Iran 2011 – Shiraz

A West-eastern divan:

As soon as I had set foot on Qatar’s ground, I never had to carry any heavy bags (or kids) anymore. So as on the day we finally flew to Iran. My cousin, my kids and I were accompanied to the airport by his mom and two other cousins, and when we arrived there I had nothing to do but to sit back and relax. I did not even have to come along to the counter to check-inn for the flight; it was all done by “the man”. I was quite happy about it because we had gotten up very, very early in the morning on that day and I was still tired.

Sobald ich den Boden von Katar betreten hatte, musste ich nie wieder etwas schweres wie z.B. Koffer oder Kinder tragen. So auch, als wir endlich in den Iran flogen. Mein Cousin, meine Kinder und ich wurden von unserer Tante und zwei weiteren Cousins zum Flughafen begleitet. Als wir dort ankamen, musste ich nichts weiter tun, als zu warten. Der komplette Check-Inn wurde von den Männern geregelt. Ich war darüber eigentlich ganz froh, denn an diesem Tag hatten wir so früh aufstehen müssen, dass ich doch sehr müde war.

Kid and I on plane
Kid and I on plane

In Iran women must wear headscarves, so on that day I was already wearing mine over my hair. Plus, I wore a jacket that was long enough to cover my – excuse my French – butt, and my elbows. In Qatar I didn’t have to wear anything special, I only took care of respecting people’s habits. That was rather easy for me as I could always ask my cousins if I was dressed appropriately. Anyways, whatever I wore, they seemed to be okay with it.
When we set foot on Iranian ground, to be exact on the city of Shiraz’s ground, I didn’t feel the anxiety I had felt before anymore. The weather was nice, not too hot, and the small glimpses I could already catch of the city were so beautiful and green. And then there was my family.

Im Iran müssen alle Frauen ein Kopftuch tragen, und an diesem Tag trug ich meines bereits. Außerdem trug ich einen längere Jacke, die meinen – pardon – Hintern und auch meine Ellenbogen verdeckte, wie es für den Iran üblich ist. In Katar muss man sich nicht wirklich an irgendwelche Kleidungsvorschriften halten, aber aus Respekt vor den Sitten der Einheimischen sollte man sich auch dort etwas zurückhalten. Ich hatte es leicht, denn ich konnte ja immer eine meiner Cousinen fragen, ob ich gut angezogen war, obwohl mich manchmal das Gefühl beschlich, dass sie sowieso immer alles gut fanden.
Als wir dann im Iran landeten, war ich schon gar nicht mehr so aufgeregt, wie zuvor. Das Wetter war ganz angenehm, nicht zu heiß, und das bisschen von Shiraz, das ich schon aus dem Flugzeug sehen konnte, gefiel mir bisher ganz gut. Es war alles so schön grün. Und dann war da endlich meine Familie.

I had hoped to meet a couple of cousins already at the airport. Instead, there was a whole bunch of people already waiting for us and when they saw us, they immediately approached us. They ALL belonged to my family and I really can’t recall the exact number. Even my old auntie had come to the airport, along with an uncle who lived close by. I later learnt that two cousins came from a city down south with their children and drove about 6 or 7 hours, just to meet me there. My family in Germany is rather small and our contact is the usual “Western family style”, like we meet for Christmas or Easter, and on other occasions like birthdays, etc. but not really often otherwise. I had regretted this many times. So now here I was in my own, personal “family heaven”. The guys showed their happiness through words and tears in their eyes. The others, my aunt, my uncle and female cousins gave me lots of hugs and kisses. And flowers, so many beautiful flowers were given to me.

Ich hatte ja gehofft, schon am Flughafen einige meiner Cousins zu treffen, aber stattdessen warteten dort eine gefühlt riesige Menschenmenge auf uns. Als sie uns sahen, kamen sie alle auf uns zu. Und ja, sie gehörten tatsächlich ALLE zu meiner Familie. Sogar meine alte Tante und einer meiner Onkels hatte sich bemüht zum Flughafen zu kommen. Ich habe später erfahren, dass einer meiner Cousins mit seiner Frau und den beiden Kindern ca 7 Stunden Fahrt hinter sich hatte, nur um mich dort anzutreffen.
Meine Familie in Deutschland ist ziemlich klein, unser Kontakt zueinander beruht auf dem typisch westlichen Stil: Wir sehen uns an Weihnachten, vielleicht an Ostern oder an Geburtstagen und das war es eigentlich auch schon. Das hatte ich manchmal ein wenig bedauert, daher kam ich mir gerade wie in meinem eigenen, persönlichen “Familienhimmel” vor. Die Männer drückten ihre Ergriffenheit durch Worte und Tränen in den Augen aus und die Frauen, meine Tante, meine Cousinen und auch mein Onkel knuddelten und drückten und küssten mich ständig. Und ich bekam Blumen, soviele, wunderschöne Blumen.

