Don Bosco boys camp, Noshahr, 1972
November 8, 2003
I've tried to write this story on several occasions.
But each time I've stopped after a paragraph or two. I was either
bored or distracted, or just too tired. Or I would start doing
something else; publish something by someone else.
I'm going to give it another try. I've been thinking
about it all night. And I've done a little research on the net
too. Let's see how far I get this time.
remember sitting in the plane, by the window, flying from Abadan
to Tehran. It was around 1972, when I was ten or so.
I was on my way to a boys-only summer camp on the outskirts of
Noshahr, on the Caspian coast.
My parents had told me that I
a change of climate. "It would be good for you," they
said. Good for me? What does that mean? That's
absurd. I was never a sick child. I was always active, riding
playing sports or climbing trees.
I had no allergies then I have
now. There was nothing wrong with me.
possible that my parents told me no such thing. I probably
heard that line in a film I saw at
the movies or on TV. Let's just assume I'm imagining that's
what they said.
I had never traveled on by own before. I was excited.
Sometime during the hour-long flight, I threw up.
Back then, airplane cabins had a sharp nasty smell not unlike
the air in a hospital ward or pharmacy. It was bad enough
a lot of
sick. That's way back then all planes had disposable
bags in front of each seat.
But the stink and altitude changes
were just part of the story: I always had a full stomach, ready
in either direction.
I was picked up at Mehrabad Airport
by one of my aunts. (I wish I could remember which one. Then I could
told you some stories about them.)
A couple of days later she dropped me off to catch the bus
to camp. I had a suitcase and a foam mattress which my mother
had bought a few days earlier in the bazaar in Abadan. I picked
the one I liked. It looked quite funky. It had angled parallel
lines of orange, purple
The ride to Noshahr was visually amazing. My co-campers,
and the landscape we were passing through, were all strange
to me. I divided my time observing the Tehrani boys
-- arrogant brats, but a lot of fun nevertheless -- and staring
at the hills outside, which were getting greener and greener
by the minute. My goodness it was beautiful, breathtaking.
The camp was named after Don Bosco.
Until half an hour ago, I didn't know who Don Bosco was, exactly.
before the Internet, I didn't even know he was a person, let
alone a saint. I found his
Here's a taste:
... a dream-vision revealed God's plans to [Don
Bosco, 1815-1888]. He found himself looking down upon a screaming
horde of savages
who were massacring a band of white men. From the distance
approached a few missionaries, wearing the garb of their orders.
turned upon them with wild satisfaction.
Terrified by their blood-curdling yells and inhuman cruelty,
Don Bosco gasped to see another group of missionaries coming
through the jungles, surrounded by children. They were his
own Salesians! Certainly they would fare no better than the
others. But the yelling ceased. The wild faces became human
natives dropped their weapons and sheepishly looked up into
the missionaries' faces. Then they bowed their heads in prayer!
The dream began to become a reality in 1875; at the request
of Argentina and the Holy See, Don Bosco sent ten missionaries
Buenos Aires to care for Italian immigrants.
Catholic missionaries also set up shop in Iran.
Their activities were concentrated on running the reputable
Andisheh school in Tehran. Don Bosco camp in Noshahr was mainly
designed as a summer retreat for boys from Andisheh and
But we weren't exactly the "savages" in
Don Bosco's dream. And the priests who ran the camp weren't feeding
only religious exercise was a prayer before diving
into the food at the cafeteria, whose walls were covered with
Donald Duck, Goofy and other Disney characters. I do not recall
The priests were kind and spoke fluent Persian,
with an Italian accent of course. One of them I remember distinctly
because he told us a pretty sad story: as a child he had been
thought it was either evil or socially unacceptanble to be a
lefty. So he had beat his son into becoming right-handed.
The camp offices,
dorms, orchards and soccer field were connected
by narrow roads paved with white gravel and lined with short
green bushes. Forest-covered
mountains stood in the south and the Caspian
was a five-minute walk north. For a boy from Abadan where
greenery was a luxury, the natural beauty of Noshahr was more
like a dream.
