International Writers Magazine: Iran:
we are in Iran. Tomorrow we fly back to England, but first I have
a promise to keep.
I am waiting for Shahyar.
From here I can watch for his arrival.
He will be here soon.
am mildly anxious and equally amused at his unexpected request and
I will do the best I can for him, although I feel ill-prepared.
We are in the city
of Ramsar, my husbands birthplace.
Ramsar sits comfortably between the looming peaks of the Albas Mountains
stretching east and west, and the blue milky waters of the Caspian Sea,
reaching north toward Russia.
This house was built by my husbands father with the intention
of adding a second floor at a later date. It is single story, built
on raised foundations with the floors approximately one metre above
the ground. Two short concrete stairways lead up to the entrance and
the wide open balcony. The design is unique to northern Iran.
It is set in a walled courtyard.
From this window I can see to my right, beyond the disused carport with
weeds growing through its cracked concrete floor, the entrance to the
garden - a wide wooden gate as solid as the oak sacrificed in its name.
Beyond the gate is the road. I can hear the car-horns in the busy
street outside. I can hear the footsteps of passing women, some dressed
from head to toe in black and carrying their baskets of herbs, fruit
and fresh sea bass from the market, while others more casually dressed
in scarf and knee length manteau with painted toenails and perfect eyebrows,
shop for clothes and make-up. I hear the footsteps of men walking
by, smart and casual, busy and idle, smoking, coughing, whistling, and
one man singing a lament or a love song; I cant tell.
Because I have opened the shutters the room is hot.
My view is strangely unaffected by the fine mosquito netting, which
covers all of the windows in this house.
A common ant strides purposefully across fields of cracked paint on
the window-ledge. The ledge is warm.
When I look straight ahead I can see the well. The entrance is covered
with sheet metal. Piping and an electric pump now transfer water from
the well to the house.
A redundant bucket waits, ignorant and poised, as if ready to drop and
gather cold pure water from the unseen lake below.
Only yesterday as we were walking on the hill, the one to my left with
the houses and trees clinging to it and the snow topped mountains looming
beyond, a man, stranger to me, stopped me at the road-side.
"Hello," he said, and in practiced
"Welcome to my country."
Iran has few visitors from the outside world.
Close by a single towel languishes, hanging motionless from a drooping
clothes line and in a far corner the last oranges, dry and forgotten
cling to the trees. The air is filled with the rasping call of a lonely
cicada; so loud is his call I wonder if the female of the species might
be deaf. The sky is clear and the sun is high. There is no wind.
The garden is drowning in the heat.
On the balcony, against the wall, there is an old chair its soft cushions
indented as if inhabited by the ghost of long days such as this. In
the porch entrance below the window there are shoes, shoes of every
shape and size.
Here outdoor shoes stay out. Only bare feet and house slippers pass
Vahids trainers are there, abandoned carelessly. His mothers
sandals, small and dainty have been placed in-line next to grandmothers
black walking shoes, my husbands Italian leather mules and my
own comfortable wedges.
Look at my feet. How happy they are, the shoeless recipients of a careful
pedicure side by side on a soft hand-woven carpet from Shiraz.
The women, family and friends, are in the kitchen preparing dinner,
the children and the men are watching T.V. or playing a computer game
and drinking chai, hot tea sipped through cane sugar, and smoking. Muffled
conversations in Gilaki, the local dialect, drift in and out of hearing.
And I am waiting for Shahyar.
Shahyar is seventeen years old.
He is bringing everything. All I have to do is remember the words. Only
the words are important. I have them written and folded on a scrap of
paper, hidden and held in my hand. As if I could forget them.
I look at my watch
Between the trees, beyond the wall, I can make out the fleshy sandstone
dome of the mosque.
In times past, at mid-day, the Muezzin would call the faithful to prayer,
his voice resonating in all directions, but he has been replaced by
At home in England the parish church bells have suffered the same fate.
The call to prayer is heard.
I have visited a Catholic church in Esfahan, built by refugees from
the Ottoman Empire, at a time when Iran gave shelter to fleeing Armenians.
We travelled through desert to reach that great city; grey flat desert
with distant mountains on a constant horizon. Not like ancient travellers
on camel or horse, but in an air conditioned Peugeot, and we stopped
for lunch on the way.
Esfahan is a city of wonder and beauty with its domes and palaces; an
oasis. There, on the banks of the Zeyandeh, a beautiful river whose
name literally means gives birth to many, people have settled
since the fifth century B.C.
The river is lined with parks and gardens and criss-crossed with historic
bridges. One of the bridges the Si-o-se Pol is so
named because of its thirty-three arches.
In Esfahan we were in the bazaar, browsing, enjoying the stalls, watching
people, although foreigners and strange curiosities we must have seemed
because a group of adolescent footballers, still in their kit, stopped
us and asked shyly if we would be photographed with them.
The house is engaged and the air is full. Mysterious aromas glide from
the kitchen, tempting, seductive, arousing my appetite. Delicious and
delicate, the food in this region is nurtured with love and care. Aubergine,
garlic, herbs, seasonal fruit and vegetables, even the lambs, are grown
locally and are freshly picked and prepared by hand.
Eating together with friends and family is the major social event.
At dinner there is likely to be a dozen of us, and we will sit on the
floor around a cloth laden with more dishes than a table might hold,
and I will be easily persuaded to try everything, in words I can't yet
The hospitality is a little short of overwhelming. I am welcomed and
fussed, and in return I smile and enjoy.
Shahyar is here; at the gate, accompanied by his mother and he has brought
a friend, an audience.
He is wearing the tee-shirt I bought him at St John's market. The tee-shirt
is red and white, its motif blazoned across his chest. Now, Vahid comes
out to greet them, throwing his feet into his trainers and collecting
his football from the shrubs. He calls to them and they kick the ball
around while Shahyar's mother rescues the tape recorder he is still
carrying on his shoulder. She places it on the floor of the balcony
and then slips out of her manteau, shoes and scarf to reveal a neat
linen dress and a lot of gold.
Shahyar sees me at the window and waves before kicking the ball onto
the balcony. He says something to Vahid and they head towards the house.
This is something of myself I will be leaving behind in Iran. I prefer
not to speculate on who might listen to it.
Rita has brought me tea.
"Thank you Rita, Merci."
Ill make one last check of the words so I dont forget.
The boys charge in, then stop and smile.
S Salam Carol, Halet, Chetori?"
C Bad nistam, kubam. How are you?
He plugs the tape recorder into the mains.
Shahyar wants to learn the English words to the music.
S "You are ready?"
S "I love Liverpool football, thank you."
He presses the record button.
I take a deep breath and sing.
C "When you walk, through a storm,
Hold your head
And don't be afraid
of the dark...."
©carol falaki August 11th 2008
<email@example.com> 11 August 2008 23:00
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