As any tourist would attest, Iranians can get extreme with for their hospitality – which is one of the rewards of living in Iran and something I greatly miss when I’m not in Iran.
Persians see offers of hospitality as essential to one’s expression of dignity. Someone who does not profusely offer hospitality is seen as stuck-up and selfish.
The Lur people, who populate the province of Lorestan, are particularly famous for welcoming the outsider. During my three days in Lorestan, twice I was forced to take fruit without paying and at least six times I was invited to go home with people – almost every time I asked for directions.
The home invitations went something like this: I stop the car, pull down the window, and ask a pedestrian for directions. The answer usually comes in great detail, followed by the usual befarmaeed be khooneh (Persian: “come to [our] house”) for tea or food, depending on the time of the day.
This sets the Lurs apart from other Iranians, who famously excel at extending home invitations every single time they meet friends, family and mere acquaintances or even occasionally tourists they meet – but not to strangers who just braked in front of them 15 seconds earlier.
This happened with such uniformity in Lorestan that I knew Lurs are different.
But the home invitations still hadn’t prepared me for the free food.
The first time it happened with Mohsen and his adolescent sons, selling from a roadside shack in front of his cucumber field just south of the town Aleshtar.
Actually “a shack” would be too generous; see photos below and judge for yourself.
They were the most aromatic cucumbers I have ever encountered. I was prepared to buy a bunch. But Mohsen wouldn’t comply.
“You are our guests from Tehran. How could I take your money?” said Mohsen, adamantly refusing to take the bills we extended toward him. “And be sure to come back tomorrow and pick more yourself from the field.”
And we were merely from Tehran. I wondered what he’d done if we were from outside Iran. Perhaps taken off and thrown in his clothes too – because I’ve seen how Iranians go googly eyes over foreign tourists.
Then Mohsen announced that the plastic bag he had just packed for us didn’t contain his freshest fruit. He splashed into the field and cut us some more.
“Please, please stop,” we kept yelling.
“You’re supposed to be selling this stuff; please don’t give it away,” I told him, still clueless that hospitality is hardwired into Mohsen’s culture.
The Lurs “genuinely become happy to see guests arrive,” Ahmad, my guide, told me, “because they really truly enjoy watching people enjoy themselves.
“I’ve known a lot of westerners who’ve been all over the world and have seen all kinds of hospitality but it’s not until they get to Iran that they truly comprehend the true nature of hospitality.
“In Lorestan, that hospitality is on display like no other place in Iran. For the Lurs, it’s like a duty; it’s in their blood.”
More free fruit came the next evening, as my wife Saeideh and I strolled by a roadside seller of apricots, asked the price, and then discovered we hadn’t brought any money.
“Come take it; please take it,” Morad Mohammadi said and began throwing apricots into a bag for us, despite our protests.
I told him I don’t understand why people in Lorestan keep giving us free food.
“Here, can you make this?” he responded, holding up an apricot with the tip of his fingers and addressing me with all the eloquence of a university professor. “It comes out of a stick. We just water it and this beautiful soft delicious thing comes out of it.
“It’s a miracle that happens around here everyday of our lives. It’s from God and it’s what keeps us going.
“So when you say, ‘I can’t take your apricot’ – it’s not my apricot. It’s God’s. I’m not giving you anything of my own; just what was given to me.”
The next day, as we were heading to the Bishe Waterfall, we came upon a cowboy of sorts shepherding a huge herd of goats and sheep. [I guess I say ‘cowboy of sorts’ because the Lur wear these pajama-like pants that I’m still getting used to. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they’re in pajamas.]
Immediately, he offered us free rides on his horse.
Kindness makes life tolerable, Mohammed Motamedi told us, after repeated invitations to his village nearby. “I’ve known people all over Iran and discovered that with people, it’s only their heart that’s big or small.”
The final but most memorable expression of generosity we encountered was not toward us but toward a fellow species of this planet, as we visited a summer camp of a Lur nomads.
We asked a shepherd about the hazards he encounters as he takes sheep and goats grazing from sunrise to sunset. He said there are occasional bears but the most frequent visits, particularly during the winter, come from hungry wolves.
“Our elders taught us to be generous toward all beings, so occasionally we let the wolf take one [sheep]. We believe if you show generosity and not shoot the wolf and let it have its roozeh (Persian for God-given allowance), in the spring the one who knows all things and gives all things will bless you more. You’ll get it all back and some more.”
Read more about my three days in Lorestan here.
Would you like to visit Lorestan?
Contact me here for the details.