Travel woes

No, that is not a crop circle. It is, an aerial view of Mashad, a city in western Iran that is home to the burial grounds of Imam Reza. The makam is located right in the centre of the city, and all roads literally, well, lead to it.

Mashad and happy boys carrying Iranian breads on their heads have been keeping my mind busy. It took over my swirling headaches about the parties, the boxes that are screaming to be filled up, the letters that I have not opened and so many other mundane worries and have-to-do’s. All because Leila and Kazem are coming.

There are many countries where I was blessed with the warmest, unexpected hospitalities. The Balabanis in Melbourne, where Mrs Balabani will hug , kiss and say ve-u-ti-fool! ve-u-ti-fool! every 15 minutes and insisted her husband took me fishing in the middle of the sea, the Chengs in Spain where Auntie Cheng will cook up mean bowls of ginseng before we girls head out to town painting Madrid walls red, the Davies in Dubai who literally handed the keys of their villa for me to live in for 2 whole months while they are away, the Michaels in New Zealand who took care of me and my friend when we had a tragic accident and I lost a favourite cousin, the Roslans in Colorado who calmly took us through a fierce snowstorm on the way to Aspen only to be forced to turn back, and many more that I am forever, forever thankful for. I have always realised that I have been very blessed to have travelled to so many places at so young an age, but none of these countries showered as much magic as Iran did to me. A lot of it has to do with Leila and Kazem.

I met Leila in 1997 while I was sitting quietly in Nabawi Mosque in Medina, in my own world talking to God, in a way I knew how. She approached me and said an unsure hello, and we set off chatting about her newly married status and the Internet. That chat was merely 15 minutes, and we parted afterwards. What followed was a courtesy one email per year, just to keep in touch. Then, Leila dissapeared from the radar screen.

Six years later, on a hot afternoon in the Dubai office, I had an urge to Google for Leila’s name and saw a forum where someone whose name is similar to that of her husband’s, posting a thread. I sent a Yahoo message asking if he is THE Kazem that I knew, knowing full well that it was a long shot. Well, he was. And the weekend after had me flying to Iran, after numerous emails to MFA to ensure that I am allowed to travel there, and them documenting the addresses I would be in, just in case I had to be evacuated. Yes, I was nervous.

It was only 4 days. But Leila and Kazem showed me what hospitality means. They took me into their home, where I slept on the same bed with Leila on the first day. Kazem turned his plans around just so that we can take a 3-hour drive to Northern Iran to visit his uncle in an Iranian village just because I mentioned that I love long drives and don’t favour swanky places when I travel. They bought airplane tickets to Mashad just so that I can see the power of reverence that imposes itself in the structural map of a city, and rushed me to Tehran where I felt lucky I was allowed into the home of the late Ayatollah Khomeini rolling with a DV cam, thanks to Kazem cajoling the guards.

I have a big guffaw when I laugh. With a hijab on head, that is hardly the image of a demure, Muslim woman that I thought Iranians would be expecting me to be. I foresaw that I have to giggle instead, and help Leila serve tea to Kazem and his uncles so that I do not disrupt dynamics. I read in the media that Iranian women wanted more rights, and Iranian youths wanted more liberation – so I was prepared to be the accidental traveller and observe. So when Kazem offered to wash and iron my abaya, and his uncle in the village ran excitedly out of the house just so he could catch some chickens to feed me – I was stumped.

I was so touched by their efforts to make me sample the real Iran, that I vowed that when I am ever loaded, I will fly them to Asia and let them sample our own Melayu warmth.

So when they told me today that they are coming, I was heartbroken.I will not be here when they arrive, because by then I would have left for Canada. Chances of them being able to change their dates are slim. And worst, I do not know when I will be able to travel to Iran again. I remembered wanting to go to Iraq while I was in Dubai then, only regretting now I never did.

I am still hoping that my Iranian moments can be relived, because Leila and Kazem showed me a world that I never expected to stumble into. When it is meant to be,it will happen. I have learnt that.

And I am hoping to relearn that lesson again.


  1. Wow! You have REALLY travelled, haven’t you? Bestnya!

    Agree with 5150, redirect nthem to Canada someday. I’m sure they’ll like that too!

    Take care you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.