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.


  1. MashaAllah. Your family sounds so beautiful. Hope to reading Part 3 soon inshaAllah. =]

  2. Salaam, thanks for all your lovely comments and welcome to my blog! Lovely to have you here with us and keep commenting Insha Allah!


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