Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Iranian Diaries (part 3)

On Thursday morning I woke up early! And that too all by myself! But I’d slept early and needed the rest! I was still slightly jetlagged, but was heaps better than the day before. After another breakfast of my favourite bulgha and more coffee, mum told us to get ready soon as we had to do some important shopping for the niqah. I was quite shocked that Reza and I were being involved in this, but I was comparing it to other Muslim weddings I’d seen, where the bride and groom are hardly present at all!
We got ready, while mum was busy preparing bottles of water and jars of haaq-e-Sheer (or hedge mustard). Since arriving, mum had decided I had a temperature (my body was naturally hot, though I didn’t sense any fever). Hedge mustard boiled in water and its seeds consumed is apparently the best cure for internal heating, so we took a load of that with us and bundled in to a taxi!
We were to travel to the Bazaar in Tehran, which I assumed to be a pretty standard Eastern Market (not quite!). The taxi could only take us so far: the areas leading to the bazaar are blocked off to normal traffic, and only registered drivers can operate, taking people their and back in busses, cabs and bikes! I thought this was some kind of security issue: (in reality it was because only drivers with a death wish, or a razor sharp reaction time would dare drive in that area!). I’ve travelled across Asia and the middle East, but never have I seen driving quite like it. We travelled in a broken down van which took us to the desired area of the bazaar, which was like nothing I’d ever seen before: it was utterly huge! To try and describe: well, quite a few of you here know Karachi, so if you can imagine Sadr Markets multiplied by 10, and Tariq Road, LK and Zamzama added on and multiplied by 5 respectively, then you’ve got the Tehran bazaar! Its mad, huge, fast and busy, 24/7! You can buy any thing here: clothes, carpets, books, you name it. Reza estimated it would take you at least 10 days solid to explore all of it, and he’s not wrong! We didn’t see much of it though: our task was to visit the gold and silver markets!
We started in a tiny packed jewellers shop owned by one of Baba’s friends. After they exchanged pleasantries, a wedding invitation and some tea with biscuits, they got down to the business of choosing my wedding band, (I say they did, but really we all did!). This was something else I hadn’t expected, I always thought Reza would have done this himself! Together, Reza and mum poured over trays of rings, while I sat on a ledge at the back of the shop, seriously feeling hot this time and draining jars of hedge mustard by the second! Eventually after what felt like hours, they picked out 2 rings, and asked me to choose between them. I asked Reza to pick: he would not, neither would mum, in the end, I picked the more unusual of the 2, praying that mum liked it too (she later told me it was her favourite, and I sure hope it was!). Off to a silver shop after that, where we found a silver version of the gold band I had chosen for Reza. We bought mum a silver ring too, just as a sort-of thanks for all she was doing for us. All this took us to lunch time, and we headed down a spiral staircase to a basement restaurant to eat. We had to battle through for a table: because apparently they served some of the best food in Tehran (they did!). We had a truly delicious meal of Kebab and fluffy rice with olives, and although I didn’t feel hungry when I sat down, my huge oval server was quickly cleared! After washing hands etc we headed off to another silver shop, this time to buy a mirror and 2 silver candle sticks (both integral parts of the Persian wedding traditions). The shop did not have what we wanted, so we visited another, then another, and then another!! That day I learned just how difficult shopping can be with my new family. Reza and mum in particular, can never ever decide on what to buy and take hours fretting and lost in indecision: quite the opposite to me with my rather grab-and-go attitude to frivolities! Eventually, we found what mum was after, and then baba went off to buy money stamps (again, for our wedding rituals), while Reza took our rings to be engraved with our respective names. Mum and I were tired, so we settled ourselves on the edge of a pretty fountain within the central courtyard of the bazaar. A few women joined us, enjoying the coolness coming from the water. Suddenly the jets behind us increased, and I noticed mum turn around and thank the young guard for cooling us down (I followed her gesture: wrongly!). I later learned that the young guard had been trying to move us on: mum explained we were waiting for baba and Reza: and that I was from overseas and feeling hot etc. The other woman who had joined us also explained she was simply waiting for her husband and would shortly leave: but when we did not comply with the guard, he turned up the water to try and shift us out of there. As usual, mum’s character took over and she thanked him (all be it sarcastically!), for increasing the water flow and cooling us with the spray: thankfully, the men folk returned before things became any more heated!