Someone must have felt that I was tired. Right when we arrived at the house, I was sent to sleep and told the family would take care of my kids. The little guys were already fully occupied by my cousins and their kids, the big one playing football, the little one being carried around and hugged (he loves that). So I just dropped like dead into the bed and it was only in the afternoon when I woke up again.

Irgendwer musste gemerkt haben, dass ich müde war. Sobald wir im Haus meiner Tante ankamen, wurde ich zu Bett geschickt und die Familie kümmerte sich um meine Kinder. Die Kids waren schon total beschäftigt, der Große spielte Fußball, der Kleine wurde durchgereicht und geküsst, bespaßt und geknuddelt (das hat er besonders gern). Also fiel ich einfach todmüde ins Bett, schlief, und wachte erst am Nachmittag wieder auf.

Until then I hadn’t noticed that there was a festival going on in the city of Shiraz. The city is home to the great poet Hafez, who was born around 1325, and is one of the most famous poets in Iran. Apparently even Goethe was a great admirer of Hafez’ work and has been influenced by him to write his “West-eastern divan”. We were lucky to arrive right on time for the festival in Hafez’ memory.

Bis dahin hatte ich nicht bemerkt, dass ein Fest in der Stadt abgehalten wurde. Die Stadt Shiraz ist die Heimat des großen Poeten Hafez, der ca 1325 geboren wurde, und der einer der berühmtesten Poeten aus dem Iran ist. Anscheinend war sogar Goethe ein großer Fan von Hafez’ Arbeiten und er wurde von ihm dazu inspiriert, den “west- östlichen Diwan” zu schreiben. Wir hatten also Glück, dass wir genau zur rechten Zeit zum Festival in Erinnung an den großen Hafez angekommen waren.

There is a beautiful garden in the city that is dedicated to the poet and where his tomb or mausoleum is kept. People gather around it; everyone tries to touch it and get a picture taken with it. That’s understandable: It is decorated with the famous pretty oriental mosaics.

Es gibt hier einen schönen Garten, der dem Poeten gewidmet ist und wo auch sein Mausoleum bzw. Grabstein aufbewahrt wird. Die Menschen stehen darum herum, jeder versucht, es anzufassen und macht Fotos. Das ist verständlich, denn das Grabmal ist hübsch mit den typisch orientalischen Mosaiksteinchen geschmückt.

Tombstone_Hafez
The ceiling of Hafez’ tombstone – Die Decke von Hafez Grabmal

I was told that people had come from everywhere, young and old, women and men, children, from other countries and even other Germans who were guided around by a German speaking Iranian tour guide. When I heard my language being spoken, my cousins and I secretly followed the group so I could get a little bit of information from them as well 😉

A couple of feet away from Hafez’ tomb a group of persons were performing a theater play – most likely from Hafez’ work 😉 – and loads of people were standing around them to watch and listen; Some of the spectators even took part in it by citing verses or joining in the music they were playing in order to announce a new scene (I think). At that point I was really sad I hadn’t learnt much Farsi – the main language of Iran – to be able to understand better what they were performing and what the verses were that people liked so much.

In small corner shops all around the park, they sold handcrafted items like small decorated mirrors, wooden boxes with ornaments, beautiful paintings, jewelry, etc. that I wished I had all bought. Next time I go, I will definitely bring back some presents for my friends.

Totally nuts

People in Iran dress much like we do, except for that the clothes of not only the women but also the men have to adhere to a certain cultural standard. I have already mentioned the head scarf and the jackets or long shirts that cover “it” for women, but there are also rules for men. No shorts, for example and their shirts should also have sleeves. At some places, it is preferred that men wear long sleeves, just like the women do. Same duties for everyone, right?
Why didn’t I call it a religious rule instead of a cultural one? Nowadays I believe calling it that just isn’t pointing in the right direction. Plus, it is more a cultural thing to respect people’s dress codes, than anything else.

Quran Gate
Quran Gate – sorry for picture quality

In the evening, we strolled along a boulevard through the so called Quran gate that is also called “the gate to Shiraz”. Apparently this gate is a leftover from a wall that had been built around the city center, much like the historic city centers or “Altstadt” we have had and call them in Germany. Here too, there was a monument of the city’s famous son Hafez.

 

us_and_hafez
Hafez, my cousin, and I
kids
Our kids playing around the Gate

I was amazed by the mountain right next to this boulevard as the lights that were turned on now it was getting dark threw pretty spots on it and there was a waterfall you could hear splashing in the background.

