If GI trouble was finally going to hit us, it might as well have been on the cold, cold high desert road back from Esfehan, where the only facilities available are squat toilets behind roadside restaurants which are just this side of clean, definitely don’t have toilet paper and probably only have freezing cold water from the bidet with which to wash. At least we have a big bottle of Oregon Grape Root and good attitudes.
When telling people that I would be traveling to Iran, people often questioned or commented on how safe (or not) it might be. I don’t exactly know what their fears were, but I am finding Iran to be very safe. Early in the morning or late at night, a person can walk by herself with no fear of violent crime. Theft is rare. I’ve never seen a locked bike.
There is one thing I worry about. The most dangerous thing we do in Iran everyday is travel by car or walk on the sidewalk. My dad has described what driving is like many times before, but until you experience the nail-biting thrill of being on the Iranian roads, you really can’t understand. For example, the way to make a left turn is to pull in front of the incessant flow of oncoming traffic slowly until a car is forced to stop for you. To cross the street, you say a prayer, close your eyes, and step in front of oncoming traffic, trusting they will slow down (not stop. They don’t know how to do that). I always cross the street with an Iranian and make sure they are on the side closest to the approaching vehicles. The lines on the road indicate neither direction of travel nor where you ought to position your car. No, really. Cars drive the wrong way on one way streets and a road with three lanes always has four rows on traffic. You are marveling that you could reach out and touch the head of the child leaning out the window of the car next to you (car seat? How would they attach it? The seatbelts have never been dug out from under the back seat) when a scooter goes by between the two cars. On the scooter is a man and his wife, who is holding their sleeping, swaddled infant on her shoulder. Folks make UTURNS FROM THE RIGHT HAND LANE ON A RED LIGHT. I’ve seen it more than once. City busses run red lights.
Twice now Norah has dashed from me. I’ve never been more scared for her life and safety than in those moments. The first time I caught her just before she made it to the alley. The second, she escaped out a hotel revolving door and was one turn of the door ahead of me. Thankfully, the security guards outside the hotel and every man standing outside ran to block her from the street.
Another time, she climbed out of the car and onto the sidewalk. While I turned to close the door, she was almost taken out by two motorcycles ON THE SIDEWALK. They swerved and she jumped back just in time.
Another beautiful shrine to a poet, surrounded by acres of manicured garden.
Discouraged about no Internet and still exhausted, I haven’t taken the time to write anything in a few days.
On Thursday, Elly bought a box of raisin cookies (they were one of my favorites as a kid) and we headed to the nearby Imamzadeh-ye Ali Ebn-e Hamze, a beautiful shrine which also happens to be where my grandfather is buried. The old ladies at the entrance gave us chadors to borrow and we entered the courtyard paved with gravestones. Elly showed us our grandfather’s headstone and passed out the cookies to others in the courtyard (the first I’d heard of that tradition). Norah took one bite of her cookie (her first taste) and said, ‘THIS is the right kind of cookie!’
At the end of the courtyard, we removed our shoes and entered the portico of the shrine. I don’t know what I expected I would see when we pulled back the heavy curtain to enter the shrine, but I can tell you that I was dazzled by what I did see. Mosaic mirrorwork covers the entire ceiling, beautiful carpets on the floor, praying ladies in between. Elly told me that my grandmother loves to spend time there. I understood why.
Norah was also impressed, but I worried that we would offend the praying women with our chatting and her play. No need to worry at all. I certainly felt a bit out of place, but never felt our presence was unwelcome.
Friday morning, we had another new experience. My father’s uncle’s wife’s brother (you follow?) passed away recently, and the 40 day ceremony was held at an uptown mosque. We entered the ladies’ side of the mosque, removed our shoes, and sat with the rest of the women along the edges of the room. We were late (ask me about Iranian traffic), so the ladies (and men, whom we could hear but not see on the other side of the wall) were already singing, patting their chests, and, in many cases, crying. We were served refreshments and brought tissues. Again, I worried that Norah would be overwhelmed by the experience, but she happily dug into her snack of halva and banana and never asked me a question. I, on the other hand, got totally swept up and ended up in tears watching the deceased man’s daughter and wife mourn. What a beautiful way to support grieving relatives through the process.
After the ceremony, we greeted the mourners, met some more family and then went outside to join the men.
Eram garden, first bazaar, experience first kabob, Elly’s delicious kotlet for dinner, and Norah’s first full night of sleep (of course, the night she sleeps, I wake at 4).
Most interesting thing I learned today was at the bazaar. Textiles, food, handicrafts are all fairly inexpensive in dollars. Plastic, on the other hand, is incredibly expensive, relatively speaking, and lower quality. No wonder we take our own containers to get take-out breakfast soups. I wish that American plastic prices reflected the real cost.
I needed rest today more than anything. We managed a visit from family and a playground.
Is this only the end of our second day here? I think it must be Monday, November 10th.
Today was mostly about jet lag. Norah fell asleep at about 4pm yesterday. Nothing in the world could wake her (believe me, I tried). I followed her to bed around 6:30, happy that I had at least made it until dark. She woke around 9pm, hungry, ready to start the day and ‘impressed’, she said, to see that it wasn’t day. I could not get her to lay down for a moment until 1:30 am. At 5:30 am, she was ready to go again.
