Saturday, August 12, 2006


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“Oh my god, haven’t you heard what’s been going on with the UK.?”

“I heard something about a bomb on an airplane when I was in a taxi, but I thought it was just the normal stuff.”

“My god, no. It’s not normal,” my friend tells me. We are sitting in a fashionable Tehran restaurant. I have arrived there straight from the airport after having been in Iran’s hot Khuzestan Province. She and Keivan explain the events of the last 36 hours to me.

“We only had the television on for 30 minutes so that everyone could watch Nargess,” I explained. (Nargess is the newest serial to sweep Iran. Everyone is watching it.)

I was in Khuzestan attending the year-memorial for my friend who died last year. It was a much less hectic and heart-wrenching affair than the funeral. We’d all had a year of mourning, crying, and bouts of depression behind us. This does not mean that any of us miss her any less, it’s just that the months leading up to her death and the months following her death were overwhelming and difficult for many, many people and that now, most of her family and friends were recovering.

It was a relief to see everyone again. I have not traveled too far from Tehran (except outside Iran) since the funeral. Khuzestan was a blistering 48 degrees C. This is the type of heat that can only be described as a moving wall that has weight and force and sound. You can almost hear it: at least you can imagine hearing it: Whoooosh.

First there was a ceremony in the mosque. There were about 150 women there: almost all of them wearing the same black knee-highs, darker at the toes and heals with a dark black band across the top. The mosque was chilled to shivering. “In Khuzestan they are used to the heat,” everyone told me. Oh yeah, then why are their homes and offices and mosques kept so cold? They are only used to staying inside, not to the heat.

We had about 2 ½ hours of chanting followed by ½ hour of a sermon. All the while, children were playing, there were the requisite operatic mourners, and a quorum of chadoris who hide their faces under their chadors, shake their shoulders as if hysterically crying, and then emerge dry-eyed.

From the mosque we went to the cemetery. Close by was the year memorial for the family who died in what I assume was a car crash. Last year I thought it was only a son and father who had died because there were only two pictures. This year it was clear that there was a third death: probably a woman, maybe the mother. My heart burned (as Iranians would say) for that family. How do you come to terms with such a quick death. The men were clearly heart broken. They were sobbing. The women sat dry-eyed while the children handed out sweets to the gathered crowd.

Our own ceremony was under a tent to protect us from the hot sun. Even so, the marble tombstone was too hot to touch. After the ceremony, we went to lunch. Children who did not attend the memorial came for the lunch. It’s hard to imagine how people survive mourning without children around. It’s impossible to resist their joy and playfulness. You could see the lights switch on in the eyes of their aunts and uncles who had lost their mother and sister.

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