To go beyond the legacy of revolution, religious fundamentalism and veiled women and find the real people of Iran, a young Canadian dons the cloak of Islam. The result of Alison Wearing's journey is a warm, funny and shocking collection of riveting portraits and stories about the generous, irrepressible people she met. With a novelist's love of language and eye for detail, she takes the reader into the homes and hearts of people whose spirit, intelligence and laughter enlighten and impress. Beautifully written, engaging, fascinating at every turn, Honeymoon in Purdah reveals an Iran rarely seen by Westerners and leads this exceptional bestselling young writer across new literary borders.
About the author
Alison Wearing is the recipient of a National Magazine Award Gold Medal and Western Canada Magazine Award 1st Prize, both for travel writing. She has worked and travelled throughout Europe, the Middle East, China, the former Soviet Union, and the Amazonian regions of Ecuador and Peru. Alison Wearing lives near Peterborough, Ontario.
Excerpt: Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey (by (author) Alison Wearing)
On the main street, tin-box cars race along like go-karts. There are no traffic lights, therefore no pattern of movement, no lulls or rushes, only a steady stream of cars moving as fast as they can without crashing. As a result, there is no opportune time to cross. The only thing to do is swallow hard and make a run for it. And not expect oncoming cars to make allowances.
The reason we are so determined to cross is that I see colour, there--No, look: over there, no, there, in the window. Circles of bright orange, canary yellow, two shades of green, lurid pink with black spots.
Carrots. Carrots and grapefruits and oranges and watermelons and bananas, all piled up in the window into a fruit mosaic.
Behind the counter is a young boy, looks about ten, an orange press, a blender and a juicing machine. I sound out the words from the list on the wall and am so excited by the idea of a fresh juice, I projectile-salivate when I open my mouth to order. "Yek-" Oops, sorry. (Wipe.) "Yek livan ab portegal lotfan."
The boy blinks a hundred times as he is cutting oranges in half. Looks at us from the corner of one eye as he is pressing the fruit into juice, gives an embarrassed smile as he hands me the glass. A smile that grows as I swallow the contents in one long gulp.
I order another one each.
He looks at us face-on now, even as he is halving fruit with a knife the length of his forearm. He serves up two more pulpy juices and crosses his arms over his chest, proudly. We drink these just as quickly, replace the glasses and thank him. Move to pay.
The boy steps back. He tilts his head shyly and waves our money away.
Ian tries again with a different amount, but the boy tosses his head back in refusal, raises his hand to his heart and closes his eyes.
Ian and I exchange smiles of disbelief and put the money away. We thank the boy again and again. Each time, he nods and looks embarrassed. We thank him once more before leaving. The boy smiles and shrugs. We step back onto the street.
"That was generous!" Ian and I say in unison. "What a sweet boy! So gracious! I wonder if the whole country will be like this!" Ian checks his watch. "We should head back."
We walk back to the intersection and are gearing ourselves up to cross when the boy catches up to us, panting, eyes brimming with tears. He looks at the sidewalk, red-faced, and asks Ian, in a combination of hand gestures and humble whispers, if we could please pay for our juices.
I pull out a roll of bills and ask the boy how much. He mumbles the price out of the corner of his mouth. Seven hundred rials. Exactly what was written on the wall. The precise sum we offered him a few minutes ago. I pay. The boy bows and leaves. Ian and I watch him run back into his shop, turn, and look at each other with the dopey expression of walruses.
Hamid is beside himself with worry. He speaks for minutes at a time and has a voice like grape jelly. Did we have difficulties? Was everything enough interesting? Have we enough eating and drinking?
"Yes yes yes, just fine. Except . . . well there was this boy at the juice shop. He refused our money, then chased us down the street for it a few minutes later. We're not sure whether he--"
"--this is taarof." Hamid is laughing. "I think it is not Canadian taarof, only Iranian. A man must not take first time, no, he must not accept--" Hamid tsks and throws his head back, just as the boy did
"?then again second time--" he closes his eyes and puts a hand over his heart "--then, third time okay for taking. It is custom."
"Custom to refuse everything twice?"
"Why?" Hamid repeats.
Hamid pauses. Wrinkles his chin. "Why, it is not good question. Please make me another question."
Ian is ill. Just a cold, but a bad one. He's been in bed the last two days. Headache, fever, chills, a cough, and a throat so sore it hurts to swallow.
Hamid is worried, terribly terribly worried. Paces and holds his head when I tell him that Ian isn't hungry. Looks teary-eyed when I tell him Ian has a cold. Shakes his head and gathers the roll of blankets in the corner of the room.
"No no, there are enough blankets. He isn't cold, he has a cold." I look the phrase up in my book, but it isn't there. I cough and fake the sniffles. Hamid purses his lips. Looks up a word up in his Farsi-English dictionary (bought especially for our visit) and shows me an entry translated as Windpipe disease: infibulation of the neck and sinus holes.
Hamid calls a friend whose uncle is a doctor. After the examination and several glasses of tea, the doctor says he has just the thing for Ian's condition. A special medication from America, given to him by his wife's cousin, whose husband's nephew lives in Los Angeles. The doctor has only one pill left, but he is happy to give it to Ian. He reaches into his bag and passes Hamid a pill wrapped in paper and plastic. Hamid passes it to me. I take it to Ian. It is something called Dristan.
"As a writer, Wearing is all luscious texture and running narrative-- She is the companion on the bus with the endless supply of traveller's tales, each one tripping into the next. And like most raconteurs, she has embroidered the fabric of her reportage to 'lend artistry to a scene,' and to paint portraits that are true in spirit." - The Globe and Mail
"One of the most entertaining and insightful travel diaries since Paul Theroux fell in love with Asian railways--. After reading Honeymoon, you will never think of Iran in the same way again." - The Ottawa Citizen
"Compulsively readable." - The Toronto Star
"Lyrical, insightful, funny and stubbornly independent." - National Post