Growing up in Iran’s capital, Tehran, in the 1940s-50s, Manijeh Badiozamani came to the United States on a scholarship for her senior year of high school. Asked to identify the biggest difference between Iran and Ohio, she immediately answers, “Boys!”
“I had never attended a coed school,” she says. “And then I was suddenly in a school in a different country, speaking a different language, with boys in my classes.”
Although she spoke basic English, the nuances of the language frequently eluded her. With great relish she tells of the “peanut joke” to illustrate the gap.
“One day a student told a joke; ‘Two peanuts went off for a walk and one was a salted.’ Then they asked me if I got the joke,” she says. “Certainly, I assured them, ‘Peanuts can’t walk!’”
Manijeh also speaks her native Farsi and German.
The cold was another concern in Ohio.
“I was always worried about whether I had enough warm clothes,” she says.
Manijeh returned to Tehran after high school, completed a master’s degree in English literature, married Koz, her husband of 54 years, and eventually found herself back in the U.S. as Koz attended Northwestern University, completing his Ph.D. in geology.
One of her first challenges was in the American supermarket.
“My mother was a great cook, and I had never really learned how. That was a problem,” Manijeh says. “And we lived in central Tehran, surrounded by neighborhood shops where shopping was simple, and the shop owners knew their customers.”
In the U.S., she found herself very pregnant and alone in front of the meat counter at a supermarket.
“There were so many choices,” she says. “I just wanted some meat for dinner, and I didn’t even know how to cook it.”
Finally, a friendly shopper asked if she needed help.
“Newlywed over here needs dinner,” she said to the butcher. Dinner was settled with help from everyone.
She needed butter or margarine. In front of the many choices in the dairy case, she dithered, trying to make a choice. Ever the researcher, she asked a man who had just picked up his choice why he had chosen Blue Bonnet margarine.
“It’s cheap and my family likes the taste,” he replied. “For the next five years, I always bought Blue Bonnet.”
In her grandfather’s comfortable house in Tehran, near the Big Bazaar, three generations of her extended family lived together, including her parents and uncle – her father’s brother.
“My father and Uncle Jafar were very close,” she says. “They greatly loved and respected each other. My father frequently traveled for his job and I always thought I was very fortunate because I had two fathers.”
In the family household in Tehran, education was the prime motivator.
“I didn’t think my father would agree to accept the scholarship to travel to Ohio for high school,” she says. “But he knew it would further my education, so he agreed.”
After a career in business and teaching, Manijeh compiled a book of vignettes describing her childhood in Tehran with her many relatives and family friends, as well as her subsequent visits for family events and emergencies. “Family Tales from Tehran” describes life in a city from another time and culture by an author whose own life is a blend of American and Iranian cultures. The book is available on Amazon.
“In the U.S., we’ve lived in all of the states beginning with the letter ‘I,’” she laughs. “And, of course, we come from Iran.”
Before moving to the Village of Pine Ridge, she lived in Colorado. “I told people I was not going to try to live in all of the ‘C’ states.”
Manijeh acknowledges that there is a good deal of misunderstanding between the U.S. and Iran.
“When I’m in Tehran, I’m in my neighborhood with the families and shops I have known for years,” she says. “Tehran is a huge city – maybe 15 million people – who go about their daily lives with work and family, much as people do anywhere in the world.”
Living there presents the usual “big city” problems.
“Traffic is horrendous,” she says. “People correctly say that if you’re venturing out of your neighborhood, you can only do one activity a day.”
In her book, Manijeh chronicles a day with her mother where they manage to complete two activities in one day – and congratulate themselves on such a success.
Manijeh and her family still celebrate some of the Iranian holidays. The latest was Nowruz, Persian New Year, celebrated on March 20. With a history going back 3,000 years, it is held on the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. The symbols include green sprouts of grain or lentil grown in a dish, surrounded by seven Persian foods beginning with the same letter as spring.
One of the stories in Manijeh’s book is about her large family celebrating the 13th day of Norwuz at Uncle Razmi’s big house and gardens. Traditionally, the grain sprouts are discarded and everyone enjoys a great feast.
“Family Tales from Tehran” is dedicated to Manijeh’s grandson and granddaughter.
“They don’t have much interest in the family stories right now,” she admits. “But when they get interested in the future, the stories will be there for them.”
John W Prince is a writer and Villager. For more information visit www.GoMyStory.com.