A Chance Meeting on an Airplane


Story and Photos by June Landrum, my wonderful traveling companion on this trip to Iran. Carolyn
                                           A Unique Thanksgiving Day in Iran

August 2013: I was traveling to Amsterdam, on my way to Africa. When we changed planes in Atlanta, I sat beside a young woman who was asleep. She slept for an additional hour or so then bounced awake and began to talk nonstop.

Her name was Samar, originally from Iran. She was returning from a trip to visit her older sister who lives with her husband and child in Costa Rica. Samar lived and worked in Switzerland. I told her my travel friend Carolyn and I were planning a trip to Iran in November/December.

She couldn’t believe we were going to Iran! I assured her we were unless something unforeseen happened. She said her parents in Iran would love to visit with us and I must call them when we get to Tehran! She gave me her e-mail address and her parents’ phone and e-mail. What a great idea, but I honestly thought nothing would come of it. I told Carolyn about the conversation I’d had with Samar, and we agreed I should pursue the connection.

In early November, I e-mailed Samar, starting my message with “You may not remember me, but…” She wrote back almost immediately saying she had contacted her parents who were extremely interested in meeting us. I sent a note to her father, Hossein, detailing our schedule in Tehran, where they lived. He replied that he and his wife would love to have us as guests in their home!

I was shocked and honored by his reply to say the least, but there was no way I was going to take him up on his offer. Carolyn heartily concurred. I sincerely hoped he would not be offended at our refusal to stay at his home. My hudband Phil’s hair was already on fire at the thought of this trip, and of course I had my own concerns as well.

Over the course of the next few weeks Hossein and I exchanged several more messages. At one point he told me he was to have unexpected eye surgery close to the date we’d be in Tehran and hoped he would be able to meet us after all. My heart fell. Had they decided they didn’t want to meet us? Was it just too much trouble? Unsafe?

Naydi, our wonderful and helpful Iranian guide. She bought us an ice cream to thank us for a wonderful tour.

In November, traveling through Sudan and Yemen, Carolyn and I landed in Tehran. After meeting our guide, Naydi, I told her about my correspondence with Hossein, and wanted her opinion on all aspects of the situation. She said she would call Hossein. I was so relieved – she could speak to him in Farsi and there would be no misunderstandings due to language or accents. She could certainly assess the safety issue. Carolyn and I crossed our fingers and waited.

Ferdows International Hotel where we met for lunch.

Friday November 29th (Because of the 9 1⁄2 hour time difference it’s Thursday, Thanksgiving Day back home): Our guide Naydi reported she had talked to Hossein, and he and his wife would like to meet us at the Ferdows International Hotel for lunch. Carolyn and I were ecstatic.

While in Iran, Carolyn and I had to cover our heads even when in our hotel (of course not in our room), and even at night riding in a dark van. I felt very restrained. Other than our heads, the rest of our attire was simply “modest”. We spent the morning at the Tehran Archeological Museum. I was interested in the artifacts, but I must admit my mind was on the upcoming lunch.

Soon after we arrived at the hotel, Hossein and his wife Shala arrived. Introductions were made all around. Our meal was a buffet – and in honor of the date the cuisine centered around a traditional Thanksgiving meal. We had baked turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and great vegetable dishes.

Hossein, Carolyn, me and Shala when we first met In Tehran at the restaurant in Ferdows International Hotel.

I should mention there was now a third party in our little group – Juan, from California, had joined us for the remainder of our trip. This lunch with Hossein and Shala was not on our scheduled tour and for some reason Juan wasn’t as excited about it as Carolyn and I were.

Hossein and Shala were perfectly delightful people, I guessed them to be around 60 years old. We had a very long lunch. He was a businessman and farmer, owning a large farm (I believe he said 100,000 hectares but that’s a lot of land) of pistachios, obviously wealthy. He seemed proud of his success and who could blame him?

She taught criminology at the University of Tehran. Shala was a lovely quiet unassuming woman, clearly well-educated and wearing the required head covering. She does not speak much more than basic English so some of the time Hossein translated for her.

I could tell from his body language and a couple of comments Juan was chaffing at the bit to get on with our program, but we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit with a “real” Iranian couple, people not involved in the tourist industry in any way. Juan’s broad hints went ignored as long as we could.

During our chance encounter on the airplane their daughter told me her mother doesn’t like her to return to Tehran, because she’s afraid Samar will get arrested. I did not question Samar further about that statement. We took several pictures together.

One of us asked them how they met. Hossein said once when he was on a date with another girl they went to a “fortune teller’ who told him he would not marry the girl he was with, but would marry, and he’d become wealthy. Carolyn and I thought this was a strange memoir to share especially as he didn’t tell us exactly how he and Shala met.

We exchanged more questions and answers such as how long they have been married, children, etc. Their older daughter who lives in Costa Rica has a little girl, their only grandchild. I would have loved an in-depth conversation with them, but of course we avoided anything controversial, nothing about religion or politics. Hossein spoke excellent English – he told us as a young man he worked several years in the oil fields near Midland.

Near the end of our lunch, they gave us a HUGE box of pistachios – probably 7 or 8 pounds! What were we going to do with all those wonderful nuts? (Our group consumed them daily during the remainder of our trip. I didn’t think we’d be allowed to take them home.) Hossein wanted – insisted – to pay for our lunch, but Naydi told him lunch had already been paid for and they were our guests.

I gave Shala a hand towel I’d brought from home – a design in red, white and blue. I thought the design was a best souvenir choice. I had brought two towels but, in my haste, to leave the hotel that morning I could not find the second one. My suitcase was such a mess!

We invited Hossein and Shala to go with us on our next tour activity in Tehran, the gorgeous Carpet Museum, full of priceless Iranian Persian carpets.

After lunch we six (Naydi, Juan, the Iranian couple, Carolyn and me) traveled in our
van to the Carpet Museum. Hossein insisted on paying our entrance fee and this
time Naydi allowed him to treat us. The museum was interesting, and we saw many beautiful designs and color combinations. After the museum, we said goodbye to
Hossein and Shala, who took a taxi back to the hotel where we’d had lunch.

We all enjoyed the priceless carpets in the museum.

We continued our trip – Iran is an amazingly beautiful, interesting country. Other than Tehran, we traveled to Shiraz, Persepolis, and Isfahan. The people we met, the colors, the architecture and history were simply outstanding.

The Azadi Tower or Freedom Tower in Tehran marks the west entrance into the city and which also includes an underground museum.
The Sheykh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan with the beautiful tiles was one of the great masterpieces of Iranian architecture built from 1603-1619.
Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire , dating to 515 B.C.

Leaving Iran, we traveled on to Dubai and Iraq – but that’s another story.
After we returned home, I wrote Samar and thanked her for arranging our meeting with her parents, and to Hossein and Shala for visiting with us. I attached some of the pictures taken during our lunch.

Near Thanksgiving in 2014, I received an e-mail from both Samar and Hossein, wishing me a lovely season of thankfulness. I e-mailed them once more, but when I didn’t receive any more correspondence and I pursued it no further.

A casual discussion with Samar on the airplane morphing into meeting Hossein and Shala – That kind of serendipity can’t be planned! I’m so grateful our guide Naydi was willing to take a chance with that meeting.

It was so cold in Isfahan that Carolyn wrapped up in the Iranian hand-made and hand-stamped cloths she had just purchased there.

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