We didn’t immediately notice the man sitting on the wooden bench in the shade of a burgeoning fig tree. It was a hot day and he was hunched over a book, diligently reading and writing notes. We had just emerged enthralled by the glory of the Golestan Palace, the nostalgia, and the bygone days that took as much as they gave to future generations.
When we neared him, he quickly looked up and stopped us. He asked, not at all shyly, “Where are you from?” After exchanging pleasantries, he asked if we had a few minutes to spare – to help him understand the English novel he was reading. He was, he explained, having trouble with some words and phrases.
Brian Cracknell, never one to miss an opportunity to learn or share, sat down next to him as the elder gentleman cleared the bench. I was handed a well-worn Winnie-the-Pooh notebook and instructed to write down words and their meanings.
Shaband Mazjgou told us he makes ladies’ shoes in the mornings. Every afternoon, after 2pm, he is at the Palace grounds working on his English. Why? “Because there is so much to learn.” Over the next one hour and more, under Tehran’s mid-day heat, Brian went through the pages of a battered paperback novel with the eager 71-year-old; word by word, phrase by phrase.
In return for our help he offered to answer our questions. Yes, he supported the Revolution that changed the face and fate of Iran 30 years ago. And he still believes in it. “Before… we were puppets in Western hands. We were illiterate and could not decide anything on our own.” In his opinion, now his people eat, dress and earn better.
At the end of our enlightening afternoon he gave us his telephone number, asking us to visit his family that evening. We declined rather regretfully as we were leaving Tehran that night. He thanked us for our time and blessed us with happiness before we parted ways. He said he liked people who paid attention to human beings. “Just like the regime, we too want good things for everyone.”
Throughout our time with him, Shaband repeatedly stood up to enquire after the good health of passers-by and Palace staff. All seemed to know him and spent a few moments graciously exchanging greetings with him.
Never was an afternoon in a foreign, first-time-visited city spent so pleasantly and simply. And to think we could have missed it so easily.