June 18, 2003
K just returned from Teheran’s prison. “It was horrifying. I sat with the judge. I can’t talk about it now,” he told me. “I can’t write about it. You have to,” he said.
His family does not know he went. Late last night, his nephew C said, “I can bring you to the prison to meet the students who are being held there.”
C is well-connected.
It turned out that Intelligence officers were “visiting” the students when K & C arrived so they could not meet them. Instead they observed some court proceedings. “I could not believe it,” K said. “All they did was argue about who was the most corrupt. One judge, who was a prisoner himself, said, “Judges are the most corrupt.” Another said, “We learn from our masters.” Another said, “Investigators are the really corrupt among us.” An investigator answered, “No, it’s the informants who are the most corrupt.”
While K was there listening to a debate about who the most corrupt official was, A and As and Ai and I were at the park. As and Ai were on the swings. A and I sat in the shade talking politics. “Revolution is bad,” A said. “It is always bad. The most violent win. We need to move slowly,” he said. “We don’t want a revolution.”
“Secular government is much better than religious government.”
“We are a religious people,” A responded.
“So are Americans. Religious people need secular governments.”
“That’s right. That’s what we need.”
Before coming to Iran, I read so much about how the women are becoming more fashionable and daring with their dress. That said, I have only seen one truly daring woman. She wore a transparent pink scarf that clearly showed her black hair. Almost everyone else wears black and many women still wear chadors. Many have a kind of habit that makes them look like nuns.
Okay, this is the important part of the blog: food.
For lunch we had chicken with zeresh: a small, red sour berry that I think is called “barberry” in English (although barberry does not give me any more information than zeresh). We also had eggplant stuffed with ground lamb and raisins with the subtle taste of cinnamon. Yum.
The rice was also very lightly spiced with the cinnamon. Cinnamon here has a different flavor than what we are used to in America or Europe: it is deeper and more earthy tasting. It isn’t as light or sweet. I guess you could say that it tastes as though it was grown with cumin (not like it is mixed with cumin).
For dinner we had “calepacheh.” It is a soup of sheep’s head and feet. For the unitiated (me) it is a very unattractive dish. I mean, snouts, toes, brains, tongues: all arrayed on the plate: how could that possibly be attractive? It is a good thing I am a daring eater because it was delicious. We ate it with a flat bread that we bought straight from a fire in the wall of a bakery. That bread was mighty delicious. It was especially fantastic the second it left the fire.
Like many things in this country, driving is a game of chicken: who will give in first. Although, now that I have written this, I think it is actually more like a game of Tetris. Drivers are constantly aware of all available spaces and drive to fill them. Lanes and lights don’t matter. What matters is whether or not there is a space available that fits your car. This means, of course, that you are free to gently nudge the car beside you to take up any empty space available to it.
We drove all over M’s neighborhood. We bought the calepache, the bread, and a bottle of clear “medecine.”
We also drove to the subway, and took the metro into the center of Tehran to see K’s brother wrestle. For the most part, men and women ride in separate cars. I had to ride in the men’s car because I am a “harigi” (foreigner) and cannot take care of myself.
Not surprisingly, I was not allowed to enter the arena. All that skin might be too much for me, I guess. The referees, however, wanted to let me in. They were so excited that I came from America to see K’s brother wrestle.
He won. But we did not see the match.
June 17, 2003
At Schipol, we bought our tickets to travel to Iran. There we met our friends and their children who were also traveling on that afternoon’s flight. Together, we were 9 people.
Slowly we moved through the airport until we arrived at gate 7d. We were almost the last people to get on the Iran Air Flight. K and his friend went to have a beer right before we got on the plane. I had a rubbery ham and cheese croissant. The boys played on the moving sidewalks.
I walked on to a full plane and looked at the sea of semetic faces. A plane full of men who could get asked off of a flight in America just for having one eyebrow.
BTW, we got real silverware with our food.
The flight was easy and comfortable. I heard a lot of American voices (obviously 2nd gens flying to Iran), some Dutch, and mostly Iranian.
The real fun began when we landed. First there was a beautifully painted sheet that read: “If you are coughing and have a fever we are waiting you at the airport.” All painted in red, yellow, and blue.
It took us awhile to get all of the bags for the 9 of us who were accidentally traveling together. When we did we zipped through customs, then had to get our bags xrayed to leave.
There were so many people waiting for friends and relatives that it was almost impossible to leave the airport. Two police officers were sitting on chairs looking at the crowd. The man in front of me said, “Can’t you help? Get up and ask the crowd to let us through.” We still had to push our way through the crowd, a big part of which was K’s family. I was bombarded by so many greetings, flowers, happy children – I felt really and truly excited and happy to arrive.
There were 14 people waiting for us. The children were so happy and fresh and thrilled to see me and “Amoo” K.
When I saw the crowd waiting outside the airport, I thought “Wow! This is what a crowd of people waiting for relatives looks like! I wonder what the crowds look like by the university?” There were women dressed head to toe in black chadors, and women with fashionable long jackets and matching headscarves. The black chadors were depressing. I cannot say that they were not. The women wearing them weren’t smiling, that’s for sure.
Now we are sitting in a nice stone house. I ate a tomato that tasted like a tomato, unbelievably sweet apricots, a green plum with salt, white cherries, and a crisp cucumber. Life is good. Two children are sitting with me as I type, and we are listening to an Iranian pop band from LA.
I am going to sleep. I can smell the exhaust-filled air of Tehran.