از پشه ها و مردان

کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 10

از پشه ها و مردان

توضیح مختصر

فصل دهم

  • زمان مطالعه 9 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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Of Mosquitoes and Men

My husband, François, loves to travel. When I first met him, he regaled me with stories of exotic places he had visited: the Maldive Islands, West Africa, Bali, Sri Lanka. He told me stories about his Greek grandfather, Savas, who traveled to Baghdad to set up the city’s first leavened-bread factory. A few months after his arrival, he suffered a minor cut during his daily shave. The seemingly innocuous cut became infected. Penicillin had not yet reached Baghdad, and Savas died a few days later, leaving behind a wife and two young daughters. In keeping with local tradition, Savas was buried in a Muslim ceremony. A few nights later, François’s Belgian grandmother, Octavie, went to the gravesite at midnight with two young men, a Roman Catholic priest, and a shovel. She had her husband dug up, then reburied in a Catholic ceremony.

Before Baghdad, Savas and Octavie had lived in the Congo, where Octavie had a beloved baby buffalo. This gentle creature hung around their home like a family pet. But, like all buffalo, he eventually grew big and turned into the proverbial bull in the china shop. Having been domesticated, he could no longer be returned to the wild, so Octavie decided to send him to the zoo in Antwerp. After a teary good-bye, she placed the buffalo on a steamship bound for Belgium. But, alas, the zoo never received its newest addition. Somewhere between the Congo and Belgium, the cook had developed a hankering for buffalo stew.

François also told me that when he first attended kindergarten in Paris, his teacher called his parents after a week to inform them that their son was exhibiting inappropriate behavior and needed to see a psychologist immediately. Apparently, François was unable to keep his clothes on at school. His mother had to explain that, having spent his formative years in Africa, he wasn’t used to wearing clothes. Given time, she said, he would surely adjust.

I loved all of François’s stories and never had to impress him with any exotic tales, since as far as he was concerned, being Iranian and having a name like Firoozeh far outweighed any of his adventures. I didn’t quite agree with him, but who was I to burst the bubble of a man whom I had somehow managed to effortlessly impress, a man who was captivated by the mere details of my life? Every so often, I would toss out some piddly story about the caviar vendors beside the Caspian Sea or the smell of nasturtiums in my aunt Sedigeh’s garden, and the Frenchman went gaga. By the time I told him about the frog infestation in Ahwaz, he wanted to marry me.

All was well until we started to plan our honeymoon. François had told me that he wanted to take me to “the most romantic place on earth.” That sounded good. “We’re going to go to a former palace,” he had continued. Was this really my life, or had I, through some wrinkle in time, stepped into somebody else’s universe, like maybe Grace Kelly’s? But like every good fantasy, this one lasted about thirty seconds. That’s when François told me that this romantic getaway was in India. I tried to conceal my shock, but for me, “India” and “honeymoon” just didn’t belong in the same sentence. As much as I love Indian music, literature, and food, I had never felt the need to go there on my honeymoon. I feel about India the way I feel while watching those Jacques Cousteau adventures where the divers explore undersea caves, flashing their lights in the pitch-black crevices only to discover that the cave is teeming with sharks and giant squid. Yes, it’s breathtaking, but from my sofa. Do I want to don a wet suit and join Jacques in those frigid waters? Non, merci.

François was very disappointed that several weeks of planning had been met with “Are you kidding?” I tried to explain to him that for me, a vacation does not involve certain hardships including, but not limited to, mosquitoes, vaccinations, poor plumbing, or stomach ailments. Having grown up in southern Iran, I experienced enough physical discomforts to make me truly appreciate a nice resort. François’s life of affluence in the Parisian suburbs, on the other hand, had left him itching for adventure. The only itching I felt was caused by the constant mosquito bites I got in Abadan. To François’s family, a vacation meant going to their secluded seaside villa in Greece, where they brushed up on their tanning and windsurfing skills. These activities were interspersed with fishing or looking for ancient relics that washed up on the beach. To my family, a vacation usually meant going to a relative’s house and sleeping on the floor, squeezed between several cousins. François enjoyed traveling throughout Greece on rickety buses—such a refreshing contrast to the orderly and predictable Parisian Métro. I had to ride a similar bus to school in fourth grade, and I found it neither quaint nor charming. Ignoring any notions of safety, the bus driver packed in twice as many kids as seats. Since I was one of the last to be picked up, I had to stand in the aisle, squeezed between the other kids like an egg in a tightly packed tin of beluga caviar. One day, the girl behind me threw up all over me on the way to school. The driver kept driving. By the time I reached school, I was in tears, but the teacher would not let me go home. I had to spend the entire day with dried vomit all over my uniform while all the kids around me held their noses.

During other vacations, François saw the sights in Thailand and Bali. The only sights we ever chose to see were the faces of family members who lived in other towns. François’s family thought large bugs and humidity were exotic; we worshiped the guys who invented climate control and bug spray. We never sought exotic forms of discomfort; they were part of a package deal that came with our homeland.

I remember being five years old and going to the bazaar in Abadan with my mother and needing desperately to go to the bathroom. The only bathrooms available were “Turkish” ones, which consist of a hole in the ground. If odor could be measured in decibels, these toilets were the equivalent of front-row seats at a heavy metal concert. Needless to say, I just couldn’t get myself to use any of them. Besides setting a bladder endurance record, I learned never to drink anything on the morning of bazaar day.

As much as I loved living in Abadan, I hated the heat and the mosquitoes. If everyone has a lifetime quota of bug bites, I reached mine by age six. My father used to tell me that I must be the sweetest person because the mosquitoes bit me more than anyone else. The constant itching combined with the oppressive heat made me truly appreciate modern touches like powerful air conditioners and screen doors. When we came to California, one of the first things I noticed was the pleasant absence of mosquitoes.

After almost two delightful mosquito-free years in Whittier, we returned to Iran. My mother and I went to live in Ahwaz with my aunt Fatimeh, while my father worked in Tehran. Ahwaz, in southern Iran, is a town generously endowed with dirt and dust. Everything that moved on the unpaved streets, whether people, donkeys, or cars, only served to relocate the dirt from the ground to the face of anyone who happened to be walking down the same path. It rarely rained, but when it did, the dirt became mud, and mud on the face is far more annoying than dirt.

I was slow to adjust to my new, more physically challenging surroundings. Just when I was getting used to the taste of dust in my mouth, along came a frog infestation of biblical proportions. Tiny frogs covered the town. The streets undulated under a blanket of frogs. Before we entered any building, we had to scrape off the layer of sticky frog guts clinging to our shoes. No matter how quickly we opened and closed the front door of our house, five or six frogs managed to hop in. We always found the intruders eventually, but in the most unlikely places. I never quite got used to hearing my mother scream, “How did the frog get in there?” This went on for a couple of weeks, until the frogs mysteriously disappeared and frog innards were, thankfully, no longer a part of my daily life.

The next time I saw frogs close up, I was on my honeymoon in Paris. François and I were staying in a beautiful hotel with great plumbing and no mosquitoes. This time, the frogs were not covering the bottom of my shoe but instead were covered with a light persillade and came with a side of asparagus. They were much better that way.

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