The Tale of a Keseh, Sefidab, and my Face

My stay in Isfahan (last week) was exactly what I wanted it to be: To reconnect my inner being with the mystic souls of my yester-years. I am not sure if the correct word to use here is ‘reconnect’? Did I ever float comfortably with these serene souls?

Anyhoo, I’ll tell the story of how I rekindled my soul in a later post—but what I wanna tell you now is WHY THE #$%^ MY FACE BURNS LIKE HELL

So, one early afternoon I was lingering in the labyrinth of Shah/Imam square’s bazaar. I chatted for a while with a lady working on a miniature-design clock

Isfahany Minaturist Artist working on a clock

Isfahany Miniaturist Artist working on a clock

And a grumpy copper-smith

Isfahany copper-smith

Isfahany copper-smith

Then I spotted a lively, beautifully aged woman sitting on the stone benches of the main entrance to the bazaar.

Copper Bazaar

Copper Bazaar

I overheard her talking to another old man. She had a Yazdy accent; my dad’s city. She noticed me–well I was kind of hard to miss. I was just standing there for a good 5 minutes starring at the pattern of the engravings on the old door to the bazaar

“Are you a school girl?”

Now at my age, that is always a delight to hear,

“Nope, I passed that stage long time back.”

“You are a photographer?” pointing to the camera hung around my neck.

“Hmmm, not a photographer; just like to capture the beauty of it. What’s that?”

Now I knew perfectly well what she was selling. I know it sounds absurd, but she kind of reminded me of a similar old woman sitting on these very cold stones 20 years ago when I first visited Isfahan who was also selling loofahs. Could she be the very one?

“These? These are keesehs (special kind of loofahs). You come from abroad, right? Here on vacation?”

I smile and just nod my head.

“Well my dear, we call these loofahs.”

That’s so sweet, she is explaining to me what a loofah is. Don’t know why she suddenly felt like the grandmother I never knew.

“And what are these?” I asked pointing to the Sefidab (traditional Iranian soap)

Keeseh and Sefidab

Keeseh and Sefidab


Now before you start rolling your eyes, yes, I do know what sefidab is…though I myself have never used them before. But her eyes, tone of voice, smile, all signaled to me that she wants to talk about keeseh and sefidab. So I asked:

“What do I do with this?”

Ever so delicately,s he took out one sefidab and then looked up at me,

“See this is a keeseh. You take this and you rub two strokes on the keeseh, then you take the keeseh and scrub your skin with it. Oooooooh, your skin would become sooooooo clean, your face would glow with redness, your cheeks would become so red, just like a baby, oooh you would be so so so so glowing. So much dirt would come off your skin that you would be actually able to see them on the keeseh!!”

“So would I have to use water?”

Need I remind you guys not to roll your eyes!! But I think I did shock her with that question. She paused for a while and then said:

“Yes, my daughter, there’s water in the bathroom. You should take a bath with water.”

Ok, fine I deserved that. But would you believe she wasn’t sarcastic when she said that. She genuinely wanted to teach me.


Now since I really wanted to rekindle with my lost tradition, and was looking forward to having my cheeks become baby-like, I got a bag of sefiab, the keeseh loofah and a face loofah.

So last week I decided to take a bath the way my ancestors did several hundred years ago.

Now when my mommy dear saw the keseh and sefidab, she warned me, “I hope you got those at an ‘Atary’ (a traditional Iranian herbal/natural medicine shop)

“Nope! I got them from an old street vendor from some remote village near Yazd. She had a cloth laid out in imam square in Isfahan, a very charming woman.”

“I wouldn’t use it if I were you; most likely it isn’t very ….”

I didn’t hear the end of that sentence for by then I was already rubbing that Sefidab on the keseh.


1 hour later—my skin did turn red, yeaaaah it was working

3 hours later–skin still red, way too red

5 hours later—skin unnaturally way too red

The next day at work—colleagues point, gasp and awe at the redness of my cheeks when they passed by. Some even seemed scared

2 days later—skin less red now but very dry

2.5 days later—skin so dry brother is thinking of using it as sandpaper for his project

4 days later—all is back to normal


PS. Ok, so apparently the culprit over here was not the poor sefidab, the keeseh, or that wonderful lady, the problem was….ehhmm…it was…moi ..i used the body keseh on my face coz I figured hey why not up the dosage a bit 🙂 So I scrubbed, scrubbed like lady Macbeth scrubbing the blood off her hands—except she wanted to rub the red off, I got it on 🙂

14 thoughts on “The Tale of a Keseh, Sefidab, and my Face

  1. I envy you…I really want to go to Iran and take in all of the art and beauty. What do you think about Americans traveling there right now?
    Also, why are you an ‘ex-teacher’ now?

  2. I met loads of westerns in Isfahan…but no Americans 😦

    Though i have to add that Iranians in general adore Americans more than any other nationality. If you ever do travel to Iran and struck up a conversation with any typical teenage 15-year-old, you would be surprise that they know more about your culture (especially pop culture) than you yourself.

    I started a new career in October as a consultant. To be honest with you, i miss the interaction with the kids (well adult kids anyway); i miss the energy the classroom used to give me; the way the whole world was forgotten when i was within those walls; BUT it was time to move onto something else.

  3. do you know what sefidab is made of? i can’t find it out anywhere…my aunt says it is made out of intestines 😦

  4. I really hope it’s not made out of intestines! (says one of the only vegan Iranians).

    I love kiseh and sefidab. when I was a kid visiting Iran, my grandmother used to basically steam us for an hour+ then assault our skin with the kiseh.

  5. @ serena: I just spent the last 10 min googling sefidab. wow, i am surprised on how little information there’s on the net on it. I guess we finally found a question that google can’t answer: What is sefidab made of?

    @ asma: I miss my grandmother’s bath time…she used to spend at least 5 hours in there

    I hope it’s not made out of intestines either…

  6. hahaha, i have to say Darya you have an amazing writing style. i was simply looking for the scientific benefits of the sefidab but i was attrackted to your way of writing that i read it all the way till the end 🙂

  7. Hi I just came across this page
    I just want to write the suggestion for you, I remember my mom use to use that on us, but she never use kesse on our face, you should steam up the shower don’t put soup on your body, so when your sweating in a shower rub sefidab on all over your face let it sit for a few minute and start on your body first and then don’t rinse your body start rubbing your fingers on your face, to up and down motions, never use kesse on your face.I hope this help.

  8. Thanks Nooshin 😀 (nice name ;p)

    To be honest, i guess sefidab was best in the old days when taking a bath was a family outing…the female members used to go to the public baths and spend a good 4 hours there. Nowadays i take a max 20 min shower, no way i can steam up the bathroom that fast 🙂

    sometimes i wish i could travel back in time and experience those back rubs and sefidab scrubbing in public baths 😀

    PS. My real name is also Noushin 😀

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