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April 8, 2000
They come and go, but they patiently and quietly stare. Most don't actually live in this house, but the whole village knows we're here now, and comes over to look at us. I was actually thankful when they turned on the television, thinking it would draw attention away from me. It didn't. Now there is a whole group of adults and kids, whispering and staring at us, completely ignoring the television.
We arrived at the home of our bus driver's family friend, in this small village near Eshfahan, Iran, last night. Suddenly, everyone in the neighborhood was dropping in to meet us. Giggly women, shy kids staring wide-eyed, and curious men, smiling and talking together in the corner.
They're so sweet. They're so cute. I wish they'd just go away for a few hours! One woman speaks a few words of English, so everyone keeps turning to her as "translator." Occasionally she comes up with one word summaries of the question at hand--"husband?" or "hungry?" or "tea?"
Often, though, they don't even bother with the "translator." They just speak to me loudly in Farsi, and repeat it over and over again, as if I will suddenly understand. The look on their faces says, "This is so easy! You must know what I'm saying!" I used to think that the inclination to speak louder to someone who doesn't understand your language was just an annoying American tourist trait, but now I realize that it's universal to anyone who rarely comes in contact with foreigners!
What's really interesting is that this place has almost no furniture! It's not that the people are poor, because this is obviously a well-to-do household. It's just the traditional style. All the rooms are bright and open, with big windows, gorgeous Persian carpets and embroidered pillow-like backrests around the walls. Everyone just sits on the floor. Even the old grandparents plop down, "Indian-style." You have to stay limber in this culture, I guess. Not only do they eat on the floor, in a circle around a clear plastic tarp which they place over the elegant carpets, but they also use squat toilets, so they have to be able to hunker down to the earth to do their business!
Privacy, I think, is not a word in the Persian language. Perhaps it is a result of close families and close communities, but this lack of privacy can be uncomfortable at times for us individualistic Americans. Total strangers from the village just open the door, walk in with a smile, say "salaam" and then sit down to stare over my shoulder at the laptop. It's a little weird, so now I sit with my back to the wall.
It's impossible to be angry, though, because they're all just so kind and cute. The women here are beautiful. Unlike other parts of Iran that we've visited, they wear colorful chadors (long clothes that cover them from head to foot) instead of plain black. But, also unlike the other places we've visited, they keep their chadors on, even in the house. Perhaps because of that, they wear them wrapped all around their bodies, not fluttering around them. It is amazing how agile they are, even though they're completely draped in what seems like a big sheet.
"Machine?" she asked.
"Bali!" I said, thinking "That was easier than I thought!"
Soon, several women and kids (friends? sisters? neighbors?) were leading me out the door (where I put on a pair of the plastic flip-flops that every home has in abundance) to the second courtyard.
"Machine!" they cried, pointing to a strange metal box under the awning. Hummm. This should be interesting.
The box opened from the top, and looked vaguely like a washing machine inside. It had a green garden hose attached to the side, tied up with a string. The women took turns explaining to me, very patiently, exactly how the whole thing worked. Well, I assume that was what they were explaining, since I just stood there laughing and shaking my head. The word "ab," which means "water," was the only thing I understood. The grandma went inside and came back with a bucket of water, dumped it in, swished it around, and then lowered the hose to let the water drain out. It was clean and ready.
I played with the kids, drank sweetened, warmed milk and eventually brought out my camera for limitless entertainment. Then it was time to rinse the clothes, squatting by a faucet in the center of the courtyard. For the rinsing and the hanging-out-to-dry processes, I was a one-woman show. All eyes were on me, except 4-year-olds Moussa and Fawezy, who were chasing each other around the yard. The women stood together, evaluating my technique. Unlike several places I've been in Latin America and Africa, at least, the women didn't berate me for doing it wrong, and then insist on showing me how it's supposed to be done, as if I were a little girl.
The television is off now, and most people have left. Four beautiful women and a few kids enter the room, staring and laughing. I think I've met them all before, but I'm starting to get confused. So many women, and all of them covered in chadors ...I think I'll take a break, maybe play with the camera, and try to be social. What a strange image of Americans they must have, watching me type on a computer for hours!
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
Brian - Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Persian Architecture, And All before Dinnertime
Abeja - In the Name of Allah
Team - Turn Off That Faucet! Water Doesn't Grow on Trees, You Know
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