Isfahan: Days in “family”

After a dreadful night bus and not much sleep, I got to Isfahan at 5.30 am. Horrible timing. My host Nader was obviously sleeping, although he had kindly said to me that he didn’t mind at all an early arrival. I had his address pinned on a map but that was about it, as we agreed to talk in the morning once I was there. When I could wake him up by whatsapp and get the full address to make sure I had something to show to the taxi driver in case of not understanding each other, I was ready to take a taxi. I used the Iranian Uber and I suffered the harassment by a few taxi drivers around the station. I even got to get in the wrong car because he affirmed he was my taxi driver and to be honest, it is still difficult to me to read Farsi numbers (although I am learning them) especially at that time in the morning. After being in the wrong car once and almost get into another one, I got a call from my driver and more or less understood where he was. I didn’t hang up and I found the man talking on the phone, great! I could get there now.

I arrived to Nader’s home and he met me downstairs and got me to the apartment. His dad was already up and around, shirtless. I suppose I was impressed to see some flesh for the first time in the country. We sat down in the sofas and I tried to make some talk with some questions, but I was tired and conversation wasn’t fluid. After a few courtesy questions, I got to ask what had been wandering in my mind since I entered the door: Where do I sleep, is it in the couch? It was a simple question just to double check I was not sharing the bed with anybody, before creating any misunderstanding. He pointed out the empty room with a bed that I had seen from the beginning and then said he would sleep in this other room with the door closed, so I relaxed when I understood there was another room. After a while, we decided to get back to sleep and I got some real sleep, finally.

Once we woke up, we had something to eat and stayed home because it was already midday and too hot to do anything at all. Also, Nader had to study because he was in exam period for college. And after a while, his parents came in with food for everybody (they don’t practise Ramadan in this family, quite good for me), so we sat down on the table together and ate. Then, Nabiid appeared. Nabiid was Nader’s younger brother,he was still in High school. They were a lovely family and asked me about stuff and especially the dad was hilarious and managed his way in English very well. He joked about my first name and also about my last name because in Persian “lop” is something like cheek. Then, he remembered that that evening there was a funeral on the side of Nader’s mum and he asked me if I wanted to go. He said I look very Iranian and they would take me and it would be okay. I said to him I might look like but I don’t speak and I resolved that I could be dumb or they could just say that I am shy. I started believing all this while finding it hilarious because they were joking about everything but quite serious about taking me to the funeral. I didn’t mind at all, another different experience. Although funerals are not really something that appeals me that much, it started being curious about how they would behave there if they were laughing so much about it here.

Anyways, after food the whole family gathered in the sofa area in front of the TV and laughed and had a great time in general while drinking tea. It was very much like the Spanish siesta time, where out there is too hot to do anything and you stay at home until you have to get back to work. Before 5pm everyone left the house to get back to work. Nader and I stayed for a bit longer and then got ready to go to the main square in Isfahan. He had to get a book around there and he would show me around a bit. We got there and it was brilliant, the second biggest square in the world (the first one is in Beijing, where I was flying from just a few days ago). We sat down on the grass for a while until the sun was almost gone to have a walk around it because otherwise there was no cover from the sun. Then we got to see a bit of one of the mosques and sat down in front of it a chill.

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Kids enjoying the evening

We started talking about a lot of stuff and having a great time and then we started walking back home. There was only one thing I didn’t enjoy hearing and was that it is banned to ride bicycles for girls. Alone. Which meant that if I was riding with him it would probably be okay but I couldn’t do it alone. He was super nice to say that if he found another bike he would come with me so I don’t get in trouble. We were entertained talking and it wasn’t that hot so we made all the way home walking, it took us almost an hour. By the time we got home, everyone was there already and then I was invited to have a look to an energy class that was going on in the apartment of Nader’s sister, just three floors above from where we were. I thought it was a minor thing and I actually got to ask if I needed to put y scarf on or change because I was in short sleeve. They said it was fine and when I popped there, I saw a lot of women and also men and women were all covered up and I felt violent there just looking like that. They invited me to come in and have tea and cake and they got to clap when I got in. How embarrassing. Also, I couldn’t speak the language, so it was worse. When we finished tea and cake we left because the class had to start and we were not invited to the class. I couldn’t wait because I didn’t really want to stay, feeling that uncomfortable and not able to understand anything. When we got back, I actually thought we were at some other apartment because there were also people here! Nader’s mum had arrived from the funeral with part of the family of the deceased. We sat down and had more tea and the usual humour in the family started flourishing. The guests asked about me, obviously and then one of them started asking me questions in broken English in a hilarious way. He asked me about money, about my family here (here? No family here) and other stuff while the rest of the family was laughing at the situation. That’s how the day ended up. Full of situations, stories and stuff going on all the time. We went to sleep quite late and after a while, a got a text from Nader asking me if he could sleep in my bed. I just slept and avoid giving any answer because I didn’t want to get an awkward situation (more) but I went to sleep with a bitter flavour after such a great day. When I woke up the next day I read the full thing and 10 minutes after he had texted me saying that his brother was snoring a lot and he couldn’t sleep.

