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.


  1. So amazing... Can't wait for the next part! Your mother in law's sarcastic comment made me laugh out loud!

  2. I lol'ed at your MIL's comment. So cute, mashaAllah. Oh also, you have beautiful writing. MashaAllah.


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