If Afghanistan is the poorest country in the world and Nigeria the most religious, our community was like Afghanistan inhabited by white Nigerians! With the exception of a few, our neighbors were not monetarily any better off than we were. Most other houses were not any fancier than ours. Privacy had no safeguard in our community, personal and confidential information could be disclosed routinely. We used to know almost everything about our immediate neighbors from garlic to onion so to speak.
At the other side of our house lived two families in the same house, a brother, Mashdi Esmaeel , in his sixties, with his wife and many kids in one side and his sister, Fatemeh Sultan with her kids on the other. After their father died, they decided to divide the inherited house by building a wall at the middle of the yard and divide the house into two sections. That was much less troubling than going through government bureaucracy and the legal hassles. It was like South and North Korea geographically and attitudinally, they never got along in a civilized way. I always wondered how so many kids can live in a small house like that manageably. The number of kids in that house, as a matter of fact, was bigger than the number of times Poe has apologized so far for the sex-abuse scandals by the catholic persists!
Fatemeh Sultan was our most memorable neighbor, an outspoken old lady who lived with her only grown up son and a daughter next to us. She was nicknamed aroos sara khatoon, the bride of madam Sarah. I never saw her husband, Mr. ooch ghorboon, perhaps because he died before I was born or may be he ran away unable to survive Fatemeh Sultan’s monotonous talk and bossy attitudes. She was an interesting old lady. Sometimes when she saw me outside, she called me and offered me a few peaces of candy or a hand full of watermelon seeds taken carefully out of a corner of her head scarf. You see, head scarf was not solely for covering your hair and respecting Islamic dress codes, it was also the convenient holding place for cookies and candies. Often when her son was not home, she asked me to bring him a jug of fresh cold water from ab anbar, a huge in-ground isolated storage tank filled with very cold water in winter and used throughout the summer. There was so much personal gratification in such simple act of kindness which of course was not, of course, without monetary reward. She was more than happy to offer me one or two Rials in return which I usually refuse to take because I didn’t’ want to spoil the sense of fulfillment. I only wanted to enjoy her praise and gratitude for being a Good Samaritan. To me, there was no rationale to use the charitable acts to make money!
Ab Anbar was the source of cold drinking water for the residence of a community. A kind of in-ground semi-vertical tunnel with a high arched entrance, sar dar, and a long stairway that allowed access to the water. The sar dar was the outward manifestation of the importance of ab anbar. It was usually decorated with colorful, immaculately designed, peaces of ceramics at the top of it with the name of the main donor inscribed at the middle. It was one the esteemed sign of distinctiveness for every community. The height of its entrance and the number of stairs were the two key criteria for determining its importance. Comparing and ranking ab anbars in different communities was a fun research assignment for the kids. Kids from different communities used to brag about their ab anbar and engage in unsettling arguments concerning which one is better and bigger. Often adults had to interfere to resolve such strategic issues which were considered vital to communal pride and prestige.
Our ab anbar, as I recall, had 30 stairs; you had to go down 30 stairs to reach the big faucet at the bottom of the stairway that was connected to the water reservoir. Going down with the empty jug was not a tough job, climbing back up 30 stairs was really labor-intensive. You could count the number of your breaths after you reach the top. Often ab anbar was a safe place for the obnoxious kids to do something that they should have done in the toilet! Luckily the odor was partially offset by the strong musty smell of humidity. We used to say that the more crowded is ab anbar the bigger is the number of jugs broken by crowd! However, crowded ab anbar must have been cleaner too!
The kids who were living in our block and we used to play together were also from poor families like the “children of the lesser God”. They were all in the same condition as I was, aas-o-paass. I always thought if we lived next to the wealthy people, aayoon, the feelings of shortcoming, desperation, and disdainfulness would have overwhelmed me? Perhaps, those people who could afford to buy bicycles, nice cloths, and fancy toys for their kids, when they saw us with baggy pants, tomboon, and our toes sticking out of the tip of our worn out rubber shoes, galesh, what kind of feelings did they experience? May be sympathy, apathy or shame?
I thought I was lucky living in a town where I could study at night under the public light poles installed in the main alleys or in the streets. I thought that was our share of public services provided by government for which we didn’t have to pay directly. Although I could study under the dim orange light of our kerosene lantern we used use as the source of light, and sometimes cooking, at our house. However, I thought that was not a wise thing to do. Regardless of the cost, which I thought was a drain on my family’s budget, the light and the resulting heat would irritate others and deprive them of a restful sleep.
Often the viciousness and the horror of the nature stroke our community mercilessly like the day the youngest son of one of our neighbors was drawn in their deep covered hose, pond, and died as a result. The mourning and the crying of her mother was laud and perpetual. I remember, women in black chadors attending his funeral and offering their condolences to his mother whom I thought was partially responsible for this tragedy. Had she been more careful caring for her son, his death could have been prevented. Or, the night when our only milking caw died after a week of illness. The agony of losing her was unbearable for us. It was like losing a member of the family. For me a young kid, who brushed the caw every day, and helped my mother to milk her in evenings, even the thought of losing her was inconceivable.
Those days, it was normal for the boys to follow the foot step of their father and pursue his profession. Luckily, I was exempted form this norm because I was the youngest son, youngest of the four. As such, I had more freedom to choose and to do other things like going to school. Even though, I had a strong urge to study, the continuation of my education and advancing from one level to another was simply a year to year decision and totally unpremeditated. My parents allowed me to go to school given that I do not sacrifice my religious beliefs by submitting to and being taken over by oloom e bi dini.
I can never appreciate enough my older brothers, who worked diligently everyday as mechanic or farmer, for facilitating my daily attendance at school by giving me two Rials almost every morning. That was my lunch as well my desert money. It was a sheer pleaser for I and a few other students to spend our money to buy ash (soup) and bread at a place called, bazaar kohneh, old bazaar for lunch. Two Rials was enough to cover my lunch as well as the desert ab bargeh or bamieh!
A huge piece of odd-shaped land, named Maidan Mir, was the focal point of our community, its business district, and its recreation center. A mosque and a big rectangular building, called takyeh, were located side by side at the south side of it. This big open area was also the place for team sports for the kids especially marreh bazi which was like a generic version of baseball. Shops that supplied our everyday necessities were scattered irregularly around the square including, two small grocery stores, a shoe repair store, pineh dooz, a tea house which was our kind of Internet café, a halvaei store whose owner was nice enough to offered me summer internship, and a public bath.
Those days, fancy toys and toys store were out of our reach. We had to make our own toys using our own imagination. That gave a true meaning to the phrase; toys are us! The most popular toy which was also my favorite was sim charkh. To make it, we first had to find a used tire, burn it, and take out the two metal rings after it was completely burned down. Those rings are inserted into the walls of the tire by manufacturer to strengthen the tire’s ability to absorb pressure. After we took out the metal rings, then, we made a nice custom-made handle for it from thick wire and attached it to the ring, the toy was complete. We enjoyed hours of fun rolling the ring, which was now sim charkh, by holding on firmly to its handle and pushing it forward on the surface of streets or the main alleys, sIm chrkh at the front and we behind it. It was both fun and sport, the only play that took us to different places. It was especially cool to role the sim charkh on asphalt. The kids used to use this toy for drag racing, which was our favorite pastime >>> Part 3
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