The next morning, he was visibly tired and we got a taxi with different destinations. He was going to the library and I was going to the main square to visit a few places over there. My morning was kind of getting ruined by thinking of what had (or hadn’t) happened and tried to make a fresh start when entering the mosque. I visited the place I had seen with him yesterday by myself, and I ventured myself to every corner. It was disappointing to see that, for the full price of the ticket, you mostly see scaffoldings and restricted areas everywhere. But the place was beautiful. As I wasn’t in any hurry and wanted to find some vibes coming from the place, I sat down quietly in a corner. A security guy came and asked me for the ticket and then welcomed me a few times, asked me where I was from and asked me for picture. I took one with my phone as well, why not. Then, another man came, joined the conversation and when I was about to leave the place, asked me if I wanted to see the roof. Of course I wanted to. I waited for him to be back a few minutes and then he took me to a locked door he had to open with a key and hid from everybody to this, we both came in and closed down the door behind us. Everything was dark and narrow and I had to use the flashlight in my phone. We took some stairs and then, there was another locked door and we continue to go up by narrower stairs until arriving at the top of the minaret. There, I had to walk in squat position all the time because nobody could see me there. It was fantastic and I got to enjoy great views of the square, the mosque’s courtyard and the dome. Such a privilege! We had to hide again to be able to get out without anybody noticing us and I thanked the man more than a few times.

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Naqsh-e Yahan Square from the top of the mosque

After that, I sat down in front of the mosque to take a break and see where I was going next. A guy came close to me; we started a conversation and invited me to have a espresso in his carpet shop, with no commitment to anything. I felt like it and we went to his shop, where we were chatting for a while. He had seen me the previous day with Nader but, although he wanted to talk to me, he didn’t because I was with someone else. This guy was also in the couchsurfing community and we were chatting about this as well. Then he offered to have lunch with him and maybe have a shisha or something like that, but I told him I really wanted to visit some palace nearby and he offered to go with me and then go for the shisha. It was cool and he was explaining me lots of cool stuff about the palace. We ended up going for the shisha to his place, which I didn’t expect but certainly didn’t mind. But it was then when I realised I should make myself clear and set up some limits, Nader had called me in between and told me there was lunch at his place and it was his favourite, so I told Nader I would be getting to his place in an hour or so because I wanted to finish off seeing stuff and then, I told this guy about this and about my fiancé. And it helped, and a lot. Because he obviously was thinking further up to what we were doing and with that he seemed to understand the situation. He told me about some long distance relationship he had had with an Australian girl that had been in Iran for a couple of months and how the body needs this and than and how human contact and hugs and ….lots of bullshit. I suppose he had to try. We had a nice chat, anyways and when I felt the time was right I told him I should go and went to Nader’s house to have lunch.

There, as Nader still had to study a bit, I was offered to go with his mum to her work. She owns a beauty salon and I thought it would be fun. Also fun because she actually can’t speak English. When we arrived there, there was chocolate and I made coffee. It seemed perfect. Not many clients came in during the evening and, although I was worried about the results of my visit because Iranian women use way too much makeup and overdo in their nails and eyebrows, it didn’t turn out very badly. I got my nails polished in red, then I got a few braids in my hair and after refusing they did my eyebrows, I finally had to let them because they were making me feel like a hairy manly truck driver with eyebrows and hair in my arms and no make up… The result was acceptable, though but I never understood why so much over do when you cannot show half of it in the street.

After a while, Naviid who was Nader’s brother came in and I found a bit odd that the helper of Nader’s mum immediately covered her hair. The dad came after a while and all together we decided to go for a walk around the river, mainly because I had previously said that I love bridges and I wanted to see the cool bridges here. Nader joined us after a while and we all visited Khajoo bridge, a 33 archs bridge that would be glorious to see when there is water in the river because it deviates the water and creates some shapes with the course of the river but still was amazing to visit. There were many different curiosities about it and I was delighted I was with them to explain me. I got to see some reflected lights in the exact location of the eyes of some tiger at the opposite shore. And I also got to check how the sounds are transported by the structure of the archs in the bridge. I could hear Nader whispers to a wall from the opposite wall of the arch!Then, we all took a taxi home and enjoyed a bit of omelette and tea and dates. If there is a huge discovery that I have made here is Iranian dates. I can’t stop eating them at all hours.

