I don't remember when Abbas and I met. He was born in a small village right outside of Tehran, where my father was born. My grandfather migrated from Malayer, northwest of Iran, to this little village, Boomehen. It is only a couple of miles from the ski resort, if you can call it that, Abali. Also where that wonderful yogurt drink Abali Doogh comes from. Ever since I remember, we used to go to Boomehen. It had wonderful climate, clean air, and a good place to relax and get away from the hustle of the big city.
My grandfather married a local woman and opened up a coffee house in the village. Abbas is related to me through my grandmother, whom I never met. Abbas was one of four children from his father's first wife. She died after giving birth to Abbas. Abbas was born completely hearing and speaking impaired. The very little he could annunciate, only the people who knew him understood. I remember, as a child, I would ask him if he could hear anything, and he would answer, “no”, by raising his eyebrows sharply! To test him, I would scream things in his ear and the results were most often negative. I guess I always wanted him to hear a little.
As kids we hung around a lot. I followed him everywhere. Those days Boomehen was very rural. No running water, no electricity and the nearest shop was a few miles away. Abbas loved bubble gum and whenever I went to visit, I had boxes of all types of gum for him and any neat candy I could think of. His face would light up and thank me by giving me an army like salute and with the same motion putting the same hand on his heart as sign of appreciation. When in Boomehen, we were inseparable. We went to the fields to cut wheat, feed the cattle and sheep, bring water, and mostly play. They had a big orchard by the river, where they grew plums, walnuts, cherries, and all sorts of fruits. Not a day went by, where I didn't have a belly ache from eating so much fresh fruit.
Abbas was a bit older than me. He was and is extremely strong. He could see perfectly well in total darkness and his sense of smell and sight were amazing.
What made me realize about our special relationship came up when I saw him after 20 years in 2000 when I went home to Iran. He was the first one in the village — a big town now — to come and visit me. For the first time I saw him cry. He wiped his tears after hugging me and the huge smile on his face told me that he was very happy to see me. For a few seconds I didn't know what to say. I almost started speaking English to him. I had forgotten how he and I used to communicate. He had his own version of sign language he used to communicate with his family. With me, however, it was a totally different way. We had established a special way to communicate, which most people didn't know. I don't' know how it started, but my mother says that I had problems learning his sign language, so we developed our own.
But what is amazing is that after 20 years, and a few seconds, I began to talk to him, like we used to.
He touched my hairless head and made fun of the fact that he is older and still has a full head of hair. He also told me that he is married, which I told him that I knew, since I had received his wedding picture. He also told me he has three sons and he named the oldest one Hamid. He stopped signing and teary eyed without saying anything, told me that he missed me and that's why he named his first born after me. I touched his shoulder and thanked him. I had no idea how to tell him in sign language, our sign language, what a huge honor it was for me.
He asked about what I do in America. I told him. He understood. “Yes, I know. You take pictures of people's bodies.” We talked more about my life, my wife and his life. He told me that he works in a big factory assembling electrical equipment. I asked him how about cutting hay and feeding the animals. He said that was a long time ago. We re menaced about the old days, about the clear water running in the streams, clean air, the skies that were filled with stars, we used to watch when we slept outside in the summer. About how much snow used to cover the ground in the Winters. “All are gone”, he said with a loud sigh.
I asked him about the orchard, he said that it is all gone to the new housing.
“How about the river, where we used to catch small fish? Do you remember we used to make a dam with rocks and swim?” He shook his head, “yes”. He showed me a sign for “dry” and told me that the river is pretty much gone now.
Four years later I visited Iran and upon my arrival to Boomehen, Abbas was the first one running to see me. We continued our “conversation” and talked about many things, we didn't have a chance the last time. I gave him a 100 Dollar bill. He wasn't sure how much that was. Reluctantly, he accepted and then asked how much in Iranian money is it worth. I didn't want to tell him, but he insisted and my dad told him 80,000 Toomans. His eyes doubled in size and he immediately returned the money to me and shook his head vigorously “no”. My Dad and I insisted and told him that it would upset me if he didn't. I finally managed to convince him that it is for the other Hamid, your son. He accepted with a big smile on his face.