Why sheep chew gum
Memories from Shomal
November 27, 2004
There were two great things about summer and growing
up in Tehran: No more Emtehane Fasle Sevvom [third trimester /
Final exams] or
going to school for a while, AND, going to Shomal [slang for Northern
Iran]. Spending three whole months by Daryaye Khazar [the Caspian
Sea] was the ultimate treat.
The water was delightful, not too cold, not too hot - not too
salty not too sweet.
The sun was perfect, not burning hot - not too fading shy, enough
for a dark brown tan - as if we needed to get any darker!
The mountains, particularly Ramsar, were gorgeous, not too far,
and not too close just about right.
And the beaches ... well, the beaches were just that. I don't
remember we ever concerned ourselves with the beaches. A beach
in Shomal is what you cross to get to the water, nothing more.
People actually drove on the beach - most carried their day supplies
in their cars and drove just feet away from the water, passing
by the rest of us as we were playing in the sand. There was always,
a car that was stuck in the soft liquid sand - Always - And you
would always see some men "Ya-Ali Ya-Ali Konan" [manta-ing
or Chanting Ali's name] trying to push the car out of the soft
sand. I wonder how many people are hit by cars on the beach!
We mostly went to NoeShahr and always took OtoBun e Karaj - Paying
the Yek Toman [1 toman] toll was always a checkpoint for my sisters
and I that we had finally successfully left home, also a reminder
that the sibling fights between us has begun. To start with, who
was going to pay the toll to the guy who was collecting ...
You know how kids sometimes burp grown up stuff to promote themselves
that they are adults and grown up? I used to ask my dad if we were
going to "ShahreNoe", pretending that I knew what it
was and checked his reactions:
"Baba, Dareem Meereem ShahreNoe, ManZooram NoeShahr e?"
[Are we going to ShahreNoe, I mean, NoeShare?]
and I loved it when he always, without even looking at me and
the smirk on my face said:
" BachChe, Khodet o En Ghadr loose Nakon - ShahreNoe Chee
ye? Jaye Khoobee nist - Adam Inn Harf Ha ro Too Khooneh Jelo Khaharash
Nemi zaneh - Dorost Harf Bezan. NoeShahr e.
[don't be a pest - what ShahreNoe! You should speak such language
with your sisters in the room - Speak proper!]
Every now and again, responding to me, he would slip and he himself
would repeat ShahreNoe - he would immediately correct himself,
saying "AssTaghForAllah" or "LaElahaElLalah"!
I can still hear the local kids on the coastal road to NoeShahr,
shouting off the top of their lungs "Ootagh" [Room] at
every passing car, advertising availability of rooms in their homes
to be rented out. No reservations were required, no online booking.
Just pull up by one, and if you survive being mobbed by a whole
bunch of them, haggle a bit and you had your place to stay. Most
people generally picked the oldest kid that also meant was the
most experienced, and easier to deal with - The much younger ones
did not have the authority, or the skills to negotiate the rent
and sometimes even more difficult to understand because they only
spoke the local dialect. These rentals were like the bed and breakfast
Inns, Persian style.
If available, we went to the same place at Khanoom JanNatee,
who also had a black dog name Sia [black]. Although her rooms were
very clean and very close to the beach, their bathroom, an outhouse,
was a "far house" with no lights and a nightmare for
a 6-7 year old to go potty at night. One night as I was twisting
and turning and my mom didn't want to walk with me to this "far
dark house", she said "just do it out there behind the
room, no one is going to see you" - It is amazing that she
didn't say "To see it!".
Although proximity helped me to get over my fears to some extend,
I was too scared to go to the back of the room - I did it on the
ground, next to our room. Although impossible to believe, Sia ate
it - It must have been good shit! "BeKhoda Rust Migam"
MahmoodAbad beach was "Rougher" for barefoot ventures
and we didn't go there for the longest time. I liked it because
the water was much cleaner and you wouldn't see someone's poop
floating near you. I also liked it because if I made a sand hill,
a lot of times, it would still be there the next day and I could
add additional tunnels to it or add little sticks of wood to it
and pretend it was a forest on top of the tunnel.
My older sister loved crowds and MahmoodAbad was not crowded
- She always made such a big fuss that we had all decided it was
better to go someplace that she likes rather than tolerating her
negh o noogh [nagging]. My dad always used to say:
" Agha, na khasteem beReem MahmoodAbad. Een Marzieh Joone
maro gereft Baske negh zad! Ahhhh".
