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The snow was heavy this winter
Nearly all of the mules are overburdened

By Kambiz Naficy
August 2, 2003
The Iranian

The snow was heavy this winter, and in early April; the mountain streams are chocolaty and pregnant with rushing water. The Persian skies are lighter blue than the U.S. Many Fridays, my lover and I go to the mountains that squat over Noreast Tehran -- we go treking on the mule paths outside the village of Ahar.

On the way to Ahar, condo buildings are sprouting like weeds. The nouveaux riches, driving Mercedes and Toyota Land Cruisers, with black beards and virtually no Western culture, are eager to buy real estate. These were the one's who hailed Khomeini and shooed away the Westernized Iranians some twenty five years ago.

The huge exodus of the Shah's middle and upper class, created a vaccum that filled the pockets of fruit mechant, the hudlum, the Revolutionary Guard, and the laundry woman's son who is now a cabinet minister. This is the class that cannot trust the future of any investment other than land -- they refuse to invest in the future, because deep in their guts they see no future for their own country.

Today, on our way to Ahar, we stop in the village of Fasham to buy sandwiches. The store owner is a heavy built man of fifty or so -- an x-athelete. On the wall opposite the counter, he has pasted posters of Iran's national hero, the wrestler Takhti. There are only two other national heroes left: Googoush, the child, now adult-pop singer, and Premier Mossadegh who nationalized Iran's oil in the Fifties. I have seen posters of all three here and there. Only Googoush is still alive; she has a condo in Toronto.

The title of this poster says, Takhti the champion with the lion's heart. It shows pictures of Takhti hugging his little old mother who wears thick prescription glasses and a chador, the Islamic veil. In another snapshot, Takhti hugs his infant son who looks like a squirrel resting on the trunk of of giant redwood.

The grocer tells me he has returned to these mountains after twenty three years of life in the U.S. There is nothing like home, he admits. Behind him, a rack displays four brands of German beer. He points to the Lindenhuaser, winks at me, this one has a healthy dosage of alcohol, do you want some for your climb?

The grocer's boy is making us foot-long hot dogs. Most restaurant menus these days, advertise pizza, hamburgers (most are not round in Iran), and hot dogs. In Tehran, there are quite a few Star Burger outlets with insignias identical to Burger King's yellow star. They even hang portraits of their employee of the month on the tiled walls. More about Star Burger in the next chapter.

Back in the sandwich shop, I look out the window to check on my VW. A Hyundai comes nose to nose with a Honda motocycle. The biker refuses to budge and the front passenger in the Hyundai leaps out, toward the back trunk of the car; reappears with a beating stick, smashes the motocyle's headlights; and beats the biker in the spine.

Pandemonium breaks loose in Fasham Square. This, I later find out, is a feud between the mahalis (local villagers) and the weekend bikers. At least three other local cars screech to a stop. Trunks pop open, each revealing hand-crafted clubs and beating sticks. Several motocycles roar in and everyone is tearing each others shirts; sticks are whirring and whirling through the air.

Back at the sandwich store, I am pale. I ask the grocer if the bikers are revolutionary zealots. No, they're just young and besides, everyone's nerves are shot. I've smashed a few noses myself, when I was young. Would you like Coke or Pepsi?

I pay him; come again, he hands me a business card. We shake good bye. Outside, Fasham square is empty and deserted.

There is a mule path outside the village of Ahar that winds up to the mountains. Some of the huts along the way have small attics where the villagers store hay for their mules. The mules are patient and very kind with their long eyelashes. Some of them wear ornamental jewelry between their fury ears and nearly all of them are overburdened with heavy cargo that they carry up and down the slopes. Their cargo can be anything from butane capsules to trunks of old oaks.

There is a mad woman along our path; she cannot speak, she expresses herself through gutteral screams. She is crosseyed and has come to know Shadi and I because we walk that path often enough. Yesterday I wished the woman good health and wellbeing; a smile spread across her face and I could hear her grunting from behind as I continued down the path toward the village.

After each climb, on the way back to the car, we stop for tea at the Sar Pol Chay Khaneh (Across-the-Bridge Tea House). The tea house garden features a cement fountain and river water shoots up the fountain sprout sporatically like blood out of a broken artery.

Weathered old men, many of them apple farmers, have hundreds of wrinkles and crows feet on their faces. The youth have mostly left the villages are hanging around Tehran.

The old men sit around the circular bench sipping tea and mostly staring at Shadi who is the only woman in the teahouse courtyard. One farmer enters the courtyard carrying his shovel on his shoulder. He has jovial, blue eyes and he educates me on harvesting sour cheries and contemporary politics. Then, his breathing becomes heavy; his eyes downcast, he sighs, and like all others, he decides to leave politics alone.

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