by Shabnam Tabibzadeh
One Spring day, my husband, our two little daughters and I went for a drive in Tehran. It was a year before the events of 1979. As my husband was driving, he suddenly said, "Let's go to the Caspian, spend the night wherever we find ourselves in the evening and return the next day." "OK, let's go," I replied.
It was a beautiful Thursday. We drove north without even bothering to go home to pack our bags or to tell our relatives. When we reached Lahijan about six o'clock in the evening, we went straight to the inn run by the tourism organization (Jalbe Sayahan).
We had dinner in the inn's comfortable restaurant but we were not able to spend the night there because they were booked. We asked around for the next best place and were told to try the Abshaar Motel, which was not very far. Abshaar had a vacant room for us. We went to our room and retired for the evening.
The next morning as we were getting ready to leave, my husband announced that the zipper on his pants had broken. He did not have an extra pair, so we had to go to town to buy a new pair.
We drove to town and to our pleasant surprise we located a Barak shop, a nationwide chain that my husband shopped at in Tehran. Off he went to get his new pants while the children and I waited in the car.
It was a hot, humid day and my husband was taking longer than I expected. After about half an hour, which felt more like half a day, the kids were getting impatient. I got out of the car and went to the shop to see what he was doing.
As soon as I entered, the shopkeeper, whose name I found out later was Mr. Malak Farnoud, greeted me as if I were a blood relative. "Oh, hello. Welcome to our shop. Please come in. Hey boy, bring a cup of tea for the lady," he said.
I thanked him politely and said that we had to go. The kids were getting impatient. Mr. Farnoud responded, "Where do you think you're going? I would like to invite you to my house to have lunch with us."
It was about noon but I insisted that we had to go and I thanked him again. This time, Mr. Farnoud said, "Beh khoda ageh bezaram tashrif bebarid! Beh sareh abolfazl nemizaram!" (Heavens no! I won't let you go.) And he meant it. We accepted his invitation.
He came with us in our car and ordered his assistant to bring the other pair of pants that needed repair as soon as it was ready. In deference to us, he urged his assistant to take a taxi. He sat in the front next to my husband and within a few minutes we were in front of his house.
His house was a one-story building with a small yard in the front. We got out of the car, Mr. Farnoud went to the door and knocked a few times before opening it. A woman's voice asked who we were. Mr. Farnoud replied vigorously, "Tayebeh Khanoum, good news, we have guests for lunch." Tayebeh Khanoum, as if she were yearning to have people over, answered enthusiastically and opened the door.
Here was a rather petite woman, wrapped in a flowery chador, smiling from ear to ear, warmly welcoming us. We were ushered to a room, a rather large room that except for the wall-to-wall carpet contained little else. On the wall, there was a small framed picture which we found out later was of their son who was away for military service.
Within seconds they were serving tea, fruits, sweets and other goodies. As we started to drink the tea, Tayebeh Khanoum went to the kitchen and started to prepare food. Mr. Farnoud was constantly talking about his business, how hard it had been for the bazaar merchants in the last few months since Jamshid Amouzegar had become prime minister, and he was concerned for his son's future.
At the end, he added, "I just love to have people over. Don't get the wrong impression that I am doing this so that I can have a place to stay when I come to Tehran. I have so many friends there but I never go to anyone's place, I love to have them over, really do."
After a while I went to the kitchen to give a hand to Tayebeh Khanoum, who was preparing the rice. At the same time, she was working on several other dishes. It was obvious that everything was ready. She just had to do a few final touches.
I took the tablecloth and spread it on the living room floor. As I was placing the plates, there was a knock on the door. Mr. Farnoud went to the door, opened it and we could hear him saying, "Aow! Hassan Aqa! Welcome! Come on in . . ."
So, there they came: Hassan Aqa and his seven children. The youngest looked like he was 4 or 5 years old and the oldest 17 or 18 years old. Hassan Aqa was a huge, robust man, very pleasant and very polite. He was one of the relatives of Mr. Farnoud who had just arrived from Rasht.
Mrs. Farnoud was as happy as her husband and started to prepare more food. So we brought the food and put them on the tablecloth and started to eat. As we were eating, Hassan Aqa told all kinds of interesting stories.
He said that looking at all the food on display reminded him of the few weeks he spent in New York two years before with his brother, who was a physician.
"The first night I spent there was a nightmare," he said. "After flying all the way there and talking to my brother about all that had happened to us, I felt very hungry. We were drinking whiskey and a small bowl of peanuts was empty after I attacked it. I almost fainted before we had dinner."
"Finally," Hassan Aqa added, "We were called to the table. As we were sitting with their two kids, I looked around and saw a bowl of salad and nothing else. Then my brother's wife came in from the kitchen and put a plate of what was something like Loubia Polo (vegetable rice) on the table."
He said he thought to himself, "Maybe each one of us is going to have one of those dishes but I was wrong. The dish went around for each of us to take a few spoons. The same thing with the salad. I was waiting for the next course, thinking maybe my brother's family was too sophisticated and ate one thing at a time.
"I was wrong again. That was the dinner. Well, it was my first night there. I hadn't seen my brother for years and I didn't want to say anything. But can you imagine how I felt? a 150-kilo man with a few spoons of rice? Anyhow, I could hardly sleep that night.
"The next morning I got up. There was a convenience store below the apartment. I went there and bought anything I could find, sat outside on a bench and ate it all. So, for a while this was my story, I always went out to feed myself.
"Toward the end of my stay, my brother joined me too. When his wife was away, we split watermelons and are them just like when we were kids. It was so much fun, especially for my brother.
"The next year, my brother and his wife came to visit us in Rasht. We were a big family and we were used to abundance. The first night of their arrival, we covered a big table with all sorts of food. His wife could not believe her eyes and asked us how many more people we had invited. She was very surprised that it was going to be only us."
Hassan Aqa went on and on and he too invited us to visit him whenever we were in Rasht. We stayed at Mr. Farnoud's house until late afternoon. They would not let us go and even though we had decided to stay one more night in Lahijan, we said we had to go back.
When we got back to Tehran, we called them once in a while and even though we invited them repeatedly, they never came over. We talked on the phone and I can still hear his voice, full of joy and sincerity as he called his wife to the phone "Tayebeh Khanoum! Tayebeh Khanoum! It is Mrs. . . ."
We even sent them postcards from Europe on a few occasions. Unfortunately, after moving to the U.S., I lost their address.
These people have left such a beautiful memory in our hearts and minds that we will always remember them. When I think about the people of my country, I prefer to believe that most of them are like Mr. Farnoud, Tayebeh Khanoum and Hassan Aqa.