Iran Journal, Part 3: To Pari

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(Host) In the last generation there’s been a massive migration of people to Iran’s cities. Population loss, highways and electricity have changed some aspects of rural life in Iran, but many traditions continue.

In Part Three of his “Iran Journal,” VPR’s Steve Zind travels into the countryside to see what remains of the village where his ancestors lived three hundred years ago.

(Zind) My Iranian ancestors, the Zands, came from a mountain village called Pari, west from Tehran. Pari is also the birthplace of Karim Khan Zand our distant ancestor who ruled Iran in the 18th century.

Our cousin Sia, who lives in Tehran, agrees to take us there. He’s never been interested in family history but he says we’ve piqued his curiosity. Sia’s driver, Ahrari, is at the wheel.

Beyond Tehran the highway divides and the landscape turns to desert. Scenes flash past as we speed along. A man rides a mule down the highway. Families sit on blankets at the side of the road having tea and lunch a few feet from the speeding traffic. In the middle of nowhere, a squatting man holds out a handful of limp greens for sale as we speed by.

The desert rises into grasslands spotted with red poppies. We drive further into the mountains and there are high rocky peaks and broad green valleys with small villages that appear as geometric patches of mud buildings. When we stop to ask directions at one, we discover it’s Pari.

We bump down a rutted alley between high mud walls and emerge onto a dirt street with a tiny store. An old man with a wooden staff sits against a tree. Sia introduces us and translates his reply.

“There are a hundred Zands here in this village.”

(Zind) A hundred Zands still live here. They are among the men and children who gather around us. I look into their eyes and imagine how the branches of our family tree converged 300 years back. A man carries a battered tray across the dusty street and tea is served on the trunk of our car.

Then we’re taken to a hill overlooking the village. Grass and wild poppies grow on some of the roofs below us. The small mosque has a shiny tin roof. Sheep graze in the fields.

Three young boys gather around me. I’m probably the first foreigner and certainly the first American they’ve ever met. I must be a real curiosity. I may be unfamiliar to them, but my name is not. I introduce myself.

(Zind) “Esm Zand.”
(Child) “Family Zand?”
(Zind) “Bali, Family Zand. What’s your name?”
(Child) “Hussein.”
(Child) “Ali.”
(Child) “Amir.”

(Zind) All at once, we’re summoned back to the village. There are two policemen and they have questions. One of them is belligerent. He demands our passports and wants to take us to the police station. Our cousin refuses.

Ahrari tells me that someone called the police because they were suspicious we were searching for gold. Just when it seems we might be packed off to the police station, it’s over. We are free to go.

In a show of typical Iranian hospitality, the villagers want us to stay for lunch. Despite their poverty they are eager to share the little they have. Even after we are in the car, they’re pulling open the doors and insisting we come to their homes. But the police are watching.

It’s only after we leave the village that our cousin tells me the police officer who wanted to arrest us was a Zand.

My grandfather’s family left this village more than 200 years ago and now we have returned to find distant relatives who share our name. Did they feel a little of same connection I experienced looking into their faces? I recall their hospitality, with one exception, and their insistence that we stay and decide that they must have. They had welcomed us as long lost relatives.

(Host) Thursday in Steve Zind’s “Iran Journal,” a meeting on a train and young Iranians describe life under an Islamic government.

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