After the excitement of the family engagement celebrations over the weekend, the second Monday of our stay in Iran was a public holiday and we all de-camped to the family orchard across town to relax and enjoy a family day out. I was told that we were to have a picnic and stay for the whole day. At first, it all seemed rather familiar and reminiscent of picnics at home as I watched food, baskets laden with goodies and utensils, blankets and last but not least 16 people cram into the cars for the short drive there.
I grew up in a rural area where there were plenty of orchards and I thought that I was heading back 40 years to familiar territory. As the roads narrowed we had to fold back the car wing mirrors so that they wouldn’t scrape the ever-encroaching mud walls. A white donkey tethered in the road hardly gave us a glance as we passed the double-gated entrances and 7 foot high walls of the neighbour’s orchards. Only then did I begin to wonder just what was waiting for me. It all seemed on a much grander and remote scale than I had imagined and it was clear that we were heading for a hidden garden gem.
The anticipation grew and when we reached our gated entrance I saw that the orchard is in fact 2 large separate pieces of land full of apricot, apple, pear, walnut, fig and sour cherry trees interspersed with grape vines clinging to the trunks, boughs and frames made to accommodate the branches heaving with ripe fruit.
In amongst the trees however and suddenly making sense of the sheer amount of stuff brought with us is a small house, surely, every man’s perfect retreat. This “garden shed” comes complete with fridge and cooking facilities, running water, toilet, cool stone terrace and BBQs galore. Now this is what I call a picnic.
After the men had unloaded the cars, and the girls organised proceedings, we all set about picking the ripe fruit both to eat there and to take home and store. Everyone joined in carrying baskets, boxes, climbing up ladders and using anything else that they found lying about to stand on.
I was walking around the perimeter of the orchard when I came across Akbar digging a hole by a tree-root and, like a squirrel, he was burying pears wrapped in dried leaves and twigs in the hollow. Apparently the fruit keeps perfectly well protected like this and all he has to do is remember where he has buried his treasure when he wishes to retrieve it later. All this was great fun and it so reminded me of happy childhood days scrambling up trees to pick Victoria plums, damsons and greengages; Simple pleasures.
The fruit and vegetables picked, attention was turned to preparing the meals for the day. Everyone helps out but, in line with tradition, the girls sit together aside from the men and both groups carry out their communal chores in collective harmony. I joined the girls helping to clean and prepare the herbs whilst the men took charge of the kebabs, and meat for the BBQ.
Lunch was eventually served, which was as delicious as expected but, with all the ripe fruit about, we were inundated with wasps. I don’t like wasps very much and tried very hard not to make a fuss but I only managed to eat most of my meal before having to excuse myself from the group to find refuge from these “zanbours”. For some reason, perhaps even to them I looked and maybe tasted different, they were buzzing around me more than anyone else. With everyone now on wasp-watch, swatting the little beasties with shoes, scarves, whatever was at hand, I was able to return to the proceedings which had, by this time, resumed outside. As the day cooled, I settled down to read my book thinking that the immediate threat of wasp-attack had receded. Not so. One persistent stinger managed to creep under my loose shirt and stung me 3 times before I could shake it out. I have to say that this has been the only unfriendly Iranian I came across during my two week stay, but even then I was assured by everyone that the wasp was also being friendly and giving me a “kiss”! Mmmmm….not too sure about that but next time wasps, beware, I will come prepared.
Although remaining warm, the evenings draw in very quickly in October and it is completely dark by 6pm. However, this is not a problem, and outside-living continues just as it would if it were daylight. More BBQs were lit, dinner served and eaten and it was after 9pm when we packed up the cars and went home. If only we had this balmy weather in the UK. Life would be so much more pleasant and family-friendly.