We went back in to the bazaar, looking for a wedding dress shop (which was apparently no longer there). We visited another gold shop, where mum bought a gold set (she didn’t show me it then though: it was for the wedding day). With our shopping over, it was time to head home. It took longer to get out of the bazaar as the afternoon was well on. Between the 2 taxis and the rush of traffic, it took well over an hour to travel a relatively short distance! We were all relieved to be back in the cool tranquillity of the apartment. We drank water, before retiring to rest: (Iran was the only country in which I both revelled, and took full advantage of, the afternoon nap routine). I woke to hear baba singing quietly as he boiled the kettle for chai: my favourite time of the day! That evening, Reza’s parents had to attend a qur’an khatam for a relative who had past away. They apologised for leaving us, but said they simply had to go: I asked Reza if perhaps we should attend, but he said it wouldn’t be appropriate (at least before the wedding). Plus, my brother-in-law was coming back that night for the wedding, and I was looking forward to meeting him! The absence of parents gave Reza and I a bit of alone time, the only time we’d get before the niqah proper. It was good to be able to share my experiences, hopes and fears and all my new joys with him, and just to unwind in the impromptu pleasure being together brought about. Mum had left us fresh bread, salad items and spiced meat, and we began preparing to eat when the door bell rang and Reza’s brother arrived home. After his 6-hour journey from the provincial city of Shahroot where he is completing his military service, my new brother was tired and drained, but happy to see me, as I was to see him. He was incredibly shy: something I’d not expected at all given the loudness of every one else! But he was friendly with it, somewhat overwhelmed by all the happenings around him. I soon became a massive fan of his: all my life, I’ve dreamed of having a brother: and now I had! Despite being in his mid-twenties, Reza’s brother fully embraced the role of ‘baby in the family! He demanded washed clothes, cooked food (of his choice), and general waiting on in every sphere of life! Normally, I totally despise such behaviour, and am always rebuking my friends for doing it to their brothers, but for some reason, it just made me smile in Reza’s brother. Although he was shy of me, and didn’t talk much because he supposed his English to be bad, he soon warmed to me when he learned that I’d fight his corner, defend him even if he was wrong, and most importantly, slip him cash when he wanted to go out! Maybe it was wrong of me, but if you can’t spoil a younger brother then when can you!
I woke up on Friday morning to hear children yelling and sounds of merry-making coming from the living room! Bleary eyed, I threw on my roopoosh and scarf, before heading out of the bedroom to investigate! “what is going on?”, I asked sleepily.
“nothing!”, Reza retorted sarcastically “just Baba’s second childhood!”. Here, I was witnessing a new Friday morning ritual, which exists for me to this day! I.e., watching Fitileh! Roughly translated, Fitileh (or candlewick), is an old school stage-show children’s programme, comprising music, stories, theatre and general hilarity! I fell in love! Any one who knows me well knows that, despite my eccentricities, I’m a massive kid at heart! The show reminded me of how children’s programmes used to be, before all that American invasion and special affects. I was hooked; and already making mental notes to take my nieces to see it live next time I visited. (clip below).
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Fitileh was also a fantastic learning tool; even if you attend language classes, use books etc, there really is no substitute for TV shows in the learning process, and kids shows are the best by far, the sentences are short, the language is simple! If after watching this you are similarly inclined, (which I very much doubt!), you can visit and watch it on jaam jam1 on Friday mornings between 9 and 1, Iranian time. After breakfast, and way too much TV, mum asked me to try on my wedding dress and show her. I hadn’t really wanted to do this as the idea was for it to be a surprise! But she insisted, and I guess it wasn’t a surprise really since almost every one at home had been involved in choosing the design! I wasn’t quite prepared for mum’s reaction though; she didn’t like it, I could tell! Not that she disliked the dress per-say, but there were problems with the fitting; I knew that! In truth, I’d not had time to put them right! Getting this dress had been a jihad in its self! No where in Scotland could I find a white wedding dress that complied with hijaab, Reza said the situation in Iran was even worse as apparently many women, even if they observe hijaab will not do so on their wedding day, (which just feels like an odd contradiction in terms!). Any way, we trolled the internet, and found a dress design we all liked. We then found a company who were willing to make it, custom made at a reasonable price! The only problem was, this company was in Portugal, and they took way longer making the dress than I’d anticipated! It was nice, but very heavy (mum thought it was too hot for Tehran), and was extremely loose at the back, (which I thought could be pinned, or just hidden by my vale!). The vale was a problem too; it was fitted at the top (a bit too fitted for my larger than large head!), so that it didn’t cover my ears and much of my neck, thus not really fulfilling proper hijaab. I had sort-of been aware of these things, but had chosen to ignore them, (in the interests of time, I’d not really had any other option but to ignore them!), but now, standing in front of mum, I realised it wasn’t suitable at all! Neighbours were called, women poured in to our apartment from every direction examining me, poking me, pooling me around and around and stretching me and the dress in to all kinds of uncomfortable contortions! I wanted to cry, but could not! Eventually, I went to change, had a quick cry in the bathroom amidst a heated discussion outside, …, what would I do? Was all this really a good idea? I wanted to go home, I wanted my mum, and was frighteningly aware that I was on my own here, and on that most life changing of days, not one person I knew would be by my side.

