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Friday, October 10, 2014

How to Cure Poverty

I sometimes ask myself what would be the one thing I would change in this world if I could. For many people including me the first answer that comes to mind would be to fix poverty. But then I think solving poverty is not possible without solving things that cause poverty. The answer to the question for me is education. 

Education can enable people to use their potential. In an utopia it can also prevent wars, corruption, diverging social levels, abuse, and ultimately poverty. We would never know if the next Einstein, Mozart, or Pasteur has the means to develop and take advantage of his/her full potential. A person who can possibly find the solution to many or some of our global problems could never find the opportunity to do so.

There are few labs around the world that do research on human extinction. Besides human suffering, that our goal is to hopefully minimize it, the accumulative delays in our social and scientific development can potentially cost us our very existence. You might think with yourself now that escalated quickly! However, our personal and group greed, as well as being unaware of the long-term consequences of our actions as a society can prove to be detrimental to us.

With a world that has 15.9% illiteracy rate for people of over 15, we need to be worried about our future. 



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Last Generation of Knife Makers in Iran

It is sometimes hard to imagine that there is an occupation associated with every single item you find on the vast shelves of supermarkets. Nowadays almost all of the items are mass produced. However, not long ago most of these items were made by hands of masters of different crafts.

The traditional bazaar of Hamadan in western Iran has many sections named after an occupation. These names usually reflect the majority of shops in that section of the bazaar. For example, copper workers (مسگرها) refers to a section that people were providing services related to copper pots and dishes. These services covered the range from making new pots, to coating (سفید کردن), fixing and many other ones. Some other sections include butchers (قصابها), jewellers (جواهر فروشها), clothes (پارچه فروشها), etc. Some of these names now refer to the occupations that no longer exist but the name stayed such as coal sellers (زغالی ها) while people are running entirely different businesses there.

The photo below is taken in the knife makers sections of the bazaar, which is now a small and shrinking section. The master knife maker is examining one of his latest works. There is a high probability that he belongs to the last generation of traditional knife makers. A job that his father taught him, and the father learned from his father and so on.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Deep Into the Ancient Zagros Mountains of Western Iran: Baking Gerdeh in Barfejin Village

I have this childhood memory of going with my family from Hamadan to a village deep into the Zagros mountains called Emam-Zadeh-Kooh (امام زاده کوه - it means the mountain of the buried saint). There were many farms there and we bought fresh fruits and vegetables right next the fields the farmers were working on. The most vivid part of the memory is the heavenly taste of the breakfast I had at a local tea house there. The traditional honey, almost frozen kaymak (سرشیر - قیماق), and fresh hot bread. This was more than 20 years ago and I still remember it well. 

I travelled to Emam-Zadeh-Kooh in April 2014 when I visited Iran. I wanted to see the changes, see the people, see the road, and revisit those memories. Travelling is so much fun in you have great companions and I had two amazing companions in this trip. 

The road from Hamadan to Emam-Zadeh-Kooh passes through several villages. One of these villages is called Barfin or Barfejin (برفین - برفجین - meaning Snowy). The name refers to the heavy snow falls they experience during the winter. Remember that Hamadan province in Iran gets very cold (-30 degrees of Celcius) in winter. While we were passing through this village we stopped at this traditional bakery to buy bread.

The bread they make is called Gerdeh (گرده - meaning round, or the round one). It is the traditional bread of the Hamadan province. Although a bread with the same name is also baked in Hormozgan province, I am not sure if they are the same. Most Iranian breads are flat ones and this one is not an exception. The special dough is flattened and then topped with a mixture of egg yolks, aromatic herbs, and maybe some spices. Then it is attached to the inner wall of a hot Tanoor (تنور - traditional clay oven) and baked. 

I am not sure for how long this bread is being made in this area. But, "Signs of early agriculture date back as far as 9000 BC to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains", says the Wikipedia article. So I believe we are looking through a window to the past. 

People of these villages are so warm and welcoming. It is almost hard to pay them since they insist that you are being their guest and they don't want to accept money for the bread. By the way, the bread was amazing. I hope you can all taste it someday. 

There will be more photos on this subject so stay tuned. 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hanging out in Hamadan


Around Imam Square (میدان امام), Hamadan (همدان), Iran. This is a traditional part of the city near the old bazaar. Street merchants are everywhere around bazaar at the time of the new year (Norooz نوروز).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Calgary: Stephen Avenue & Stampede


Stephen avenue is one of the popular areas of Calgary at the time of Stampede festival. One can find cowboy hats, buckles, belts, etc. being sold by street merchants as well as many bars and restaurants decorated according to western traditions.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Erhu 二胡


Chinatown in downtown San Francisco has certain characteristics that makes it unique in my opinion. It consists of two parts. The main street, which is mostly geared towards attracting tourists, and back alleys, which are very different than the main street. Although this place is known as the Chinatown, I found Sunset district (a district located in the west part of SF) to have a huge Chinese population without being geared towards tourists. As a results if you want to see people performing or things that generally attracts tourists, you should go to the downtown Chinatown. However, if you want to go to a nice Chinese bakery, you should go to the Sunset district. Once in a while, in the evenings, when shops are closing in downtown Chinatown, you hear traditional Chinese music and you see musicians either as solo artists, or as a band performing the music of the far east. And, the sound of Erhu is always mesmerizing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fading Iranian Street Food: Fava Beans & Golpar (Persian Hogweed)


Each country has its own signature street foods, and each street food can give us clues about that country's taste, agriculture, weather, and much more. While growing up in Iran there were always street food vendors with carts in front of our schools and school children were always loyal customers of this business. There was no hotdogs, or burgers. Most common street foods at that time (1980s and 1990s) in Iran were cooked Fava beans (or Broad beans) (باقالی), steamed beets (لبو), boiled turnips (شلغم), and fire roasted corn (بلال). As you are probably thinking, the street foods were very healthy at that time. Unfortunately in recent years you see less and less of these type of food carts. This trend of healthy street food is largely vanishing and is being replaced by more processed food. I was surprised to see a cart selling Fava beans near the old Bazaar (market place) of Hamedan.

Whether you eat Fava beans at an Iranian home or on street it usually contains cooked Fava beans, golpar (گلپر), and salt. Golpar or Persian Hogweed is a plant native to Iran which has also been sighted in Norway and Sweden. It is aromatic and it is used in ground form for Fava beans. So in the above photo the brown power on the beans is golpar. I am sure this plant grows in other middle eastern countries that have somehow similar climate to Iran.