So, here goes my first steemit story. Resteemed from myself, actually, as I did not know how to tag properly the first time ;)
I am a wanderer. You'll find stories about my intercultural adventures in the Middle East here, mixed with some weird crazy dreams I happen to have on occasions...
It happened in central Iran some six years ago.
I hope you'll like it!
You must now one thing - living in Iran requires an every day sort of theater-like, almost role-playing, ritual. It's a cultural thing. You are supposed to observe many small rituals of politeness. On many occasions you may not state the obvious or say "no" bluntly but rather try go around, avoid being too direct. "No" may need to become "God-willing, on some other occasion", this sort of stuff. It's just like that soup your grandmother used to make for you and even though you didn't like, you'd say it was delicious.
But the theatre is not only about the ritual of politeness ("taarof"). Sometimes you need to pretend to be someone else. You were baptised but don't attend your Sunday mass anymore? You'd better say you're a faithful, strict Christian anyway. You don't particularly like the US foreign policy? Say you hate the bastards.
Improvise. Adapt. Exaggerate. And pay heed to the honour of your nation.
So, there we were, sitting in the great audience hall of one of the biggest universities in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a small group of non-Middle Eastern students from Europe, among hundreds of young people from Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Tajikistan... It was a big day. The Day of the International student that happens once a year to honour all the foreigners on the campus.
We were told by Mr. Amiri, our special "caretaker", to expect a great deal of fun, as the main show person had been leading the celebrations for a number of consecutive years "and all would praise her great, cheerful performance".
Her name was Gabriela Abdollahi, Venezuelan-born US-citizen, who eventually, after marrying Mr. Abdollahi and converting to Shia Islam - became a proud citizen of the IRI. She was said to have spent some good 15 years in Iran and her Persian was indeed on a native level.
When she took over the floor, suddenly all the noisy crowds got silent. They awaited the miracle of performance.
She started with some stories from her early years within Iran. Let me briefly quote a few of them to give you the general idea how did it look.
"When our boy was around 2 years old, Mr. Abdollahi said to me with a candid smile that it's about time that we chop the boy's head off. I got so scared! How would the man I had been with for some three years then say something as cruel?! Eventually, after a fight I realised what he meant was simply to crop the boy's hair".
<The crowds instantly get wild, the outbursts and roars of vivid laughter are reaching the dome of the audience hall, it is as if the whole building would collapse from the merry reactions of the Middle Eastern students>
"Once I went to a corner shop on a very hot day. I asked the shopkeeper whether he had any milk. And he would just raise his eyebrows and then lower them again. I repeted my questions, only to have him respond in the same manner. I became very angry as in the US when a man approaches a woman and moves his eyebrows thus, it implies he is sexually interested in her. And he only wanted to minimalistically express that there is no milik available. Back then, I didn't know the meaning behind that gesture".
<Once more, the crowds instantly get wild, the outbursts and roars of vivid laughter are reaching the dome of the audience hall, it is as if the whole building would collapse from the merry reactions of the Middle Eastern students>.
And we were just sitting there looking at one another, waiting for the festivities to conclude... I will spare you the rest of the wonderful jokes by Mrs. Abdollahi.
When eventually our wish was granted by God the Almighty, as we were getting ready to leave, Mr. Amiri approached us to ask whether we enjoyed the programme. Our group remained silent for a moment, not knowing what to say. Then it was I who replied:
"Dear Mr. Amiri, I think we'd rather refrain from commenting"
"Why, what has happened?"
"Nothing, it doen't matter"
"Please, tell me! You're all guests here, as your hosts we are obliged to help you!"
"Mr. Amiri, I really think we'd rather not comment on this one"
"No, no, please, tell me right away, maybe we can work this out somehow"
"All right... For us the Christians conversion to other religion is one of the heaviest sins one may commence, a sin againsts Holy Spirit. We will pray for Mrs. Abdollahi".
He only nodded his head with understanding and said nothing.
On many later occasions, upon introducing us to some new people on the campus, Amiri would simply say: these are my friends from Europe. An extremely pious lot.