Growing up in Iran
By M. Sadat Nouri
December 5, 2001
Excerpt from Missing Moments, a memoir, written by M. Sadat
Nouri, a former Tehran University professor who now lives in Canada. The
book is ready for publication, and the interested publishers are more than
welcome to get in touch with the
I remember it was cold. We were walking through a road near our home
in Tehran. It was winter and everything was covered with snow, which looked
marvellously white. I do not know. But I think I was about five-years old
at the time. The road that we were taking was too slippery to walk on, so
people were taking turn carrying me, passing me from one set of arms to
The details about where we were going are vague, but the memory of those
arms and the feeling of acceptance I had is one of the most vivid memories
of my childhood. That feeling is still in my heart. Though I am not either
blind or deaf, this reminds me a line from Helen Keller -- the famous American
author, and a handicap, both blind and deaf. She wrote: "The best and
most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched, but felt
in the heart."
Well, It did not matter who was carrying me, there was security in every
pair of arms. It is the first thing I think of when I portray my mind back
to Tehran, where I was born and lived with my family. My family consisted
of dad, mom, sister and grandmother from my father's side.
I remember we had our own home and there was a large kitchen area where
everyone could go and cook meals together. Sometimes my grandmother liked
to set fire to pieces of charcoal to warm up some foods or to cook kebab.
I can remember the cozy warmth of fire, the closeness of the family, the
smell of good and tasty foods, and someone to play with or talk to.
There was also a game that you had to keep quiet while you were playing
it. You know what I mean, hide-and-seek. There was also flying a kite. When
I look back I still think that playing hide-and-seek or flying a kite was
the peak of fun in those days!
That was in 1942 or 1943 when my country was occupied by foreign troops.
And lots of Allied soldiers were all around. I remember the boys in our
neighbourhood were standing in front of their houses, watching soldiers
in their colourful uniforms. Some boys who had learned a little bit of English
were waving and greeting the Americans, Yankees, and pretending they understood
when the soldiers responded.
The Americans were mostly walking in a group of three or four as if they
were having fun, telling jokes, "Adams" chewing gum , and always
with something to offer. The boys knew if they would say "Hi Yankee"
the Americans would smile and give a yellow pack of Adams in return. I can
clearly remember when I saw packs of Wrigley's Fruit Juice gum for the first
The British, on the other hand, were not much around. Possibly because
there was a notion among people that whatever happened to their country,
the British had a hand in it! That was why the British captain had told
his soldiers to stay inside their bases, intact and under control.
The Russians were always walking together in groups of two or three.
They were very noisy, talking and laughing loudly, and were high or drunk
most of the time. One of the boys in the neighbourhood had an interesting
story about Russian soldiers:
Two chubby, drunk Russians had gone to his house, knocked and made a
lot of noise. Everybody was so scared that they would not dare answer the
door. The crowd in the house were terribly shocked, looking at each other,
and thinking what to do. Nobody had any idea.
Finally, the old man of the house, his grandpa, decided to take over.
He went to the door. Grandpa was a retired army officer who worked with
Russians in the Cossack Brigade, and knew a bit of Roosi. He politely
asked what the plump frenzied soldiers wanted.
This surprised the Russians. A Russian-speaking Iranian? After a few
seconds of silence, one of the soldiers who possibly had a higher rank,
shouted with a very aggressive tone: "Oh, Tavarish. We just want to
know if you have any Matishka? We do not like to humiliate you, man."
The crowd inside knew Tavarish, the Russian term for friend, but not
the Matishka. Grandpa, terrified and trembling, hardly disguised his anger.
He turned to us and said: "Look, these frustrated idiots are coming
to our poor but great country, to our decent neighbourhood, to ask for Matishka!
You know what Matishka means in Russian? It means whore."
Grandpa started to walk back and forth behind the door. He finally strengthened
his throat and uttered like an army officer: "We do not have any Matishka
here. There are none in this neighbourhood. And believe it or not; there
are none anywhere in our land!"
After a pause, he concluded with a very strong voice: "If you don't
leave us now, I will call Sir Winston Churchill right away and report you
both." Then he repeated the last part in English to show he was not
bluffing. At first the soldiers laughed loudly . Then all of the sudden
they cooled down, ran away and vanished.
The boy who was telling the story was very happy and proud of his grandpa.
He repeatedly said: "You see my friends, Churchill rules!"