As I shuffled into the kitchen in the morning — slightly jet-lagged but mostly just my usual pre-coffee, bleary-eyed self — my mother-in-law hurried over:
The pot of tea had been brewing since she had woken up, nestled on top of a kettle of water. I nodded and managed to mumble, “Are, mersi,”2 as I found a seat around the kitchen table. A tray of neatly arranged glasses waited on the counter and she poured a measure of thick tea, diluting it with the hot water.
Later in the day, while I was sitting in the living room, my sister-in-law carried the tray of tea cups into the room, the tea already poured. She brought the tray in front of me:
I took a cup and she continued around the room. Those with a sweet tooth popped a sugar cube in their mouth and held it between their teeth while sipping the steaming tea. I never quite got the hang of that, so I spooned in granulated sugar, aware that I was the only one making noise as the teaspoon clinked against the glass.
Of course, it wasn’t just tea. Some afternoons a bowl of dates was set on the coffee table (is it a coffee table if you only drink tea there?) while other days we had grapes or pistachios or sweets. The Turkish delight my husband and I had brought from our stop in Istanbul came out regularly, especially when friends came over to join us.
Over the weekend, at a family gathering, tea was offered at every turn. First, my husband’s aunt brought out the tray:
Each person in the room then received a plate piled high with grapes, sour cherries, peaches, banana, cucumber. As soon as a teacup was emptied, it was swapped for a new cup. And then came the pastries, along with more tea. And on, and on, until finally dinner was set out. (Of course, dinner wasn’t truly over until everyone had a cup of tea.)
No matter what time of day, wherever we went, there was tea. It was part of every social gathering. While we crowded around the television at midnight one night, cheering on the Iranian football team in their World Cup match against Nigeria, the table was littered with tea cups — plus a tray of sweets, a dish full of watermelon, bowls with the remnants of dark chocolate ice cream, and a plate of cheese puffs.
And along with the tea, I learned the many ways to show gratitude. I was never allowed to clear my own teacup and plate, and I was ushered out of the kitchen before I could wash a single dish, but with every cup I could at least offer my thanks and appreciation:
“Daste shoma dard nakone.”5