Friday afternoon was spent with my sister-in-law, she invited us all for lunch, as family were starting to arrive for the big day. The lunch was attended by all of our crew, along with my sister’s neighbour (and best friend) and her family, along with Reza’s uncle, my sister’s father-in-law (hope you are keeping up with this), and her own sister-in-law and her family: the house was packed! My sister’s house was a constant source of noise and chaos, which I loved for the most part, but at times over the month to come I’d often wish it would stop: reading namaz for example, is a battle in their house; there is no free space, and if you find some, you need to be careful of unexpected children and elders bursting in and knocking you over with the door! We all enjoyed a delicious lunch of khimeh (meat with potato chips in a sort-of stew over rice). I didn’t have much to say, partly because the dress experience had left me spent, but mainly because I was enjoying just soaking up the atmosphere, the sense of family being together, which up till now, I had only experienced at a distance, through friends, but now, it was mine, I was part of this family, and could hardly believe that Allah (SWT) had granted me this honour I had prayed for all my life!
The eating and talking went on till the early evening and I felt odd and bloated. I asked Reza if it was possible to go for a walk some place, mum and baba didn’t feel like it, so they dropped us both off at a park within walking distance of the house. The park was beautiful, filled with exotic sweet-smelling flowers, tall shaded trees and hidden paths to walk along. It was busy for a Friday evening, lots of families and groups of friends out for a walk. Some were lounged casually on the grass under the trees, others were practising marshal arts, and others were exercising on the out-door equipment you find in almost all Iranian parks, an idea I was fascinated by! If we used our parks like this at home, maybe we wouldn’t have so many people with weight problems! (though we probably don’t get the weather for it!). After walking for around 40 minutes, we sat on a bench and watched the world go by. I confessed to Reza that I was not feeling well; my stomach was starting to ache and I’d been rushing to the bathroom all day! He confessed to being the same way, and we both laughed. We started dissecting last night’s dinner, claiming it was to blame, before we both decided that we were frightfully nervous about the wedding (well, I confessed to that part; Reza wouldn’t have it!). As we sat there surrounded by jasmine flowers, the magrib adhan began to sound from a distant masjid. The last adhan of my single life; the sun was setting today on my previous life; and whatever was to come, would be clouded in the sacred tranquillity of togetherness, and would, Insha Allah, make even the hardest tests in life, so much easier, and so incredibly beautiful.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Awakening time