When we were getting hungry, unlike in our countries, we just sat down on the grass next to the boulevard and we were not the only ones there doing the same. One of my cousins went to get some food and we were having a delicious picnic.

The next day, two of my cousins went to a market and asked me if I wanted something from there. I asked for a couple of nuts, like pistachios, that are quite popular in Iran. When we came back from a trip late in the evening on that day, they had brought me huge piles of bags of different types of nuts stacked upon each other. I needed a whole suitcase to be able to transport them. So be careful, when someone in Iran asks you if you would like to have something, you might end up needing additional means for transportation. 😀

Shah Cheragh and Tony Blair. Wait, what?

Get your posters codes and buy posters at www.postersguide.com - Mausoleum of Shar-e Cheragh, Shiraz, Iran
Picture from postersguide.com

During the day, my cousin Gina accompanied us to a place called Shah Cheragh. It is a mosque and also a mausoleum of Ahmad and Muhammad, brothers of Imam Reza, a Shia Muslim prophet. We were going to see the tomb of Ahmad this time. Before we went, I was told that at this place, you can tell him – Ahmad – about your sorrows and within a year, you would receive his reply and/or help and feel better. Now, I don’t believe in these things, but if you ask me if I want to see some cultural stuff, I am always in.

Before I (being a woman) was allowed to enter, I needed to rent something like a whole-body scarf, sometimes called Tshador, from women who rent these at the entrance. In order to enter this holy place, you must be dressed “clean”, meaning, you don’t enter it as a woman or man, but as a human being. At least that’s how it made sense to me.

My cousin Gina accompanied me through all these steps as guys were not allowed here. I was given something that looked more like a tablecloth to me than anything else and it wasn’t in black as I had expected, but in white and green. Be alert, here comes a picture:

Taken a picture while taking a picture

When we entered the passage to Ahmad’s shrine, we women had to take a separate entrance. That is, the men actually had to take the separate entrance; ours was right in front of the court. You leave your shoes outside and then just follow the crowd.

After a couple of meters, there is not much more left to do than to let yourself be pushed towards the tomb. It is pretty overwhelming when so many women around you try to touch the tomb in total dedication and murmur, mutter and cry for help. At one point I thought it couldn’t be wrong to speak to him myself, and I started asking him – only in my thoughts of course – for some advice on my daily-life-problems, like everyone has them. I thought of some things that I would have liked to be easier, even if I was sure, there would be no real outcome of me speaking to this man.

My cousin Gina stood aside and took care I wouldn’t become lost. All of a sudden, a young woman stood right in front of me and cried out for his help. She cried so much and bent her stomach and even other women turned around and let her speak. I have no idea what she said, but again, this experience had moved me deeply. It was at this point that I suddenly felt as if someone spoke to me. Call me crazy or whatever you like, but a male voice asked me if I really felt my problems were that big and in my mind I admitted the fact that they weren’t.

Luckily, right behind the mausoleum, there is a space for people to take some rest to pray or think about what you had experienced. And I really needed a moment for myself to reflect about what had just happened to me. I still don’t believe in these things, but if – just in case – someone had spoken to me, then he was probably right asking me his question.

little_photobomber
Little photobomber

When we came back outside and gathered together in the court in front of a huge and pretty pond with fountains and the mausoleum to our backs, I cried a little. My cousins asked me if I was fine and then told me a story about Tony Blair’s sister. After she had spent a visit to this exact same place, she must have had a similar experience like mine, and this must have led to her decision of converting and becoming a Shia Muslim. It was hard to believe at first, but when I googled it, it seemed to be the truth. Would you have known?

 

Expectations

I had totally expected a lot more severity in this country. Even when I had to wear this funny looking tablecloth thing over my body, I didn’t feel oppressed or anything like that. Instead, I felt sheltered like a child feels when it is lucky to have a loving family around it.

I would never have expected so much beauty, especially in this city with its beautiful gardens and mountains and monuments and handicrafts. What I had found in the end was spirituality. And my family, of course.

On our last day, before we left to the city of Khorramshahr to meet the rest of my family, my cute, old, little aunt and my dear cousin Gina asked me when I would be back for a visit. I thought coming back for “Nowruz” which is the New Year in Iran, usually happening around the 21st of March of our Western calendar, could be a good idea. “Nowruz?”, Gina repeated and I said yes.

No one had told me that my dear cousin was suffering from breast cancer at its final stage at this time. So, Nowruz came, but I didn’t come, and a couple of weeks later, Gina laid herself down to her final rest. Had I only kept my promise…

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