Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mountain Hospitality 23rd-24th Nov

While continuing to struggle to find our way to specific mountian roads we pass through Kanian village and someone enthusiastically flags us down and insists we come to lunch. It ends up as the highlight of our trip with massive meals, meeting more family members than we could count and tours of the village. This includes how bread is made, the rice processing, orchards and fields, real porcupine spines and a photo of how far through a man's led they can go and a Wedding Party!

Before we turned in, the snow had stopped and the next day showed us the beautiful snowy hills in bright sunlight, perfect photo weather. Despite this, and directions from the hotelliers we still failed to find the waterfall or indeed any of the roads we were looking for. The quality of the road on the ground semed to bear no relation as to whether it was marked as a white or yellow or not at all on our map. We ended up in some fantasticslly remote villages- all mudbrick buildings and great suprise and delight on the inhabitants faces. It seemed unlikely that a foreigner had ever passed through here before. We turned down at least two invitations for tea and eventually stumbled across some tarmac again. We sped on through a village, (minding out for the hidden spead bumps placed at the entrance and exit to all villages and towns) when we noticed that the car behind us was flashing his lights and trying to overtake. Alex worked out that he wanted us to pull over and we were just on the outskirts of a village in bright sunshine so felt it was probably safe to do so. When Aziz steped out of his car, his face could barely hold his grin it was so wide and we relaxed immediately. When he INSISTED we come back to his for lunch, we agreed. We were feeling peckish anyway but I'm not sure we would have been allowed to say no. We followed him back through the large village as he led us through the streets to his house. He opened the gates to his front yard to reveal a combine harvester and an ancient Toyota Landcriser that got Alex very excited. We parked up and went upstairts to the living part of the house.Gradually more and more and more and more family arrived to great us. By the time his wife brought out a 'simple' and throughly delicious meal there were at least 20 family members there to meet us. One of these was Aziz's nephew who spoke excellent English and had the exciting yet onerous task of translatig everything we said and everyone's questions for us. I quicky made friends with two little monkeys- Marianne and Sara, the first in an orange top and headscalf being seven and the latter in bight yellow and no headscalf as, being a year younger, she was not yet compelled to wear one by law. They were brilliant and although our conversation was much limited to me failing to learn how to pronounce their names exactly right and learning other people's names their company gave me a lot of pleasure. Farid, a boy in a pink tracksuit tried to join us but the girls were bossy despite being younger, (some things never change the world over).

Alex had the full attention of the men and boys. We had been sat in the middle of one wall of the room and by the time lunch was brought we were part of a huge circle of tea drinkers, (the most delicious floral tasing tea that I had the whle trip), all looking our way. It was a superb lunch although I think that they were distressed by the simplicity. The rice was the best I tasted in all Iran, (locally grown) cooked, as usual, with a pinch of saffron, butter stirred in and a delicious crunchy base. There was also tinned tuna but from a giant tin I think and astoundingly fresh and flavoursome and a pomegranate sauce-bitter and sweet which went perfectly. It was delicious..After lunch the girls decided they wanted to show me how bread was made. It turned out that Aziz thought this was an excellent idea and the whole party was coming, the girls had intended a private trip for me and caught up in their excitement we ran off down the street to escape the entorage, one on each arm, laughing joyfully at the excitment of sneaking off and running free. Mohammed, a boy of about 12 was sent after us to bring us back I think, but the girls ignored him and he came with us, shrugging. It turned out to only be on the next street around, I think it was Marianne's house although it's hard to tell and the others were there, by car, moments after us. We were encouraged to take photos of the ladies making the bread, (which I found very interesting as it's so different to ours), infact everyone got out their phone, (unexpected?) and was taking photos of various groupings. They asked us when we had to go and said that there was a wedding party close by later that they could take us to if we were able to stay the night. Wow, a very special experience not to turn down so we greatfully consented to stay.

