Iran 1978

I had heard a crow this morning so I knew we were expecting guests; it’s a well-known sign. Sure enough, the family arrived at the house throughout the morning. The bazaar, here in Kashan, was shut in protest at the Shah’s policies so there was no business being done and a lot of insecurity; 6 civilians and 5 police had been killed in yesterday’s demonstration. They arrived safely. As I called them all to prayer, in my croaky voice, my oldest grandson was whispering to his guest, a bearded stranger, about how I was now 85 years old and had been muezzin in the bazaar’s mosque for 60 years. We heard a bomb go off while we prayed.

I like to keep track of my family but it’s hard, there’s so many of them. The midwife, who had delivered all my oldest son’s 7 children in this very house, had come early to help cut the tomatoes and prepare the food. She then joined that son’s first wife, who’d been 16 when he married her, and along with 2 of his daughters they sat at the loom to weave a family carpet - as relaxation and to keep fingers busy while they chattered. Two of the daughters’ cousins, I’m not sure who their father or mother are, were also there, with friends, talking about university. Dentistry, geology; times change! Other people came in, greeting everyone, clasping my hands in theirs, joining groups in different rooms or out in the courtyard.

My second oldest grandson arrived last, with his fat wife and two children. He was the only one prepared to support his father’s pro-Shah views. And when the conversation wasn’t about themselves they talked about the current unrest: martial law, the importance of religion for society, what the Tudeh, the communist party, might be planning and when the Ayatollah Khomeini might return. I overheard one granddaughter explaining the marvels of the poetry of Shamlu, banned by the regime, to the bearded stranger. Her uncle, my second son, the Shah-supporter, snubbed the stranger and began to rail about foreigners and how they corrupt our culture. A neighbour’s nephew, he had heard, had come back from studying in the States intending to marry a foreign woman, but she wouldn’t convert to Islam. The Shah-supporter’s son, one of sixteen children from his father’s three wives, and one of the carpenters who was helping his father build a new hospital, also ignored the stranger but warmed to him a bit when he heard him quote the great poet Omar Khayyam in Farsi.

I was tired: last night had been a bad night, with one of the local cats in heat and keeping us all awake. And now there was so much activity, confusion and noise; too much family. After the lunch I called the stranger across. I told him I knew he would be travelling again soon – I’d seen his shoes in the front hall, they were crossed over each other; it’s a well-known sign. Can you, I asked him, please send a nice calm English girl back for me to marry?