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Summer of '83

By Linda Shetabi
May 29, 2001
The Iranian

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 childhood.

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 that trip.

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!).

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