Next, I was invited to get in the car with Aziz, Sharack, (his translating nephew) Alex and Aziz's brother Ahmid. The others ALL piled into a pickup, front and back and trailed behind us. Aziz pondered where to take us, I was keen to see anything of village life. We went to a rice processing place where you could watch the grians get gradually whiter as they went through a series of abrasion machines. He then took us to his 'garden'- his fields and orchards and showed us the variety of things that had grown in the summer. Most excitingly they told us the story of the porcupine. He showed us a large pile of pieces of irrigation pipework all made useless by large holes chewed into the sides of them. This was apparently, and unusually, being done by a porcupine. One of his older sons took on the job of hunting it down with a club one day but just as he got close enough to strike the porcupine fired it's quils. We saw the photo, I had no idea how dangerous these beasts were. there were ten quills in total, about a foot long and up to 7mm wide in the middle. Most had penetrated his shin to poke RIGHT OUT THE OTHER SIDE. ALL the way through. I can't begin to imagine the pain. Facinated, and excited I collected up quills that I spotted, the kids picked them up as well- handing some to me and the younger ones distractedly breaking them into pieces as they walked as I would do with bits of grass. It made me cringe at the waste but the quils were nothing unusual for them. I was privillaged later to be presented with two of the quils that had come out of his leg and seeing these much chunkier ones in my hands, (the ones I had collected were thin and weedy) really brought it home to me.

The kids continued to entertain me lots on this walk, and even showed us a treehouse which Alex enthusiastically climbed. Aziz gradually learnt more and more English throughout the day but the first the phrase and the one he most got to grips with was 'Let's go' for which there is one word in Iranian, they say it so much. He first used at this point and I don't think I will ever hear that phrase again without thinking of him! From here we went to tea at the breadmaking family's house- all the same folk so I'm still not quite sure who's house it was and I think Sharack, who's immediate family is small, was feeling quite exhausted with non stop translating and all the continuious hallabaloo by the kids. It was decided we leave here for some quieter time back at Aziz's. Being so close by, everyone did end up trickling back there but it was a but calmer!

Alex got offered a go on someone's motorbike for the ride back and disappeared for what felt like ages. He returned flushed with pleasure at the giddy exhillaration of riding helmet free down unlit unpaved roads with no other traffic- such freedom. He had been taken to the guys house where they had had tea and very sweetly been given a home grown apple for his mother from the guys mother! Meanwhile, by request, I had brought in our instruments. When Alex got back we were asked to give a performance to an ingraciatingly attentive, appreciative and large audience of people and managed three songs and a fiddle tune or two together not too badly! Afterwards we asked about local music and were told that the religious practices and laws ment that non religious music only really got played at weddings so they put on the most recent family wedding video, the blushing subjects of which were of course in the room whith us. There was indeed dancing and live music played on a wooden oboe like instrument and drums. The dancing was lively, (although mainly only women) and the dresses af the female guests brighly coloured with lots of silver sparkily bits. I think we were told that the music and dancing here was Kurdish- there are many different types of peoples all over Iran and unlike so many other countries they l seem to get on fine! The video demonstrated how long the procedures traditionally take around here- at least three days which incudes parties in both respective villages with proper respects given not only to every membr of the family but every member of the village too. I went out to attempt to help with the meal preparation at one point and Alex said he was astounded to watch the groom knock on EVERY door in the village and shake hands and kiss the cheeks, (three times) of ALL the men. It struck me, having been to Toby and Illa's momentuous and astoundingly large Italian wedding last year that the importance of family and community in Iranian and Italian cultures was similarly strong while it is waining from our British culture which seems sad by comparison.

My offeres of help were politelty diverted to looking at Mazier's wedding photo album that accompanied the wedding vidio instead, while she and her sister in law prepared the salad in a quieter room with just us in. I was impressed how glamerous and proffesional the photos were, like a holywood movie star. The album was really throughtfully and attractively compiled and edited and incuded the engagemnt celebrations too, all professionally embellished and bound in a purpose designed, personaly decorated folder. Before I had finished looking, the children had all decided to settle in with me there too, much to the salad prepares dispair I'm sure! I realised later that this was probably Mazier and her husband's bedroom. We soon gathered that bedrolls are commonly used and tydyed away in the day to use the room for other things- the Esfahan family with raised beds and materesses was a less tradition, more urban method. It makes a lot of sense-you don't need as many room plus it keeps any mess from escalating and sleeping on the floor is good for your back and keeps you agile getting up and down.

