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 cook them:
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.