Men weep for you today in many lands
and on their breasts in bitter anguish beat
and in sad, mournful tunes the tales repeat
of how you lost your life upon the sands
You nobly spurned the tyrant’s base demands
And chose death to prevent your soul’s defeat
Became a martyr with unflinching feet
For these well may one weep who understands.

This sorrow at your death, despite the years
Is still as fresh, which time as failed to quell.
In every heart this day new pain appears
And of your sufferings men each other tell.
They see a vision through slow-falling tears
Of that lone battle where athirst you fell.

It is nearly that time again, the time when life, time, circumstances, all become irrelevant, when we leave the frivolities, the chaos and the material behind, preferring pain, tears, sorrow and grief over all else. A time to reflect, switch off, recharge, drown in darkness so intense it threatens to end all life, yet darkness, in an Islamic context is always followed by light; and reflecting on the light of Imam Hussain (A.S), brings more insight, more tranquillity, more opportunities to aspire to perfection and elevate the soul, than we can ever imagine.
This year, a group of us have decided to prepare a muherram blog, just as we did for Ramadhan. The link to the blog can be found on my reading list, or you can connect with it by clicking
As I am one of the named contributors to this blog, my muherram posts, comments, reflections etc shall be posted over there for the most part (in case any one thinks I’ve neglected my duties!). Do check out the new blog as it grows; and if you want to contribute material of your own, drop me a line!
May Allah (SWT) accept all of your worship during the forthcoming months of sorrow. May you emerge from these months recharged, with a deeper sense of iman, and a renewed connection to Allah (SWT), Insha Allah.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