We ended up buying a house there and none of this seemed to matter
BandarPahlavi, a bigger town and the next beach up the road,
also had a bad, rocky, "Rougher" beach but we didn't
go there just because of the beach, nor because it was further
away. For one, the water was particularly dirty! BandarPahlavi
was the only beach where I saw someone's poop floating near by
in the water, and noticed a suspiciously happy guy quickly swimming
away - It was fresh out of the oven!
Worse yet, a lot of Jaahels took their Nachmeh [hooker] to BadarPahlavi.
You could always find a drunk man or two, again, mostly Jaahels,
in the town itself or at the beach. I wonder how the local must
have loved and hated Tehrani visitors.
Once, as we were arriving in BandarPahlavi, my dad made a remark
to my mom about a woman, walking along the street, that she was
a ZaNe Kharab e Ye Tomany! [ a dollar hooker.]
We stopped shortly after, at the store to get food, less than
50 feet from where she was actually standing. After a quick whispering
consultation with Mansooree, my expert cousin who is only 8 months
older, and getting my younger sister, who is less than a year younger
than myself, to agree to lend us money, we ran up to her and started
to stare. She was very tall and very skinny, had a white chador
with really tiny blue and pink flowers, like the type on my mom's
underwear, which hardly covered her height anyway - she also had
a very short very bright pink skirt on underneath.
Mansooree's mom, my Khale [aunt], had told him that a ZaNe Kharab
was someone who showed her Mass to other people and got money for
it! Mansooree even knew that this was different than grand ma's,
whose we had seen many times before when she took us to Hamoom
[take a bath].
Hers, Mansooree said, would be like one of those green box Shahre
Farangs [nickelodeon] which we had once watched in Shabdolazeem
[Shah Abdol Azeem - a temple for a Muslim saint] which is also
where my grand ma even bought us Ferfereh [whirligig] and JeghJegheh
[similar to a squeaky ball but shaped like a cylinder - A squeaky
" rika jan boor bazzee beney" [kid, go play someplace
else], she told Mansooree, with a strong northern Iranian accent.
Mansooree pushed me towards her and stiffing my leg did not help
keep me in place. Closer to her now than my comrades, I let go
of my sister's hand, I gulped and extended my arm. In my hand now,
I had my panj zar, Mansooree's char e zar which was doe ta doe
zaree and my younger sister's ye doone doe zaree which she was
holding in her 5 year old hand since we had left Tehran hours ago.
[5 rials, 2x2rials, and 2 rials]
She looked at me, she looked at the coins in my hand, then she
looked at us and said "poser jan, ma ke geda neye" [I
am not a beggar]!!!
I replied: "Shahre Farang Daree?"
My sister, as she was sucking her thumb, mumbled "Begoo
Ferfereh" [ask her for whirlwig]. The woman reached forward
and as soon as she took the money, a big guy came and grabbed her
arm and dragged her away. We just stood there and watched her leave
with our money. I was holding my sister's right hand, somehow an
automatic protective reflex - She was standing next to me, tightly
holding her Aroosak Kachaleh with her left arm close to her chest
and as always, sucking her left thumb.
Without taking her thumb out, or without looking at me and as
she was looking at the woman leave, she said: "Pool lamo behesh
Mansooree said "Mann mass e sho didam - mesl e mal e momOn
bozorge gondeh bood" then he said "beh Khaleh migam poole
Afsaneh ro beHesh dadee!"
[I saw her private part, it was as big as grand ma's - I am going
to tell your mom that you gave her your sister's money]
I gave Afsaneh a piece of gum and promised her, as embarrassing
as it was going to be in front of all the other boys to take your
sister with you, to take her with me to NoonVaii [bakery] when
we returned to Tehran. She agreed and nodded, approving the deal,
again without taking her thumb out.
I told Mansooree "Agar Beh mamaNam begee bahat Ghahr Mikonam" -
Upset that he had lost his 4 rials, he said, "Ghar kon, Beh
We ran back to the car - As soon as we got in and my parents
returned, my sister, not crying or complaining, simply reporting,
told my mom: "MaaMaan, Bahram Poola ro dad beh Khanoom Shahre
Frangy Kharab e Ferfere hash ham Nagereft" [Bahram gave our
money to that bad Lady and did not even get his whirlwig] ! The
hunt for the bad witch who took our 11 rials is a book by itself
- I should make it a sequel to Harry Potter!
