Thursday, December 01, 2005

Memories of Iran

Aryar-Shahr Elementary School:
Iranian children start school a year before American kids do and so at age 5, I began first grade. The local elementary school served a sort of planned-community type part of Isfahan that I think gave my mom a touch of comfort in having other families in the area. The school was a half-English / half-Farsi type school and since I spoke mostly English at home, I breezed through the English-portion of my days and struggled slightly with the Farsi-portion (at least in terms of writing). I have a handful of memories of going to school, the school itself and time after school:
Tamarind - On the way to school there was a deli of sorts, maybe halfway between a deli and a supermarket, where the kids-in-the-know knew they could score everyone's favorite childhood treat - tamarind. Ok, every Iranian kid's favorite treat. It came packaged without the outer shell but still containing the thick inner seeds and after one or two students would buy some, they and their friends would walk the rest of the way to school, eating and sharing tamarind while sharp-shooting the seeds (like pinching watermellon seeds between your fingers) at different targets along the way.
Calisthenics - Before class, we lined up outside the school and did jumping jacks and push ups to the loud and somehow fascinating urgings coming from an object I had never seen before - a electronic bullhorn. Later, I remember having a dream wherein I stole the bullhorn and ran around the playground yelling whatever I wanted to, while evading capture from teachers and administrators.
The 'rock' incident - On the way home after school one day, I became the object of teasing for some reason or other, there was back and forth in the teasing and I believe the focus shifted a few times on to some of the others in our group (of maybe 4 or 5 kids). At one point, one of the kids picked up a mango-sized rock and dancing back and forth, pretended like he was going to throw it at another kid. This continued for a minute or two, somehow none of us tired of the pretending-to-throw-a-rock-at-someone game but when we eventually did tire of it, the rock holder turned to throw it at me. I assumed we were still playing so I feigned a little dodge left and dodge right, only... the kid threw the rock. It sailed over my head as if in slow motion, hitting the head of another one of us. We all stopped, looked at eachother in shock, looked at the now bloody friend of ours, also in shock - and in a moment of Road-Runner-like-zippyness, everyone ran off in a different direction. Except for me and the now bloody friend who was now also crying. I walked him home - somehow barely managing to escape the blame his mother desperately wanted to pin on me for the offending act and then walked home myself, resolved to never play the pretending-to-throw-a-rock-game again.
Orange "burn" - my dad has known his friend Art since they were, I think, 15 yrs old. Art's wife, Norma is, like my mom was, a blonde haired, blue eyed American woman. Norma used to substitute teach and at one point, substituted for what I think was a 3rd grade class at my elementary school. I'd see her occassionally during lunch break and before or after school and it was kind of nice knowing there was a family friend at the school during the day. Lunchtime came one day and orange slices were handed out following our meal. For whatever reason, I'd had unusually dry lips that day and it's possible that the oranges that day were particularly sour or aciduous (I was going to say "acidy" to avoid the wordiness of aciduous, but even I dont feel I can get away with "acidy") but the end result was that the corners of my mouth were dry and cracked and I had put painfully "aciduous" orange juice right on them. Sharp, stinging pain and agony and .. I'll admit... fright, at the level of pain and agony. So much so that I got up from the end of lunch, eyes tearing, nose sniffling and somehow snuck my way out of the lunchroom, hell bent on finding Norma to console me. What I thought she could do for me, I still dont know but I was on a mission to find her. As I crossed the courtyard, my hands covered in stinging juice, eyes runny from tears and congestion, I had the conscious thought "ok, what am I going to do when I find her? what's she going to do for me?" - I remember turning back to go back to the lunchroom, then turning back to go find Norma... then once more turning back to go to class then.. just standing there and looking at my hands while I got a hold of myself. As I calmed down and wandered back towards class, I sheepishly accepted the lesson I'd taught myself about over-reaction and the futility of tantrums. Well... until the next time I had a tantrum, at least.
The Pencil - I have no idea what we were arguing about, but somehow, someway, for some reason, someone stabbed me in the eye with a pencil, breaking off the tip - in - my - eyeball. You cant see where it happened but I can still see a floater in my right eye from it.
Chutes and Ladders - We had a gift exchange day, possibly coinciding with Christmas season (?) since the school was comprised of many English speaking or half-American or UK students. I saw Chutes and Ladders in the pile but had drawn a low number to pick from the pile and so I watched as the pile of presents got lower and lower as kids picked from it. I sat there willing them to pick anything but the Chutes and Ladders game. Two kids before it was to be my turn, someone picked it up. I screamed. Everyone looked at me. I said nothing. Later, I think I traded whatever I had ended up with plus something from my lunch for the Chutes and Ladders game which I ended up not really liking that much.
Lined paper - I had a test. A test on farsi characters and simple word construction. I was nervous and really wanted to prepare for the test so I asked my dad for help. We sat down at night and began preparing for everything I'd need for the test. I'd definitely need sheets of lined paper to write on so we took a huge roll of double lined paper and started sizing out individual sheets of paper. Instead of cutting them with scissors to make the right size, we folded them, then folded them back the other way, then licked the folded edge, then folded them back once more, finally tearing them with utmost care to not stray from the wet, folded edge. We sat and did this over and over until I had a huge stack of paper to take to school. What we didn't do was.... study. I went to school the next day, totally unprepared for the test but with a big stack of finely segmented paper to work with.
Performance - Ahh, class performances. Ours was a song - there were 5 of us who were supposed to sing on stage in front of the whole school. Needless to say, I was nervous, having never done anything before a crowd bigger than a classroom. We were to dress in snappy, Navy blue suits and dark shoes. Somehow, someway, this requirement didn't make it to my mom and as the performance day arrived, I was shown my suit. White - a white suit. No. Please. I was going to be a laughing stock. What did I do? I of course, cried. I of course, swore that I wasn't going. I of course, cried some more. Then I went to the school dressed in my white suit. My teacher was understandably not happy about me not fitting in with my Navy-blue-suited classmates but thinking quick on her feet, put me in the middle of the five students, basically making me the lead man with two Navy-suited rubes on either side of me. Ohw yeah. Still, throughout the performance, I was convinced that everyone knew that my white-suited-ness wasn't by design but by bad planning and even more probably, my fault entirely.

Next Up:
Prior to Aryar-Shahr, we'd lived in what might, correctly or not, be considered a mansion, complete with cement inner-courtyard wall and a 6 foot mud wall that lined the outer property, typical of many Iranian properties in Isfahan........

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