unplugged Mistakes

I had lunch today with a well-known disability activist and a former colleague: it felt good, really good! (note the use of the word former). Since losing my tribunal last year, I am fast falling in to the trap of discussing ‘people I used to know, colleagues I once worked with: when I had a life, and stuff like that! I used to think it was ego that made me hurt about all of this, but now that I’ve had 12 months in which to do nothing but analyse it, I now believe it has more to do with the isolation, marginalisation, the reality that I am misunderstood, that hurts the most! Now that I am unemployed, I stop being a human, a woman, a useful member of society: instead, I am a parasite, a scrounger, one who lives on benefit, one of the ‘disabled, who are a drain on resources. Then, if they want to take it up a gear: I become a Muslim, a terrorist, a weird white woman who wares a head scarf and so on. This stuff is nothing new to any of us though, and I could actually handle all of it, were it not for the changes that came about among people who were once friends. People I trusted, relied on, may not have been close to on a personal level, but at least could share the time of day with and could work highly affectively with professionally! I thought that the dust would settle: I mean, who really cares about my pathetic sacking when there is a recession to worry about? But its continued, intensified and all the awkward silences, the ignored Emails and the pretending not to see me in the street are all becoming too much! When I had lunch today with said activist, I didn’t quite know how to put it, so instead, let it all pour out!
“why are people avoiding me? What the F*** did I do? They might not agree with my decision, but is all this closed ranks stuff really necessary? Was I that bad a friend? Or was I that crap at my job?”.
He just smiled sympathetically:
“Roshni, you’ve got it all wrong!” he said, “its not that they hate you, they feel ashamed! They avoid you because they don’t know what to say! Its easier to blank it all than have to face the fact they failed you, so they look the other way!”.
“that’s crap!!”, I retorted!
“well, …, that’s what they tell me! And I wouldn’t lie to you Roshni!”.
This whole altercation struck me as so odd! For a few seconds, it soothed me: so, I hadn’t lost my mind! I wasn’t in the wrong all of the time! They were embarrassed! I get it! but then, …, no! I don’t get it! the whole thing felt like an excuse for an explanation, and it wasn’t enough for me! I was angry! Why should I be made to feel like the problem! Why should I be the victim of some one else’s insecurities about their own behaviour! The whole thing felt curiously reminiscent of the aftermath following my first marriage, and I won’t go here again I thought!
It’s the evening now, and I’ve had time to cool down. How many of us have screwed up, handled things badly and wished we hadn’t, said things we can’t take back etc. Truthfully, I’m not looking for retribution, its too late for them to make their behaviour right, all I want is for them to acknowledge me, not treat me like some kind of leper! If they really feel that bad, why not just approach me and say: “Listen Rosh, we really made a balls-up of your case, and we feel crap about it and we’re sorry for screwing up your career!”, believe it or not, that would actually put every thing right for me! I don’t do grand gestures, I’m a straight down the line kinda person! I am not complicated and not demanding! Honestly! Any one who knows me will tell you! In my life, I’ve messed up too, but part of growing up is surely about taking responsibility! I might have blanked people in my teenage years, but I certainly don’t do it now! Even if I were to meet my X-husband in the street (and Insha Allah I never will!), but I’d be civil, say salaam and walk on! I wouldn’t do the ‘ignoring routine! What is wrong with the world! Is the blanking just a consequence of all the desensitisation we see all around us? Or is it something deeper: where every connection is superficial, where every one has an agenda and where you really can’t trust any one? My vague optimism doesn’t permit me to go there, though I’m terrified it may be true; when I was a journalist, I had quite a cut-throat attitude to people and connections! If some one wasn’t a name in my contacts book, they were clearly an arch enemy! But when I entered the voluntary sector, things became much more grey than the black/white I was used to! The disability movement made this reality even more stark: the entire philosophy of disability equality often hangs between one smoke screen and another, because disabled people remain the forgotten minority, misunderstood by others, and often, not understanding their own condition because of the inability on the part of society to teach them their heritage/history! This is where I have the problem though: why would a misunderstood community purposely marginalize an individual who is supposedly from among them? …, my quandary continues!
I started this post not really knowing how I would finish it! my Grandfather, before he past away once told me, that the older you get, the less you understand life! I’m not sure how true that is: I like to think that through my travels, my happiness and sorrow/life experience, and in particular, finding Islam, I’ve come to understand life, its purpose and the goals I aspire to within it, but one thing is certainly true: the older I get, the less I understand the duality of the human psyche: the less I understand, the more fascinating I find it: and the more fascinated I become, the more disenfranchised I grow in return: perhaps psychology will always remain a mystery!

Eid Al-Adha Mubarak dear readers!

Well! …., better late than never eh?
Just a quick note to wish all those who take time out to visit/read or follow this blog, ‘eid mubarak. I pray you and your families have had a blessed day, whenever and however you have celebrated, and that the remaining days of eid are sources of joy and rest for each one of you.
I want to also thank those of you who have sent me eid wishes, Emails and generally enquired about me, and about mine and Reza’s situation. Believe me, you might not think these things mean much, but they really truly do: the reassurance that people care, they are concerned and they are praying for us is an immense source of comfort all the time. I appreciate the fact that you stick with this blog, even when there is nothing enlightening to say at my end! And I’m honoured to have a few new followers over the past couple of months, especially Lucky Fatima who is such an established and prolific blogger herself: thank you all, from the bottom of my heart!

Before I sign off, 2 virtual eid inspirations for you: firstly, the dua of Imam Sajjad (A.S) for the day of eid,
This is beautiful and I recommend you read it, even if you just run through the translation, I can guarantee the peace you will feel transcends words.
Also, the BBC World Service released a programme yesterday which I assisted in making. Hajj on wheels, explores the experiences of disabled people who have successfully performed the hajj, its really beautiful and is sure to motivate/inspire.
To listen, visit and search for ‘hajj on wheels, its under the heart and soul category.

Once again, eid mubarak to you all: enjoy and be sure to eat some extra barfi for me (better still, just bring some over!).

