Thursday, August 18, 2005

Top ten list or, everything but the tree

My five-day stretch in the classroom came to an end on Wednesday. Even though I stayed up relatively late Tuesday night for a swim and late dinner I felt pretty fresh. The swim was long overdue and I made the cultural gaffe of changing right in front of my locker rather than in the little changing room that everyone else was using.

Wednesday evening though I had an opportunity to visit one of my students for dinner. I met him right after class and headed to his place. It was, by his standards, a humble apartment but I was quite pleased to see that he lived a lifestyle that was more comfortable than I expected. I was very warmly welcomed by his wife and sat down to a lovely evening. It seems that in Iran dinner runs relatively late; at my hotel I'm usually served dinner around 9pm, which sets my stomach growling for a few hours while unwind from my day. We started dinner perhaps around the same time, in part because of tradition but also because his wife was preparing a MASSIVE spread of food. There was a substantial dish of nuts in the living room, the same variety and size that I would associate with Christmas, bigger actually and there was just as big a bowl of fruit for me to nibble on before dinner and while I chatted with them about Persia culture. I should add that the nuts are something usually reserved for special occasions in Iran, much the same as they are in Canada. The wife was not shut into the kitchen and unseen but was separated from the living room only by the counter so she could listen and contribute. She also happens to be a well-educated woman with a post-graduate degree.

Dinner itself was... Well over the last few months I've been, for some reason, mulling over a top-ten list of great meals that I've had in my life, whether it was the pan fried fish my Aunt Janet served up in 1982, the $15 feast I had in Prague in 1997, the dinner of lobster and steak I had with my folks in 1995 just before I left for Japan, anyone of the times when my father made clam chowder, any Friday night of "the trad" with Bill in Arashiyama, and the countless surprising meals where the food was complemented by the company whether it was at posh restaurant or just the Hard Rock Cafe. This evening's meal placed high on that list. The food was an impressive array of different dishes that I had only heard about. Two rice dishes, eggplant, veal, a variety of different things, the names of which have escaped me. It covered about 1/2 or even 2/3 of a table that was substantial enough for a large family gather and there were just the three of us.

My student's commitment to this program, in terms of not only time and effort, but also the short-term setback to his career while he works and studies is substantial and realizing that makes the job I have here and my responsibilities to my students even more apparent to me.

I did not get back to my hotel until about 2am and was not allowed to leave without taking along a little care package of fruits and nuts, much as my mother would insist upon after any visit home. Of course as any occasion like this requires, the evening would not be complete without a glance through photo albums. I did not have my computer for pictures of my family but I did not have enough foresight two weeks ago and again yesterday morning to pack a coffee table book of pictures from across Canada.

To encounter the full hospitality of the Iranian people in the way I did tonight made for an incredible, touching evening.