Friday, July 29, 2005

Cures for malaise

Thanks for all your comments…

Here are some cures I have discovered. With a tiny bit of effort, all are available in Iran:

Go out to dinner at a crowded traditional restaurant that employs musicians.
Watch Singing in the Rain.
Tell strangers that you are American.
Go to the store and listen to the owner recite poetry.
Put some fresh mint into cold water and drink.
Sit outside in your swimsuit.
Eat sour cherries.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Iran makes me sick

(By that title I DO NOT mean that I am disgusted by Iran. I am not.)

I cannot keep my promises.
I do not trust others.
I do not speak my mind.
I whisper in the shower.
I do not believe that I can accomplish anything I set out to do.
I do not believe that hard work gets you anywhere.
I feel watched.
I am paranoid.
I pass on rumors.
I have lost my confidence.
I have gone native. This is what it feels like to be Iranian.

Actually, I should not say that I have gone native. If I had truly gone native, I would never admit to all of the above problems: at least not to any outsiders.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Iran's economy is a mystery

Iran's economy is a mystery.

Oil money is coming in, but where is it going? Nuclear power and peccadilloes? Perhaps the yellow hummer I saw cruising up and down Valiasr after the football victory?

It certainly isn't going to pay the bills owed to hundreds of small, medium-sized, and even large non-oil businesses. "We have not received payments from our clients in more than 6 months," a friend tells me. "One of our clients, the largest ____ manufacturer in Iran, gave us a check that bounced. If we do not get paid this month we'll have to close down."

A few weeks ago, some Iranian football players were interviewed on tv. They told the interviewer that they never know when they will get paid. "We hardly ever get our salaries on time," they joked good naturedly.

Another friend works for a company that has not paid its employees in 5 months. "The company has a lot of work; they just aren't getting paid."

Yet another one of our friends sent all of his employees home. His company has work, but it isn't getting paid. "We decided that we could not continue the project on promises of payment," he told me.

"First it was the election," a friend in a manufacturing company told me. "No one wanted to do anything before the election. Now no one wants to do anything until after the cabinet is named. Meanwhile, money is flowing out of Iran. There is no control."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

About 1 Iranian Dead Every 25 Minutes

Iranians are out of their minds on the roads. They push rickety old cars way past the legal speed limit. They drive like maniacs on roads that, while in good condition, are not in good enough condition for speeds of 80-100 mph.

I guarantee that if you spend 1-year in Iran, someone you know will be killed in a car accident. It is likely that the person killed will be young, just married or engaged, and full of promise. If you only have one-week to spend in Iran, then ask any Iranian you meet. They will tell you the story of a loved one dying in a car accident. That loved one may be a brother, a lover, or a dear friend.

Visit the graveyards here on a Thursday afternoon, and you are sure to see mothers crying beside the graves of their 20-something sons. These boys did not die in war or in any act of insurgency.

Iranians only half-jokingly blame their driving on the mullahs. Every day you can watch public service announcements geared towards improving the driving habits of Iranians. The PSAs are witty and interesting and tragic. But they are sanctioned by the government, which makes them suspect. "Iranians cannot believe that the law can also protect them," a friend who is a lawyer says.

No. Iranians believe that everything can be solved with a little money. "If Iran can solve its traffic problem," K says, "then any problem can be solved."

Why is this topical now? I'll tell you. It's because a good friend's brother was killed this past week. Just married. Full of promise. And not the first…

Friday, July 15, 2005

Riding with Pigeons in Taxis

I put on my hijab over a summer outfit and headed out to a party in a chi-chi part of Tehran that I have come to think of as Rafsanjani country. The taxi arrived.

"Be careful of the pigeon," my driver said in perfect English.

I noticed the bird's pink feet sticking out from under the seat in front of me.

"It looks scared."

"It's for my son. His pigeon died, and I wanted to replace it before he noticed."

"Where did you learn your English? It's great." …Probably an intelligence officer, I thought… "Were you a pilot?"

Drivers often claim to have been pilots. Sometimes I think they may be telling the truth.

The driver thought for a moment and answered, "I was one of the youngest pilots in the Shah's airforce."

Everyone was something. K always jokes that he has met at least 10 people who were the Shah's personal pilot.

Friday, July 08, 2005


I was so hoping to get this blog away from politics and back into the realm of the mundane. This I write knowing full well that the mundane is filled with politics. Especially in Iran.

We were having lunch with a friend when her sister in London called to tell her that her family there was okay. "Okay? What happened?"

We watched her face drop. She started running around collecting the phone numbers of all her family and friends in England. She began to make calls. It would be several hours before any reports appeared on Iranian tv.

That night we attending a birthday party. Almost no one at the party had heard the news. A guest announced the news to the other party-goers.

"What a bad name these terrorists are giving to our religion," he said.

"No Iranian has ever participated in one of these attacks," another responded.

"No. We just fund them," said another in a half-mocking, half-serious way.

That was the end of the conversation. It was, after all, a birthday party.

All you have to do is live among millions of Muslims to realize what an aberration the terrorists are. That's my only word on the subject.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

2 Questions about Policy with Iran

I have 2 questions about the American policy with Iran. Maybe the answers have been well-thought out by others. I invite your comments.

1. People often critique the EU's engagement of Iran saying that it is naive and economically driven. That said, what happens without that engagement? Iran then engages with China and Russia. Right under our noses a new superpower is being created that will make it increasingly difficult for the EU and the US to influence countries like Iran. How do you balance the carrot and the stick?

2. Economic improvement means a bigger middle class that will, as so many historians and pundits claim, create a class that demands a voice in its government. Today, most Iranians-- middle class and poor-- are too busy worrying about money to care about having a voice in government. Isn't there a way to engage in trade with Iran without being seen to support the current government?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Miniver Cheevy: Independence Day

Recommended reading from the Miniver Cheevy blog:

Miniver Cheevy: Independence Day:

"Independence Day is the High Holy Day of American political identity. If you think about it, the Fourth of July is a strange choice of date. Consider the French equivalent, Bastille Day, which commemorates the storming of the Bastille and thus the event which demonstrated that the French monarchy was over. By similar reasoning, we should be celebrating when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on 19 October, the battle of Lexington & Concord on 19 April, or (my favorite as an occasional lefty activist) the Boston Tea Party on 13 December.

But we don't. We celebrate the day that a bunch of guys signed a piece of paper."

Monday, July 04, 2005

America: love it and leave it

Happy 4th…

I was explaining to some friends that today is a holiday in America. "What kind of a holiday?"

"It's the day that we celebrate our freedom."

"Freedom from whom?"

"The British."

"Ehhh…," a young friend laughed. "Everyone has holidays to celebrate freedom from the British."

"They were everywhere," another laughs.

And while we are celebrating our freedom…

These are the things I celebrate most:

Free speech (It trumps democracy any day… although it probably requires democracy…)


The capacity for change

Maybe I should make my own bumper sticker that reads: "America: love it and leave it."

Happy 4th

Marsha Mehran wrote a really nice piece in the NYT. Check it out...

The Long Way Home - New York Times:

"I know that identity is a major concern for many first-generation immigrants in America, but I find that I'm not preoccupied with hyphenated labels. When people ask me where I am from, I say I am Persian, born in Iran. I write and dream in English, I curse in Spanish and, after a few pints of Guinness, I dance a mighty Irish jig. And when people ask me where I live, I tell them Brooklyn is my home. "