On the border
By Ashpaz Baashi
May 22, 2001
Somewhere between Maku and Baku, near the border Iran shares with Russia,
there is a very beautiful old Armenian church. Razmik swore that he knew
how to find it, just a little detour. The gear was loaded, there was film
to spare, and we didn't need to be anywhere soon, so why not?
Hours later we were still wandering. The sun was high. The prospect of
a chai-khaneh with a pot of abgusht was more appealing than any church,
no matter how picturesque, but both were fantasies at that point. The road
ran for a stretch just inside the border, a wide ribbon of no-man's-land
with a barbed wire fence on either side. That's what the lines on the map
look like up close: unfriendly in a vaguely threatening, geopolitical sort
of way. Nothing personal, of course.
The chai-khaneh remained a mirage, but in its place a tiny gendarmerie
materialized, on a bluff with a spectacular view of this particular barren
stretch of wire and dust. We could ask directions in exchange for explaining
ourselves. Better still, we could stay for tea and chat for a bit. We settled
comfortably on the concrete floor as the water boiled in a big aluminum
pot on the aladdin.
Out the window I could see a mirror image, another little concrete bunker
facing us across the no-man's-land. Inside, a commotion of tea cups and
taarof, and the static of an ancient two-way radio in the corner as a soldier
fiddled with the dials. He was trying to be discrete, hunched over the set,
but he had to speak loud to get through: "Gojeh farangi hast? Mehmun
daarim..." (Got any tomatoes? We have guests.)
I looked out the window again to see a uniformed figure running towards
us, small at first in the distance but as he approached I could see he was
carrying a paper bag. Tomatoes, imported from Russia.
If you are ever so lucky as to find Russian tomatoes, this is how to
Heat a little oil in a frying pan on an aladdin. Chop the tomatoes roughly
and add them to the oil. Stir the tomatoes until they are just hot, then
break a few eggs and pour them gently into the pan. Cook without stirring
until the eggs are just set.
If you find yourself on the Iraqi border, you can try the same dish with
dates instead of tomatoes. Either way, serve with fresh bread and tea.