Friday, August 15, 2003

More on Karbala

We are back in K’s mother’s city. Since we were here last week, even more families have gone to Karbala. One more family on her block went, which brings the total to four families in a block of ten houses. K’s sister and I counted about 8 more families who have recently returned in a 4-block walk that we took this morning.

K’s sister and I were shopping for kitchen things. We were in a store when a couple came in to buy a crystal plate. “Excuse me. This is a gift for a family who just got back from Karbala, they are at our house now. Can you wrap it?” The shop owner wrapped the gift and then continued with our order. It turned out that he had also just returned from Karbala. “How was it,” I asked?

“It was great. It was so clean. The Americans were great. They really cleaned the shrine to Imam Hussein.”

“How was the road?”

“The road wasn’t so good. We walked through the mountains for 8 hours to get to Karbala.”

The people who have not gone talk about how dangerous it is to go. “The Americans are arresting people as spies,” we hear (from more than one source.) “Many people are getting killed in accidents on the road.”

“It’s all lies,” K’s brother told us. “The Iranian government does not want people to go, so they are broadcasting lies about how many people have died and how many people are being arrested. One person from Arak has died. Three people from Qom. That’s it. The government says that many more have, but that’s not true.”

He continued by telling us that his friend who went to Karbala told him that when he saw an American tank, he kissed it. The American soldiers then gave him money.

The wedding: an update

Jeff Jarvis wrote me that he posted our wedding story on his blog. It drew a lot of comments from people.

I need to add a couple of details that we discovered later. There were two reasons that the wedding party attracted so much attention from the religious police: the first, and most important, was that there was a funeral or a death anniversary of a martyr just three gardens away. That event was attended by some government bigwigs who called the religious police to complain.

The second detail was that the party was on the eve of a mourning holiday for Fatimah. When K’s brother heard the story, he said that the family was reckless to plan a party for the eve of a mourning holiday. Maybe that shows how much more relaxed Iran has become.

BTW, the wedding we were supposed to attend at the very garden where all the brouhaha was did get moved successfully. The new location ended up being close to the Shah’s summer palace, right across the street from a police station. To enter the garden, we walked past armed guards. No one bothered us the whole evening.

Iran-Iraq war veterans

I was somewhere I never thought I would be: in a room filled with Iran-Iraq war veterans. Well, three. All three had been Basigi (revolutionary guard) during the war. Maybe they still were. I don’t know. All three served during the war, and all three lost at least one brother. Two lost more than one. The third, I don’t know. Maybe more than one of his brothers was killed as well.

One of the men was in his mid-40s (no surprise there, right?). The other two were young. They were in their early 30s. “Everything seems easy to me now,” the 32-year old veteran told us. I will call him Ali for the purposes of the blog. “Since the war, everything is easy.” He enlisted when he was 13. “I remember when we were bombed. We had nowhere to go.”

“I remember too,” said Katayoon. “During the war, I visited my family in Kermenshah. Every night, bombs fell. We did not have anywhere to go. We just went out on the terrace and watched and hoped they did not fall on us. My mother told me that it used to be worse.”

Ali told us some stories about battles against the Iraqis. He told us about being hungry, cold, and thirsty. He told me to ask any question I wanted to. What I really wanted to know was what he thought about 13-year olds joining the military. I could not ask very well. I could not seem to formulate my question in either Persian or English. What he understood from me was “Do you think 13-year olds would go to war again?” His answer was, “Of course they will go. War will make them men. If there is a war they will go. Imam Khomeini spoke with the voice of God, and when he died that voice was passed onto Khameini. Of course, he is not an imam.” What I really wanted to know was what he really thought about 13 year-olds going to war. I wanted to ask a subtle and complex question. I wanted to get a more nuanced answer than I got. K thought that he could not answer me honestly in that room. “He had to feed you that line. Not that he is not a believer, just that he had to say what he said.”

While Ali was talking, I wondered how he survived the war. He was 13 when he went in. So many young boys were killed. How did he make it through? By 16, Ali was commanding a division. “The war was good for us. It turned us into men,” he told us. “It made us good managers.”

For the record, Ali is one of the smartest, most respectful men I have met in Iran. He speaks to women as equals: not just foreign women, like me, but Iranian women as well. He appreciates honesty and disagreement. I enjoy his company.

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