Monday, January 30, 2006

Just north of Tehran

Can you believe that a short car ride north of Tehran you can be in the mountains hiking in deep snow? Wish I could ski...


Sunrise in Northern Tehran. Gotta' love that snow.


Tagged as:

…Spent the week watching K negotiate a relatively small contract with Iranian vendors. The days were filled with offers immediately rebuked, prices rising 20% in a matter of hours, and general miscommunication, subterfuge, and ambiguity.

“Why didn’t you just send them packing?” a European friend asked us when we described our week to her.

“We were agreeing,” K explained. Our friend gave a knowing laugh.

Finally a contract was signed. Everyone seemed happy.

The next day the signatory an K were in a meeting. “I need 3 weeks more to complete the project.”

“You signed the contract.”

(3-hour discussion boiled down to 2 sentences.)

The signatory broke the contract, and it all started again with someone new…

So when we heard Jack Straw say that the Iranians were the most difficult negotiators he had ever dealt with, all we could do was laugh.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Taxi Talk

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Got into a car that smelled like cat pee… I imagined that the windows were left open one night and Tehran’s cats made use of the car.

We passed a fancy hair salon for men with wall length headshots of long haired men. “I’ve never lived anywhere else where men were as fussy about their hair,” I commented.

“Hey,” said K, “it’s all we’ve got.”

“If you go to South Tehran with that kind of hair, you get arrested,” our driver told us. “Too much gel and they get you. We have no freedom.”

That got him started…
“I don’t understand why we are making all this fuss about nuclear energy. We have bombs with anti-Israel slogans painted on them and we want to know why Israel is afraid of us having nuclear capabilities. I cannot understand why our two countries are not friendly in the first place. We were friends. We Iranians have nothing against Israel. Why do we have to pretend that we do?”

I am thinking that my Persian is failing me. I just sit and let the driver do all of the talking. When we get out of the car, I ask K if I understood him correctly. “You did,” he tells me. “A lot of Iranians feel the way he does.”

The day before an accountant told me that Israelis were crazy. “Don’t you agree?”

“Well, given the fact that so many of them were born in Iran, I would say that if they are crazy you are crazy.”

“You got me,” he admitted.

Iranians are so baffled by the world’s response to AN’s anti-semetic comments. I have said this over and over: they have no idea of the true history of World War II. They never heard of the holocaust. They cannot understand the emotional/historical impact of AN’s rhetoric. Frankly, most Iranians cannot understand why the rest of the world pays attention to AN when they themselves do not.

P.S. Thanks to Troy Z. for this link . Great insight...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

There is a mouse in the wall and it has ears…

New Persian lesson of the day… In Iran it’s not that “the walls have ears,” but that "the mouse in the wall has ears…"

I was speaking with a group of Iranians about nothing in particular and learned that saying as well as this one: “He left his hat backstage…” which is what you do when you lose control of a situation.

My “teachers” were calling me Miss America. “I just cannot remember your name,” the ringleader explained. “I hope you do not mind being called Miss America.”

“Why don’t you invite Bush to visit you here?” One asked me.

“Do you really want a visit from Bush?”

“I think if Bush came to Iran, he would see what a peaceful people we are and he would put the whole world’s minds to rest. Don’t you agree?”

I laughed. One of the group added, “When you do not visit Iran, you think we are an awful people… that we are terrorists, right?”

“Right,” I agreed. “That is the way the world sees you.”

“But we are nice. We do not want to fight anyone. We are peaceful.”

“You are,” I agree.

Iranians are worried about being bombed. Many are already making predictions about where. Apparently housing prices have dropped in a certain neighborhood of Tehran.


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I caught an episode of Oprah when her guest was Jamie Foxx. Laughed a lot. My host said to me, “This is what gives life: a comedian. This regime just wants to make us cry all the time. They want to take away our laughter.”

The next day, I was in a taxi. The driver said to me: “We never laugh anymore. All we do is cry. That’s all we are allowed to do.”

“Don’t you watch Barareh Nights?” I asked.

“You got me,” he answered. “That *does* make me laugh.

