Iranian Farm Stay
I admired the farms that were tucked into valleys near the foothills of the Zagroes Mountains. I asked if we could get a closer look at a farm and maybe stay overnight. Saheed said that most Iranians were happy to open their home to visitors, but if we asked after supper, it was “more polite.” Near dusk, we stopped in a small village where a sheep farmer invited us to spend the night. This was an unexpected opportunity to interact with a man with two wives. His farm was a walled complex on the edge of the village with a stunning view of snow-capped mountains. Four of his sons were summoned to the gathering. We spent several hours in his guest room exchanging information about our families and jobs while lounging on overstuffed pillows and plush Persian rugs. Idle chat was mixed with gallons of tea and pastries. At 11 PM, I bedded down in a warm sleeping bag while sheep bleated outside. In the morning, we were served bread still warm from the oven and yogurt sprinkled with fresh green mountain mint. After breakfast, Saheed learned that nomads passed this farm a week before. After an extensive tour of the farm, we said goodbye. Our benefactor reverently placed his hand over his eye, then over his mouth and finally near his heart as he bowed forward slightly. In a somewhat derogatory tone, Saheed explained that this was the village way of being friendly.
At a shallow river crossing, when we stopped for tea, I again asked our driver about the farmer’s farewell gesture. Reza said it roughly translated, “I enjoyed your visit and thank you for coming to my home.” He said that mostly villagers and Mullahs make these signs. In a religious way, it meant, appreciation, respect and trust. After driving along 50 kilometers of goat trails, we gave up the search for nomads in this area.
A Climb in the Desert
After a tailgate lunch, we took off for more promising territory. In a short time, I spotted the telltale black tents of the Ghasaghai about three kilometers from the highway. At their camp, Saheed learned it was the Igder group. They were under orders to relocate to a nearby village. The leader boasted about his sheep herd, their tribal school and invited us to dinner. Two regional government officials joined us; we drank tea, ate Persian style (with our fingers) and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of nomadic life. At the time, Iran was in the third year of drought, and people, vegetation, and livestock were distressed. The Igder group was no exception. Dr. Sami, the man in charge of relocation, said the only thing preventing the tribe’s move was the lack of water. Although a government engineer designed a well, there was no water where he predicted. There was considerable cost to drill deeper with no assurance of finding water. Dr. Sami asked my opinion and recommendation. Since the well was only twenty minutes away, I agreed to visit the site. When I examined drill cuttings and compared the elevation of a down hill irrigation well, I predicted that water was deeper. Upon learning that the drill hole recently filled up with water and the drilling became easier, I recommended they go another 15-20 meters deeper. If the driller hit a productive zone sooner, Dr. Sami could make the decision to stop drilling. If my recommendations worked, I asked them to name the well in my honor, if not, then call it Sami’s Dry Hole. Everyone got the joke.
In Yazd, I had my first look at a qanat. Having pestered our driver and guide about seeing this mysterious water system, Saheed asked for directions to it at the first stoplight in town. After winding our way through narrow alleys and more directions, we arrived at large cylindrical graffiti covered masonry structure. Closer study revealed an obscure arched entrance across from this structure that led to a qanat maintenance shaft. Inside, a narrow brick stairway descended deep underground. Although his knowledge of the system was limited, Saheed showed me the wear from a million footprints on bricks once used by people to haul tons of water. When I reached the bottom, I speculated that this was just one point on a long conduit serving many water users. Water flowed from a higher point by gravity to low lying agricultural lands downstream. When I explained my theory, Saheed nodded agreement. It’s extremely hot in this area, so the tunnels saved precious water from evaporation. I learned later that for various reasons, most of the qanat water in Yazd was replaced by water from pumped wells.
Counting Palm Springs, California, Yazd was my second exposure to a large desert community. In the old part of this city, we were treated to crispy thin bread, still hot from a stone oven. I toured the Zoroastrian fire temple with an eternal flame and was puzzled by wind towers on top of many buildings in this city. Saheed explained that these towers channeled desert wind into homes and public buildings for cooling. Our driver, Reza, challenged me to scale a tall minaret to experience, up close, the invisible desert wind. The minaret was about 35 feet high and terminated on a narrow circular balcony. It was around 90 degrees Farenheight and the 39-inch passage was a struggle for my 38-inch hips. Anticipating cooler air up top, I hurried the climb, seeking relief. When I stepped onto the balcony, the wind was more like a whisper, and I was wet with perspiration. Reza, who stripped to his tee shirt, grinned and said if we waited, the wind would come. After ten minutes, it was still no more than a whisper, so I left feeling as if I was cooked “medium rare.”
Outside of town, I saw the only two camels in Iran, or so the owner said. I could have ridden one for a buck, but instead opted for a hike up a steep gravel path to the tower of silence. A local guide explained that Zoroastrians once disposed of their dead by leaving them at this place for vultures and crows. The people believed that dead bodies contaminated the earth, but if they