email contact

Sunday, 24 March 2013


I gave myself an absence mark from the blog last week, the last week of the Iranian year 1391 which ended on Wednesday 20 March at 14:31:47 hrs Iranian time at the precise moment when the sun’s movement marks the beginning of spring. As always, I had left all the cleaning and tidying up for the last minute (in the hope that someone else would do it, which they did – eventually), so the last days of the year were a marathon of scrubbing, cleaning, washing, folding, ironing and a thousand other things that should have been done much earlier.
On the first day of the New Year (Noruz) festival younger people visit the elders of the family, starting from the parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts. It is customary for the elders to give children and newly married couples an eidi, a present of money in the form of newly minted banknotes that have been kept between the Quran pages. This need not be a large sum, its significance being the blessing bestowed by the old upon the young. […] For the next twelve days short visits are exchanged among family and friends, the idea being that relatives should see each other at least once a year, if everyday life doesn’t let this happen more often. The younger visit the older people first, and towards the end of the twelve days, the older people reciprocate those visits.
During the Noruz visits, apart from the staples of tea and fruit, other compulsory items are on offer: several kinds of sweetmeats, sometimes homemade, nowadays mostly shop-bought, boiled sweets or chocolates, a mixture of seeds and nuts containing pistachios, almonds, dried chickpeas, pumpkin and watermelon seeds and other nuts. All these, and sometimes more, will be pressed upon you during a Noruz visit, so you will need a lot of stamina (to keep refusing) or a strong stomach; or both.
(the second and third paragraphs extracted and adapted from my Among the Iranians: A Guide to Iran’s Culture and Customs, Intercultural Press, Boston, Mass. 2010)

Saturday, 9 March 2013


A few days ago I received a text message from one of the students I taught last term at Ulum Hadith University. In a class of thirty-one, she had been one of those who either chatted or daydreamed during lessons, and mostly smiled cheekily.

She was in Mashhad, the burial place of the eighth Shi’a Imam and a favourite pilgrimage destination in Iran. The text message read, “I am standing by the mausoleum of the Holy Imam Reza (peace be upon him) praying for you.”

Another heart-warming gesture by a student that made me appreciate teaching once more. The funny thing is, she was one of the nine students who failed the exam.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Childish Joy

This is not the first time I write about experiences I have had on the way to, from, or actually in Shahrerey. Sitting on the back seat of the taxi, I usually glance at the city scenes that drift past the windows: only last Monday morning, as I got off the taxi just before Hazrat Abd ol-Azim’s Shrine, a group of nine-year-old girls, dressed in white chadors decorated with pink flowers got off a minibus. This visit must have been part of the celebration of their ‘coming of age’ in terms of religious duties (jashn-e taklif), something like the Catholic First Communion. They were all excited, milling around like kittens, until the stern voice of their teacher brought them into line.

On the same day, on the way back to the metro station, the taxi stopped at a red light in front of a greengrocer’s. A couple of people with their back turned to me were doing their shopping, while two schoolboys a short distance ahead held two wooden sticks and rolled around a rotten apple in place of a ball. Their faces were bright with childish excitement, at trying, at having a good game, at changing the world around them with whatever is at hand.

Their smiles brought me back to one summer in Kassos, my native island, when my cousin Manolis shaped little doll chairs and tables from the metallic stoppers of glass Coke bottles. He had used a long stone with a flattish end to straighten them and had managed to make the pieces stick together (I never worked out how.) When he finished, he gave the same kind of smile that has the warmth of the sun coming out from behind the clouds.