I went back through and the chat around and with us continued, as did the wedding video and then dinner was brought through- more delicious rice, a chicken stew, salad, and sauces. After, an announcemnt was brought that a member of the wedding party we were to go to had died that day in a road accident as a driver of a bus of ten people. Although the mood was dinted it wasn't subdued so I gathered that he was a distant family member. Sharack felt now that the wedding would be a much a quieter and non musical affair with no dancing and that we wouldn't enjoy it. We certainly didn't want to intrude on anyone's time of grief. Aziz ws all for us going any way and there was indecision for a good long time in which the chat, and tea with all the family continued and the younger ladies went out to the party but dressed in their more subdued day clothes. Aziz finally won and we were taken to just have a quick look but on arrival we found that the party was in full swing and no half measures had been taken so we piled on it. The men, (including Sharack, our interpreter) went away to one room and the women to another- I'm not sure if it was a community building or the family's home but it was PACKED with folk. The ladies room had lively dancers, clothed like they had just stepped out of the video we had just seen and the bride sat at a wonderfully decorated desk, sort of presiding over it all and occasionally being dragged up by friends to join in. The other half the room was full of ladies and children sitting about chatting and watching the dancers- only the most colourfully dressed seemed to be dancing. One of the dancers was little Shadar(the gil in pink) from earler in the day and she danced very well. She's a very shy girl but I got a glimpse of her fuller, brilliant, personality and who she will become when she danced. Tea and cakes were brought around and I noticed that one of our party absolutely refused the cake for herself and her daugher Marianne too and the lady offering them around got quite affronted. She also refused another friend's encouragement to dance, despite her generally super cheery and good fun nature so I think she was more closely linked to the death than the others. None of my group danced which was a shame as I would have loved to learn how and I also found out very little as my ability to communicate withough language is so poor but I loved just being there and soaking it all in. I also didn't want to steal any attention from the bride- this was her day not mine. When I had come in and walked through the floor seated people to my family, I stuck out like a sore thumb, (thank heavens I decided to put on a nicer top rather than the travel worn clothes I had been in) and I tried to melt away into the back ground whenI sat down. I wasn't introduced to the bride but our eyes did meet accross the room and smiles and respect given. The poor woman looked so unhappy or bored most of the time- Mazier had in her wedding video too but I supose there is so much more pressure than a UK marriage that it's no wander. So many days of entertaining so many pople, so much family to please, including your in laws plus moving in with a family and a man you may barely know (depending on how arranged it is) and possibly moving away to a whole new village. It's no suprisethat the brides aren't grinning really.

I heard back from Alex later that he had no quarms about being the centre of attention, to be fair the groom from the other village hadn't yet arrived to take his bride over to the party there so there was little going on in the men's room. Apparently, he rapidly ended up with everyone in the room turned to face him, listening attentively or firing questions which Sharack excellently translated each way. I'm sure Aziz got a huge social boon from being the bringer of this exotic foreiner and he was able to answer many of the questions about Alex himself as they had already been covered . Apparently the discussions even turned to politics and religion, (it's always preferable to say one is a Christian than an atheist or agnosic to people who's whole culture and politics are so deeply seped in a religious creed) but I won't spoil his rendition of it by covering the revelations here, you'll have to ask him all about it.

'"Let's go" called Aziz to me from the door later and our whole group got up to leave and we rejoined the men outside. Alex was still surrounded by enthralled boys chattering away to him and they had to be hearded out the way for us to reach the car! WIth Sharack's help we managed to stop in at Aziz's only long enough to grab our instruments and car so we could get over to his and get to bed. I was very touched when Mohammed delivered my gathered procupine quils to me that I had lost track of at the other house, I was also impressed at the driving he had done, turing the car around for us all as we left the wedding, his legs are barely long enough to reach the pedals!

Shrack's house, as promised, was much quieter. I recognise his mother as Marianne's mum's friend from the wedding. His father was disabled in an accident many years ago but I was touched that he had waited up to meet us and presented himself smartly. Sharack's cousin also lives with them as Sharack is often away at University in Shiraz which works out well for both of them. We went to bed soon after, buzzing with the excitement of the day and pleasantly tired out by it too! !

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