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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

“From little acorns big oaks grow” is a traditional saying and I am hoping that my series of musings about my travels in Iran which are now being published in our little village magazine will go some way to illustrating an Iran much removed from the politics and sanctions dominating the news,  instead focussing on the “real” Iran and its wonderful people.

I never fail to be amazed by comments I receive about my writing however mundane I feel it is. It is important to describe and explain how people live in Iran even if my observations are based on a small rural/urban population around Esfahan. I cannot and will not pretend that my experiences of traveling in Iran are representative of the population. They cannot possibly be so with a country the size of Iran but I hope that I can give comfort to readers that Iranian people are just like us. They have families, jobs, go on holiday, eat and drink, enjoy themselves. They are not all extreme political or religious animals. They are normal. Just like us.

Let’s hope that by writing about my experiences, more people will begin to understand and appreciate the Iran not publicised by the western media.

Fingers crossed.

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I’m forever trying to bust myths about Iran when asked about my visits and some of the questions I’m asked seem ridiculous when seen from my eyes and with my experience. But that’s the issue. I’ve seen some of Iran myself and experienced family life over there. I’ve bought fruit and vegetables, clothes, done the tourist “thing”. I’ve been to weddings and mourning ceremonies in the mosque. I’m not a practising Moslem but no one minded. I respect their culture and dress code just as I expect visitors and residents to respect our culture and expectations here in the UK.

The picture that the media portrays of Iran  is very different and whilst I understand that the political situation is controversial, the propaganda and unbalanced approach to the reporting is very frustrating. I’m not qualified to comment on politics be it about the situation in the UK/Europe or about the latest Middle East issues. It is complex and frankly very confusing so I don’t do it. Many may think this is a cop-out, but I could spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week trying to understand world politics and I honestly just don’t have the time.

I happen to think that there is room for more information to be made available about Iran from a non-political perspective. There is so much more to Iran than the nuclear debate, human rights issues and the religious tension and we will all get along better if we understand the different cultures and history and learn to appreciate our differences and similarities.

I found this quote on the net today. Sadly the author’s link was broken and I’ve been unable to trace its origins to give credit. I like this as it deals with many of the myths and attitudes embedded so deeply in people’s psyche. I know, as I get asked the questions.

  • No, I am not a terrorist nor a wife beater,
    I don’t live in a tent in a desert
  •  
  • I speak Farsi, not Arabic
    Iran is pronounced “EERAUN” and not “I – ran” (it’s not track & field)
  •  
  • News flash: Iran and Iraq are two different countries ,
    Middle east is a region and NOT a continent,
    And camels are not our way of transportation.
  •  
  • Iranian women are just as outspoken (if not more) and liberal as the
    European women,
  •  
  • Iran is the first country to have red white and green for a flag,
    A beautiful country ran by the wrong people
    But still the best part of Middle East
  •  

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 Freshly returned from my latest visit to Iran, “The Road to Oxiana” by Robert Byron, is my favourite book of the moment. Having seen a little of the Middle East, the hot and barren desert landscape, snow-capped mountains, the occasional lush oasis settlements, having experienced the people and their customs, the language and traditions, all means that I appreciate Byron’s writing more.

I find myself laughing out loud on the train, chuckling at descriptions of things I have seen or experienced first hand. All this despite Byron travelling in the 1930’s and me some 80 years later. Some things never change.

As well as his humorous anecdotes, Byron’s descriptions of his surroundings are so vivid that I often imagine myself there with him. His description of Mesopotamia (Iraq) is one of my favourites;   

“The prime fact of Mesopotamian history is that in the thirteenth century Hulagu destroyed the irrigation system; and that from that day to this Mesopotamia has remained a land of mud deprived of mud’s only possible advantage, vegetable fertility. It is a mud plain, so flat that a single heron, reposing on one leg beside some rare trickle of water in a ditch, looks as tall as a wireless aerial. From this plain rise villages of mud and cities of mud. The rivers flow with liquid mud. The air is composed of mud refined into a gas. The people are mud-coloured; they wear mud-coloured clothes, and their national hat is nothing more than a formalized mud-pie. Baghdad is the capital one would expect of this divinely favoured land. It lurks in a mud fog; when the temperature drops below 110 [ºF], the residents complain of the chill and get out their furs. For only one thing is it now justly famous: a kind of boil which takes nine months to heal, and leaves a scar.”

 

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Iranian teahouses (Chai-Khaneh) are traditionally men-only hideaways where they can sit and drink tea (chai) all day and well into the night. My favourite teahouse (subject to my comments below)  is the Azadegan Teahouse near the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square where women are allowed albeit in the family area only. I am not allowed to venture beyond the dividing curtain and smoke Hubble-Bubble.

Not being a Hubble-Bubble smoker, I like this place because of its unique ambiance and fun decoration which is over-the-top to say the least. The place is crammed full of lamps and pictures, pots, mirrors and ephemera of all kinds. A bohemian cave if ever there was one.

There is a prominent sign saying “No Photographs” and normally I’m happy to respect their wishes and oblige. But as everyone else was taking pictures and I wasn’t offending anyone I took a few for posterity.

