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Where you could hear Jen and Parees whispering

Written and photographed by Rasool Nafisi
March 28, 2001
The Iranian
Photos here

Abarghu, which I visited last summer in Yazd Province, is considered more of a pariah than a city. When Iranians say, "So and so has come from Abarghu," they mean he/she is from a far and desolate place, a long way from modern civilization. I am finishing a book on Abarghu in Farsi. Ten segments have already been published in Par magazine. The following excerpt is a translation from the tenth segment.

At night, angels flew over Abarghu. The sky would come so close to the Earth that lovers could find their way in the heart of the night and jump from rooftop to rooftop to visit their yaar. God was near, and in the mysterious and enchanting desert night, people could hear the whispers of Jen and Parees.

Night in the desert was meant to make up for the arduous days, when people toiled, and animals sought the cool of a wall or tree shade.

Night would fall on the city in three stages. First, at sunset, the molten-lava skies of desert lands turned the world crimson red. The sky and lead-colored mountains merged, and those working under the merciless sun left work and headed home.

Then birds began to perch on treetops, while beasts of prey called from the heart of the desert to hear answers from their distant cousins in the dusty town. Neither envied the life of the other. Living in the city, despised by everyone, was no better than being in the wilderness of the dry desert. Perhaps the beasts and the domestics both lamented together.

Finally, silence fell on the city. You could hear people talking, babies crying, and cows mooing. You could hear a distant truck clawing its way up the mountainous road. You could hear a moth, a survivor of the desert, travel in the air, deceived by the kerosene lamp's struggling yellow flame.

You could hear the screech of reed pens used by pupils, writing diligently, with their untamed pens dipped in ink made with sod, sugar, and silk, writing line after line of Farsi calligraphy, and trying to dry it against the heat of the lamp.

Falling stars pierced the heart of the night, traveling from nowhere to nowhere, and those with secret wishes could read from the trajectory whether or not their wishes would be fulfilled. Most thought about their children. Would they come home soon from military service, safe and sound? Were they going to get married soon? Was their next baby going to be a son? More pious folks saw falling stars as God's fire chasing minor devils, and sometimes they worried that the devils are so close.

One could hear the throbbing of the Earth's heart, rising and falling. In the spring peasants touched the rising Earth with their leathern hands as if she were a pregnant woman.

At the last stage of night, the meager moisture of the desert adorned the oily leaves of a pomegranate or a birch.

Abarghu lived at night, and labored in daytime. This was all before electric lights made the night part of the day, and made them both equally cumbersome.

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Rasool Nafisi (B.S., Law, University of Tehran; M.S., Sociology of Education, Florida State University;Ph.D., Foundations of Education, Florida State University) is the Discipline Advisor of General Studiesat Strayer University in Northern Virginia. He is currently working on a book on resecularization of Iran.He lives in Northern Virginia.

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