6/06/2007

Lahijan: From Tea for All to Tea for None...

I was once invited to go visit someone in Lahijan*. We found the property just by the lake in the city, and drove through what was a deserted tea plantation, heading for the huge main house (actually, a feudal mansion) on top of the hill.
As we drove through the private road on the property, in my mind I could see the many Lahiji women in their assorted colored dresses and scarves, bending over and picking tea leaves and singing those sweet Gilak ballads as they worked. As I got out of the car, I was suddenly gripped with an indescribable misgiving, like something was really wrong, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
We sat to have a lunch of Kabab, olives, and fresh bread with the man, the owner of the estate. I asked him if he had seen the plantation when there had been Chaikars (tea farmers) working on it, and he said yes, that the first day he had arrived, there were about 50 women farmers working on the land, and that he had walked past them to the main house to meet with the original owner, a very famous woman. I asked him some questions about those workers, what had happened to them and such. Then I asked him why the plantation was deserted and empty now. He said because the land is worth so much money, it would be a “sin” to plant tea on it. He then went on to explain to us that the reason he had insisted we go to lunch on that day was that the demolition team were arriving the next day to knock down the buildings and to level the lot for construction, as he pulled out a construction plan which showed the land would be divided into 50 lots.
The two men in the room didn’t know why I ran to the bathroom to throw up and wouldn’t say a word the rest of that afternoon.
*Lahijan is a city in Gilan Province in Northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea. Lahijan’s original agricultural product was tea. With the Iranian Government’s direct involvement in imports of cheap tea from china and other parts of the world, and their refusal to help support this increasingly fragile industry, tea producers suffered extensively and have almost disappeared, taking with them one of the most uniquely delicious teas of the world, and the livelihoods of millions of people in Lahijan and its surrounding villages. Read about it here and here.

3 comments:

Assal said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, especially the two links. It is so sad that so many wonderful aspects of our cultural identity are being "sold out" for a little profit here and there. I am drinking a lovely cup of Persian tea as I type this.

Nazy said...

And Thank You Assal Jan for caring! For thousands of years, Iran used to be a country bountiful in its agriculture. Though I am no romantic fool about how economies work, and as grateful I am for oil revenues for Iran, I do believe that it was completely stupid to let its agriculture go to such ruins, making an entire nation dependent on imports and state subsidies. Our tea industry could have survived, I believe, had it not been so mis-handled. It is also a shame to see Gilan and Mazandaran locals give up their rice paddies (Shalizar), building villas on top of them, destroying the natural beauty, ecology, agriculture, and traditions of those parts, leaving them devoid of their identity and trade.

Fariba said...

Nazy Joon:

Your article on Lahijan was the second on the subject I read today. The first was published in RoozOnLine describing how millions of acres of forests in the north of Iran have been and are being destroyed, how no one wishes to plant the fragrant Iranian rice since the market is filled with rice imported from Thailand and Pakistan, and how no one plants tea leaves for the same reason.

This reminded me of a poem by Shamloo:

میوه بر شاخه شدم سنگواره برکف کودک

طلسم معجزتی مگر پناه دهد از گزند خویشتنم

چنین که دست تطاول به خود گشاده منم