Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 4, 2007

Out of Iran

I decided that I should extend my stories and include others, not directly commenting on life in England – so here is another one.  You may like it or you may not, it does not really matter, I’m practising. 

 Out of Isfahan

The young woman walked briskly up the road, looking left and right, taking in the bustle, everything so different, the air bright and noisy, men squatting and banging large copper plates, others simply smoking and talking, a few women pulling chardors together and carrying shopping bags, hair carelessly coming out from underneath and everyone preoccupied in ways so different from what she was used to.  They seemed small wearing cheap clumpy shoes that looked terribly uncomfortable but nevertheless were a sign of western influence.   Other women dressed completely in western style and she saw two girls, one in jeans, t-shirt and fashion shoes whilst her friend was covered head to toe in a black chardor, although the latter was worn casually and she glimpsed the western uniform of jeans and t-shirt underneath it.   England was far away now and already receding – this is where she would live from now on, her newly married husband a professor at the University and she herself free to spend the days as she liked, no job to go to, that would come later, all she wanted was to find out more about this place that she had come to.  An early spring sun began to warm the streets and she was glad she had not brought a coat, even though the clear sky still exuded a crisp freshness, soon it would get warmer, it was still early.  The air was full of dust and shoes and cars all took on the same greyish-white hue.

Carpets, laid out across the pavement, almost carelessly and then plates and other wares stalled out, people were busy in different ways, women pulling children along with them, always talking, gesticulating in conversation with shopkeepers or friends or relatives.

She had left the flat behind, her new home on the campus, still empty except for basic furniture, a bed, a kitchen table and a very large American made fridge-freezer.  She had hailed a taxi outside he campus gate and joined two women in chardors who smiled at her and started talking to her.  She had smiled back indicating that she did not understand a word of what they were saying and so the women smiled some more, nodding all the time when she said ‘farsi sahbat nemikonam’, exclaiming in wonderment at what she was saying.   They then turned to the driver, who delivered his comments to them and they continued their conversation, only once in a while turning to her, smiling to acknowledge she was still there, and then carrying on with their conversations.  Another man got in and sat next to the driver, she looked at the road, which would be her road into town from now on, the campus was newly built waiting for ‘professors’ to come from abroad or from other towns to live there with their families, making it attractive for them to want to return from abroad and support the university.

She wanted to pinch herself, making sure this was not all a dream and that she was really living here.  It still seemed terribly unreal and felt more like a holiday.  She was glad to have left Tehran behind as the place made her feel tired and down, with air pollution and mind-destroying traffic.  Isfahan, although very dusty, seemed cleaner somehow, with a freshness in the air that had been completely absent in Tehran.

The taxi had dropped the women at the beginning of town, just across the bridge, the si-o-se pol, and she had decided to get out at the same time, even though she had originally asked for the masjed-e-shah, in the Naqsh-e Jahan Square,  the women pointed her in the right direction and she quite wanted to walk down the streets and get a feel for where she was.  The square and the mosque would be renamed after imam Khomeini, the reference to the shah becoming anathema once the regime was toppled a few years later.   When she entered the famous square, buses had already started dropping off the tourists who arrived from all over the country, mainly Iranians, keen to visit their heritage.  Stalls were set out with jewellery, materials, carpets, silverware and other handicrafts.   The shopkeepers perched on stools, not appearing in any hurry whatsoever to sell any of their wares.   There was a queue of men all holding papers in their hands, which they had stamped before one after the other disappeared inside an official looking building.  Police guards stood around with one guard on the roof, keeping an eye on everything below.  No-one took any notice and all seemed good humoured, confirmed by the sudden appearance of about eight police with their commander, laughing and joking, their rifles slung casually across their shoulders, marching towards the official building where they also disappeared.  In the middle of the square were the fountains, the water glass clear in the sun, sparkling under the blue sky.

She stood outside the mosque, observing the hubbub of people, the tourists now clearly included some American visitors, who loudly proclaimed their awe and with some of the women wearing shorts, which seemed completely out of place.   She stood apart, looking up at the dome and the beautiful tiles, all individually painted, she knew, blues and yellows and creams.  Suddenly she felt someone pull her sleeve and when she looked round she saw a young mullah, gesticulating at her and beckoning her to come‘this way’ he said in English, ‘I show you something no other tourist can see’….  She looked doubtful, ‘you different’, he said ‘you see how tiles made, repair’.  ‘Give me some money’ he added, ‘just a little and then I will show you where tiles repaired’.  She handed him some tumans and he looked satisfied with what she had given him and then beckoned her to follow him into a side door and then up the stairs of the minaret.  She could not quite believe what was happening but then thought that mullah’s would hardly rape a western woman in a minaret of one of the most famous mosques in Iran and decided that he really only wanted to make some extra money on the side and considered her an easy and gullible customer.  She’d better enjoy the ride!  Up the minaret they went, the young mullah had stopped talking apart from telling her every so often that it was only a little further.  He was on a mission now to show her whatever it was that was up there and he clearly wanted to do it fast.  At the top of the stairs he told her to look and she drew sharp breath when she looked out over Isfahan, the people in the square like small dots, far removed.  He opened a low door and the noise of conversation and laughter and banging and scraping met her.  Several young student mullahs sat on the floor, cross-legged, bits of tiles some only partly chipped or broken around them over the floor, some had brushes in their hands, others cloths with which they appeared to be wiping some of the tiles clean of dust and smudge.  ‘Here tiles repair’, her guide said, ‘you can see.  No one else can see, but you good, different, you can see’.  She wondered why she deserved the recommendation and thought it had perhaps something to do with the trousers she was wearing, with the long sleeved buttoned up shirt she was wearing, not particularly by design but because they were comfortable clothes to wear whilst walking around a town.

She realised she found herself in one of the work rooms at the top of one of the two minarets, normally only accessible to mullahs and workers attached to the upkeep of the mosque.  The young men smiled at her and she politely smiled back, making sure that she was not making eye contact, but looking questioningly at her guide.  ‘Here’ he suddenly said, and picked up a broken tile ‘ you take this.  Hide it.  It’s a souvenir for you’.  She accepted the offer and dropped it carefully into her handbag. 

It would be one of the very few souvenirs she took back with her once she left Iran for good, but that was much later, after the revolution.  She would live in Isfahan for nearly four years before that happened.  And then, there would have been a revolution and her life would have been turned upside down, once more.


  1. Lovely!

  2. Nice to have a comment at long last – a number of bloggers seem to have visited but then left quietely. A bit disconcerting!

  3. Bloggers do frequently that, seachanges, patience is the word here in the blogosphere. If they have something to say they will.

    I wish you all the best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: