Iran 2007. We have arranged to spend some time with a Qashqai nomad family, but the problem is where to find them. By the sheer nature of their nomadic life, they move about a lot. But as we know more or less which area they’ll be in, we drive along the road until we come across their tents.
The Qashqai Nomads originally came from Azerbaijan, but were forced out by the Mongols. These Turkic-speaking people are the most educated of all the nomadic tribes in Iran. Many of the Qashqai have now settled, but around 300 people (all related in some way) live the traditional nomadic existence in this area. Iran is said to be home to the largest concentration of traditional nomads in the world.
Iranian hospitality is legendary, and the Qashqai nomads are no exception. As soon as we arrive, we are invited in for the ubiquitous tea. Their tent is black and large, and the whole family sleeps in the one tent. One of the side walls is rolled up during the day and then lowered at night. We are guests of Dastani, his wife, two children and mother-in law. All the people in this area are related, as I mentioned before, and Dastani’s wife is related to him. It does sound a little incestuous to me.
While we are enjoying tea, more families arrive, and it is fascinating to watch them erect their tents and set up their camps. Everybody gathers around to help their ‘new’ neighbours, and each family have the same pitch from year to year. Many of the families use trucks to transport their goods these days in addition to the donkeys. It is rumoured that Nissan named their all-terrain vehicle Qashqai in a bid to attract buyers from this and other Middle Eastern nomadic tribes.
The children have a portable primary school as part of the settlement, but for secondary education they go to boarding school in Shiraz.
This nomadic tribe herd about 500 sheep and goats from place to place. With more and more privately owned farms springing up, moving is a major problem for the Qashqai, blocking their normal route, and many accidents happen as they move their huge herds along the main roads.
Another problem they face is that the animals are often attacked by a biting insect which gives them symptoms almost like a human cold – coughing and sneezing. It is not fatal and they get over it on their own accord without any outside treatment. It is quite strange to hear them though. One of the lasting memories from our stay with the Qashqai nomads is hearing the little sheep sneeze.
One of the most surreal moments is when one of the nomads turns up on his motorcycle (they use motorbikes and trucks a lot to get around) with his video camera to film the visitors (us). In their winter camp, these families have electricity as well as an internet café, and they are very keen to keep a memento of our stay. We have to introduce ourselves in turn to the camera, say our name and where we are from.
We spend the early part of the evening sitting around the camp fire, playing music on our guide Reza’s mobile phone (singing is not allowed in public in Iran for women, so no song around the camp fire unfortunately. Dancing in public is not permitted for either gender) We do have quite a laugh though, even without alcohol, singing or dancing. When it gets too cold to sit outside, we retire to inside the tent where the canvas at least keeps the wind out.
Inside is very cosy, with a paraffin lamp to light up the tent and cushions along the walls. The ground is hard, as all we have between us and the hard muddy surface is a thin rug. No mattress. Just a rug.
Dinner is provided for us: a beautiful eggplant khoresh (a type of stew made with lamb and eggplant – very tasty). There is of course mountains of rice as well as the beautiful Iranian bread, and for afters we have melon.
After dinner the local men entertain us with playing the flute. I am very impressed with how they can make one single instrument take on several different types of sound, from the hauntingly sad to the joyous and cheerful.
We are to spend the night here in the wilderness, and there will be nine of us sleeping in the same tent. I have to say it is not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had! Within minutes of settling down, I can hear three people snoring, which causes a lot of giggling. There are a couple of people who are constantly shuffling too. Not to mention the goats outside, and the dog howling because there is a wolf about. Then there are the donkeys. We can hear the chickens as well. Not to mention the sheep. And the goats. Have you got the idea yet?
It might have been noisy and uncomfortable, but it was certainly a cultural experience to remember and cherish.