I had even less of an agenda today than yesterday. Though I had barely slept, I woke up around 7:30 naturally and decided to get going. Though it was only an hour and a half earlier than yesterday, the vibe on the streets felt different, with more people walking with purpose.
I made it to Iman Square in less than ten minutes–I’d been taking the roundabout way yesterday! Almost instantly, I was approached by an elderly man, probably in his late 80s or 90s. He spoke very little English, but when I introduced myself, he kept repeating “Amrika, Amrika!” He asked if I’d join him for some tea, and I accepted. Side note: tea is chay. Since a good milky chai tea is probably my favourite drink ever, I kept getting excited about people offering me chai tea until I realised they were actually offering me chay tea–tea tea.
Azadegan Teahouse was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was located in a tiny square just off Iman Square filled with chickens milling around and washing hanging from windows. Inside, there were two separate rooms–one for men only, and a ‘family’ room where women were allowed. There were signs everywhere saying “no photo,” but my friend insisted that I take at least one photo, so I obliged.
It’s impossible to convey with words how cool the teahouse was. The owner apparently collects antiques. There were old gas lamps hanging across the roof, lovely carpets cushioning the seats and on the floor. The walls were clear plastic cases with various odds and ends inside them; I was sitting in front of some old instruments, including what looked like a saxophone and an old drum.
I felt a little awkward since the old man spoke very little English, but he seemed to think that I was a miracle for being American, and kept grabbing my hand and smiling so big that I thought his teeth might fall out. We tried elephant ears also, which are basically flour and honey and remind me of Chinese wontons.
He took me to his carpet shop in the bazaar following, and I got to watch him and his associate print a table cloth with a really big stamp and ink. I was surprised by how heavy it was when they let me hold it. Though they made it look easy, their finished result was perfectly symmetrical and I was impressed–I can barely fold a piece of paper into thirds.
His cousin, who thankfully spoke a lot more English, came in, and took me down a few shops to his own shop, where he sells camel bone art. He told me how he uses cat hairs as a brush, but assured me that the cats are still living. I didn’t ask how they get the camel bone.
By then, the bazaar was still looking pretty empty–it was only about 9, obviously not early enough for the tourists. I’d seen a lot of people sitting and lying around Iman Square, so I decided to go and join them, finding a nice tree to lie under and reading and people watching for a bit.
I then braved Bazar-e Bozorg. About 5? kilometers long, this place is a maze of small stalls. A lot of the ones closer to the ends sold more touristy items like miniatures and boxes of camel bone–and of course, the carpets–but towards the middle, there were a lot of shops showcasing various fashions. I even saw one that sold dresses that looked as though they’d been designed for prom in the US.
At one point, however, I must have run into the mid-morning prayers or something–abruptly, there was a lot of chanting going on and a whole wave of people coming towards me. A shopkeeper must have seen my lost expression, because he pulled me to the side and let me stand in his shop while the procession passed. I had no idea what was going on, but was fascinated by the way the shops all stopped doing business around to allow time to say hi to everyone around.
Finally, I reached another square which is basically the new version of Iman Square–they were attempting to build a duplicate. It lacks the bustle and the business of Iman Square though, and honestly felt rather desolate. A few kids were running around with little firecracker things that would explode when thrown on the ground, which alarmed me at first.
My feet have been in horrible condition since summer, when, at one point, I literally had a blister on a blister on a blister. They’d calloused really well so I don’t really feel anything in my feet anymore. However, I’d been moisturizing them often in Zion to keep them from cracking. Since I hadn’t been walking much in Dubai, I hadn’t even thought about my feet and how they like the gazillion degree heat. However, at some point walking through the bazaar, the thick calloused skin on one of my heels broke open and started bleeding profusely.
As such, I decided to sit in this square for a bit. Another man approached me, but his English also was a bit shak. He told me about his family and showed me a picture of his car. Then he showed me a picture of something on fire, and I think he was trying to tell me his car had exploded? Maybe he was in a crash? Something bad happened. I asked him if he knew where Jemeh Mosque was, and he leaped up to lead me.
I stopped to read the sign about the minarets, but he waved for me to keep following. I told him he didn’t have to wait for me, but he, of course, did. Then he led me back into the bazaar and straight to a shop selling headscarves. He tried to buy me one, and then, when I declined repeatedly, ran across to another stall and, waving his bank card to show that he was paying, tried to get me to look at skirts. At that point, I told him that I was going to keep going and he shouldn’t come with me using a lot of hand motions. He looked quite crestfallen and I felt a little bad because I’m sure he meant perfectly well; however, he made me feel uncomfortable and that was that.
Since I didn’t want to encounter him again, I kept going through the bazaar, stopping to chat with various storekeepers and shoppers. I was pleasantly surprised by how very few of them were pushy. I had the “But you’re from America! America is good country. Americans are very rich!” card pulled on me multiple times, but I just told them that I was a student and most American students are a hundred thousand dollars in debt. I’d also been told by my Iranian friends that the bazaars in Shiraz have similar offerings to Esfahan, and since I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pay for my hotels in Shriaz and Tehran with a card, I wasn’t ready to cough up my cash.
Soon, I found myself in Iman Square again. In the hours that had passed, the square had filled with tourists and families milling around. I went off to the side in search of food. Being ridiculously indecisive–the struggle of travelling alone is making decisions!–it took me a good twenty minutes to decide on a place. Since I was planning on a big dinner, I went into a shop and pointed at two pastryish things.
