Monday, January 14, 2013

Mahin Khanume's House

After a month of living in a hotel and no hope for an early departure from Ankara, my parents thought that it was time for a better and more cost effective lodging. So we moved to a room for rent in a big house owned by a lady called Mahin Khanume, which my parents probably found through our new social circle, other Iranians in the Ankara limbo.
Mahin Khanume was a single Iranian woman I believe in her late 40s (but then again, I was 12 years old then, so she may have been much younger and seemed much older to me, she could have been my age now!) who owned a large house with 4 bedrooms, taking one for herself and renting the other 3 out to others. Her pool of tenants came from Iranians in Limbo who came to Ankara with hopes of immigrating to the US or other countries and becoming stuck there, like us.
Mahin Khanume was kind and sociable who spent a lot of time with us, talking to us and trying to help us with her knowledge of the city and her history with people like us. She also seemed to have a big desire to help me in particular!
Mahin Khanume loved fortune telling and she did it by playing Solitaire with a deck of cards, so she sat with me and taught me with great patience how to play Solitaire and how to "tell fortune". Basically the way it works is one (the one whose fortune is being told) asks a question in their head (from the fortune gods) while putting their right hand on the deck of cards (with their eyes closed).  After shuffling, I try to complete Solitaire and if I do, the answer to their question is Yes and if I do not, the answer is No. Mahin Khanume and I would play and practice Solitaire daily, she would tell my "fortune" and I would try to tell hers or anybody else I could find to humor me. Mahin Khanume also loved knitting and decided to pick up a project of teaching me how to knit. I had been taught the basics of knitting in my last year of school in Tehran, which could only produce a scarf (long rectangle, going straight up, no turns, no twists and no complicated maneuvers). However, Mahin Khanume was determined to teach me how to knit complicated styles of things that experts make. She bought yarn and knitting supplies for me and asked me to think about what I would like to knit. Together we brainstormed and decided to create gifts for me to take to America and present to my loved ones who I was going to meet, a sweater for my brother (who I had not seen for 4 years) and a dress for my niece who was about to be born. Mahin Khanume spent hours with me taking me through step by step of all the difficult maneuvers to make a large multi-colored (red and gray) men's sweater with designs in front of it (squares within squares!) and a multi-colored (blue and white) baby girl's dress with stripes and squares and ruffles! It took me days and a lot of energy from both of us but the finished project looked so good that both of us were so happy and proud. I could not wait to see my hand made clothes being worn by my family. The other project Mahin Khanume had taken up with me was not so much fun. The thing was that it was October and the school year had started and I was not in school. My parents, afraid for my education, had asked relatives from Iran to send us textbooks from the grade that I was supposed to be in at that time so that I could keep up with studies in case I had to go back to Iran (if America rejected us). That (the arrival of books) was a total buzz kill for me since now I had to study on my own. The person who took it upon herself to teach me and give me daily reminders about studying was Mahin Khanume. She would not give up and was pushing me harder than my own parents, so I tried my hardest to hide from her and keep my distance. One last and interesting thing about Mahin Khanume which I will never forget was this: there was a glass door in her kitchen that led to a long and narrow balcony which took the entire side of her kitchen. In this balcony she had vases and vases and pots and pots of plants and flowers, so many of them, so many different kinds, different colors, different sizes.  She watered these plants and flowers with love and care every day; nothing weird about that, right? Well, when she did step out to her balcony, Mahin Khanume would start talking to her plants and flowers with such joy and excitement and had extensive conversations with them. She would say good morning to them, ask each how they were doing, she would speak to each of them with such love and call them with heart warming terms of endearment. She spent a big part of her morning with what she called "her children", talking to them, watering them, pampering them. I had never seen anything like that before in my life and that put Mahin Khanume in the category of "crazy lady" for me.
The other two rooms in Mahin Khanume's house were also rented out to people passing through Ankara.  We all shared a kitchen that we used to cook and prepare our food as well as the living room where we sat together and talked and watched TV, so we got to know each other.  The first room was occupied by a young man, I believe in his mid twenties, trying to leave Iran and migrate to another country.  The country of his choice I have no recollection of, as a 12 year old I did not retain those big picture details of information.  I also do not remember this man's name, so let's call him Single Guy (SG).  SG was a happy and simple guy, from a big family from the simple parts of Iran, he seemed naive and hopeful, always talking about a bigger and better life.  I remember sitting around the kitchen table talking and SG brought out his wallet and showed us pictures of girls, a number of white girls (these were professionally taken wallet pictures) whom he was "pen pals" with.  He told us all of their names, where they lived and a little bit about them.  He said that he had been writing letters to these girls and learning English through this "pen pal" program.  He was going to go to [country] and meet those blond girls in those pictures.  And one thing I never forget about SG is this: as I said, we shared a kitchen, a kitchen table, so naturally we shared a salt shaker on the table as well.  I remember sitting next to him watching him talk to my parents and Mahin Khanume about his life and future plans when I suddenly noticed what he was doing.  He would put his forefinger on top of the salt shaker, turn the salt shaker upside down, lick his finger, and repeat over and over again (insert shock face here)!  That was when I stopped using the salt shaker in Mahin Khanume's house.  If my very poor and vague memory serves me right, SG never made it to his desired country from that attempt.
The second room in Mahin Khanume's house was occupied by a family of three, a mother, father and their daughter.  The daughter was a young and attractive girl with long black hair who had become engaged to an Iranian man living in America and was on her way to go to marry him, to her destiny, accompanied by her parents.  I am very bad with names (honestly I am not even 100% sure if Mahin Khanme's name was Mahin!), so let's call her Mail Order Bride (MOB).  Although her parents were nice, MOB had a big chip on her shoulders and had a little bit of an attitude, she did not talk much.  Well, she did not talk much with us, she talked on the phone with her fiance for an hour or more each day.  She would take the phone (with a cord!) into the hallway with herself and sit there and whisper and smile and blush while her parents watched her and smiled and asked questions and informed everyone that she is on the phone with her fiance in America!  The fiance's calls from America was the highlight of their day.  MOB was trying to get her papers in row to be on her way to her future husband and life.  I did not hear about or do not remember the details of her engagement, but I do remember how nervous and excited she always seemed.
Our days in Ankara at Mahin Khanume's house passed by smoothly.  We were going out more (I bought a purple sweat suite that I loved), we watched the Golden Girls in Turkish, which we were starting to understand more (I could count to 10 in Turkish) and we waited.  During this time we were given the news of my niece being born in America which made us very happy.  I even had a birthday in Ankara, my 13th.  It was not celebrated because of "our situation" as my parents explained and I understood.
Our final visit to the American embassy was when a yellow haired young man behind the counter smiled and said we were good to go, and we went indeed.
Thinking back now, I wonder if SG ever made it to the country that he wanted to go to and if he ever met any of those golden haired ladies who's pictures he carried in his wallet.  I wonder if MOB is living a happy life with her husband and family or if America and her husband turned out to be a big disappointment to her.  But mostly I wonder if Mahin Khanume was happy, why was she living alone in Ankara? Where was her family? Had she always talked to plants and flowers?
Well, I was never able to knit another complicated clothing item ever again and went back to knitting simple, single colored, plain scarves.  I did not have to study those text books since I never went back to school in Iran.  But let me tell you this, the only game that I play on my iPhone now is Solitaire, thanks to Mahin Khanume from Ankara.

No comments: