Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Cubs
My family has been praying for the Cubs. I want to encourage everyone who reads this to join us. This is an equal opportunity, non-denominational request. We don’t care who you pray to, just say a prayer for the Cubs.

For any Iranians who might be reading, the Cubs are Chicago’s beloved baseball team. They have never won the World Series. My father claims that part of the problem is that the fans are so loyal. “The owners don’t think they have to pay for great players because Cubs fans are loyal whether they win or lose.” For us fans, and for quite a number of quasi fans, the Cubs winning the World Series would be the equivalent of Iran winning the world cup.

Women’s Dress
My sister reminded me that I have always been averse to dress codes. “Remember when you got kicked out of PE [physical education class] because you wouldn’t wear the gym suit?” Well it was a stupid gym suit. That’s why I would not wear it.

When I was little I always wanted to wear pants to school because we had to wear dresses. If I had grown up in post-revolutionary Iran, I probably would have been a super-fem. Who knows?

Someone from Austin recently wrote asking what she should wear when she comes to Iran for a tour. Since I have not yet recovered my old emails, I will answer her here. So here you go woman from Austin:

If you are on a tour, you are most likely visiting places that other tourists visit, so just relax. Get yourself a nice scarf. I recommend something big that is heavy enough to sit on your head without being tied tightly around your neck.

When we visit cities that are used to tourists, we see women visitors casually dressed. Many simply wear headscarves. Some wear big shirts and loose fitting pants. Some wear long jackets. Some wear floor length skirts and long sleeved shirts.

Don’t worry about dressing like Iranian women. As a foreigner, everyone cuts you a lot of slack here. Just dress modestly. Since you are coming in the Fall, the weather will be cool enough so that the headscarf and any other outer clothing you wear won’t be a burden.

If you are going to small towns off the beaten path, you may be more comfortable with a longish lightweight jacket in a subdued color. Otherwise, women here are wearing increasingly bright colors: pink, baby blue, and even orange are fairly common. K’s sisters commented that their local newscaster was wearing a yellow scarf (more like a hood than a scarf) the other night. Cream and black are still the most common.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

L’Shana Tovah
Our local grocery was covered with Rosh HaShana decorations.

My sister…
Never reads my blog. Can you believe it? Of course she had some excuse about her computer being too slow for her to surf the web. Hey, it’s text only, sister! And I am writing it for her and the rest of my friends and family so they won’t keep asking me how things are going! Don’t worry, I still love you even if you never read my blog.

A night out
It’s been a bad week. I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say that even K has offered to sacrifice a sheep if things get better.

After a particularly exhausting day, K, his nephew, and I went to the movies. The theater was big, with roomy seats, a big screen, and good enough speakers. The film we chose was a comedy very much in the style of the comedies made under America’s censorship laws: chaste, smart, funny, and charming. It featured a man who is engaged to be marry, but does not quite have his heart in it despite the fact that he loves the woman. During his engagement, he meets the woman of his dreams who is divorced. After a series of mishaps, they finally get together.

On the way back from the theater, we stopped at the hospital to visit a friend. While we were waiting, we watched these absolutely gorgeous women conduct “business.” They were out in front of the hospital looking for “clients.” (Their words.) Just about every single car slowed down for them, including the cars filled with women. The women kicked most of the cars filled with men, did a little dance for the women, and almost got into a number of fights. One acceptable car stopped. Two good-looking, young men were sitting in the front seat. One woman got in. The other waited on the curb. About five minutes later, the first woman was back.

“That was fast,” I commented.

Soon, three other women joined the first two. One was clearly very high. She was a bit unsteady on her cork-heeled sandals and her eyes were narrowed into two slits. Now all four women stood kicking cars that slowed down for them.

“What kind of offer is good enough for them to get into the car,” I asked K?

“I don’t know. Maybe 40,000,” he said.

“That’s more than most prostitutes make in New York,” I responded.

A car stopped and two of the women got in. The driver was a fat, more than middle-aged, unshaven guy. This left two women on the curb.

A woman in a small white Honda-Civic-like car pulled up to the curb. The two women waiting gave here an enthusiastic greeting and piled in. They were all gone now. At least that is what we thought. Less than five minutes later, we saw the women down on the corner. Soon they were back in front of the hospital. They wandered in and out of the hospital. “Probably using the bathroom,” K said.

As the women came and went it became obvious that they could not possibly be engaging in sexual acts. They never rode with a driver more than one block and never spent more than 2 or 3 minutes in the car. (I am sure there are a lot of women making jokes about men right now.) The street was packed with cars, so they had no opportunity for privacy even if 3 minutes were enough to complete any sexual act they had started.

“They must be selling drugs,” K commented.

Meanwhile, a bearded man who was dressed in the green suit that seems to be the uniform of government workers had come outside to make a phone call. He talked on the phone while the four women fearlessly continued their antics.

“A couple of years ago, he would have had them arrested,” K commented. “Now he can’t do anything. What do you think he is thinking right now?”

“He’s thinking that he hates Tehranis,” I said. K laughed.

Revolution (just kidding)

K met another one of the thousands of government officials who roam the streets of Tehran. Of course, K started by telling him how much he doesn’t like the government. He tells everyone this. That is the key part of his standard introductory remarks. So far, this has not gotten him into any trouble. In fact, quite the opposite.

The two were talking when the official told him that there are a number of things that the regime thinks would bring down the government. He mentioned these two specifically:

1. Trying to force women back into chadors and restrictive clothing: “The women would never stand for it. They would bring down the government rather than wear chadors again.”
2. Stopping production of their stinky, dangerous, polluting car: The Peykan. “We know it’s dangerous. We know it pollutes too much. The manufacturing of these cars is a giant monster that we cannot control. Investing money does not help. This could eventually bring down the government.”

