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From "Blind White Fish in Persia" by Anthony Smith (Penguin Travel Library, 1953, reprinted 1990). Smith led a team of British scientists to Kerman in central Iran in 1950 in search of rare fish in the desert underground water canals, or qanats. Pages 12-15:

Suspected as Russian spies in Kerman When we first arrived in Kerman, it was unanimously agreed by the local people that we were Russian spies. Our skin was not so dusky as theirs, nor our hair so dark; therefore we came from the north and from Russia.



Cover of Blind White FIsh in Persia

The second phase came when we were living in the villages. The pro-communist faction in the town decided to write an article in their paper against us. They decried our behavior and our way of life; they cited us as examples resulting from the evils of a capitalistic community.

At this we were greatly displeased. The article had influenced quite a few people against us, but these people all lived in the town, where the papers were sold; out in the villages it did not matter; for not only are most unable to read but these politics do not enter into their lives.

Those in the towns despise those outside them; they say that the villages contain only illiterate, uneducated and worthless people. We preferred the villagers, for they had humility.

When a villager asked if the hills near London were as high as the Kerman peaks of 13,000 ft. none the less was thought of him. When a town-dweller said English imperialism makes slaves of the English and then asked if the desert around Oxford was the same as at Kerman his education was shown to be unbalanced: a man who says that dates and camels flourish in England can know little of her economy...

With the villagers we did not believe our failure was so complete; for they are a people who live by the land and such people are less variable and more dependable in their beliefs.

Photo No. 4 They have their sense of values and it is well ingrained within them; it has been there for years and will be there for many more years to come; they do not change so rapidly and any fluctuations will be well drawn out. With them our lives had been, through them we had seen the country of Persia and by them we had appreciated it.

In the town all is different; for there is the preliminary mixing of the East and the West: through them we did not view the land and had no inclination to do so; they did not, we felt, represent the country we had come to see, and anyway our work was not with the towns but out in the parts where the villagers lived. It was good that this was so.

The cry of the town people is that they are standing up for their rights. Power in any form is respected. Assertion of personal rights means little respect for the rights of others; motor car smashes frequently occur head-on in the middle of the road, neither driver being prepared to give way. Weakness and stupidity are believed to be as one; as one they are ridiculed. Weakness is replaced by stubbornness; ignorance by aggressive assertion of what is thought to be true.

Photo No. 5

Travelers say the kindness of the Persian prompts him to misdirect you; a Persian, they say, is never uncharitable as to tell anybody that his present route is wrong. Perhaps this is so. Nowadays its form is distorted; the answer is given because an answer is necessary and something to meet the case is readily produced.

Snakes, we were told, ate air. Unfertilized eggs could be made fertile by being placed with fertilized eggs. A driver insisted that he could read English; as proof he pointed out the name Studebaker on the front of his lorry, but moved his finger right to left.

Our denial of these statements met only with more vigorous assertion and the more fallacious their remark the more rapidly was our interruption brushed aside. We never discovered the Persian for "I don't know."


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