My attempts at reading the address out to the taxi driver fell short, so I passed him my phone and let him enjoy a few moments of Vahid’s gruff conversation as he explained the whereabouts of the apartment that he shared with his parents.
Driving – or in my case being a passenger – in Iran is not for the faint of heart. It is fast, it is erratic, and it is endlessly creative. As Iranians smilingly point to red lights and dismiss them as ‘just there for guidance’ they maneuver their cars through every available inch of space to get ahead. Sidewalks are considered to be a legitimate extra lane when the traffic gets slow. Chain smoking and talking on cell phones is mandatory.
I would take a rush hour thrill ride in a clonking Paykan over sedate coasting in a Chrysler minivan any day.
As we pulled up to the curb, Vahid poked his head in the window and started arguing with the driver about the fare. “You paid too much” he growled disapprovingly and led me up the stairs.
Vahid’s mother looked nervous but excited to meet me. She had never met a foreigner before and her smiling brown eyes followed my every move with a mixture of fascination and maternal watchfulness. I emptied my Iranian cookbooks filled with photos onto her countertop and we pored over them together, pointing and speaking the universal language of two women who love to cook.
She made tea for us and we spent the afternoon making ash e reshteh -a thick, herbal porridge of a soup with noodles and swirls of asun-dried yoghurt-like cream called ‘kashk’ on top.
Standing barefoot, side by side in her kitchen, we chatted and gestured, tasted and seasoned, each of us taking turns at the stove stirring and breaking noodles with our hands into the fragrant, bubbling pots. By the time it was ready to eat we were positively beaming at each other. I’d forgotten all about Vahid, her 25 year old grouch of a son who was lying on the floor watching satellite CNN.
After lunch, the whole family took their afternoon naps with the women retiring to one room while the men slept in another. A blanket and pillow were placed in my hands and I was pushed towards the women. Lying down to sleep on the floor in a room full of strangers seemed intimate and I felt unprepared. I tiptoed cautiously around the moms and aunties who had arranged themselves in tidy rows and found a space.
I laid down expecting to stare at the ceiling for hours but then I heard the soft, rhythmic breathing of the women around me. At first I felt shocked. How was it that they could sleep so peacefully with a complete stranger here? I listened with continued fascination and then a feeling of almost childlike affection washed over me. I, the lopsided scarf wearing, non-Persian speaking, no husband no kids foreigner had been adopted into the inner circle of the Iranian household.
My sense of acceptance filled me with warmth and I closed my eyes and smilingly fell asleep alongside them.