... regardless of our final destination, we mostly took Jadeh
Kandevon. We waited anxiously for our turn to drive through and
loved sticking my hand out to get sprayed by the water dripping
from the ceiling. The climax of our trip was always arriving at
Chaloos - it was a landmark for my sisters and I, and probably
for my mom too, that we made it safe and sound, in one piece, and
my dad did not kill us on those narrow, windy, truck packed KanDevan
road where we missed Kameeyoons [large trucks] coming from the
opposite direction by inches, and in fractions of a second and
where everyone FohShe Khaar Maadar Be Ma MeeDad [everyone cursed
us] or Nefreen'ed us [omenious wishes also cursed].
Part II: Hassan Sotee
As much fun as these trips were, and as fantastic as my dad really
made them once we were there, getting there or even being in the
same car with my dad, was as much of a nightmare - Adam Ro NesFeh
Along with FohSh [cursing] (remember Farsi Goozidan, like that)
and NefReen [ominous wishes, also cursing] from all other cars
and families on the road, he always got speeding or other moving
violation citations, and typical of ALL Iranian drivers, he either
tore the ticket and threw it out the window, or wrinkled it up
and threw it out ... As if !!!
My dad was the inspiration for a Disney cartoon about a sweet
man who would even walk carefully on the sidewalk to avoid stepping
on ants, but when he would get behind the wheel, he would turn
into a mean, out of control monster who was ready to demolish.
Did you hear a joke about these two "Jaahel"s who are
on their way to Shomal (probably to BandarPahlavi) and their brakes
and steering fails? When the he sees a truck coming from the opposite
direction, the driver wakes up his friend who had fallen asleep
and says "Hey Abbass, Me Khayee TassAdof Tamoosha Koni?" [Want
to see an accident?]
Yes, my dad is that cartoon character who we always expected
to wake us up to say "Hey Kids, wanna watch an accident?".
We once gave my MobeSir [a student who was in charge of maintaining
the order in the classroom until the teacher arrives] a ride to
school, after which he stopped ever having eye contact with me
and never spoke with me again - I also think that's when I also
noticed that he stutters, which I never noticed prior to that ride!
At home, we always knew my dad was coming because we would always
hear this loud screeching noise outside (e.g. his breaks or rubbing
tires) then a few angry honking (e.g. other drivers), and some
altercations, generally some FohShe Khar Madar [cursing and profanity]
(e.g. other drivers, pedestrians, neighbors, birds!) seconds later,
he would walk in, looking at us to see if we heard anything - I
sometimes would open the door for him even before he knocked because
we knew it was him, but we always pretended it was another bad
mean driver and not our dad - He returned the favor when we grew
older and started to smoke and he pretended it was never us! He
would even borrow a cigarette from me, asking if my friends may
have left theirs in my room!!!
We would never carry food with us in the car - It was pointless!
With his kind of dricing, you would more likely spill it on yourself
than you would manage to either eat or drink it and worse, if you
spilt it in his car, which may explain why the specialty floor
mats in my dad's cars looked more like Tasht [buckets] than actual
floor mats. Visualize Cookie Sheets, you know, the pan you bake
cookies on, Like that!
Driving with my dad to Shomal was a three hour roller coaster
venture of a ride - a price we had to pay for three months of summer
super fun. Let's see, an hour of horror per month of non-stop fun
seemed like a fair trade (sorry, make that two hours of horror
per month, taking into account the return ride back to Tehran).
15 years of going to Shomal x 3 hours x 2 for the return ride =
90. 90 hours of horror is even less than four days. Four days shorter
that my sisters and I will live.
Wasn't it for every hour of horror that we experience, we live
one hour less, or was it for every hour of horror we live one day
less? Oh dad! That's three months!
We would leave Tehran about 4:00am to avoid some kind of catastrophic
traffic or some deadly winter storm or something - we usually had
breakfast by the time we got to Chaloos! Once in the car and because
of the way he drove, it was impossible to go back to sleep - Although
we had car-seats in the later years, bumping our heads against
each others' or against the window was inevitable, with or without
seatbelts, if my dad was driving. How can you sleep when you are
sitting so stiff to avoid head injuries and concotion? And yes,
if he was in the car, he was driving. No one else, I mean NO ONE
else, was qualified to drive, despite near death accidents and
We would not stop anywhere either unless we had to because one
of my sisters was about to throw up (or had already thrown up after
multiple warnings) or someone's bladder was about to explode. Imagine
going on a roller coaster ride with full bladder. That's us.
