Thursday, October 25, 2018
Thursday evening, there was a knock on my door. It was my neighbors from Iran who live in the apartment just below me. They had brought with them an authentic meal from their home country: a bowl of soup and something that looked like a triangular piece of sourdough bread at first glance. I invited my neighbors in and was so blessed by their kindness and gentle spirits as they shared with me about their culture. I learned that the soup they brought for me to try is called vermishel, which is a soup that is tomato based with carrots, peas and fine noodles. Tahchin looks like a slice of bread but at closer glance you will see is rice held together by yogurt, seasoned with saffron and with shredded chicken in the middle. Both delicious dishes.
My neighbors explained that the language used in Iran is called Farsi, also known as Persian. They said that they took English classes in Iran so they were able to communicate in English. One day they wrote out the Persian alphabet for me and showed me how they read and write from right to left. Their alphabet looks like decorative lines and dots. It seems difficult and fascinating to me. I recently discovered a helpful Youtube channel to help me with some of the basic expressions: click here to try out a few Persian expressions!
After visiting for a little while, I brought out my globe, and my neighbors showed me their country and discussed a bit of the history of Iran, which used to be known as Persia. Currently, the government is a republic with an elected president. Because the Islamic faith is tightly woven into the government, their government is more specifically categorized as Iran as a theocratic republic. My neighbors shared that in Iran everything centers around Islam. There is no freedom of religion. Learning about the Islamic faith is part of the curriculum of every school.
Over the next few months, I continued to visit with my neighbors from Iran. When I visited their home, I learned that it is customary to remove your shoes before entering. The home is very clean and organized. They eat all meals together, including a snack in the evening. We sat on the floor on a tablecloth. My friend placed everything out on the tablecloth elegantly in her dishes from Iran. She served sandwiches, pickled vegetables and fruit. This is an example of their evening snack. They eat their main meal right after the children come home from school around 4 pm and later an evening snack together around 8 pm. After eating, the dad played a traditional instrument called the ney, which he placed between his two front teeth to play. The sound was peaceful like that of music of the mountains or a rain forest. The camaraderie and laughter in my neighbors' home was heartwarming. They have a special family bond and treat one another and others with a respect and kindness that is genuine.
At the end of November, as I prepared to move, my friend from Iran was so kind to help me get boxes and come over to help. I will always remember her kindness.
March 18, 2019
Three months later, I had the opportunity to visit Dallas. It was blessing to see my neighbors again from Iran. The most amazing change over the course of those three months was that their son, who is in first grade, spoke to me in English for the first time! :) Three months ago he would just smile and did not seem to understand me; today he understood and responded to me in English, even asking me a couple of questions in English. The school had shared with the family that it would be about 6 months before he would begin to speak English. His sister, who is in middle school and already proficient in English, said that just before six months they began hearing her brother speaking to himself in English. Now at 7 months post arrival to the States he is speaking very well.
My friend had prepared a healthy snack of vegetables with two kinds of dip- hummus and an avocado dip that had lemon, parsley and oregano, which was a light flavor and unique to anything I had eaten before.
The daughter was excited to tell me about the Persian new year coming up March 21st called Nowruz.. She explained that the Persian calendar is different because it is based on the date the Muslims believe Allah made one of his journeys. It is not based off of the Christian calendar like much of the rest of the world. Therefore, our March 21st is their 1st day of the 1st month….and the new year will be...1398!
When I asked her what it felt like to travel to the United States and be in the year 2019, she said it felt like coming into the future...time travel does exist!
As we were talking, my friend brought over a dish to show me. In the dish grew sabzeh, or sprouts, which they would include on a table set for the new year celebration. The sprouts represent rebirth. The table, called a haft-seen, is set up with seven items that all start with the letter “s” in Farsi. Another one of these items that is commonly included is an apple, or seeb, which represents health and beauty. Vinegar, or serkeh, represents age and patience
One striking ceremony surrounding the new year is the Chaharshanbe Suri, or the Festival of Fire. During this festival people jump over small bonfires. This represents leaving the bad behind from the previous year and looking ahead to the new year.
As I reflected on this ceremony, I thought about how in Christianity, water is a symbol of purification as fire is to the Islamic culture. In Christianity, baptism symbolizes having our sins removed and is a rebirth.
"and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." I Peter 3:21 (ESV)
Also, I think of the verse in Colossians that when we put on Christ in baptism, the old is gone and the new has come.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! -2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
Through my friendship with my neighbors from Iran, I have grown to understand a mindset of kindness that stands out in the community. When I moved, I discovered the same kindness from a lady working in Walgreens who reminded me of my friend from Iran. She had similar characteristics and her smile and kindness were sincere just like my neighbors. I noticed she was wearing a unique necklace, and she shared with me that it was a Persian symbol. She too was from Iran, and I guessed this partially from just the way she carried herself. She was calm, confident, showed care, made good eye contact, and smiled sincerely. One day I went into the store she noted that she wondered if everyone noticed what a beautiful day it was outside. She was grateful for the day. I admire this. I am reminded of the verse,
"This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." -Psalm 118:24
I know every day is a new day to wake up and be glad, and I need the reminder to be kind and rejoice in the day God has given us. I encourage you today to look for a blessing that the Lord has given you today outside and thank Him. Be reminded of His kindness and seek to be kind to those you meet today.
Thank you for the kindness of my neighbors from Iran. Thank you for their example of respect and love among family, friends and neighbors. I pray that the culture of Iran would experience freedom to learn about Christ and that their example of kindness would permeate our culture here in the States as they move here and that we would become more others focused like my neighbors from Iran. May we learn from our neighbors from other cultures. Help us to learn how to love and respect our neighbors from other cultures and religions and know share the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ with them. You are good, Father. Thank you for your loving kindness each day.
In Jesus Name,