800 -- to Hudoidodova's family in order to "purchase everything necessary for the bride."
Hudoidodova told RFE/RL that she is sewing herself a "national dress" for the wedding ceremony in Qurghon-Teppa, which will be the first time she sees Asrorov.
In accordance with legislation from 2007 that the government says is aimed at discouraging extravagance, the wedding ceremony and party will last no longer than three hours and will have a maximum of 150 guests.
Although it is the first known marriage arranged by presidential order in Tajikistan, short encounters with Rahmon have been life-altering for other Tajiks.
In a country so steeped in poverty that many young Tajik men migrate to Russia to find jobs, Rahmon lords over a fiercely nepotistic system while his extended family and inner circle benefit from decades of entrenched corruption.
It is a system where a short conversation with the ruler has led to orders securing jobs at state institutions, granting admission to universities, or resolving housing issues.
Increasingly, Tajiks praise and glorify Rahmon at his public appearances in the hope that, with a casual remark to his henchmen, he will solve their personal problems.
Written by Ron Synovitz in Prague based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Orzu Karim in Zarghar, Tajikistan