August 9, 2015

Stories from Iran: An Outdoor Bed and a Watermelon Salad

An Appetizer for My Cultural Cookbook
by Mina Jafarpoor '16

Mina is a Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellow. She has traveled to her hometown in Iran to write a cultural cookbook. The book, expanding upon Iranian recipes to address larger issues of food culture, economics, history, and family life, will introduce Iranian society American readers through little-told personal stories. 

It’s 7am on Monday, July 13th in my parent’s yard in Iran. I’m still lying on my bed, surrounded by a white mesh, which keeps me safe from mosquitoes. It’s a blessing to be able to fall asleep looking at the stars and wake up with the morning breeze, rays of sunshine, and singing sparrows and nightingales. It’s a tradition in my family, as in many other Iranian families, to sleep outside in the yard on summer nights, preferring the natural night breeze to the air conditioner. They find this way of sleeping pleasant for both body and mind. 

           

Early morning; an Iranian family sleeps under the white mesh.

Lying on the bed, I look around the house yard, separated from the street by tall brick walls, just like many other houses in the area. I think of all the trees, plants, and flowers usually planted inside the yards, and think of my mom. She nurtures an orange tree, a pomegranate tree, and a fig tree in the yard. For me, the fruit that she grows taste like her kindness and feels like her warm smile.  

My mother’s summer figs provide delicious nutrients and fibers.

Fig: a seemingly modest fruit, like many other natural elements so appreciated in Iranian poems written both hundreds of years ago and today. Birds, leaves, grass, inlets and mountains…tiny and vast pieces of nature, adored and respected in Iranian culture, literature, art and architecture, regardless of the social and financial class of the people.

Growth; Iranian miniatures painting by Mahmoud Farshchian.

Again, my eyes follow the threads of the white mesh down to the metal bed I lie on. Every night before bedtime, family members move the bedding to the yard and place it on these metal or wooden beds. I remember years ago, when I was a child, my sisters and I would race to get out of bed in the morning because the last person had to collect the mesh cloth and fold the carpet underneath the Toshak. Toshak is a thin mattress filled with cotton. After a few years of use, when the cotton is too compressed to provide much comfort, the Toshak is opened by experts in the field. These experts repair the cotton and restore the mattress. 

Traditional cotton repair tool 

Sometimes I wish my mattress in Providence was made as simply as a Toshak, to be reusable and comfortable. As an industrial design student, I always think of a better approach to the mattress industry each time I walk by tens of wasted mattresses sitting on the sidewalks of Providence. Nowadays, Iran’s young people find themselves part of a consumption culture, with the modern non-reusable mattress as a sign of a more civilized life. I hope one day I can help traditional Toshak makers compete with the modern mattress market in order to save this beautifully made, nature-friendly, and sustainable home object.  

Toshak with pillow and blankets 

The bed frame remains in the yard during the summer, and is brought to the corner of the yard for the winter. In summer, around 6pm, when the sun’s strength starts to wane, families use the beds for relaxing, hosting guests, chatting, and eating snacks or dinner. One choice of dinner for hot summer afternoons is watermelon salad.  It’s simple and quick to make. 

An Iranian woman prepares watermelon salad

I realize time is passing and even though writing of watermelon salad while lying on the bed is sweet, soon it will be 10am and I will need to leave to visit a local traditional ice cream store, as planned. Iranian traditional ice cream is different from the ice cream I’ve tried in the US — not only because of its saffron and pistachio, but also its form. I remember startling my American roommate, Rachel, when I told her the Iranian ice cream has a stretchy nature.  She couldn’t imagine it and was eager to see a video online. Unfortunately, we could not find one.

I can’t wait to include the ice cream recipe and share its story in the cookbook, along with the watermelon salad and several other recipes that tell the stories of Iranian culture.

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