Friday, March 31, 2006

Talking to Americans about Iran

Iranians who read this should know that people in the West are afraid of you. They have no clue who you are. They see you only through Ahmadinejad. “When Khatami was in power, America argued that they could not improve relations because he had no real power. Now America says that Ahmadinejad *does* have real power and that is why they cannot negotiate with him.” That’s K’s take.

Most Americans do not read newspapers which is a shame because most newspaper journalists have a more nuanced view of Iran than the one presented on tv. I see and read arguments all of the time for bombing Iran to prevent Iran from bombing us or some other country. I can’t link to them because I cannot tell if they are parody or real arguments. If they are real, then they are engaged in some strange, circular logic. If they are parody, then they just are not funny enough.

It’s been a long time since we Americans engaged in war on our own soil. We have no idea what it does to a country and to the character of a population. In Iran, people are exhausted from war and revolution. People are just plain tired. Why would they want to face it again? Iranians live a chaotic life. There is no sense of security or peace or calm. When you are there, you barely notice this because it is pervasive. When you leave Iran, you notice. You notice because the part of you that is constantly worried rests and the rest of you feels so full of energy and optimism that you can barely contain yourself.

This is what I tell Americans: there is no other country in the world with a more pro-American population and that people in Iran are kind and generous to me. Especially when they discover that I am an American. People also ask about hijab: I do have to wear hijab, but not a burka or a chador: just a headscarf and a jacket that covers my butt. I can wear pants. I can wear a jacket so tight that every line of my bra shows. I can wear sandals and capris. I don’t have to cover my bangs or the back of my hair. People then ask about Iranian Jews. I cannot answer this question because I really do not know what their lives are like.

One commenter asks “What do Iranians think of AN?” The short answer is I do not know. The long answer is that he is supposed to deliver them from corruption. But that is the long answer.

Anyway, happy Jill Carroll has been freed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

American is weird too

So I am on vacation.

America is funny. First meal: a corned beef sandwich on rye with pickles, a potato pancake, and kishke. Yum.

Watched the Daily Show and laughed a lot. The regular news is a pastiche of stories about missing children, child molestors, and murderers. The news channels seem to be yearning for another terrorist attack on American soil. CNN is anchored by a bunch of sentimental airheads (or are they just faking it?). Watching Fox is like being at a party where everyone is on drugs except you. No fun unless you drink the cool-aid.

I am trying to avoid news about Iran. It’s depressing. I am too confused about everything. My cousin said to me, “I used to wonder how you could live in Iran and then I thought, ‘I live in Missouri for god’s sake. I don’t agree with any of our policies. I hate Bush. What’s the difference?’”

There is a difference. I told him. “I know,” he said.

We were at a Bat Mitzvah party. There was an open bar. Teen age boys and girls were dancing together. We were not worried about the police raiding the party. We were drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. No one got drunk. Couples were openly showing affection. (Affection, not lust.) It was relaxing, fun, low-key. I almost cried. Maybe I did cry.

Everyone said they wanted to hear about Iran. We did not really have time to discuss it. It was enough to be together.

Had lunch with my dad’s old farts club. It was me and a bunch of old men. One came over from Turkey, another survived pogroms in Poland, all had lived through WW 2 either here or in Europe. Turns out my 83-year old cousin is a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. Why didn’t I know? How much don’t I know?

Miss hearing Persian. Miss the activitity. Don’t miss the chaos. Don’t miss pollution. Do not miss the traffic. It’s so cold that I am practically wearing hijab everywhere I go...

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Hoo ha! On our first vacation in a long, long time. The flight from Iran was uneventful. By the end of our flight, not one woman was wearing a headscarf. "You would see more women in headscarves on any flight in Europe or the US," I told K. Turns out I was right. On the US leg of the trip, more women were in hijab in our 10-row area than on the entire flight from Tehran.

At dinner with friends we were talking about Iran. "Sorry to say," said K, "But Iranians who are not in Iran don't know shit about what is going on there."

"We've been gone a day, and I don't know what's going on there!" I added.