Monday, September 22, 2003

September 22, 2003

What me worried?

Why I have not been blogging:

The phone lines were being repaired and only working sporadically.

My computer needed to get backed up and reformatted (always a pain in the ass.) I am still having problems importing my old emails.

Johnny Cash died.

Our internet service provider blocked everything from blogspot. All 1,000,000 blogs. I got a little worried, but resident Iranians have assured me that I have nothing to worry about. “Have you looked at the papers recently,” they all say? “You can’t be more critical than they are.”

That’s true. I don’t even plan to be critical. Which brings me to my next point:

I am not a journalist

A lot of Iranians tell me that my blog makes too many assumptions about Iran and Iranians. “You should take time to get the whole story,” I hear over and over again. This blog is a series of observations about being here. It is not meant as a research project or a piece of journalism. I tell stories about what I am experiencing. For me, what is interesting is how much my experiences of and assumptions about the country and the culture change over time. It is as much or more about me (and K) than about Iran and Iranians.

And besides, how the hell am I supposed to get a complete picture of anything? Does such a thing ever exist? Aren’t we still discovering new things about well-documented historical events? Iran isn’t a mineral with a finite set of characteristics. No matter how long I examine it, there will be something new to understand.

Which gets me to my next point:


People who know and love me know how fond I am of exaggeration. Listen, I am a mere beginner compared to Iranians. “This is the worst regime in the world,” I have heard many people say. I think even Thomas Friedman had a quote from Hussein Khomeini saying exactly that. (I know that I should link to it, but surfing with a slow and unreliable dial-up connection is a royal pain. And you would have to pay for the article anyway.) In the worst regime in the world, every other cab driver does not complain about politics.

“Iranian food is the best food in the world.” Okay, it’s good. But the best? I don’t think so. That said, I know Iranians living in California who eat only Iranian food, pasta, and the occasional (really occasional) Cantonese dish. They are really chauvinistic about their food.

“No other country has the problems Iran has. There are people here who still live in the first century.” True. But my college roommate grew up without electricity and plumbing. I am quite certain that there are many, many countries in the world facing exactly this issue.

Iran is, without exaggeration, the capital of the car accident.

More exaggerations as they occur to me.

Belated blog

Johnny Cash
I am a lifelong fan of Johnny Cash. As a child, I remember seeing his short-lived program on television, marveling at his deep voice, and black clothes. There has never been a time in my life when I have not listened to Johnny Cash. K used to complain that he sang too much about Jesus and religion and then one day, K too fell in love with the songs.

The last hitchhiker I ever picked up told me that he had seen the ghost of Johnny Cash's redemption on the highway in Memphis. It was then that I realized that I should never pick up another hitchhiker.

One afternoon in Istanbul, I was listening to Unchained and reading Isaac Bashevis Singer when the call to prayer was sounded. It was a brilliant moment.

I have introduced many Iranians to Johnny Cash. Some actually seem to like him. Those who do, knew that I would be sad when I heard that Johnny Cash had died and asked me to play some of his CDs for them. That's how we are spending our free time now. Listening to Johnny Cash.

His CD, Murder, is playing right now.

Gotham Diana
I have to say good things about her. Her emails have been really welcome to me. It is a relief to communicate with someone who is just as confused as I am about the state of the world. I like the fact that she does not tow the party line. (Or is it "toe" the party line? Am I putting my toes up to the line or dragging it behind me? I must have learned this once in English class.)

A big public thanks to Gotham Diana for her engaging emails. She told me that she is not blogging anymore, but if she changes her mind, I’ll link to her.

Not to mention thanks to my friends and family whose regular letters have kept me sane.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

The Women's Party


I was invited to a women's party. When I got there, there was a room full of women elegantly dressed and me in my baggy muslin pants and gray t-shirt. I felt like such a slob. The women had their hair streaked, curled, and set. They were wearing tight, tight pants and low-cut nylon stretch shirts. They were wearing beautiful dresses and elegant pant suits. They wore gold and pearls. The house was amazing: three floors of marble with an indoor pool.

The women were also amazing. Once I overcame my fashion faux pas, I started talking to the women about everything: food, men, politics, religion, culture. This was such a new experience for me. Alone, these women were so relaxed. They didn't attend to my every desire or worry that I was not eating enough. At one point I said, you guys are so different when men are not around. "Yes," one woman answered. "With men we cannot be ourselves."

There were women of all ages there from 6 to 80. Everyone crowded around a big table where delicious food, ripe fruit, nuts, and cakes were laid out. There was a lot of talking and laughing. At one point, the conversation turned to politics and religion. It turned out that most (not all) of the women were Ba'hai. They told me a little about the Ba'hai faith and its respect for all religions. They also told me about all of the Ba'hai who were killed during and after the revolution. There were graphic throat slitting motions all around the table.

"Every religion has its martyrs," one woman told me. "At the beginning of every religion: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, many people were martyred. Here too, with the Ba'hai. Pregnant women and children were even martyred."

"My grandfather was a mullah," another woman told me. "He and his brother accepted Ba'hai, and here we are today."

"Most of the Islamic people I know are very warm and caring," a bulldog of a woman told me. "There are just a few who are intolerant and crazy."

"There were more intolerant people before," said the first woman. "Now we Iranians like each other more. Now we are more tolerant of each other."

This comment surprised me since most Iranians tell me how much worse people are since the revolution. On the other hand, I was not surprised because the people I have met here have been surprisingly tolerant and open. I told them that even the very religious Muslims that I meet in Iran profess a desire for freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Later we spoke about America. One of the Islamic women attending the party told us how much she liked Bush. She also told me that she felt Sharon was fighting for freedom of religion.

You never know what you are going to hear.