This afternoon, Norah and I walked a couple of miles to the tomb of Hafez, the most beloved of the beloved persian poets, with our guide, Elly. There is only one rule of the road here: watch out for yourself! No crosswalks, very few traffic signals (it is mostly traffic circles) and nobody stops for anybody. You are basically crossing a 4 lane highway every time you cross a major street. Thankfully, we only had to do that two or three times on our way to see Hafez.
The price of entry was 2000 tomans each (less than $1), except that the guy made me show my birth certificate proving that my dad is Iranian or I would be charged 15,000 tomans. I do not pass for Iranian, not to anybody, not for one minute, which means lots of being stared at in the street, price differentials, and lots of random people wanting to know my life story. It doesn’t help that my hejab is almost always falling off and I am constantly either adjusting my scarf or unaware that it has totally fallen down.
Norah is like a Hollywood starlet everywhere she goes. Her photo has been snapped by Iranians and European tourists alike. Lots of selfies are being taken with my child amidst declarations of adoration for her and blessings. Elly realized that you almost never see foreign children here, and most folks are so attracted even to foreign adults. People literally cannot tear themselves away from Norah. They grouped around us most of the time we were at the tomb of Hafez. Old ladies would restrain themselves for a few minutes until they couldn’t resist and would just have to touch her hair or kiss her. One woman, on catching sight of Norah, made an exclamation about her and then begged her companions, ‘Somebody give me a candy for her, please!’ She was distraught that one was not produced.
The tomb of Hafez itself was definitely on my must-see list, and it did not disappoint. The buildings, the gardens, the tile work, and the reverent people, from all over the country, who have come to pray for Hafez and read his poems, all contribute to an atmosphere that was a perfect way to spend a jetlagged afternoon. I couldn’t think of a memorial quite like this one at home, which illustrates the cultural differences well. There was a handicrafts display on site, with all the familiar (to me) rugs, dolls in handmade clothing, inlaid wooden boxes, painted tiles, and trinkets, but also so many things I’ve never seen. I’m hungry for the bazaar now!
Food today? Persian omelet (which are scrambles) for breakfast served with the ever-present pile of fresh green herbs, called sabzi, (chives, several kinds of basil, mints, scallions, radish greens, tarragon, and more), which we eat by the handful with each meal, two kinds of cheese, jams, and bread. Lunch was rice steamed with tomato paste and meat served with fresh home made yogurt a friend dropped by (along with a few liters of still warm, raw cow’s milk), with sabzi, salad, and several kinds of pickled vegetables.
After our long walk and all of her hard work being adored, Norah lay down at my feet at 6 pm, chatting happily to me about nothing much at all one moment, fast asleep the next. I’m fighting the same feeling.
I’m still feeling the jetlag. Norah was up for two hours again in the wee hours last night, much to my dad’s delight. He’s had trouble sleeping at night for a long time, so the company of his jet lagged grandchild is much welcome. Again, no time for all of the tales, but I don’t want to forget the story he told us last night about Jimmy the Greek at Cafe Coco threatening the Japanese businessman who wanted ketchup with his salmon.
Breakfast was ash sabzi, a vegetable soup, which we ate with naranj, sour orange. Naranj trees line almost every street in Shiraz and my dad’s courtyard is full of them, too. My dad says the smell of all of the blossoms is literally intoxicating in the Spring. You have to get up pretty early to get a bowl of Ash from the shop; yesterday, they were sold out by 7:30. Today, Elly got there by 6:30 to get us some. I also ate a bowl of the clotted cream (skimmed from the top of the fresh cows milk from yesterday after it was boiled) with honey.
I’m tired and my pregnant body is really feeling the time change and travel, but I want to say that being pregnant and jet lagged in Iran is five times more awesome than just being pregnant at home. I’m well fed and pampered and have not been allowed to lift a finger. I can only imagine how amazing the postpartum treatment would be here.
This is going to be a fantastic time.
Food will, of course, all be excellent. We started today with calepuche, a soup of lamb’s tongue and offal. Doesn’t sound like it could be, but it was a favorite of ours even as kids. This was supposedly the best in the city (and definitely the best I’ve had). Lunch was at a buffet with literally hundreds of different dishes from which to choose. I was surprised to see a Trip Advisor recommended sticker on the door! The highlights there were watching the baker cook sangak bread in a clay oven atop tiny hot stones and my first taste of a dish made of olives covered in a paste of pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts with torshi spices. Dinner was homemade khorest e bademjan, eggplant stew with tender baby goat meat, and an assortment of pickled veggies with rice and tahdeeg.
The weather is beautiful, the jetlag is real, the people are as lovely and welcoming as expected. Passport control was surprisingly uneventful once we got over a little language-based misunderstanding. I was pleased to see that the line for non-Iranian tourist entry was almost as long as the Iranian passport-holders line, mostly made up of one German and one Italian tour group.
Norah is a hit. I keep over hearing exclamations about her hair being like gold, plenty of people are pinching her cheeks, trying to give her candy, and blessing her. She’s eating it up. She has had a couple of cultural misunderstandings herself, one of which she blamed on the other party not being ‘real and speaking real like me.’ Our ideas about what is real are expanding every day. She asked my dad tonight, ‘Baba, why do Iranian people always yell?’ and was pleased to learn that they aren’t all angry.
This place is busy, loud, dusty, beautiful, and delicious. I hope this is the first trip of many.
No time now but I don’t want to forget about the recycling scouts, the ‘old bread for salt’ man and the cow trucks.