I talked to a couple of people who recently returned from Karbala and heard the stories of several more second-hand. Whew! What a change from the summer! The Iranians I spoke with did not interact with any Americans (they are all walled in now and away from people). They all agreed that Karbala had become filthy. "You know the river by our house that is filled with garbage?" K's sister asked. "Well our neighbor who just got back from Karbala said that Karbala is worse."
"That's what she said. She said that they went into a restaurant to eat, but that it was filthy so they left. The whole week they just ate bread, cucumbers, and cheese that they prepared themselves."
A man I talked to told me that he saw a whole wall of garbage. "I had to wonder what it meant… a fence of garbage? It was like a message of some sort. Like the people there just don't care about anything."
What a depressing difference from last summer when people talked about how friendly the Americans were and how clean the city was.
The Domestic Flight
I took my first domestic flight. First to get into the airport, you go directly through a security checkpoint. Men go in one direction and women in another. I didn't quite realize this and had to be gently guided to the women's door. It is much easier for women to get into the airport, so this worked to my advantage. The men I was traveling with spent about 5 minutes more than I did just getting into the front door.
The airport was absolutely filled with people running to and fro and waiting for their planes. It reminded me a bit of a busy waiting room at a bus or train station. The entrance was filled with purplish plastic chairs. Most of the people waiting were men, but there were plenty of women and children waiting as well. There were many soldiers flying home or to other locations, more mullahs than I normally see in one room, and lots of government officials. (Lots of green suits and pale green shirts: which seems to be the government employee uniform.) We saw a man with a huge mane of white hair and a Karl Marx-like beard. Later this same man greeted a Santa Clausy cleric (dark beard, not white beard) who wore his headdress in the same fashion as most of the women there and was easy and relaxed with his gestures. "I bet he's American or something close," I told K. "He has style," said K. His gestures were so un-Iranian. He did not seem full of self-importance, like most of the clerics you see, or reserved, like most Iranians. Instead he had an easy, sincere smile, and frank body language. He soon was standing next to us. When I heard him speak Farsi, I said, "I was wrong. K, what kind of accent is that?"
"Yeah, but from where?"
"I don't know."
Later we discovered that the cleric in question was a French citizen who converted. "His Arabic is even better than his Farsi," we were told.
We flew Caspian Air to our destination. I immediately recalled the words of one acquaintance, "As long as Iran Air is flying to the city you want to go to, you are fine. Any other airline, and you have problems. The last time I flew on an airline other than Iran Air, the pilots were drunk because they had recently come from Russia, and I spent the entire time praying."
We got on the plane, which was unlike any plane I had ever been on before. There were tons of seats jammed into the mid-size jet. I saw that our seats were at an emergency exit. "Well thank god for that," I thought to myself. Then I looked out the window and saw that the emergency exit opened on to the engine. There was no way we were getting out of the plane if we had to use this door I realized." During the entire 55-minute flight, I stared at the instructions for the emergency slide. They were lengthy and the letters were pealing off the formica case for the slide.
" M RGENCY L DE," I read. Someone had made an effort to scratch in the missing letters of the paragraph-length instruction text that followed, but somehow I knew that that effort was not enough.
The flight was uneventful, but I swore never to get on Caspian Air again. We flew back on Iran Air in a brand new Fokker with real emergency exits. I was relieved.
We stayed in a city close to the border with Iraq. "What did people think about the announcement of Saddam's capture?" I asked.
"Iranians were very happy about it," F explained. "When we went to the bazaar, the Arab shopkeepers said that there was no way the man who was caught was Saddam Hussein. They did not believe it."
"I saw picture of Iraqis leaving Desful to go back to Iraq."
"Saddam really bothered Desfulis." It's interesting the way they use the same word for teasing or annoying for what happened to the people of Desful during the Iran-Iraq war.
Yesterday a 4-year old friend of mine (K's niece) was visiting. She earnestly began telling us about her dream ("what I saw while I was asleep"):
"I was at the hospital when they brought in the children from the earthquake. Everyone was dead. And then we were sleeping. Uncle K was sleeping here and Aunt F was sleeping like this," she curled up on the ground. "T was sleeping here, and I was sleeping between T and Uncle K. Abji [sister] was right there," she pointed to the ground, "and my mom was there. And then an earthquake came and everyone was dead but we were not dead. All of us were sleeping."
It seems we have all been dreaming about earthquakes. One morning, very early, I felt the house rumble. I was too tired to get up. "If it keeps shaking, I will get up," I said to my sleeping self. Of course, it was just one of the many trains that shake K's mother's house several times a night. When I heard the whistle I resumed my sleeping.
This made me think of my friend who was in Tehran during the war with Iraq. "One night, like many other nights, the air raid sirens went off. I was so tired that I could not wake up. My mother-in-law came into my room and started shaking me to wake up. 'I can't get up,' I told her. 'Go yourself.' She left me there, sleeping. The whole family went to the shelter, but I could not get myself to move. It was a good thing that no bombs hit nearby."