 Back to my comments above. Previous visits to this teahouse have been charming but this time I have to say that the toilets were rank, and the waiter fair threw the tray of tea and naabot at us. He may just have been having a “bad hair day” but it spoilt my visit. He also charged us for something we didn’t ask for and didn’t eat (Baklava) which represented £1.20 out of a total bill of £1.60!  But at those prices it seemed incredibly churlish to complain so Feri paid up in full and we left vowing never to return! (of course we will.) It is very out of character for the Iranians to be so surly and unhelpful. From my experience, they are not rude or impatient at all but are more than happy to pander to your custom.

For me, I’m quite happy to make my way past chickens in wire pens, and huge vinegar vats to get to this teahouse hidden in the corner (and you certainly wouldn’t find it if you didn’t already know it was there) and I’m sure that like Arnie, ” we will be back”.

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Reading another post from PeaceofIran this morning brought to mind some of my first encounters with Iranian cooking pots. This may sound a little strange but as you have probably gathered I loathe cooking, and entertaining more than 2 people at once gives me nightmares. So when I see industrial-sized cooking pots stacked up in the kitchen it gets me worried.

Why on earth would I need a pot THAT BIG?  You invited HOW MANY?

Before meeting Feri and his family in Iran, and before touring the Bazaareh Mesgaran (literally the copper market) in Esfahan, the only pots and pans I had seen close to this size were at school and in hospital. That made sense to me. They have a lot of people to feed, but coming from a small family where entertaining was never top of the agenda, these pans did, and still do give me the heebie-jeebies.

I was slightly reassured by Feri’s last purchase in Sede before coming home.

A “baby” rice pot. Now that’s more my size.

 

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6 am

Natanz

First in bread queue

Sangak

Breakfast…yum!

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(Continued)

As well as enjoying the sunshine and appreciating the history and grandeur of Sarteep House, we soon learned that there were connections between the House and Feri’s family which Feri did not know about.  

Some Ashrafi family background will help to explain the connections.

Heidar Ali Ashrafi (19xx-1980)

Feri’s father Heidar Ali Ashrafi, started his working life in management at a sugar factory in Esfahan. Keen to help his local community and passionate about politics it wasn’t long before he was elected Councillor, a member of the Anjoman-e Shar, (Town Council) in Sede, his home town. He was subsequently elected Mayor and served three terms in Sede. He was also the Mayor of Tiran, Rehnan and Mubarakhe and we still have the orders from the Ministry of the Interior commanding him to take up his Mayorships.  

Heidar was determined to improve the living and working conditions for the people of Sede and he was renowned for being a very active  and “hands-on” Mayor. During his Mayorship, irrigation systems through the town to the local orchards were vastly improved and proper sewerage systems were introduced; the main roads were tarmaced for the first time and he created two town squares at each end of town to welcome people into Sede from Esfahan and Tehran. These works are still in evidence today and are an amazing legacy for the community.

Heidar was still in office as Mayor in February 1979 when the Revolution took place but was deposed soon after and put under House Arrest. Sadly, he died in unexplained circumstances some 9 months later.

 Heidar Ashrafi is still remembered by the community with a great deal of respect and fondness for his vision, passion and generosity and we never visit the town without someone, somewhere taking time to tell us.

Feri’s grandfather, Mohamad Ashrafi, was a very experienced theologian and lawyer and became the Head of the Ministry of Justice of Esfahan Province. This was in the days before jury’s were introduced and he was responsible for passing judgement and sentences on those brought before him who had committed less serious crimes. If he was faced with a murder case or more serious crime, he would call upon the Council of Guardians of the town who would meet at Sarteep’s House for deliberation and final judgement.

 

This is the same room in which those meetings took place and we stood quietly thinking about Feri’s grandfather sitting on these steps deliberating with his fellow judges all those years ago. Feri had never seen this room before and didn’t know that his grandfather had been there before him but hopefully it has spurred him on to find out more about his fascinating family history.

Feri came to the UK to study when he was 19 years old. His father and his two elder brothers died during this period and he did not return to Iran for the next 22 years.  There are still gaps in his knowledge and understanding about what happened to his family but we are gradually finding the missing pieces which we hope will complete the jigsaw.

Dr Amini 

 

During our visit we saw three other visitors at the house. Two were walking round with filming equipment and the third walked towards us. The guide introduced Feri to Dr Amini. Feri didn’t flinch but clearly recognising the Ashrafi name and after asking a couple of questions about Feri’s father, Dr Amini introduced himself as Feri’s junior school teacher. It was a particularly emotional moment and I was quite choked as the two men embraced.

Dr Amini spoke very highly of Heider Ashrafi, remembering much about his achievements whilst Mayor of Sede. He turned to Sethari, Feri’s niece and told her how proud she should be of her grandfather and her ancestry as well as the legacies he left for the town.  I know that she is proud of her family roots and she appreciates the respect and warmth which clearly still exists for her grandfather, but to hear this from an eminent historian now working for the equivalent of UK’s National Trust was quite overwhelming and it brought home to me what the Ashrafi name still stands for in Sede and in many ways why I have been made so welcome in the town.

When Feri and Dr Amini finished talking, Dr Amini left for an interview with a local TV station about Sarteep House, and we completed our tour of the house somewhat subdued and stunned by the morning’s events. Before we left, the guide explained that the Trustees of Sarteep House want to add a model of Feri’s father to their collection along with his Biography and would we be able to help with putting something together.

I’m sure that we can, but I have said that we will commission the “Madame Tussaud’s” model…….

 

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