My older sister usually vomit in the car, typically on the way
to Shomal only. We called her Dahatee [villager] because she wasn't
used to being in a car. We also always looked when she was throwing
up, waiting for the smell to hit us so that we could oooh and a'hhh
My dad always shouted at us : "Agha joon, khob Negah naKon
- Aah, Hal e Adam o Beham MiZanan!" [ kids, don't look! You
are making me throw up!!] He knew that my younger sister would
get nauseous as soon as she sees Marzieh's EstefRugh, and would
eventually Shokoofeh [throw up] herself - I owe my incredible reflexes
to my childhood practices, trying to get out of my sisters' way
as they were about to throw up, or were already throwing up, that
rotten digested smelly food.
My Amoo [Dad's brother] had playfully nicknamed my dad "Hassan
SoTee" [ Hassan, going Speed of Sound] for speeding all the
time in his endless pursuit to break the sound barrier on the ground.
I just realized this may have been why he never heard us when
we asked him to stop when we had number one: Think scientifically
- he was already ahead of our sounds and couldn't hear us:
" d ... a ... d ... ... . I ... ... h …a ... v …e
... ... t ... o ... ... P ……... e ……...
We looked with HassRat [envy] at other cars that were stopped
at truck stops and surprised that there were actually kids who
could come out of their cars and play on their way to Shomal! Idiots!
(it was like the Lord of the Rings where others looked like Arwen
and the happy elves, and we were like the captured Hobbits by Saruman
and other forces of the darkness)
... And what was that with the cigarette ashes? My dad smoked
back then and I don't know why he would not use the ashtray in
the car - he would tap the cigarette ashes on the half way rolled
down driver side window. The ashes would travel right back in through
the rear passenger window into the eyes and the face of whomever
was sitting behind my dad, namely yours truly. He would even sometimes
throw out the cigaretter butt without actually putting out first
- I am amazed I can still see and I didn't go blind!
I won't be surprised to find out that I may have so far been
describing 99.99% of dads in Iran!
Part III: Are you talking to me? Are you talking to us? Allelo
Nothing would slow down my dad on these trips, nothing, except
... Well ... except for these most unlikely creatures of the middle
We had left Tehran very late that day, around 7:00am, which my
dad sarcastically kept saying "NessFeh Shab Ham NeMiReseem" [We
won't get there even by midnight] - keep in mind the trip to Shomal
is only a 3-4 hour trip. More amazing, the road was not jam packed,
nor was the sun unbearable, and there were no storms ... JallAlKhalegh!
Nothing - It was a perfect drive all the way through in a gorgeous
day, yet my dad was flying on that road and through those turns,
trying to set a new world record or to break his PR (e.g. personal
We were probably about 20-30 miles from Chaloos and my dad was
flooring that car when we all noticed 2 - 3 goosfand [sheep] crossing
the road ahead, which after a group shout off the top of our lungs,
my dad jammed on the brakes and was eventually forced to come to
a complete stop. "khafeh sheen beh beenam baba - diadameshoon,
Engar Cheshaam Kooreh GoosFand e Be Inn Gond e Gee ro naDidam?!?!" The
sheep, although only two or three, had successfully managed to
completely block the entire road and we couldn't maneuver around
them, at all.
It was then when we realized that the 2-3 goosfand on the road
were part of this incredibly large herd of sheep, like in the movies
- it was like in Sheep Rawhide. This was the largest herd I had
ever seen. There were several hundred, thousands, even millions
and billions of them and we arrived at that point as the first
few had just begun to cross the road!
Aside from their sheer number, it was so fascinating to watch
them march before us crossing that road, in absolutely no hurry,
what so ever - They crossed that road as each and everyone of them
looked at us like when the army marched before the Shah on his
birthday on 4th of Aban or Like little kids when they are pooping
in their diapers and have to fixate their eyes on something, or
someone - Yes, every single one of these sheep stared at us as
they ever so gently and slowly crossed that road ... and what were
they all chewing? When we asked my dad, he replied that they were
chewing gum. When my sister asked "Mageh Inn Ha Ham Ali Agha
Daran" [ Do they have Mr. Ali], referring to the BaghGhalee
SaRe Koocheh [convenient store near by our house] where we got
chewing gums for her, my dad said: They are Chewing SaghGhez [The
organic natural chewable that grows in the wild] - we had no reason
not to believe him.
