Tuesday, July 29, 2003

A nice, cold beer
K and I split a Heineken, it was cold and delicious. It’s amazing how good mediocre beer tastes when you are not allowed to drink it. That said, bad vodka still tastes like rubbing alcohol to me, and bad whiskey is even worse.

Two personalities
Iranians don’t have good things to say about each other. The women don’t say good things about the men, and the men don’t say good things about the women. They don’t seem to like themselves very much.

“The women don’t even know who they are anymore,” one male friend tells us. “They have to go through so many morality tests and pretend so much that they don’t know what their real personality is.”

“Everyone here has at least two personalities,” K’s nephew tells me. “We have to.”

When I talk to people about this, they say, “It was not like this before the revolution.” I am not sure if this is nostalgia speaking or the truth. Since the revolution, I have heard, money has become more important. “Most family arguments are about money,” a friend tells me. Everyday we meet taxi drivers who were pilots, mechanics, and doctors. They cannot earn enough money at any of these jobs to support their families. “Driving a taxi pays a lot better,” we hear over and over again.

So, since the revolution, the mullahs and their families have gotten rich, while others have become poor. One woman we met who served in both the Shah’s army and the Islamic Republic’s army showed us copies of her paychecks from before and after the revolution. Before, she made a decent salary. After, it dropped to $75 a month. “Meanwhile,” she said, “the sons of the mullahs became millionaires.”

Many Iranians I meet think that the reason the regime will eventually fall apart is because they have stolen all there is to steal. “It’s amazing that with all of the money they have stolen that there is still money to build new roads and public services,” one friend says. Her brother replies, “Just think how much money there was that they still could spend some on public services.”


The cities have more than two faces as well. Even though the streets are packed with people, most of the life is private. It’s inside people’s houses and in secret places. People find ways to have parties, students have raves, everywhere people argue about politics, watch Hollywood movies, and listen to pop music. On the outside, Tehran is a dingy, unremarkable, sprawling city. One pale brick building after another fills the neighborhoods. The mosques offer the only relief from the dull architecture. They are gorgeous with blue domes and bright tile work.

Here are some of the things I see almost every day:
Awkward light sculptures of horses and peacocks;
Huge murals of Iran’s martyrs;
4-story paintings of Khomeini (who looks like most children’s imagination of God: a bearded man floating in a cloud) and Khameini;
Billboards of Fatima: a woman in a chador with a light for a face, holding a wounded soldier;
A billboard of a man in a headband looking up and shouting something with the slogan translated as: “Our young folks are the man of martydom and hero;”
A 3-story mural of the American flag: its stripes are the tails of falling bombs with the familiar slogan: “Down with America” perfectly translated;
Deteriorating fountains that sometimes send their streams of water in unintended directions;
Billboards for Samsung, Siemens, and DeLonghi products;
Construction everywhere.

You can get around Tehran pretty inexpensively in shared taxis. To do this, you stand on the street -- usually near a bus stop or crowd of people – and lean out from the curb saying your destination to the passing cars. If the driver is going in your direction, he stops, and you get in. Sometimes we take 3 of these taxis to get to a destination.

The taxis can take 5 people. Three sit in the back. Two share the front passenger’s seat. The first time I got into a shared taxi, I was surprised when a second fairly large man sat in front practically on the other passenger’s lap.

I say that the taxis can take 5 people, but one day when we were outside of Tehran, I saw 12 people get out of a taxi. (With the driver, that makes 13). Two of the 12 were small children, two more were big children, the other 8 were adult-sized. They carried huge pots of food with them as well. It was like watching the clown car at the circus: just when you think that no one else will come out of the cab, 4 more people come out.

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