My Tribe, My Utopia

Iran Nomad ToursOtherMy Tribe, My Utopia

I was born in a black tent. On my birth day, they kept the mare away from her foal so that she would neigh. They believed the devil and the evil spirits are scared of the sound of a horse’s neigh. When I was born and it became known that I’m a boy and not a girl-thank God- my father shot a bullet toward the sky in happiness.

Mohammad Bahmanbeigi and his family
Mohammad Bahmanbeigi, Sakineh Kiani and their 3 children

The first time I sat behind a horse’s saddle I was four. It didn’t take long till I held a practice gun in my hands. I hadn’t slept a single night in the city and modern houses until the age of 10.
Our tribe passed a place near Shiraz twice a year. Vendors and travelling sellers from the city would sell sweets and Halva and baked goods. We didn’t have much cash. I would take wool and Kashk from my parents and I’d gorge myself on these treats. I still have the taste of those dusty and windblown sweets under my tongue.
The idea of Cities entranced me. When my father and then my mother were exiled to Tehran, the only family member that was happy about it was me.
I didn’t know they would take my horse and saddle and sit me behind school benches.
I didn’t know they would take my beautiful practice gun and shove a pencil in my hand.
My father wasn’t an important man. He was “mistakenly” exiled. Our belongings were also “mistakenly” raided by the government lackeys.
Our exile passed difficulty and took more than 11 years. We were close to start begging in alleys. The city guards were keeping an eye on us so that we couldn’t even beg.

There was no news of our belongings. The expenses were choking us. We had a few servants in the beginning, but once they figured out how dire our situation was, they ran in the other direction and left us to God. For someone who was used to setting up tent besides the freshest springs, the water from Tehran’s wells was a curse. For someone who was used to the fire of oak wood, the smoky oil heaters were stifling. For the people that used to roam the whole of Fars province freely, being confined to a dingy and dusty alley was diminishing. For my mother who had spent all her life in open tents and open air, breathing in the closed quarters of a small room was hard and unbearable.
We set up a tent in the yard for my mom and only the bone-chilling cold and snow of winter could bring her back inside a four-walled room. I used to sleep in my mother’s tent. One night a thief stole our clothes. I was left without clothes and I cried. One of the fellow expats gave me his clothes. They were too long and hung loose but were better than being naked. I wore those over-sized clothes and went to school. All the kids laughed at me that day.

Mohammad Bahmanbeigi-Iran nomad tours

We couldn’t afford to rent a house only for ourselves. From living luxuriously as khans and chiefs we were reduced to a single rented room in a multi-room house. We had all kinds of neighbors in this house: milk seller, sweeper, office worker, and a single woman named “Hamdam”. She was the most empathetic of all of them.
My father was under watch by the government. He had a guard assigned to watch him. Even when my father went to buy something as trivial as a watermelon, the guard had to follow him. Even our guard was more miserable than the rest. We didn’t have a house to ourself so he could sit or rest. We didn’t have a table to host him to food. He had to sit on an empty oil tin in the alley and act as our watchdog.
The guard was ashamed of his job and us of our destitute. One day my father was called to the city municipality. He didn’t return that noon. The guard assured us that he would come at night. He didn’t come that night. Not even the next nights. My mother’s sorrow and the kids and I’s worry and confusion was depthless. After months, one day he came back. He was the ghost of the person he used to be. He was tortured. We only recognized our father from his voice. The same father that his horses were famous. The same father that hosted all of the Qashqayi tribe in his tent. The same man that had herds of hundreds of livestock and whose priceless Persian rugs made every man jealous.
Sorrow ate my father away and made him grow old and helpless. Every day he would become weaker and more miserable. He’d lost everything. The only thing keeping him going was my perseverance in studying. I was studying day and night. I loved books and school. I skipped grades. I would become the best ranked student in class. The expats, the city guards and the neighbors on the street would congratulate my father and tell him of the bright future ahead of me.

Mohammad Bahmanbeigi and his wife

Finally, I got my bachelor’s degree. One of the rare and valuable licenses of the day. My father had it framed and hung it on our dilapidated wall and made everyone watch it. It was a pretty document and it had my name and the legal advantages of it written in a beautiful font. My airbrushed picture, with laughing eyes, borrowed tie and black hair shone from a corner and made my father’s heart swell with happiness. There wasn’t a soul left in our neighborhood who hadn’t seen my license and hadn’t congratulated me. Expats, city guards, the vendors in our alley, sellers of onions and corn and junk sellers had all come to behold my license.
I felt shy and a bit shameful at all the attention, but my old man had no other happiness other than showing off my academic success. He would beam, day and night, at my license and announce, very proudly, that he lost his old life and his belongings but his son’s license is worth all of them.
My father’s happiness didn’t stop at my license. One day a foreigner was passing in our alley and looking for an address. He was trying to mime and act his question but reached no answer. I came to his help and with a little bit of French helped him out. It was magical. My father was on cloud nine.