I was on a tropical island, like the ones in
Hollywood pirate movies.
And it was ALL fun and games. Every day an activity
had been planned for us. There was the sand castle competition,
which we took very seriously. We were divided into groups of
three and given plastic shovels and buckets. We first argued
about what to build and then argued about how to built it. Then
high tide would rush in and there was nothing left to argue about.
The treasure hunts were by far the most exciting
game throughout the two-weeks we were there. Each group would
scour every corner of the camp for clues under rocks, between
tall grass, inside false fruits,
up water faucets and between the pages of books, on the way to
the "treasure", a piece of paper which marked the end of the
On few occasions we were taken on excursions
to parks inside the forest. The huge trees, massive
and strange animal sounds made us feel like the tiny characters
in Land of the
Giants, a popular TV show of the time. It was not as scary
as it was mind-blowing.
Yes, it was all fun and games. But there was
one incident which dampened my mood, so to speak.
Our dorm was a hollow building with a high ceiling.
There were four rows of 15 or so single beds. On the first
day of camp each boy would roll open his mattress on
an assignend bed and cover it with a white sheet and a gray blanket
supplied at the camp.
A few days after my arrival, I woke up one
morning and wished I was dead. I had wet my bed.
In Abadan, this would
have been a minor incident.Our maid Zeynab would scold me with
something like, "Ah! Not AGAIN!
Kherseh gondeh! Shame on you!" I would make a gesture like,
yeah whatever, and go off to school. When I got back in the
afternoon, my bed would be dry and clean.
I was not at home. I was in a dorm with dozens of Tehrani boys.
If the incident "leaked", I would
have been ridiculed for the duration of the camp. To save myself
I pretended I was asleep until all the boys had left the dorm.
Then I quickly
hid my stained pajama in a corner of my suitcase and covered
the mattress with the blanket. It all looked normal. I just
prayed and prayed no one would notice the odor.
I would sleep over the blanket in order to hide the stain and
prevent the smell from escaping. When counselors asked why I
wasn't under the blanket, I would insist the weather was too
froze for many nights, but it was well worth it. No one ever
found out, or if they did, they kept
One of our counselors was a burly Armenian in his
early twenties. Everything about him said "gorilla".
He was constantly showing off his strength. From the middle of
the soccer field he would
kick the ball straight
into the goal
feat which could only be carried out by a superhuman, us puny
10-year-olds thought. His reputation as a primate was further
by the raw leg
in his room. He would slice off a piece from the dried reddish-purple
meat, put it in his mouth as if it was milk chocolate and lecture
on the health benefits of eating
"naturally" like animals.
A few days
before the end of camp, this Armenian hulk gathered us for an
important announcement: Prime
Minister Hoveyda was coming for an official visit. No way!
we thought. How cool was that? We formed a welcoming committee,
made banners, swept bags of dried leaves and trash from
the camp, scrubbed the bathrooms and mopped the dorm floor,
hung colored lights on trees, and made handicrafts especially
for the occasion.
Everything was set for the high-level visit.
Shortly after sunset, we stood in line along the camp's main
road. We tucked in our shirts, straightened our pants, combed
our hair and waited anxiously.
Then someone shouted, "The Prime Minister!" We tapped
our heals and puffed up our chest like soldiers. A car slowly
rolled down the road. All we could see were the headlights until
The large man inside the beat-up
Paykan had a pipe in his mouth and waved
with his cane, just like we imagined Hoveyda would. But it wasn't
Hoveyda. It was the Armenian primate pretending
the Prime Minister.
fooled, and fooled good! For hours we
couldn't stop laughings -- and cursing.
For years colorful Don Bosco honor certificates
stood beside trophies on top of the drawer in my bedroom in
I went back to the camp the following summer and again had a
great time. But after that I lost touch and never heard about
After the 1979 Revolution, Andisheh became a public school and
Don Bosco camp was turned over to the government. If any of you
attended the camp and have stories to tell, or have pictures,
please share. It was an institution whose legacy is worth preserving.
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