Naneh the Maid
Manijeh BadiozamaniMy mother and her younger sister, Aunt Ashraf, had a falling out when I was in elementary school. Naneh, the maid, appeared to be the culprit.
Naneh was Aunt Ashraf’s maid. I don’t exactly know where she came from or who had recommended her as a maid to my aunt. I perceived her as old at the time, but Naneh must have been only in her early forties.
Naneh was short, barely four feet tall. She was tiny and always wore a head kerchief, with some of her fuzzy salt and pepper hair sticking out on the sides, right above her ears. She was somewhat funny looking, particularly when she smiled. She had only two large teeth in her mouth. One tooth on the upper gum, the other slightly off center on her lower gum! Naneh spoke Turkish which makes me believe she must have come from a Turkish-speaking province in Iran. She also spoke some Farsi with a heavy Turkish accent, which enabled her to communicate with us. Naneh was very quick, and moved about the house swiftly and with agility. It was said she had two grown daughters somewhere in Tehran, but I never saw them. My aunt, who had several small children at the time, along with an irascible husband, seemed to enjoy Naneh’s company, who lived with them in their big house.
Two or three times a month, we dropped in to visit Aunt Ashraf. Naneh always served tea, fruit and cookies. On certain occasions, she made popcorn for us kids. Popcorn in Farsi language is referred to as “Chose’ Feel,” which literally means “elephant’s fart.” So, there was a lot of giggling and laughing going on as we ate the “elephant’s fart” which Naneh served in a big bowl. Naneh lived in Aunt Ashraf’s house for several years, and then suddenly one day she just packed her bag and came to our house!
I came home from school one afternoon and found Naneh standing in the middle of the courtyard, speaking loudly in broken Farsi, declaring she will never go back to “that household,” meaning my aunt’s house; and that if my parents did not keep her, she would go and sleep in the street corner! She probably used it as a threat, since my parents would have never allowed Naneh to be a homeless person. I don’t recall the circumstances that led to Naneh leaving my aunt’s employment and coming to our house. We already had a full house: my parents, uncle Jafar and his wife, my father’s widowed aunt, Aziz, along with her daughter, Homa, myself and my three-year old younger sister – we all lived together in grandpa’s big old house. But Naneh had definitely declared her intention to join our household.
Naneh’s move caused a difficult situation for my parents, and put a strain on the relationship between my mother and her younger sister. No amount of reasoning would persuade Naneh to go back. At the same time, my parents felt sorry for Naneh and wanted to provide her with a shelter. They agreed to keep her temporarily until she and my aunt had calmed down. Their decision created a huge family feud between the two sisters. Aunt Ashraf accused my mother of stealing her maid. I don’t know all that was said between them, because grown-up business was seldom discussed in front of the children. However, the end results were that Naneh stayed and we stopped visiting Aunt Ashraf for a very long time.
Naneh swept the floors, washed clothes and dishes, and helped with the chores around the house. She never did any cooking because my father never accepted anyone else’s cooking except my mother’s. Aziz was in charge of daily shopping. So Naneh’s role was limited to household chores only, and that is when she took it upon herself to bake bread, utilizing the flour brought to us from the farmland and stored in the cellar.
Naneh smoked several times during the day, usually after she was done with a chore. There was a ritual to her smoking, and I liked to watch her as she rolled her own cigarettes. She had a small pouch of tobacco, and a small box where she kept her cigarette papers. She would take a little tobacco from the pouch, put it in the center of a very thin paper, then rolled it and licked one side of the paper with her tongue sticking out which exposed her bottom tooth. She then put the rolled cigarette on a cigarette holder, leaned back against a wall in the courtyard and enjoyed her puffs.
Whether or not she really enjoyed being part of our household, which was a lot more structured and disciplined than Aunt Ashraf’s house, I would never know. I’m not sure whom she considered to be her boss: my mother, my father, or Uncle Jafar? Certainly she did not want to take orders from Aziz or her daughter, Homa.
Just as she had left Aunt Ashraf’s house, Naneh packed her bag one day and left us. This time she moved to the house of my mother’s cousin. By eavesdropping to grownup conversation, I learned that Naneh had left us claiming “there were just too many people in that house!” She was correct!
By then, Naneh’s move did not come as a surprise. Her behavior was well analyzed by the adults in the family, and no one took offense that she had left us abruptly. My parents handled Naneh’s departure casually, and it did not cause any friction between my mother and her cousin. Naneh’s sudden departure, however, did not ease the tension between my mother and her sister. They seldom spoke to each other till the end!
When Naneh left us, my mother’s cousin was a newlywed. That explained Naneh’s smart move. It made sense to her to join a family where she thought the workload was less. After a few years in the employment of Mother’s cousin, Naneh had gone back to her village in the Turkish province where she was from, and didn’t come back to Tehran again.
In her own way, the old Naneh had created some adventure and excitement in her life. She had traveled to the big capital city of Tehran, had experienced living in comfortable homes, had earned some money, and then had returned to her village for good.
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