Mohammad Bahmanbeigi-Iran nomad tours
An old picture of Mohammad Bahmanbeigi; the founder of nomadic education

Another day my father and I went to see an ill expat. He had taken a prescribed medicine but his urine had turned red and he was devastated and scared. I read the brochure in the medicine’s packet that was written in French. It said one of the side effects of this medicine was the change of the color of urine for a few hours and it was nothing to worry about. When I explained this out loud, the scared ill man jumped out of bed and prayed for my wellbeing.
My father had tears of happiness in his eyes. On the way home, he wasn’t merely walking, there was a jaunt in his steps. He took each step with pride. The tale of my knowing French became common knowledge.
After Reza Shah’s rise to power, all the expats were freed to return home to their tribes and retake their lost glory. Everyone was license-less but me. Everyone went back to the sweet old life. The fresh spring waters awaited them. The tall mountains and vast pastures embraced them. They saddled their red and golden horses once again and galloped to the plains. Hunted partridges in midair and deer on the ground again. Set up tents in the shade on the fragrant grass and returned to their tribe. When autumn arrived, they set off for the warmth and walked away from the cold winter, and by the time of Farvardin(about 20th of March), they left the warming plains and returned through their last route.
Among them, only I was confused and hesitant and sad. I couldn’t enjoy the god given gifts of nature more than a year and a half. I had a license after all. The license wouldn’t let me stay in the tribe. My fellow tribesmen would blame me for staying in the nomadic life with my precious license. They said I’m wasting my life. That I should farewell my loved ones and return to the love-less city, to the same polluted air and smoky skies and live in a small house in a narrow alley and be confined in an office behind a desk to “progress. They said open air and partridge meat isn’t for you. Amazing weather, vast and endless space and blue skies are for sparrows and eagles. You have a license and you should live like a caged bird in a dusty corner of an office room, to rot and to progress!

Mohammad Bahmanbeigi and his wife
Sakineh Kiani; a Qashqa’i nomad

They scolded me and told me stories of Amri Khan, one of the most renowned men of last generations who was educated and knew English, but refused the offer to work in Iran’s petroleum company. He didn’t progress and didn’t reach any high ranks and became useless.
There was no way out of it. Even my father that was so used to my company and friendship and didn’t stand to be away from me, sometimes ordered and sometimes begged for me to return to the city, put my license to use and to progress.
I finally returned. I deprived myself of seeing my loved ones and my friends. I left my old father, my teenage brother and my family, right at the time that they needed me most. I bore the pain of loneliness and came to Tehran. I brought my body to Tehran but my soul remained with my tribe: Between those two white and green mountains, besides that amazing spring, in that black tent, in my mother’s kind embrace. The allure of “progress”, this conniving and double-edged sword of a word, was cutting my being in half. I left one half in my tribe and came to the capital with the other.
I started to work in the capital, with my B.A in law, I went to become a lawyer to uproot injustice. I was offered position in two towns. Both were more or less in ruins. One had some what good weather, the other didn’t. It killed my hope and I turned away from progress as a judge and looked for other ways to seek progress and to make a useful man out of myself. I ended up in the national bank, doing people’s math and calculations. I used to be an eagle, now I was more like a weak bee stuck in a hive. I was unfulfilled with my work, but to my tribe, being a bank worker sounded important and prestigious. It sounded like money. Like the jingling of coins and the rustle of fresh bills.
The third summer arrived. The weather was scorching. The heat kept me awake at nights. I didn’t have a yard or a porch. My room was in the middle of the city. Air-conditioning hadn’t reached Tehran yet. Or maybe it wasn’t invented yet. I became drenched with sweat. My mind was always with my tribe. There wasn’t a day where I wasn’t daydreaming about the cool pastures and not a night when I didn’t dream of that heavenly weather. I had a tent between the nomads. I didn’t own a house in the city. I had amazing riding horses there. I didn’t have a car in the city. I had loved ones and people that cared about me there. I had no one and no friends in the city.
I received a letter from my brother. A letter bursting with love and a harbinger of the things I dreamed about every night:
“The snow on the mountain hasn’t melted yet. The water of the spring is too cold and frozen to use. The yogurt is so thick, we cut it with a knife. The wool of the sheep is adorned with wild flowers. The scent of clovers wafts through the air. The wheat crops haven’t flowered yet. The quails are chirping nonstop. There are abundant partridges in the mountains. Our mare has given birth to a black foal. Our hound pup has grown. I’ve named it “Paat” like you wanted. He’s white with brown markings. I went hunting and brought him with me. He instantly caught the scent of the partridges. We caught several that day. Come home. Get yourself here as long as the weather is this beautiful. Mother is waiting for you. She doesn’t have a happy day as long as you’re not here.”

