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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 any more.

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 cylinder].

" 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 dadee?"

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 Darak".

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 Joon MiKard.

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 non-stop citations.

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 about it.

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 ……... . 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 Mimetic!

Nothing would slow down my dad on these trips, nothing, except ... Well ... except for these most unlikely creatures of the middle earth.

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 record)

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 at us?"

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 wait.

... 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.

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