The Hajj

In the summer of 2004 I traveled with friends to Iran to an ancient city called Estefan. We went to visit relatives and see the wonders of old Persia and modern Iran.  My friend’s family is Muslim, some quite religious, others more secular in their observance.  I am Jewish…I am an infidel…I am an American…I am a woman. Any one or all of these factors put me outside of this community.  My exclusion was minimal, because the family with a few exceptions by the more religious members, embraced me warmly as Jaleh’s friend; and I assumed certain behaviors that allowed me to fit into the wider community. For example, I rarely wore a Hijab, headscarf, in the house; but dutifully put one on to go outside or to any public place. I experimented with all kinds of scarves since most often I looked like a Russian babushka (grandma)...not very glamorous or attractive. Muslim women seemed to have the knack for looking gorgeous even when covered from head to toe in a black Chadoura, the outer garment worn in Iran by observant Muslim women! Frustrated by how I looked in a scarf, I took to blasphemy under my breath as I donned my scarf, “Allah is great, Mohammed is his prophet and they hate me”!  It was incorrect of course but allowed me to vent my displeasure with forced clothing restrictions that included not only a head covering but also, long outer garments which added to my discomfort with the high heat of the Iranian summer.
There was one uncle, Salam Khale Joon, a robust man in his mid to late 60’s, who because I was an infidel, would not touch me (shake hands or hug).  In everything else, he was gracious and friendly.  One morning, Reza, my friend’s father, told me this uncle needed US dollars for a Hajj, a religious pilgrimage. The last time he had exchanged money, he was cheated; given counterfeit bills. Therefore, they decided to ask me if I would exchange some of the traveling cash I had with me for Iranian money.  Why not! I was still anticipating a few days shopping at the old bazaar and would need to exchange dollars anyway.   The Uncle and Reza took my cash and went off in a corner to figure out the exchange.  I sat quietly unconcerned on the couch reading.  When they finished, Uncle wanted to know if I wanted to count the money to be sure they hadn’t cheated me.  I stared at him…thinking to myself “How in hell would I know…I don’t have clue what the exchange rate is or even how to read Iranian money, the Rial”! But to him I said, “No, I have no need to count it, I trust you completely.”  In the next moment, I was squeezed in a massive bear hug, my breath coming in ragged heaves against his chest. He held me so tightly I could hear his heart beat…Uncle was smiling broadly as he made me a member of the family, of the community.  The entry fee into this community was not money; it was TRUST.

Published by Carole J. Garrison

I’m a conversationalist, an observer, a passionate participant in life. And now, in my later years, I’m a recorder of the lessons of my life through essays, stories, and novels. I live in the fourth moment of life, just outside the normal distribution of most people and it is from this place that I write.

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