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Iranian Diaries (part 2)

The first person to meet me was Reza’s father, (who I will call Baba from here on), he blessed me and kissed the top of my head, welcoming me to Iran, and to his family. Baba was exactly as I imagined him to be. He was the only member of the family I had spoken to on the telephone as he knew fluent English. To me, he was just an older version of my Reza, yet with all the love and patience and infinite kindnesses that grow when you’ve been a father for more than 35 years!
My new mother was next, Reza’s mum embraced me for a long, very long time, neither of us could communicate, yet we seemed to be connecting on a level that transcended all language. Mum would speak to me in Farsi all the time after that, whether I understood her or not, and the beautiful thing was, even if I couldn’t respond, and even if I understood no one else at home, mum always made sure I did, and I miss her so very much for this. Last, but by no means least, was my sister-in-law. From the moment I met her, I was captivated by her: she was so fascinating to me, and I thought: if I’d had a sister, she would either be like this, or else I’d desire her to be so. My sister-in-law (who soon became my sister in fact), had a perpetual smile on her face which would make any one warm to her. It wasn’t her smile that drew me though: she was loud, curious and incredibly precocious which I adored! She wanted to express every thing and be understood, all at the same time! She loved joking, learning, talking, creating the heart and soul of any gathering. She was loving with it though, sensitive, fragile and immensely caring: she was a Virgo like me, and though language and culture separated us, we had so much in common that it blew me away! Once introductions were made, we moved out of the airport terminal towards our car. A light cool breeze blew through the desert landscape that surrounds the airport, making me think Iran was much cooler, temperature wise, than I’d been given to understand (how wrong I was!). Once on the road, I found my eyes drifting shut: road travel and a gentle air conditioner reminded me I’d not slept for at least 3 days! But yet I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to talk, learn and connect with every one. Mum and sis bombarded me with questions re-laid through Reza about my journey etc, while baba began to describe the landscape beyond the car: the road leading to Qom, the shrine to Khomaini, the trees, and so on. I was so deeply moved by the fact that he instinctively knew to do this: no one had told/requested him to do so: this incredible personality was indeed my father, and how blessed I was to be one of his children. As we entered central Tehran, the morning traffic began to spill in to the narrow roads unceasingly. Was this the Tehran I had entered only 30 minutes before? Now I believed the stats I had read proclaiming Tehran to be a city of no less than 50 million inhabitants and rising. When we entered the famous underpass connecting South to North Tehran, I began to panic that we’d be trapped in a jam there, fighting for oxygen against choking petrol and exhaust fumes, but mashallah we were quickly out of there. The highway lead to a wide, leafy suburban passage, which marked the start of Northern Tehran where our family home was. The outskirt area was cool and a great deal more tranquil than the down town areas we had just past through. Bordering as it did on the mountains beyond Tehran, the air was fresh, and housing complexes gave way to beautiful green spaces, tall trees, parks and small hidden avenues: I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect place to reside! We dropped my sister off at her house, promising to meet later, before travelling a further 5 minutes on to our own home. Baba went off to park the car, while mum, Reza and I headed inside. A metal door cut in to a dirty brick wall, which lead to a drab, standard looking compound yard. Beyond the yard though, I had to catch my breath: the tall complex walls gave way to a flourishing Persian garden, filled with herbs, saplings and fragrant tropical flowers. Bird song filled the air, and the fresh morning due combined with the scent of musk, vegetables and gently brazing meat from the apartments above our heads: none of this felt strange to me somehow, the unbelievable pool, the sense of having come home was so great, so completing and so peaceful, I truly wanted for nothing else in those moments. A small elevator took us to the second floor, Where Reza’s family home was: a few neighbours greeted us on route, curiosity obvious in their awkward, questioning smiles. Mum opened the door and Reza followed her inside, telling me to wait there. My standing on the threshold of my new home, new life reminded me of the nazr utarna rituals in Hindi films and brought a cheeky smile to my lips. They returned a few moments later with a silver tray containing the qur’an, some auspicious herbs, and a burning pot of sfand: a blessed seed, the origins of which date back to the time of the Ahlulbayt (A.S), who used it to ward off evil, and as protection from nazr/black magic and the evil eye. They circled me with the burning pot, and placed the qur’an over my head as I walked confidently towards Reza, in to my new home. The apartment was large and airy by Iranian Standards. I would soon learn just how small most Iranian houses are, (space restrictions I assume). The apartment was built around a large communal living hall dominated by 4 pillars. 2 of the pillars flanked the kitchen, while the other 2 hid the rest of the living quarters at the back. Behind the first pillar was the entrance door and an eastern style wash room, while the other hid the bedrooms, and a western style bathroom. The other 2 flanked a large, low-level breakfast bar which divides the living area from the medium sized kitchen. The back wall contains a large bank of East facing windows, letting in the best of the morning sun, lighting mum’s face as she cooks. I washed my hands, face and feet, freshening up before rejoining the family. Reza’s mum placed a silver chain around my neck, and a matching ring on my finger, (engagement gifts from my in-laws I was later told). Both the ring and the chain contained an exquisite green stone, which I learned originated from the mountains surrounding Tehran. Mum made tea, while Baba reappeared with my suitcase and began preparing breakfast. To my delight, Reza had brought ‘bulgha bread from Azerbaijan (a breakfast special I’d fallen in love with when I visited him earlier on in the year). Bulgha are round bread rolls topped with black seeds and filled with more black seed paste and assorted herbs. I ate my fill and drank my customary 2 cups of strong morning coffee (I was so touched they had gone to the trouble of buying Nescafe for me, especially as no one else drinks it!).
As all of us had been awake all night, we soon retired to sleep. As my younger brother-in-law was still engaged in his compulsory military service, and therefore away most of the time, I was settled in his room, the largest in the house: the room was minimalist, with fitted clothes cupboards, a bed and a computer on a desktop. Beyond the bed was a heavy glass door, which lead on to a pretty balcony overlooking the front compound garden, and flanked by potted plants which mum tended lovingly, and which the neighbourhood cats enjoyed knocking over in the depths of the night when they wouldn’t incur family wrath! I changed, read 2 nafl for my arrival, and opened the glass door, hiding the inner view with the thin layers of drapes that hung at its opening. Mum spread the bed with a crisp, Arab cotton sheet, and covered me with a green coverlet she had brought from Hajj, whispering peaceful Persian words and telling me to sleep. My curiosity didn’t let me sleep easily, but eventually, the beauty and peace of my new surroundings brought my lashes together, and I fell asleep with baba’s words, and my new sister’s smile foremost in my mind.