It's true. I feel so distant so soon. Here, everyone is talking about sanctions and bombing and the only thing you only hear the worst possible things about Iran. People seem to think that I lived in a state of suspended fear which is not at all true. At the same time, the pressure that you feel in Iran is even more obvious when you leave. When you are there, it surrounds you on all sides like air pressure, so you just kind of get used to it. You know you feel pressure, but pressure feels normal. When you leave, you feel this huge weight released from you: it's almost physical. It *is* physical. I feel like a balloon; I feel so light.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Burning flags

Still blocking satellite least in our neighborhood. K was watching Iranian news. Lots of nuclear discussion: "America goes against international will" kind of stuff. At one point he started laughing, "They are saying that people were using American and Israeli flags to make the bonfires for Char Shanbe Soori." (Last Tuesday night of the year.)

"Your place was empty," my sister-in-law tells me. "We built a fire at the head of the street. The whole neighborhood came out. There was loud music and dancing. We stopped each car that went by and made everyone in the car get out to dance. Really, it was fun."

The taxi drivers had their own spin "They wanted to stop us from celebrating, so we celebrated even more," a driver tells us.

It really did seem as though all of Tehran was out with fireworks, music, and bonfires. The air in our neighborhood was so thick with smoke that we could not even see.

Hence... the burning flags.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Give me your red!

I love the New Year’s festivities in Iran. Last night was the last Tuesday evening of the Iranian year (why it’s celebrated is beyond me…). This day is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires. The tradition is to jump over a fire while saying: Give me your red and take from me my yellow. Our hosts lit 6 small bonfires that we jumped over 3 times each. We were joined by children, a teenage girl who took off her chador when convinced that she should join us in leaping over the flames, a few old men, us middle-aged foreigners, & young and middle-aged Iranians. It was great fun. “Play with fire.” That’s the message.

“We wanted to put a tire on the bonfire to remind us of the days of the revolution,” one of the older men joked. “But we didn’t want to scare the foreigners.”

“Oh they wouldn’t be scared,” our Iranian friend assured the men. “They would just be angry with you for further polluting the air.” This got a hearty laugh.

There were easily 10x more fireworks than last year. “If anyone wanted to bomb Iran, tonight would be the night,” K joked. “No one would notice.” All of our foreign friends expressed fears of Molotov cocktails, but I have never seen anything of the kind. “Where did you get that idea?” Iranians told them. I asked my Iranian friends about it but they just looked at me like I was crazy. “Foreigners think we are violent.” “Iranians told them about the Molotov cocktails,” I tell them.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

That Seventies House

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All of our news channels were blocked the past few days (except VOA: “Their news is 20 years old,” K commented.). Presumably it was to prevent us from becoming alarmed over the nuclear talks in Vienna. Who knows? Monday, K woke me up at 5 in the morning to tell me there would be no sanctions. “There was no evidence of intention to make a bomb.” Of course, the talks were still continuing…

Entertainment in Iran runs to two extremes: the news and mindless entertainment which is how we found ourselves mesmerized by MTV and The Seventies House. Three presidents that served in the 1970s? Eisenhower, Roosevelt, & Nixon. (Not out answers, of course). When was the bicentennial? 1972. Which country held 70 American’s hostage in 1979? Guatemala. This was followed by a disco carwash dance contest.

“And they want to bomb us?!”

Yes. I said “us.” It’s time for a vacation.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Waiting for Sanctions

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We have been trying to think of sanctions that would actually work. Here are a few targeted at the ruling classes:

1. Force the Iranian team to negotiate with itself. (Oops! They already are!)
2. Make them source all materials and services within Iran. (That’ll teach them.)
3. Have the regime try to get money from itself without bribing anyone.
4. Force them to meet deadlines.
5. Don’t serve tea to any Iranian officials.
6. Make them use the Iranian medical system themselves (no intermediaries allowed! Let them see what it’s like to find out the drug they need is only available on the black market.)
7. Don’t let them watch football until they meet the EU’s demands.
8. Force them to drink only homemade Iranian vodka.