Translated by: Mariann Kiszely
We registered on the Warmshowers, the „couchsurfing of cyclists” last summer.
This is how we got to know Mina and her husband, Habib. The couple from Teheran loves cycling: the have been to Africa and to some countries in Asia, and they spent 3 months on a trip in Europe last summer. We spent five days with them in Budapest, and we became friends. They are very open-minded, friendly, extremely modest and they have a good sense of humour.
During the year we were in touch with them, the helped us to get the invitation letter for the Iranian visa.
In Tebriz Mina's niece Vida and her husband, Ahmet were our hosts. Our arrival was stormy indeeed. We took about 100 kms that day, riding in the urban traffic made us very tired, the rain, the wind and the thunder were just a plus.
When we arrived to the small flat in Tebriz we were tired, wet and dirty. We were embarrassed in our dirty clothes, we were packing our muddy and wet bike bags when the door opened. Vida stepped out and greeted us. They had been waiting for us, they had heard a lot about us from Mina and Habib. The greeting was very warm. After a hot shower and a delicious dinner we had a long conversation then we fell asleep on our toshaks. The toshaks can be found in smaller flats and they are similar to a mattress, people lay the toshak on the ground so it can be used as a bed by the guests.
The next day Vida and Ahmed took us to one of the oldest bazars of the town. We were waiting for the day when we can experience what we read in the book of Ármin Vámbéry: „After having spent a couple of days in Tebriz, it became clear to me that I was living in the East, and that the distant Istanbul, the colourful curtain of the Eastern world shows only a falsified picture of the East that was made similar to Europe.( Ármin Vámbéry, Travels through Central Asia)
Today they still sell carpets in the oldest part of the roofed bazar. In the small shops that are only of a couple of square-meters they sell yarn and silk that is necessary for the preparation of carpets. In the bigger shops we saw different kinds of carpets. There were handmade carpets and machine made carpets as well, ones with Tebriz pattern, some made of yarn and others of silk. The number of „regs” also influences the price of the carpets. The reg means the number of handmade knots on a seven centimeter-section. The more expensive carpets can have 70 regs! There were tapestries as well, that people put on the wall. These are masterpieces, we had to go closer to see the material, we did not believe that they were not paintings.
The silk carpets are very expensive, so they are usually bought by wealthy people. Out of curiosity we asked a merchant to show us his most expensive carpet. He showed us a carpet on the wall, its size was about 1,5-2 square meters. The price was approximately 4,5 million forints. He was waving his head and told us that he had been trying to sell the carpet for two years, but nobody bought it.
We visited the merchants selling spices as well. I got to know how to choose rice, and this time I do not mean the choice between the type „A” and „B”. I was fascinated and I kept asking questions from Vida.
They keep the rice in big sacks, I smelled the the white and longer one, the smaller and chubby one and the smoked rice as well. All of them had a very interesting smell. In Iran they eat a lot of rice, there is a big difference between the preparation methods. I learned that rice can be prepared in an everyday and ceremonial way as well, all the housewives know this. When I was young I learned from my mother how to prepare rice in a way that it does not become sticky – in many cases I still do not manage to prepare it – but here they have several versions.
You have to gently blow on a handful of rice, then smell it. It seemed to be a breath-test for me as well at first, but it works, you can smell the aroma and the odour of the rice!
It was interesting to experience how conscious the Iranians are about their meals. They know their food and they know how their body is effected by them. They know that the sweet morsels „wake up” the body in the morning. They do not burden their stomach with sausage or different kinds of meat, neither with cold cuts, as the body needs a lot of energy to digest these. ( I have to tell that as I love meat it was a bit difficult for me to get used to a more vegetarian diet. )
People usually eat bread, peach or strawberry jam, nuts, honey, cream, cucumber, egg and helva (sesame cream) for breakfast in the morning. They have several kinds of bread, none of them is similar to our one. ( sometimes I miss the white bread that we have at home! ) One of our favourites is the fatir bread, it is round-shaped and it is similar to the pie. The lavash is a very thin pasta, they eat it for breakfast or for lunch. The sangak is square shaped and it is porous. Its curiosity is that it is baked on small stones. One morning we found a very small stone at the bottom of our sangak. The tafton is similar to the lavash, but it is a bit thick. The barberi is circle shaped, and it is a solid kind of pie.
They almost always eat rice for lunch and dinner. The housewives can decorate the meals with different kinds of spices, dried fruits, flower petals and milling products. Their spices are intensive, but not hot. They like using saffron, that gives a very special smell and taste to the food. Besides the rice, they usually eat some juicy meal. My favourite one is the „khores” that can be prepared using meat and vegetables as well. The proportions are interesting: at home the meat takes 50% and the garnish 50%, here rice takes 80% of the meal.
We had vegetable soup and „white soup” with carrots, milk, lemon and pasta several times for dinner. Sometimes they substitute rice with pasta, but this is not very frequent. They like drinking „doogh” for dinner: it is a yogurt diluted with water and flavoured with thyme or mint ( it is similar to the Turkish ayran). It is important to season the food in the evening in a way that it should decrease the blood pressure, so people can fall asleep more easily.
We got to know Vida's family as well, we met her parents and her younger sister. It is interesting how many languages they use in the family. Vida speaks azeri Turkish with her parents, but Persian with Ahmet. Everyone understands the other language as well, but they know which language is usually used when they would like to communicate with someone from the family. Of course the Persian is the official language everywhere in Iran, but it is very interesting how all this works in the everyday life. Vida's sister, Neda is a graphic artist and illustrator. She is full of ideas and she has beautiful pictures. Unfortunately the state does not support students who studied art, she does not have much work. One evening when we had dinner in the house of Vida's parents, she asked me modestly if I was curious about her pictures. Of course, I would love to see them- I replied. We went to her room, where she showed me her drawings and sketches. My heart shrank: I would love to help this young girl! How many opportunities she would have, if she had the possibility to blossom out! I am not very familiar with designer topics, but still, I showed her some webpages on my mobile phone on which there was already a software that deactivated the internet blocker.
I encouraged her to apply for scholarships, to travel and to see the world. It was a bittersweet feeling to sit on the floor in the room of such a talent, knowing that I cannot really help her...
We said goodbye to Vida and Ahmet after two days. Our stormy arrival was followed by an adventurous departure. Balázs's next dream came true the following day, as he had the possibility to travel on the deck of a Peycan that had a plateau. But how did this happen? One of Ahmet's friends came by car to help. We put the bicycles and the luggage to the plateau and headed to the bus-station. Balázs loved the Peycan. He was smiling, grasping the handhold and waving to us. I regret not having taken a photo about him, nothing else could better describe his happiness. I travelled with Ahmet, Vida and Ghila.
At the bus-station, after some bargaining we got our tickets and we put everything into the bus. We had to say goodbye to our hosts very quickly, as the driver was already hooting.
We had 630 kms and an 8 hour long bus trip ahead of us, we were waiting for our arrival in Teheran where Mina and Habib were waiting for us.