I dozed more than I slept in fairness, waking constantly, and infrequently forgetting exactly where I was! Finally, I sat up in bed, officially awake as it were, around 1 PM. By this time, the time difference was getting to me, I was more tired than when I’d gone to bed, and the stiffness incurred by the long flight made me feel feverish, and somehow as though I’d been run over by a bus! I freshened myself, and put a black roopoosh over my pajamas, before joining the family for lunch! I learned that every one had slept, and slept well, so I faked the same in order to be polite! I also learned that my sister had called, saying she missed me already! I don’t think I ever regretted my non-existent Persian more than when Reza’s sister was around! I drank water, and found to my ecstasy, that mum had cooked one of my most favourite Persian dishes of Fesan jaan! For those not familiar, fesan jaan is a Persian stew, combining chicken, walnuts and a delicate pomegranate sauce, served over fluffy Iranian rice and potatoes tadeeq (or burnt potatoes). I was in my element! And ate 2 heavy plates of food without embarrassment nor apology, much to mum’s delight! I read namaz and took a shower. While bathing, mum had raided my suitcase and decided that my long simple abayas were not at all appropriate for the raging temperatures in Tehran, she wanted to know if I had any thing else? I felt awkward and embarrassed, but moments later she returned with 2 curtas which could be worn over trousers: a beautiful pastel coloured one, and a green one she had brought from hajj (thankfully, both fitted perfectly). These curtas seem to be the staple dress among Iranian women, they are knee length, mostly made from Soft cotton, and rather more casual in design than most Indian/Pakistani curtas, they are comfortable all the same though and complement hijaab well. After a cup of fragrant Iranian tea, Reza reminded me of what I’d been trying to forget: we had a dental appointment! The purpose of this apparently was to have our teeth whitened before the wedding, so that we didn’t display brown rotting specimens in our wedding photos (in time, you’ll come to know just how image obsessed some Iranians can be!). The dentist surgery was located around 10 minutes away from our home, in a downtown apartment block, reminding me of the eighties conversions back home: new offices, that just cannot hide their former residential status! The dentist herself was a middle aged, rather stern woman (though not entirely unfriendly). Reza had gone through his torture, so it was my turn: as she prodded my mouth in to impossible cavernous contortions, she began the 200 questions we both became used to: “where is she from? How did you meet? When are you to marry? Where will you live? Has she always been blind?”, etc. Reza took it all in good faith, and somehow, I didn’t find the questions as invasive as I did while in Pakistan (I later put this down to the fact that I didn’t understand every thing, and my lack of Farsi meant I wasn’t the one having to do the answering!). The dentist bleakly informed me I had the beginnings of gum disease. She cleaned my teeth violently with some kind of prehistoric machine: only 20 minutes of torture, that was all it took to leave my face aching and swollen, with blood dripping from my bottom teeth! “welcome to Iran Rosha!”, I thought as I cleaned the mess from my lips with a cup of cold water. I was told my teeth could not be whitened owing to the infection and the heeling time required, but at least they were clean. She sent me away with a putrid mouth washing solution, and a new rigorous set of cleaning instructions, and after purchasing said items, we rejoined baba in the car. He asked me various questions about how it had gone, and I replied through my swollen aching lips, I wanted nothing more than to go home and feel sorry for myself, but after my clothes being declared unfit for purpose earlier in the day, it was decided we would go shopping. Reza and I were dropped at a small suburban shopping mall in Northern Tehran, where my sister and her 2 daughters awaited us. It was the first time I had met my new nieces, and I prayed they accepted me! The eldest (aged 12), greeted me sweetly but formally, while the youngest (aged 5) was too irresistible to me! I swept her up in my arms, showering affections on her cuteness! She didn’t seemed too fazed by things though, and looking back, once they had got over the shock of me, my eyes and my lack of Farsi, they were pretty much settled with me by day 2 itself!
Shopping in Tehran wasn’t really an enjoyable experience! Clothes were all odd sizes, and the shops were tiny and claustrophobic! With great difficulty, we salvaged 2 curtas that fitted me, but couldn’t find any of the al-Amira hijaabs I prefer: not at all what I imagined! Shoe shopping however, is a wonder! Shoes are well made, reasonably priced and the most comfortable I’ve ever worn! Trust me: if you know some one who is going, ask them to bring you shoes! That day, I picked up a smart, yet casual green pair, suitable to be worn on the day of our niqah. We bought the girls icecream (which I avoided after the dental torture), and were heading back to the car, when my sister called “Roshni jaan? Do you want to buy underwear?”, my inner prude was horrified!! She wanted me to buy underwear? In front of my soon-to-be husband and her daughters? No!! I couldn’t!! I politely declined at least 3 requests from her, but she went on regardless, leaving a rather stunned Rosha standing outside with the kids, and a hysterical Reza looking on. In the end, she bought underwear any how, but then proceeded to display it to me in the mall, in full view of the passers by! I’m not normally conservative (at least not to that degree any way), but perhaps I had very different ideas about the Islamic Republic, and how it would be!
We all retired to my parents house, where my sister’s husband was waiting to meet us too. He too became a brother to treasure: an amazingly intelligent man, fluent in 3 languages and one of the senior most figures in his career. He adored films, the arts and debating, and so he and I always had a wealth to talk about, and still do. I freshened up then, and after showing off my purchases to mum (who thankfully approved), I began to distribute the gifts I had brought for the family: they were not much (my out-of-work state didn’t allow for any thing elaborate), and Reza had rebuked me for bringing any thing at all! But I brought make-up and scarves/bags for the women, toys for the kids and aftershave/wallets for the men. Every one seemed so overwhelmed I initially thought they were faking it: after all, back home these would have been pretty average small gifts! But I later learned that they had been genuinely embarrassed and hadn’t expected me to do any thing at all! Small kindnesses go a long way in Iran, and never ever go unappreciated, something I came to treasure during my time there.
Mum spread a wax cloth on the floor, and we all sat down to a light dinner, of something mum called ‘curry! It consisted of potatoes, herbs and some grain (no spices though as mum can’t tolerate even a hint of curry powder). The whole thing was odd, but homely: sitting around on the floor with all my family round me just felt so right, it was all I had ever dreamed of, and in those moments, all of my childhood wishes and agony all felt worth it, jus for these moments alone, mashallah. We prayed together, and then enjoyed tea, with a rich fluffy sponge cake my sister had made (I marvelled at how she intuitively knew I just love this type of dry, uniced cake without any one telling her!). The family soon left, and this time, sleep was well and truly upon me. Mum told me to rest, and I needed no persuading! My head hit the pillow, and I later learned I did not stir, not when mum checked on me, and not even when attempts were made to wake me for fajr: I was out of it: 9 hours solid sleep, and one of the most restful, complete dreamless sleeps I’ve ever had, restoring me to start another day.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Iranian Diaries: (part 1)

