Monday, November 28, 2005

Way too Early for Sara (part 1)

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Okay. Today was a *long* day. But overall it was very interesting and fun. There are 2 parts so I’ll break it up that way.

Today was a national holiday as it is the martyrdom date of the Imam Jaafer Al Saadiq. He is the 6th Imam of Shia Islam and actually is important to Sunni Islam as he was the teacher of 2 of the 4 men who would eventually form their own subsects in Sunni Islam, Imam Abu Hanifa (most Pakis and Muslims around the world follow his teachings and are called Hanafis) and Imam Malik (a smaller sect, mostly Arab).

Though there have always been hundreds of different sects historically in Islam, these are the 4 that remain and comprise the majority of Sunni Islam today. And then there are those wayward Shias. ;)

Imam Saadiq also might be my ancestor (maybe) because he is a descendant of the 1st Caliph of Islam after Prophet Muhammad’s death, Hazrat Abu Bakr Al Siddiq. From what I’ve been told, we Siddiqis are also descendants of Hazrat Abu Bakr. Who knows if it’s true, but it sounds cool, eh? Anyway, all Muslims are busy trying to find lineages and trace themselves back to these early Muslims or to the family of the Prophet because it makes us feel special. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter to me.

Anyway, the morning started at 6-something, grr (yes, I’m lame). At least we were up for prayer, I suppose. We had a quick breakfast, showered and dressed and were ready and waiting outside our apartment at 7am. Mr. Mir Mohammadi (ayatollah garb alert!) came and got Bobert while I waited for Khanume Elahi and Fatemeh. Turns out the Mir Mohammadis only live 2 buildings over (the buildings are all attached).

Here’s my hubby bubby bright eyed, bushy tailed and freshly scrubbed in front of our apartment building.

We all went and sat in one room and just talked for a while. We were served a round of tea and this is where I finally learned how to drink the cup of tea while holding the sugar cube in my mouth. Apparently, so did AliBob over on the men’s side. We’re so cute and in tune!
The trick is to wedge it between cheek and teeth and to drink the tea rather quickly, unlike in brown people culture, where we sip and nurse the tea and make it last like it’s our last cup ever.

Anyway, the ceremony or “majliss”, started and I basically didn’t understand anything. Though the women were sitting in the family room and the men were in the formal living room, they had set up speakers for us to hear everything. So at first there was some Quranic recitation, and then someone talked or lectured and then someone sang-recited something. It was mournful and emotional and his voice was cracking and shaking from his sobs. Later AliBob told me that there the lecture was the historical account, and the sing-songy part, for whom they usually hire special people with this skill, was the elegy.

The women were weeping, some *quite* loudly and lots of tissues were passed around. Here is something interesting. Though the women were sitting together and crying loudly, they mourned in private. Over time, as emotions soared, they pulled their chadors far down over their faces and let it hang and you could just see the air from their sniffles and sobs fluttering it about in front of them. An added advantage is that you can also blow your nose in total privacy. Nice.

I, having no chador, felt quite exposed. It was odd for me for several reasons. Since I’m not Shia, at first I was worried that I wouldn’t cry and they would find it rude. I know that’s irrational since I don’t even understand the language, but, being supposedly Shia (yes, I’m not really advertising to anyone that I’m Sunni), I should at least know the subject matter and be moved by the knowledge of it.

But his voice was so sad and heartbreaking and I understood names here and there and then he mentioned Kerbala, something all Muslims (should) know about and then that depressed me and I ended up crying anyway. Then that was embarrassing in a whole new way because I didn’t want to be snotty faced and puffy eyed and sobby without the privacy of a chador in front of all these people I didn’t know.

Then there was more Quran and du’a (prayer) and he wound it down. The women dabbed tissues under their chadors and slowly emerged composed, if a bit red-eyed, and started the social part of the morning.

The weird thing is, they started chatting and smiling and going on about their normal conversations and I was still upset about Kerbala and bummed out and I just wanted to go home and have a good cry. I talked to Fatemeh and she was so sweet and said it’s *so* good and special that you cried even though you didn’t understand what he said and that it means a lot to God. She’s so cute. I’m really such a heathen. Anyway I cried discreetly a little while longer and finally had some more tea.

They served us breakfast. For breakfast, we had a special dish called haleem, which is similar to the Pakistani haleem but not the same thing. It is made of meat and wheat and cooked over a long time so that the meat breaks down and it becomes a viscous paste. There is a lot of cinnamon in it and many people add sugar to theirs to eat it. See, Pakistani haleem, though also made with meat and wheat, additionally has lentils and pulses, spices and is definitely savory and spicy and eaten with ginger and green chilies and crisp fried golden onions and cilantro as garnishes on top.

We ate the haleem with sangak, but this sangak had sesame seeds on it, which was also tasty. They also served dates “khormeh” and walnuts “girduh” and the white cheese “paneer safeed”. I learned how to eat the bread with cheese on it and a walnut in the center. *Very* interesting.

The whole time, ever since we had arrived, the hostess had been in and out of the kitchen, along with 2 or 3 other women who had remained in the kitchen, helping her with the rounds of tea, heating the breads and haleems and serving etc. There were a lot of people.

Iranian hospitality is beyond compare… well, maybe like Pakistani hospitality, but different because it is so formal, whereas at least in my family the hospitality and generosity are there but it’s much more informal and casual too.

After eating there was more talking, especially among the women. I met Ms. N, who is an English teacher in a local high school and would like to practice her conversational skills.

Mrs. Elahi also announced that I would start teaching English lessons as of this coming Wednesday and we decided on a time.

Then we went home. I’m actually glad I went, despite my initial issues with morning wakefulness and Shia devotional stuff that Sunnis tend to avoid and frequently denounce as blasphemous/cultish.
Ali and I thought we might take a nap and then get on the loads of laundry we have accumulating since after my first attempt at laundry I haven’t really gone back to it, but the Elahis called and invited us to go to Tehran for the day so we could catch the sights and sounds. At first we said no thinking a. we had a lot to do and were kind of tired and b. it would be weird to intrude on his family ceremony but then Khanum insisted and we said, sure why not.
I washed a few items and a couple of hours later we were on our way to Tehran.



Blogger huma said...

it looks like your food situation is improving

2:27 AM  

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