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Tuesday, 25 May 2010


A few days ago I received an email from an American PhD student who is spending the summer in Shiraz for her research and in order to improve her spoken Persian. She picked up the book on her way to Iran and read it during the flight, and expressed her appreciation for the information in Among the Iranians, which she found useful. She now refers to it often and, what I found most gratifying, is this comment:

I think if it wasn't for your book, I would be going crazy by now and would be very confused, but because of your book, I can take everything in with the knowledge of what is going on and am able to have more patience when dealing with new situations. I am slowly learning how to navigate through ta'roof and the sometimes overly zealous protection and hospitality, while I am just so grateful for their kindness and generosity.

While I was working on the book and sometimes found the writing hard going, I kept telling myself that even if one person’s experience of Iran is enhanced in a small way through reading this book, I would consider myself well rewarded. I have now found my reward.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Thursday evening

On the way from my flat to the main street there is a small square planted with grass, benches, a drinking fountain and a wooden hut for children to play in.
This square is a favourite haunt of retired men, who gather around the small stone tables and seats to observe a game of backgammon, just like old men do in coffee shops in Greece.
Last Thursday I was walking down our road to the main street. As usual, men were sitting around chatting and playing backgammon. A woman went round with a paper box offering biscuits in exchange for a prayer for her deceased. It is believed that on Thursday evenings the souls of the dead can roam free, so they can see if their relatives remember them.
The usual prayer for the dead is called Fatiha, and usually includes these two Quranic suras.

Sura 1 Fatiha (The Opening)

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds;
Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace,
those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.

Sura 112 Ikhlas (The Purity of Faith)

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Teacher's Day

Just like every year, last Sunday 2 May was the anniversary of Morteza Motahari’s martyrdom. He was one of the intellectual architects of the Islamic Revolution, if not the main one, and his memory is celebrated every year by celebrating every teacher across the country.
The whole week that contains the anniversary is designated as “Teacher’s Week”. In schools, universities, adult education classes, everywhere where people teach and learn, students organise celebrations and buy their teachers presents and flowers. In my Quran class, one of the students collected money from all the students and bought our teacher a golden coin on behalf of the class and a box of pastry, which we al shared around the class after the lesson.
In my daughter’s school, where I am the deputy of the PTA (Parents’ – Teachers’ Association), a celebration was organised last Thursday. At one o’clock students and teachers were assembled in the hall, where the headteacher spoke briefly on the status of the teacher. She said that according to a prophetic tradition (hadith), whenever a person teaches, everything alive in the world prays for him/her. Then she handed out honorary certificates to every teacher to the cheers and applause of the students.
At quarter to two, the students had a picnic lunch in the school yard and were then dismissed. In the meantime, the school’s caretakers were preparing lunch for the teachers and the members of the PTA. Lunch was laid out in the school library in true Iranian style: chicken in ground walnut and pomegranate paste sauce (fesenjan), chicken with fried aubergines in red sauce, fragrant Iranian rice decorated with saffron, green salad, Mexican salad, drinking yogurt, and tea and Danish pastries afterwards.
When lunch was cleared out, the teachers offered a collective present to the headteacher (a gold coin), the school’s founder presented her with a white gold bracelet, the PTA gave her a complete set of non-stick cookware. She also got a complete commentary of the Holy Quran. Then, in her turn, she gave a non-stick cooking pot to every teacher and member of staff, saying that although the custom is to give personal items as presents, because she believes in strong family relations, she chose to buy them something they can use to cook for their family. She also wished that those teachers who are still single be married by the time of the next teachers’ celebration.
All this exchange of presents was accompanied by lots of jokes and compliments and asides. Although I only knew a couple of those present, I felt quite at home in the school’s friendly atmosphere; it reminded me of my teaching days in Southall, Middlesex back in the nineties. They felt so far away.