Barareh Nights is the current rage on Iranina tv. It is really stupid if you are not familiar with current Iranian culture. If you are, then it is funny: the ridiculous accents, the silly scenarios, the jealousy, bribery, and petty vindictiveness. It’s all funny. JIGGAR… (that last endearment is for my Iranian readers...)

Lotsa Snow

We watched as the snow just fell and fell and fell. For days it has been so overcast that you could not see the mountains a few miles away (thank god it was not pollution blocking our view). For two days now, we have had sun which has has revealed the white moutains surrounding Tehran. (I promise to post pics) There are lots of tall pines in Tehran, so it did not take too much snow to make the northern and colder part of the city look like a Christmas postcard.

All this and nuclear negotiations too! For 2 years I have been arguing with Iranians about their nuclear ambitions. Sharon’s stroke has provided me with yet another argument. You’ll note that Sharon is being treated in a hospital in Jerusalem, not in Paris or Berlin or New York. Which head of state in the rest of this region would receive critical care within his own country? Iran has great doctors, minimal medical ethics, little investment in infrastructure, and almost nothing invested in research. Yet, the official line is that the West is keeping them from “scientific” research. Iran could have brilliant, groundbreaking medical research and medical care if the priorities were on healthcare instead of proving to the world they can do something the Americans did 60 years ago.

All the n-bomb does is bring you more enemies.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


I need to reopen the conversation on isolating Iran through sanctions. Let’s start with this presumption: the mullahs are not going anywhere. They will not be overthrown or pushed out because of a few puny sanctions. In fact, the political-fundamentalists among them will be strengthened by sanctions because it will mean that most of the population will become dependent on their good graces. Sanctions also mean that the group in power will become the lone voice inside of Iran. It’s already hard enough to have any diversity of opinion.

The regime welcomes the threat of attack. The only way for them to unite is against a common enemy. Unity is what they long for. Unity is what they do not have. Achieving unity presupposes a common enemy.

So, isolating Iran plays into the hands of the political-fundamentalists by making them an even stronger voice in this country and by giving them an enemy. Hurray.

Iran is not waiting to become America or Europe. Iran minus the regime does not equal freedom or democracy as much as Iranians would like you to believe. You need to have a public debate and free speech before you get democracy. That’s a lot harder than it might sound.

The publicly sanctioned arguments are those of degrees here in Iran. They do not represent true opposition. Those involved meticulously filter the voices that get heard. When they fall out with those in power, their voices are also filtered. Lo and behold! They are surprised that after a career of keeping others quiet, they can longer be heard.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I am a "cosmopolitan"

Hurray! A category for me.

Taxi Talk

(Visual: Driver, big bear of a man in his late 50s. Close-cropped white hair. Expansive smile.)

Me: “Wow. There is so much traffic today.”
Driver: “It’s all from British intelligence. It’s their way of disrupting our lives.” (jokes)
K: ”It’s a good thing my wife is American.”
Driver: “We wish the CIA was here tying up traffic. Long live the CIA! When are they getting here?”

Perhaps he was secretly referring to the goldmine of information provided by the CIA itself: [CIA Gave Iran Bomb Plans, Book Says]


(Visual: Driver small bear of a man, young: early to mid 20s; close-cropped dark hair, goatee.)

Driver: “Islam is not our religion. We should all be Zoroastrians. That’s really ours. We pray in Arabic! What language do you pray in? I am sure it is not Arabic. Can you imagine the imposition of this religion on our culture?

Actually, I can. That’s the way the world works. But I keep my mouth shut, and he continues:

“How would you feel if your husband took another wife? I’ll tell you that I would never approve of my wife taking another husband! Why should she be happy if I took another wife?”


(Visual: Driver, small, thin, older: maybe early 60s; white knit cap on his head typical of village men, grey wool suit coat)

Driver: “Our country has really fallen apart. We have no freedom, no nothing anymore.”

Me: “I always wonder what people mean when they say ‘freedom’?”

Driver: “We were freer during the time of the Shah. We were going to be more free. At least we could drink and women could wear whatever they wanted. Now we can’t even do that. Now women wear almost nothing because they are forced to wear hijab. Sometimes I think it would be better for women to walk around naked than to wear what they wear now. There is too much pressure. All of our lives are lived under pressure.”