Summer of '83
By Linda Shetabi
May 29, 2001
Many Iranians abroad have never gotten a chance to travel to or within
Iran. I'd like to write about my personal experiences traveling to different
cities and will provide some local information. I'd be covering Salmas,
Hamadan, Shahreh Kord and the surrounding cities, Mashad, Isfahan, Lahijan,
Tabriz and Sare-in.
Ever since I can remember, I was sitting in an airplane feeling miserable,
going on what seemed to be an endless trip. I had a severe case of motion
sickness which persisted well into my early teens. And if that wasn't bad
enough, I was usually sick with one illness or the other during my entire
My condition, however, never stopped my mom from traveling. She's
restless and back then she used it as an excuse to travel the world, taking
my sister and I with her. By the time I turned eight we had traveled all
over Europe, the U.S. and even Kuwait (and yes I'm the only person in the
world who couldn't stomach the 20-minute flight from Abadan to Kuwait).
But then all hell broke loose; first the revolution, then the war
and all trips abroad were put on hold indefinitely. Mom's solution? Travel
in Iran. And so our adventures began in the summer of 1983.
Salmas is an Assyrian village in the province of West Azarbaijan near
the city of Orumiyeh (Rezaiyeh). Within the confines of this village, the
Assyrians were free to live life according to their religious beliefs.
We left Tehran on a chartered bus by our Assyrian friends and even though
the long trip on those bumpy roads was torture on my system, the singing
and dancing created enough diversion to save me from sure death.
We stayed on the farm of a friend's relative. Every night the farmer
would gather the bruised and half rotten fruit from under the trees and
throw them in a large aluminum container parked outside the only restroom
for the entire household way out there in the fields. Miraculously by the
next night he'd have a bottle of foul smelling aragh which he shared with
his fellow colleagues. The women however only drank home-made wine and back
then the wine tasted damn good!
Some nights I'd go with the girls and boys out in the fields and light
up stacks of green peas harvested from the fields. We'd sing and dance
around the fire until it burned out and when the ashes cooled, we'd brush
them away and eat the roasted peas. Not a great idea for a first date since
by the end of the feast you'd look like Haji Firooz!
During the days the women would gather at a relative's house for Turkish
coffee and fal (fortunetelling). And if it turned unusually warm, they'd
holler, "Haydar, Haydar" for the wind to blow. According to folk
tales, Haydar was the son of the wind (or something). On our way back we'd
cut off one of the huge sunflowers that lined the road and munch away on
the seeds. Again not something you'd try with your sweetheart, at least
not without dental floss.
One weekend we packed our lunch and plenty of cucumber and took the bus
to the Orumiyeh Lake. Why cucumbers? Well this lake is almost as salty
as the Dead Sea. You simply go inside and try and keep your head above
water without trying to swim. You float -- but God forbid should you accidentally
turn and end up head in -- well forget about opening your eyes. It's practically
impossible and this is where the cucumber comes in handy. Someone around
you will have to sacrifice their cucumber and rub it on your eyes to give
you some relief because yours by now is dipped in salt water and ready to
eat! Not really the water tastes God awful.
The mud on the shore is believed to be a cure all, from arthritis to
skin problems and acne. You smear the foul smelling mud and bake in the
sun. If you don't pass out right there and then, you'll forget your pains
till you jump in the shower and wash the smell away. Good luck!
After the trip to the lake we went to a local hamoom (bath) and for the
first time in my life I had the privilege of having my skin scrapped off
by the fattest woman in Iran. From then on dallak was synonymous to jallad
(torturer). Not only was it embarrassing to be butt naked in front of a
strange fat panting woman, but to be washed like there's a lighter color
to my fair skin, never again!
After the hamoom, we had to drink something to "cool our liver",
so I was handed a glass of frog eggs floating in water! They called it
"shir khesht" and I drank the sweet rose water tasting concoction
wondering whether I'd be croaking any time soon. Shir khesht of course
is similar to tokhm sharbati and khak shir. It's a seed mixed
with water, rose water and sugar. It's supposed to clean and detoxify your
inside and on hot summer days it does hit the spot rather nicely.
Orumiyeh was a very conservative and religious city. They particularly
disapproved of religious minorities so we didn't spend much time there on
On those long summer nights I learned a couple of Delkash songs (believe
it or not) and the Assyrian folk dances, which were similar to Greek folk
dances. We'd lock arms and dance rhythmically in a circle, taking a few
steps forward and then back and around again. These people love to party
and know how to have a good time.
As a visitor, you could easily forget that the rest of the country was
under Islamic rule, but after we said our goodbyes and boarded the bus back
to Tehran the realization hit us right in the face. Right outside the village
we were stopped, searched and questioned by the Basijis for hours. But
we finally made it back and the sweet memories, the wonderful hospitality
and warmth and kindness of our new friends made everything worth while (motion
sickness and all!).