On my way to find the great Sufi master… meeting a new Guru, covered in plaster

Posted on Jul 11, 2008 in Art, Iran, Sufi


Picking up where i left off, one of my new friends in Tehran, a photojournalist, tipped me off to a man here in Kurdistan who could introduce me to the Dervish (Sufi) order here & see if he could get me a rare coveted invite to a private cereony.   I followed the directions to the Sanandaj museum with my very bad Kurdish asking for “Hadi” i could not pronounce his last name (Ziaoddini) even when spelled out phonetically.  The curator of the museum brought me across the way to a mansion which is now  a different museum.  He brought me to a basement office containging several men covered in plaster which i learned were for manequins. they wore the traditional baggy trousers yet some of the younger ones (30s & 40s) managed to even look sexy, dare i say.  If i had fast enough net to post the video you would agree, no doubt. 

These artists had no idea who i was except for my incessant repeating the name ”Hadi” & “spas” Kurdish for “thanks.”  THey sat me down, gave me tea, and made several phone calls- I watched them smoke their cigarettes out of a long contraptions which i guess was invented so that they would not get plaster all over their cigarettes & inhale toxic fumes (?).  After about a half hour a tall, lean, girlishly-handsome man in sharp western dress showed up with his head held high.  THey told me it was not Hadi, but that i was to go with him.  This man walked fast.  His head held high in almost a beauty queen sort of a way.  i imagined that he must be gay, but really what do i know with all the cultural differencesthat i do not understand.  We got into a taxi- he would not let me pay (not once have i paid for a taxi here in Kurdistan)- when we got out we & walked through a neighborhood which was a mix of rubble and old beautiful manisons.  Graffiti for carpet cleaners in Farsi alongside English sayings such as “Fuak you” and “I love u r” (incorrect grammar & spelling) were on the walls lining these mansions.   Finally we ended up at one of ths manisons, where we rang a bell at a tall gate- after 5 minutes of waiting someone showed up & let us in.  inside was a once lovely and decadent courtyard that now lied in ruins.  STill, there was something extremely magical, artistic and romantic about this courtyard and garden.  Chickens clucked around us and ducks swam in a man-made pond that had gutting filled with workers digging all around it.   We entered a room off the garden with classical music playing where there was a painter inside and several bust of sculpted heads.  THere was iron work and all the usual suspects in an artists studio space- homemade English-Farsi flash cards, dusty old photographs laying nonchallantly on a bookshelf, a pack of cigarettes, a tea-stained box o sweets, a near empty sugar bowl, and lots of plaster and paint splattered all over.   The artist in the room was not Hadi- but he was one step closer. he said in hand gestures Hadi would be there in 30 minutes, and to wait.  He stopped his work to serve me tea.  the effeminate man who had lead me there looked at me, bulged out his eyes- motioning his head for the door.  He pointed to his watch and motioned for me to chug the tea.  He wanted me to leave- Of course, i figured i was interrupting this man who was obviouslly an impressive painter, but Kurdish people really do seem to get intense pleasure out of taking care of others, so that was why i was letting him stop to serve me tea. 

 As i was about to finish my tea in walked a man with a beard and Kurdish (baggy ) trousers.   His trousers were splatered in paint and plaster.  He had a presence about him but not in a hughty way.  he seems a kind humble man, who had a soft spot and had endured some suffering in his life.    Although my friend in Tehran told me that Hadi spoke English, Hadi claimed, in broken English, that he does not speak English.  I gave him my photojournalist friend’s card, and we tried to ring him on his mobile.  However this being Kurdistan, the lines were cut & we could not reach our friend in Tehran to introduce us & translate.  i tried to give him hints as to what i was there for-  “Dervish” “Sufi”  he then made a phone call to someone who he said would be right over to translate.  AS i waited he sculpted a massive head, and his helper showed me a photo book of Hadi’s sculptures, most displayed in public places in major cities in Iraq and Iran.  Even in Sanandaj my favorite centerpiece of the city is an abstract looking person with their heads reaching up to the heavens, either in desperation or in grattitude, depending on how the observer is feeling.  So of course, it was my great surprise to learn that i was now sitting with the man who made this favorite sculpture.  I thought: “who knew that he was a sufi too???”  Even though we could not communicate he made clear that i was not to leave like my little helper’s eye and hand gestures had implied. 

Before i knew it the room was filled with a group of artists from Tehran, Kurdistan, Canada and the UK. All Kurdish born but now sharing their great talents with the world.   THe Canadien and the Brit of course explaiend everything to me and i explained to them that I as told Hadi was a great Sufi who could giveme the magic password enabling me to go to the Dervish ceremony at the local order. We all had a good laugh over that b/c Hadi is not a Dervish, though he does have great respect for them & of course, good relations with them.  My Brit friend let me know that although i thought i was wrong in assuming he was the guru, i was in fact right- he is a guru but another sort of Guru and that i made a wonderful error which lead me to some good people including the most celebrated Kurdish artist in Iran!  I realized too that the man who came to pick me up, and who motioned for me to leave is basically a groupie/entourage/wanna-be sort of person who also greatly admires Hadi’s work.  Hadi let this man know that after our meeting he was to take me to another museum they are restoring and then eventually to the Dervish order where he was to arrange to get permission for me to attend their upcoming ceremony.  I was also informed by my new English speaking friends that women are normally forbidden from attending these rituals because it inhibits the men from “reaching ecstasy” we had a good laugh over that.  My friend let me know when i go to be extra covered and look as manly/homely as possible!  After leaving my new friends & having some good conversation with Hadi via translator, his helper took me sightseeing, and then finally to another manison where we met a crazy but young Azan (man who sings at the mosque) who tried to become my husband, and a very funky 85 year old Dervish- priceless memories.  By that time the helper learned I that i was “in”  with Hadi and his friends, so of course he was picking me apricots, fetching tea  and being a real sweet heart.    I have much more to say than this but i have to run.. tonite is the ceremony & soon i will post photos of Hadi, tell you about our conversations, what inpsires him, & of course explain some of his great work, etc-… in the meantime you can read about him at www.ziaoddini.com

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  1. Wendy
    July 11, 2008

    I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying your travel updates. I wait for them like a child for candy! LOL. Looking forward to hear about your Sufi adventures.

  2. jane denton
    July 11, 2008

    Michelle, I’m amazed at your adventures and pluck and insights.
    Things in PH are going fine. Sam’s rarely home long enough to luxuriate in the wonderful light of the studio, but it’s working out great. Thanks for all your trust, and I look forward to reading more of the incredible journey.


  3. Spiros Zoidis
    October 1, 2008

    Dear Ms May

    I am a Greek author and journalist and I am going to visit Tehran middle of October.

    I would highly appreciate your help enabling me to meet some Sufi in Tehran. I heard that somewhere in north suburbs of Tehran there is a Sufi establishment. Is that true? Can you give me any address and/or names?

    Thanking you in advance

    Spiros Zoidis


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