Given that I’ve not been blogging much, and that life is still pretty horrendous right now and not really worth writing about, I thought I’d get myself around to doing what I should have done way back in July: and that is, start writing up my Persian adventure! I don’t know how long it will take me to finish it, but I have to start somewhere and I want to feel I’ve started before 2010 is out! So here goes: come and attend my big, beautiful Persian Wedding!

It’s the 14th June 2010, and I don’t want to go. Seriously, I don’t want to go to Iran. I’m nervous, terrified in fact. My head hurts, and I’ve not slept for days! I don’t want to go! But why not? And where has this come from? I love Reza, I want to be with him alright, but weddings? Me and weddings don’t go together! I don’t feel ready, its not the right time! What if I get ill, what if I let him down, what if his family don’t like me, what if there is a visa problem and they send me back? What if my parents kick off: I’m so tired of thinking that I can’t sleep, can’t switch off and …, I don’t want to go! By the afternoon of the 14th, most of my packing is done, and on completing my salat, I fall down in prostration and dua for an undefined time. I don’t say much, but I remember just begging Allah (SWT) to help me. If this marriage is meant: let it happen, give me peace about it, and let it last: but if it is not meant to be, keep me in this cage, this familiar space of no where and things and dead ends that is better than the fear of the unknown, most of the time.
I reply to Emails, listen to the radio and tidy the house a bit. I eat a light dinner, and then Masooma comes over and we go to the supermarket to buy chocolate and finally take the pictures needed for our niqah documentation (the last official task on my to-do list!). I buy more migraine treatment, still terrified about how I’ll keep well and hide my chronic pain from my new in-laws should it appear!
I reach home, where Rizwana is waiting for me. She gives me a beautiful burnt orange salwar suit, and wishes me all the best, and then, I’m all alone, my last night before the big one! I’m so exhausted that I crash without question, rising around 7, to begin the rest of my life!

It’s the 15th June, I’m still terrified, but the familiar pleasure of travel adrenaline is beginning to set in. I listen to radio four’s, ‘a History of the world, thinking of how many out of the 100 objects I’ll miss when I’m gone: if only I could take radio 4 with me (I know that’s sad). I make last minute calls, pray 2 nafl for my journey, and by mid-day, I’m out of the house!
My flight to London runs smoothly and is perfectly on time! My only hold-ups caused by airport staff who are desperate to peak at my wedding dress!
At Heathrow, the assistance I booked shows up right on time for a change! Not that I’ve far to go and an issue with time! When I reach the waiting area though, I realise just how much time I’ve got: my flight has been delayed for 5 hours! Great! I call Reza and tell him: the only saving grace being that he and the family will get a better sleep! The assistance staff help me buy coffee and something to eat (I suddenly realise I’ve not really eaten all day!). In the waiting area the staff are friendly, all chat away to me and are fascinated by my Persian adventure! The Pakistani guys love my Urdu and the Somalis want to induct me in to their community as well: coolness! On the other side of the waiting room, I spot my first Iranian, she is an older woman: a wheelchair user. She seems funny and friendly, though is behaving oddly, at first I assume she’s just tired from way too much travelling, but as I observe further, it soon becomes apparent she is totally inebriated!! Her behaviour madly fluctuates between aggression to laughter and uncontrollable grief, and I pity the staff who are trying to deal with her. She curses me for my hijaab, and I quietly relay the story to Reza who is totally disgusted! We are delayed for yet another hour, and I don’t think we’ll ever go!! But we are moving to the gate now, and that’s a good sign! A group of 3 women are seated next to me, one of them is talking on the phone, clearly distressed, and soon crumples in to floods of shattering sobs. The other 2 women cradle her, trying to settle her. My broken Farsi leads me to understand that her mother has died, back in Iran, and she is travelling back for the funeral. My heart honestly breaks for this poor woman, I wish I knew enough Farsi to tell her how sorry I am, how I want to read qur’an for her mother, but I don’t have the language, and I’m possibly too overwhelmed to speak any way: how one person’s journey of a lifetime can be another’s hell on earth, is a reflection I never can forget! Finally, I’m on the plane, sitting by the window, and blocked in by 2 heavy set Iranian men! I don’t like this location, or the fact that the 2 men also appear to have downed a good amount of the black stuff, but hey! I’m finally on my way! I pray with all my heart as we leave the ground, and enjoy the liberating feelings of letting go, being free, being on my way! The British Midland staff were fantastic: helpful, talkative. I eat dinner, watch BBC world news and listen to some qur’an, between 2/3 short naps. The flight time passes much quicker than I expect! And now: we are here! Finally here, and my heart can’t really take it in. Contrary to what I expected in Iran, the assistance that showed up was wonderful! 3 of us needed assistance, and I was entrusted to a young Iranian Christian man named David. Despite the fact that I told him my Persian was terrible, he insisted on engaging with me in Farsi, but seemed happy enough that I understood the just of what he said, even though I answered back in English! We left the buss which delivered us to the main airport terminal, and rushed through customs via a VIP queue, where my passport was stamped, no questions asked! Mashallah! And all those months I spent fretting over letters and embassies and potential pitfalls, what did I know! We took a lift to baggage reclaim, and as we exited, I was shocked to find Reza waiting for me! I hugged him for a long moment, kissing his neck and drinking in his scent, before remembering I was standing, fully covered, with my not-yet-husband, in the Islamic Republic! Reza brushed it off though, and filled my arms with a beautiful fragrant arrangement of Mariam flowers! I was home, I had arrived: I was here! We stood in the gleaming airport terminal, quiet now in the hour before fajar prayer, despite my fast exit, my bags seemed to be the last to come out! After what seemed like an eternity, Reza was pushing my too-heavy bag, while I branded my dress in 1 hand, and my flowers in another. I gestured wildly in the direction of the glass windows, beyond which stood my parents-in-law, sister-in-law and her 2 beautiful daughters. I took a deep breath as we stepped off the escalator: this was it!
(read the rest in part 2)