These sheep were in no rush to go anywhere and at about 9-10
o'clock in the morning, they had their entire day ahead of them.
They were having their breakfast, and were crossing that road,
in front and behind our car, one hoof at a time. Chewing their
SaghGhez, looking at us very philosophically, probably thinking: "Who
are these poor idiots in this white cage? Why are they looking
As kids, we were in no AjJaleh [ hurry ] either. In fact it was
greatly entertaining and we were enjoying watching them pass, experiencing
this overwhelming, joyful, and powerful feeling of being completely
surrounded by so many of them. As I said, it was like in the movies
for us. My dad though, wasn't amused at all - he was in a hurry.
We started late already and our arrival was being further delayed
by these gum chewing, Baa Baaing, staring sheep and there was nothing
he could do except to tap his fingers on the steering wheel and
... and I am telling you, there was no end to them - They crossed,
they stared, and Baa'ed amongst themselves - It somehow felt like
the roles were reversed and we were in a human zoo and the sheep
were the spectators. Rump roast anyone?
We watched in joy, and my dad in pain, until the herd started
to thin out more and more and finally, the entire herd had crossed
the road except for only 3 who were probably the slowest - think
about it, they were at the very end of the herd and must have been
the oldest and the slowest. Unlike the rest, these three would
take one step, stop, look at us, chew, take another step, stop,
look at us, chew, and on ... as if they were intentionally trying
to irritate my dad - step, look, chew ... They were succeeding.
It was down to the last two when they decided to completely stop
to further aggravate my dad - and yes, that's when my dad honked
a few times and stuck his head out and cursed something like "Khabar
e toon Zood Basheen Az Een Jaadeh Laanatee Rad Besheen Beh Beenam" [go
to hell and to cross that Darn Road].
"What? What did you just do? Why are you honking? Were
you talking to us ... ?"
They were not moving and my dad honked and cursed a couple of
more time. The two, in the middle of the road, were stubbornly
standing and not even blinking, staring at my dad. As were looking
at these two and how stubborn they were practically risking their
lives because my dad would have taken off and run them over any
second now, we noticed the third one came back from the other side.
I am sure you can visualize two sheep, crossing the road from left
to right, and one, who just returned, facing them, going to our
left. He too, was looking at us and I think when he reached his
buddies still on the road, he whispered something to their ears.
The two, turned around and all three started to slowly walk over
to the first side of the road together. My dad honked again and
that's when we noticed there were 5 getting on the road from the
other side walking towards their friends and before we knew it,
the entire herd had turned around and was crossing the road to
the original side in the same painful and too familiar but reversed
scenario with the chewing and the staring and the one hoof at a
time and the whole nine yards ...
When my older sister and my mom started to laugh and my dad started
banging his head on the steering wheel, my younger sister and I
were not sure what was going on, but we were laughing too ... How
Ironic we all experienced for ourselves, first hand, the so called
herd mentality ... Allelo-mimetic <this is a new word>!!!
... My dad was feeling it in his heart - He said, "Beekhod
Neest Shoma Olagh Haro MiKhoran" [No wonder people eat you,
asses] ... My sister said: Dad, they are baa baa eee [sheep]!!!
We waited for every single one of them to slowly cross back to
where they started from. My dad was particularly careful, and for
the first time I can ever remember, he was patient - he waited
until every single one of them crossed the road before he took
off like a bat out of a cave.
Did you know sheep can eat, walk, talk<baa baa> and drop
poop at the same time? They made a mess on that road! I think it
is pretty cool that their poop is individually packaged as these
tiny green balls.
As we took off, those closest to the road turned their heads,
still regurgitating, looking at us with an expression that felt
like "DaDash, Marge Mann Yavash" [hey bro, for my sake,
go slow] or "Daste Ali Beh Hamrat" [Ali's blessing be
with you] ... those sheep!
While visiting Iran, I realized that my dad had multiplied and
there are now 60 millions of him, doing the same. I think there
were 40 million of him back then, but somehow I didn't notice it.