Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Story: Critters by Bruce Mero

This essay will be published in sections. Please understand I've heard these stories for years, but never with the detail that my Dad has given here. My early years were playing on Persian carpets that returned with them to the States and hearing stories about the early adventures of my parents. I think that is in part why blogging and seeing the stories that others tell in other countries fascinates me so. 

by Bruce H. Mero

          We have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel abroad and, on several occasions, live elsewhere than US. Our daughter, Mitra was born while we lived in the Middle East. We've had to learn new languages and observe customs commonplace in the places we've visited, but extraordinary to us. This essay will talk about the many different critters and a few of the characters we have encountered during our time overseas that we normally do not run into in the US.
          Gretchen and I were classmates at the College of Forestry at Syracuse University. The undergraduate program at the School of Landscape Architecture required students to spend the first semester of the fourth year at an overseas location. Ours was spent studying at the Universidad de los Andes in the mountain town of Merida, Venezuela along with nearly thirty classmates and two professors. Half of the class lived in a boarding house, the rest of us lived in a ramshackle house a few doors down the street from the boarding house.  

          The house was clean, but decaying. It had more than a dozen smaller rooms we used as bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and several larger rooms that became common rooms. We were told that we could do whatever we wanted with the place since it had been abandoned by the owners and was to be torn down once we vacated.  Luckily, there was a large open air atrium near the rear of the house which our group of budding Landscape Architects quickly set about to colonize with plants and a water feature.
The Park Design in Merida

       On one of our class assignments was to design a park in a high desert a few miles south of Merida. The class took several bus trips to the site to familiarize ourselves with the land and on one such trip I found a colony of desert orchids I thought would be a great addition to our atrium garden. Carefully I extracted a small portion of the orchid from the dry, rocky soil with my jackknife and placed the clump in my handkerchief. I carried the plant back to the house in my lap. Back home, the new addition was planted in our garden and we went off for dinner. On our return to the house that evening, we found the back of the house crawling with little black scorpions. We'd seen many cockroaches in the old house, but never before scorpions. Apparently, I'd carried them back in my lap in the roots of the orchid. We tap danced around them in the hallways until we firmly planted a shoe unto their backs. It took several days to eliminate the dozen or so I brought into the house unknowingly.

          After our semester in Merida and the summer off, we returned to Syracuse for our fifth and final year at the LA school. As spring approached, Gretchen and I sent out dozens of resumes to design firms we'd hope to land a job with. Unfortunately, no jobs were forthcoming. That spring we also met an alumni from the landscape school who was recently returned from Peace Corps Iran. His advice to us was jobs here, join the Peace Corps. With our design degrees and the language skills we'd developed in Venezuela, we'd certainly get invited to become Peace Corps volunteers and join a program in Central or Latin America. We sent in applications. Our new acquaintance was only partially right, however. We did get asked to join the Peace Corps because of our education, but not in a country that spoke Spanish. They offered us both an assignment to Iran, and only on the condition we were married before we departed the US. That, we'd planned to do anyway...Gretchen had proposed to me earlier. There was no hesitation in my acceptance of her proposal. Thus, we were married on the day we were supposed to attend graduation ceremonies Syracuse and seven days later we landed in Tehran.

 1960 Air Photo of Kerman, Iran

For the next six weeks we were in school for language training and cultural sensitivity. We lived in a communal house in the village of Shimron, in the northern suburbs of Tehran with seven other newly graduated architects and engineers. At the six week mark in-country, it was customary to send new volunteers on their first solo foray to the town where they were to be eventually assigned. After a short visit to our future home, we were supposed to return to school in Shimron for six more weeks to complete training. Our future boss, however, had his own ideas.

          It was a grueling, dusty 24-hour bus ride from Tehran to the city of Kerman in south-eastern Iran. The bus was packed and Gretchen got the last real seat. I sat on a coke crate next to her in the aisle the entire ride. At the bus depot in Kerman, we departed the bus and picked up our bags and were immediately approached by a gentleman and sternly told we were being summoned to the governor's palace for a meeting.

           There, the governor, Ostandar Hashemi welcomed us into his immense office with a nod. The Ostandar was the ultimate authority in the state of Kerman, beneath only the Shah (and the Shahbanu, the Shah's wife) in Iran. A servant appeared with tea and cookies.

          "We will soon become great friends," he said in perfect English. "We have a lot of things to accomplish. You will start tomorrow morning."

          Gretchen started to explain that we were only to be in Kerman for a few days and then required to return to Tehran to complete our training when she was interrupted by the Ostandar.

          "Your belongings are being packed-up and shipped from Shimron this afternoon," he said. "You will report to the Vesaraty Keshvar Ostany Kerman (the State of Kerman Office of Engineering) at six in the morning, to start your jobs. I will send my driver. Your training is over, I will mentor you here in Kerman on the things you will need to know."  

          He returned to his desk and it was apparent that we had been dismissed. A door opened behind us and we were escorted out of the Ostandar's office and to the car by a new driver and then taken to the Zariff Street home of a soon-to-be-departing Peace Corps couple, the Ranii's, for the night.  

to be continued....

1 comment:

  1. WOW...I'm almost speechless. Notice, I didn't say completely as this is nearly an impossible task! However, I am jaw dropped at your life experiences and now so enthralled in what's next. Can't wait to hear more...
    p.s. Ewwww, scorpions! No thank you.
    Wonderful story and thank you SO much sharing.
    Sorry I'm late in responding, but the wait was worth it.
    Have a great one!


I LOVE comments. Come on. Leave me one. They make me smile!