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The International Writers Magazine: Iran:

Carol Falaki

Today 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.

I 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 husband’s 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 husband’s 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 can’t 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 English.
      "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 the threshold.
Vahid’s trainers are there, abandoned carelessly. His mother’s sandals, small and dainty have been placed in-line next to grandmother’s black walking shoes, my husband’s 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 a recording.
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 understand.
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.
I'm calm.
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."
I’ll make one last check of the words so I don’t forget.
The boys charge in, then stop and smile.
    S   “Salam Carol, Halet, Chetori?"
    C  “Bad nistam, kubam. How are you?”
    S   “Okay”
He plugs the tape recorder into the mains.
Shahyar wants to learn the English words to the music.
    S  "You are ready?"
I nod.   
    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 up high
         And don't be afraid of the dark...."
©carol falaki August 11th 2008
<> 11 August 2008 23:00

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