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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Mahnee Jun

I started writing about four years ago. I had wanted to write children's story books this a draft I wrote a few years ago.

Today is my mother in law's Azkara (Yahrtzeit). Mahnee Jun (Batya) was born in Isfahan, Iran, which I understand was a beautiful place and had a large Jewish community and she later moved to Tehran. She and Baba Jun raised seven children and although she never learned to read and write, her children all attended university. She was a good woman through and through. As the youngest son who was sick quite a bit, my husband spent much of his childhood with Mahnee Jun. He learned to cook from her although I suspect that the lessons that he learned from her far exceeded cooking.

Mahnee Jun and Baba Jun came to Israel in their later years. This small story is a children's book manuscript recalling our visits to Israel when our children were young. Our children did not speak Farsi, so this story paints a bond between grandmother and grandchild that goes beyond language.

May Mahnee Jun's memory always be for a blessing.

Mahnee Jun

I call my grandmother Mahnee Jun. Years ago she left Iran and came to live in Israel. My dad came to the United States and lives far from her. Sometimes my dad and mom bring me to visit her. We have to take a big plane to get there. The plane ride feels like it takes forever.

When I finally see my Mahnee Jun she hugs me tight. As she hugs me she breathes in the smell of my hair. It makes me feel special even if I think that my hair probably doesn’t smell so good! She takes my head in her hands and looks at my face closely like I am a very important person and then she hugs me again.

Mahnee Jun and I can’t really talk together. She speaks only in Farsi and I speak only in English. It doesn’t matter though! We point and we smile and when I want something I take her by the hand and I show her. I point to water and she says, “Ob.” I repeat it after her. I point to the window and she says “Pangereh.” I am learning Farsi!

I like to watch my Mahnee Jun when I visit. She is very different from my grandma back at home in the United States. Mahnee Jun has lines on her face, but her face is very kind. Her hair is long and white and she wears it as a long braid behind her head. Her eyes are brown and warm and kind. On her wrist are golden bracelets that cling to her skin. I like to touch her bracelets. They make me think that my Mahnee Jun is a queen from a hidden palace far away.

My Mahnee Jun cooks me special food. Mahnee Jun’s kitchen smells like spices and green plants and the outdoors. She makes my dad spicy choreshts* that taste of lime. She serves creamy white yogurt mixed with mint and cucumbers, steaming rices piled high to the sky,

with crunchy tadiq* underneath, and mountains of green leaves piled high on the table to eat with our food. My favorite treat, though, is the sweet poulaki* that looks like brown glass to put on my tongue after dinner. She shows me how to put it in my mouth and drink chai which makes the poulaki melt in my mouth. Daddy says I can’t have too much poulaki, but Mahnee Jun gives me more anyway! Mahnee Jun and I share the secret!

I love to help my Mahnee Jun. Before she makes rice she pours it into a giant tray. She sits and carefully inspects the rice with her fingers and her eyes. Daddy says she is looking for small pebbles that hide in the rice. Mahnee pats for me to sit next to her at the kitchen table and points for me to help. The rice is on a giant tray and we search and search. The rice feels good on my fingers. Finally I find a tiny gray pebble hiding under a grain of rice. I hold it up for Manee Jun to see. She is very proud! She smiles at me and her eyes crinkle with happiness when she looks at me.

Every morning Mahnee Jun gets up early when the house is still quiet. She wears pants under her light dress which is very different than how my grandma dresses back home. She moves quietly so she doesn’t wake anyone up, but I peek at her from under the covers. Before she goes out to the market to buy fresh bread she always puts a big colorful cloth over her head. I don’t know why she wears it because it isn’t rainy or windy or cold outside. Daddy tells me that Mahnee Jun always wore a chador over her head in Iran and she still covers her head when she goes out even if she doesn’t live in Iran anymore. Just like I still sleep with my stuffed elephant, Elephantoos. I don’t need him anymore now that I am big, but I still feel comfier if I sleep with him.

Mahnee Jun moves around the apartment all day long. I hear her chopping things in the kitchen and smell the smells of lunch and dinner even if it is only morning. At the end of the day, after she has cooked and cleaned, she walks with daddy, mommy and me to the shady park nearby. Sitting with her on the benches are other women who wear colorful chadors over their heads. They speak in Farsi. Mahnee jun watches me as I climb and swing. I swing higher because I know that she is watching me and she waves. Someday I will know enough Farsi to talk with my Mahnee Jun when I go to the park.

At the end of our visit Mahnee Jun is sad to say goodbye. She hugs my dad tight and her eyes are closed. I wonder what she is thinking about? When it is time for her to say goodbye to me she kneels down and looks at my face and smiles. I see the lines on her face and the tears in her eyes. She hugs me and smells my hair. Then she puts a small bag in my hand and squeezes my hand around it. It is a small bag of poulaki for me to take home. Sweetness in a bag. I will save it and eat it a little at a time until someday soon we come back to visit Mahnee Jun again.



Mahnee jun- grandma

Ob- water


Chador- a large scarf used to cover one's hair in Iran

Choresht- Persian stew made with dried limes

Tadiq- the crusted rice found at the bottom of the rice pot

Chai- tea

Poulaki- melted sugar that is like a flat rock candy, served with tea


Links: How to make poulaki

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