Back in Iman Square, I sat under the shade of a large tree with my food. Almost instantly, a boy appeared, probably about fourteen, and shyly asked where I was from. After asking me if I was enjoying Iran, he apologised for taking my time. I told him he was welcome to sit and chat if he didn’t mind my eating, and he looked as though he’d won the lottery. These Iranians are too darn sweet. He explained to me that the pastry on the right was a vegetarian thing, and the one on the left was pizza. Pizza? I looked at it again with skepticism. Apparently the two ketchup packets I’d been given were to put on this pizza. Well, so much for not eating American food… The vegetarian pastry was very flaky and had an almost beany paste in the middle that wasn’t amazing but wasn’t bad. I really loved the bread of the pizza, which was crispy on the outside as if it had been fried for a brief second, but the middle third was filled with some sort of ham. Fake ham, of course, as the Muslims don’t eat pork.
I meandered across to the tourism office to inquire about a hotel in Shiraz, since the wifi in my hotel didn’t work. There were about five ladies there, three of whom were on lunch breaks from other stalls, and I was immediately told to sit down and try some Iranian pear and try a grape flavoured sweet and try some corn-nut-things. They booked me not only the hotel, but also the bus, which saved me figuring that out on my own. They wanted to know how my hotel was so they could tell other tourists. Upon finding out where it was, one of the ladies told me that she was going home in fifteen minutes and she would drive me. I hadn’t really planned on leaving, but I decided that getting a plaster on my feet wouldn’t be a bad thing and napping didn’t sound too bad either.
Of course, these are lovely chatty Iranians, so we didn’t leave until almost an hour later–this is why it was good for me to not have a set agenda; I’d stress about being late for my own schedule! Only the two working at the tourism office had good English, so they were translating quite a bit, but it was fun to hear about their lives and their children. One had a daughter getting her PhD somewhere in “a small city in California called San Francisco.” (Side note: it’s very strange that a lot of people here have never heard of San Francisco.
Before heading back to my room, I popped into an internet cafe a few doors down–I had a feeling my parents were probably worried (love you mum and dad!) and I needed to google a couple of things for my internship. To my surprise, WhatsApp works here, but since I had over 300 messages from various groups I decided not to even look at it. Snapchat told me that I had ten or so snaps from various people, but when I tried to open it, nothing loaded. Also to my surprise, Gmail doesn’t work here–I usually need Gmail for my internship so I’d done some research that had led me to believe it would as the Iranian government would apparently like to be friends with Google; however, Google itself blocks quite a few google apps within Iran. My personal email was fine though.
I went back to my room to rest for a bit and to put plasters on my feet–turned out the other foot had a crack, too, that I just hadn’t yet felt. After reading for a bit, I set out again for Iman Square.
In search of postcards, I wandered the shops around the squares. I went into a shop selling miniatures, which are paintings like the boxes the man had showed me earlier, done on camel bone with very fine hairs. They use magnifying glasses to work. I was absolutely blown away by how detailed I could see they were even with my naked eye, and I really wanted to get my mum one. Then, I saw one of a basset hound that looks just like one of my best friends’ dogs. I asked the lady if she could tell me how much it cost. She took it down and looked, then brought me a magnifying glass. Very slowly, she showed me the detail under a magnifying glass and told me how it’s created; then she flipped it over to show me the price–560 Euro. Well. No wonder they took credit cards.
I found a place selling postcards and annoyed the shopkeeper by haggling with him to get three postcards for 2,000 toman, or 20,000 rial. Though the post office was closed, I decided to go and sit in Iman Square again to write them while watching the sunset.
At the airport, one lady had told me I must try something called fesenjun.. My guidebook specifically mentioned a restaurant at Iman Square as a good place to try this, and since I’d been reading and then ignoring my guidebook, I decided to listen for once.
I went in and seated myself at one of a few cafeteria type tables. The waiter spoke no English, so I wasn’t able to ask him what types of juice they had, but they gave me water for free which was delightful. The fesenjun wasn’t what I expected, though it was delicious. It’s a type of pastey sauce made with pomegranate juice and eggplant, and mine was served in a bowl with chicken next to a plate of rice. It took me a few bites, but I really liked the kind of tart but kind of creamy taste. I had my book with me, so I took my time–I hadn’t been too hungry, but I didn’t want to waste anything. Even the rice was really tasty; I think it had a little saffron. (Incidentally, if anyone wants saffron, speak now–apparently it’s really cheap here!)
I meandered out, and again, was stopped almost instantly. This guy told me in a few minutes that he’d studied English literature at the University of Esfahan and I was like oh yeah we can be friends let’s talk books. He invited me back to his carpet shop, which, too my surprise, was the same shop I’d had tea in yesterday morning!
I never asked him how old he was, but I’d guess he’s around thirty based on how many times he told me that I was way too mature and independent to be twenty. He definitely spoke the best English of anyone I’d met yet, though there were still some colloquial things I had to explain, such as blacking out after drinking too much. He invited me to a teahouse, which, ironically, was the same one I’d been to that morning with the really cool antiques. There, we ate more elephant ears and smoked a water pipe–basically a hookah without the shisha.
Outside in Iman Square, I was surprised by how many people were hanging out–I think it was more crowded than it had been in the daytime. Everyone seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves, and I saw one group with the same tea set up the family I’d had tea with yesterday had had. It wasn’t until my new friend asked how dating in the US worked–“Does a guy just take a girl to a teahouse?”–that I realised that he probably had different intentions than my 90-year-old friend that morning had. Whoops… Nonetheless, we had a rather interesting discussion on some similarities and differences within the cultures.
Though I feel like I didn’t really do too much today, I feel like I got a lovely and more authentic taste of Esfahan and its people. I really love this city, and though I’m so excited to go to Shiraz and Persepolis, I’m sad to be leaving.