After the car accident, we hitch a ride with a kind stranger. By the time we get back to Karaj it’s dusk. There is a palpable sense of relief for all of us, quickly followed by an onset of diarrhea for both myself and the bride. Nerves, contaminated food or dirty plates, who knows the cause. Regardless, the one bathroom in Nasser’s house is getting quite the workout!
Heading to Gas and Oil
Several days of recuperation pass and Habib makes plans for us to head to his hometown of Ahvaz by train. His English-speaking cousin will go with us which is a comfort. The train is a semi-modern affair and we have our own little compartment, though we’re still free to move around to other carriages. After putting Tehran’s smog and density behind us we are in the countryside, at first rocky and then a bit hilly, though not for long.
It doesn’t take much for us to level off to arid patches of ground speckled with shrubs and brush, along with occasional clusters of trees. There’s a stream that runs along meandering for a time too until the geography slowly becomes much more arid and dry. Small villages begin to pop up. I’m struck with the stark simplicity of houses, adobe-like, appearing to have no glass in their windows. They look poorer and poorer as we continue south.
At some point we lumber into Ahvaz train station and are met by one of Habib’s brothers. It is 130 degrees when we crawl out of the train car! Once at his house, we are smothered in hugs and cheek kisses. I feel overwhelmed. The family home is so different from anything I’ve seen so far. It is a large two story affair with a huge courtyard in the middle. Someone else lives on the first floor but there are still many rooms that Habib’s family occupies. One of his brothers, wife and small son have a suite of rooms besides Habib’s parents. The household has a live-in maid.
Once the initial arrival hoopla has died down, we settle in our room on the other side of the house. We have to go outside on a covered walkway that hugs all four sides of the house to get to our room. At some point, I feel an overwhelming need for peace and quiet, a respite from the family crowd. It seems no one is allowed to be introverted in this culture! I tell my husband I need to rest—which seems to irritate him—but I leave and go to our bedroom. Ahhh, sweet quiet. It almost feels alien in this culture, having time alone.
A Slow Unraveling
The silence is monastic yet almost alarming in the contrast of previously constant overstimulation of people all talking at once. The smells in and outside the bedroom are an odd mixture of spice, mustiness and days old sweat. The floor level squat toilet is adjacent. Still, I crash onto the bed and instantly fall asleep.
I wake sometime later and go back through the indoor/outdoor hallway to the living room. It’s as if I never left it with four or five people, including Habib, all talking at once—still! How do they know what’s being said? Or by whom? The noise of it all is staggering and I’m instantly overstimulated by these crows squawking once again. Couldn’t they take turns? Regardless, I resign myself to the cacophony of it all, lowering myself onto a cushion on the floor.
A Symphony of Noise
It’s strange, really, how different cultures are in style and tone. There is a settee and chair or two along the walls but no one sits on them. Instead, they plop down on cushions on the floor as if parking a car and remain there. All of the human energy and noise rises up from it, relentlessly.
Most of the attention is on Habib of course, which is natural given what has happened and how long it’s been since they’ve all seen one another. I sit; I watch. At some point Habib’s cousin whom we traveled with comes and sits beside me, sensing my separateness. She translates parts of others’ conversation before changing the subject onto other things. I’m relieved to be apart even though I’m beginning to feel like an outsider—truly, a stranger in a strange land, straddling the world.