Mohammad Bahmanbeigi and his family
Mohammad Bahmanbeigi & his family; a Qashqa’i nomad family

My brother’s letter undid everything that was holding me in Tehran. The next day I threw progress aside, hopped on a horse and rode towards life. I put Tehran behind and rode to my utopia. my utopia was my tribe.
I finally arrived at our tribe. It was just like I imagined and what I always hoped for. My father’s tent was still beside that sparkling stream and between two white and green mountains. It was a great black tent, woven with goat’s wool, with more than 10 wooden columns and 40 woolen ropes keeping it upright. The north side of the tent was completely open.
The floor of our tent was strewn with lush and colorful carpets and rugs. In one corner close to the outside, a make-shift oven burned bright. That was the best corner in the tent. The center of the family gathering and the respected place of fire.
In honor of my return, my family lit a bigger fire and started to throw a celebration. I set up my own smaller tent next to my father’s big one. I wasn’t a tenant anymore. I had a house as big as nature itself. The plains and pastures of Fars were my yard. The mountains and hills were my walls. And the clear sky that lit up with stars at nights was my roof.

Mohammad Bahmanbeigi-Iran nomad tours
His tombstone. "with a tent, a piece of carpet, a blackboard and a piece of chalk, I've built a magnificent edifice, sturdy and strong. My legacy will be a magnificent edifice, sturdy and strong, one that would withstand rains and winds."

I was counting the days to see the horses. I went to see them on my second day. My father was renowned for breeding the best horses. Our horses were one of the most graceful in all of the Qashqayi tribe. I didn’t return from seeing the horses empty-handed. My brother gave me his own trained horse. My brother himself was one of the three best riders in the Qashqayi tribe. He had trained this horse for his own riding and hunting. It was a beautiful golden horse with observant eyes and sturdy legs and nimble footing. He would pass the narrowest and trickiest of trails like a nimble fish in water. He would see every bump in the road from afar and ride sure footed. He was so impatient and thirsty for movement that he would move like an arrow shot from a tight bow. Only an intelligent arrow that know his path and angle and destination.
I rode on this horse’s back, for many years, the distance between our summer and winter pastures. One near Isfahan province and the other in Larestan.
I wasn’t without a ride anymore. I wasn’t dependent on the government anymore. I wasn’t bound with the idea of progress and promotion anymore and I didn’t stand in alleyways and streets waiting for a taxi or a bus or carriage.
My father realized from the heavy packages of books that I brought with me, that I have no intention to go back. He was still hoping I would put my license to use and progress. He wanted to scold me but my mother made him consent and see my side. A mother’s love is boundless after all. The normal calculations mean nothing to a mother.
I stayed. I stayed more than five years with my family without seeing the city. Five years on horseback, I rode the width of Fars. These years were summer-less and winter-less, only emerald springs and golden autumns.
I gave up the idea of promotion and ranks and instead devoted myself to my family. My father had become older and weaker. I was young. I bore the burden of work instead. I cut down on pricey luxuries. I grew our herds in numbers. I kept our beautiful pastures safe from those who wanted to seize it and I found a new summer pasture, because our old pasture was gone in the years we spent in exile. This was more than a summer pasture. It was a slice of heaven. With plains bursting with wild flowers and herbs, thick bushes with fruits and generous lands with wild almonds and oak. It was more a feast for partridges, quails, deer, herds and shepherds, for camels and most of all for our sheep.
I became my father’s right hand. I freed my mother from the sadness of missing a child. I took the work and let my teenage brother roam freely. I received love and reciprocated with my own love. I stayed in our tribe. Our tribe didn’t have walls. Didn’t have windows or hedges. I knew everyone. I started to get to know them even more. I wasn’t estranged/an outcast or alone anymore. I wasn’t friendless. I was home.

“This article was written by Mohammad Bahmanbeigi in Farsi and translated to English by Saman Ghazvini”

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