National Geographic : 1958 Jul
West from the Khyber Pass "When Khrushchev started to reprimand me for joining the Baghdad Pact," the Shah told me, "I interrupted to say that I did so only as a safeguard against Russian aggression." We talked of his sale of royal lands to vil lagers and the building on them of modern communities. These sales involve only a frac tion of Iran's lands, but the Shah hopes to set an example for other landlords. Chilled sherbet was brought in as our talk turned to the United States, to places that we both liked-particularly California-and to mutual friends. The time came to go. He held my hand in a friendly clasp, and turned to Mercedes to pay me the finest compliment an American can expect abroad. I felt a blush as he said, "You are one of the few foreigners who understand us." Looking Glass Deflects Evil Eye The Shah is a gracious host. But so is his modest countryman, the tenant farmer named Ali whom I met a few days later on the road to Hamadan. We had left Tehran in our now smoothly running car, heading toward Iraq. Mercedes was driving when we came to so striking a pic ture that I asked her to stop. An unveiled Persian woman, dressed in gay colors, was driving her cattle upon a threshing floor. Near her was an old man, perhaps 70. He was tall and spare and had a long, oval head with remarkably patrician features. "May I take your wife's photograph?" I asked. "Bali, bali," he said without hesitation. When I had finished, he asked me to sit down. We sought the shade of a stack of straw. The old man's name was Ali. He farms the same tract that was cultivated by his father before him. He has even inherited some of his debts, loans made by the father and grand father of his own landlord. There is no doctor in Ali's village, nor is there a first-aid center. No medicines are available, not even aspirin. The people re sort to sorcery and old wives' cures. Ali's wife wears an agate to fend off evil. She puts olive oil on wounds or sores; she treats diarrhea by binding charred peachstones on the navel; she uses garlic to drive off cholera, mulberry leaves to combat carbuncles, and oleander to keep fleas away. There is a yellow herb called rue which has medicinal value. Ali's wife wears a sprig of it for good luck; she also burns it so that the smoke may ward off evil. The blood of a sheep may be spread across the road leading to the village to keep out a plague. Or a piece of a looking glass may be put there to deflect the evil eye. Yet Ali, like most Iranians, was hospitable. By stopping here, I had become his guest. He reached into the straw and pulled out a jug of water. "It is cold and you are thirsty," he said, handing me the vessel. On our way to the Iraqi border we drove through a barren expanse of canyons and de files. This is the northern fringe of Luristan, the ancient home of the Lurs, one of Persia's four major tribal groups. They once had wealthy leaders and a highly organized tribal government, but that day is past. They are today an unorganized, illiterate, and miserable people. One can travel all rural Luristan and find no schools for girls and only a few for boys. Even the latter stop at the fourth grade. One hears the expression "as poor as a Lur." We saw many Lurs as we drove along. Each wore a large, loose turban of black-and-white cloth. I talked with probably a dozen of them. Their faces always lit up when I said I had been with their people on an earlier trip. There is pride in tribe and ancestry, and one who befriends a Lur makes friends with an entire community.* Great Dikes Protect Baghdad Our Iranian sojourn was nearing an end when we crossed the Zagros Mountains and descended into the heavy warmth of the Tigris and Euphrates plain. Our major stop for customs when we crossed the Iraqi border was Khanaqin, a small town with shady streets. Then the road dropped into land heavily eroded from overgrazing and fast runoff. Villages were scarce. Time and again we crossed a railroad track, the line to Baghdad from Khanaqin. Then came the vast, flat plain, and the thermometer edged toward 120°. Approaching Baghdad, we passed the great dikes erected to save the city from flood. Then, touring the city, we crossed the river on the Queen Aliyah Bridge. By the water's * See "Mountain Tribes of Iran and Iraq," by Harold Lamb, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1946.