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Bridge at night

The night went by with no more incidents and the next day was Friday, which is free for everybody. So we spent the day chilling at home and not doing much. Nader and Naviid taught me how to play Backgammon and although I suck we had a great time and not much more was done during the day. I was kind of expecting all day for Nader’s dad to take me to the dessert, as he had promised the day before but none of that happened. It wasn’t a big deal, I hadn’t insisted on it either because I wasn’t hugely fascinated by going to the dessert, but I was kind of counting on the plan for the day. When the night came in, Nader said goodbye and I actually didn’t understand but then he texted me and I understood that he was leaving and not coming back, I suppose for his exams, which were to start the following day. The rest of the family and me took a cab to go to some mountain where the air was fresh and temperatures were a bit cooler. We enjoyed a saffron ice cream and great views of the city and came back to the house to get some omelette as well. I like this Spanish time where we were eating a 12pm. What can I say.

I was thinking of taking a bit of the next morning for me, for getting ready and go to take a bus towards Shiraz but everything was changed when I woke up and Ali, Nader’s dad, the cool dad that had been to Thailand lots of times and wanted to travel the world (probably without family) offered to take me to some places close to his work and then I could get back, pack and go. That’s what I understood, but something different happened. We went first to some mosque with something they were calling shaking minarets. But it was early and they were not going to shake the minarets until an hour after. I am still quite unsure what was that about. Then we went to where he works and walk to the Jame Mosque, which he got me into as Iranian citizen (cheap ticket) and showed me a couple of things about the mosque before he was going back to work and leaving me there to explore it by myself. I had my doubts at the beginning about the plan but I enjoyed the mosque. It actually had the peaceful vibes I was looking for, as it is used for praying and not only visiting and also, it was beautiful architecturally. I enjoyed so much the vaults with different designs in brick, each of them different…

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Inside Jame Mosque

When I finished I texted Ali and he came to pick me up with a motorbike. It was okay to seat at the back of the motorbike but also, a woman cannot drive a motorbike, I learnt. We came back to his shop and at the time of closing, came back home to get lunch. There, I met his secretary and would find out and confirm that here it is okay and more than normal to have several boyfriends (and girlfriends in the case) and that you needed one for going to the cinema, one for going for dinner, one for sleeping…and then you get married with the one that has more money. Understood. I made clear that I only believe in having one boyfriend (I believe that one is enough hassle) and tried to made my point unsuccessfully.

During the way home and while waiting for the rest of the family, Ali actually came closer to me, also physically and I am not sure if it was something natural because I had been part of the family (and truly felt part of it at some times) or it wasn’t natural at all, because I have found myself mistrusting everyone. Anyways, we got there for lunch later than expected to take a bus anywhere, and definitely not what we had agreed. But he also had said the previous night I couldn’t leave without having beryni, the dish typical from Isfahan and there wasn’t any of that for lunch. But it was set I would be leaving this day because I felt like moving and also because my feelings were more and more mixed about everything. I also needed some space for me and being alone and make plans of my own; in general staying and trying for myself.

After lunch, Ali was going somewhere and he asked me if I wanted to join, but with the excuse that I had to pack I avoided that. I didn’t feel like being alone with him again. There was something that made me uncomfortable and although I felt bad for thinking like that of him, all I have with me is my instincts and always try to follow them (this is not right to say it here, but time would prove that I wasn’t wrong, unfortunately). So I stayed home with Naviid around and packed my shit and played backgammon with him. Ali came back, with another girl to host. She was a Chinese girl living in Manchester and the kind of girl that is bloody perfect at everything. We all gathered for tea, chatted around and went for carrot juice with saffron ice cream, because this girl loved it and it seemed like a great idea. During the way, she gathered all of Ali’s attention and I wondered if I had been wrong to push him away a bit because he seemed genuine with her as well, or he was kind of having “a strategy”. Then I thought I was going paranoid and I really had to leave whatever it was, just for my sanity.

So after the juice we came back, I hugged everyone and took a taxi to the bus station, where I had a late night bus to get to Shiraz, the city where they say the most beautiful women are. I took the bus with strange mixed feelings all over the place, thankful and paranoid. Overall, I was happy to keep going and get back to the road. But still unsettled about the country and all the feelings I have. It’s a rollercoaster.

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