Monday, October 27, 2003

Wedding Mania

Ramaz(d)an started today. (In Iran it's called Ramazan.) Which means that for a whole month no one can get married in Iran. Which means that the month before Ramazan is filled with weddings. Cars get covered with flowers and honk their way through the streets. Men dance in the streets. Music is everywhere.

K and I were staying in a motel in a strange but loveable city south and west of Tehran. They were hosting two weddings a day. "This is our busiest time," the owner told me. "The weather is perfect and it's right before Ramazan. We have two weddings every day."

"But I saw three couples getting their photos taken," I told him.

"Oh they just come here to have their pictures taken. We have a great site. You'll see today that we are very relaxed here. Men and women dance together. There is good music. People have fun now. It's all thanks to Khatami," he told me.

I have never seen such miserable brides and grooms. By the end of my day there, I had seen at least 15 couples. All but two looked terrified and stressed out. "They are exhausted," K said. All but two looked stonily at the cameras photographing them. Two of the couples looked relaxed and happy. The people accompanying them were clearly having a good time. I got the sense that they were, perhaps, teasing the young couples into a state of apprehension.

The brides wore white. Their hair was uncovered. If they could have smiled, they would have looked beautiful.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Iran - Lifestyles - Nose Job

Another story on nose jobs.
The Seattle Times: Iranian males indulge in nose jobs

I have to say, I had no idea this story had hit the wires until a couple of minutes ago as I listened to Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me on my internet radio. Apparently, nose jobs in Iran are a big story.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


…means foreigner which is the first word that I could pick up in casual conversation. I hear it just about every single day, several times a day. I hear it from the adults walking by me on the streets, children playing in playgrounds, and 20-somethings curious about me. Everywhere I go, people stare. I will never look Iranian.

The good thing about being a foreigner here is that Iranians treat foreigners really well. They try to be on their best behavior in front of us. Our blond Dutch friend who speaks Farsi better than K does, told us an emblematic story about this. He was in Iran riding on a bus when an argument broke out. People tried to calm down the arguing parties by telling them: "Is this the kind of impression you want to give the foreigner?"

After three months here, I, too, have become completely obsessed with foreigners. Whenever I see them, I openly stare. I make comments to whoever is with me. "Look, a foreigner," I say.

There is one restaurant near us that serves amazing kebabs. Everytime we eat there, there is a foreigner present. The first time we were there, there were two Africans. I was completely mesmerized by their skin. It was as though I had never seen dark skin before. The next time we went, there was a woman who looked Mongolian. Once again, I was completely amazed. I saw a South African man the next time and a whole bevy of people speaking French. One night, the staff of a Lufthansa flight was eating dinner near us. I could not stop staring.

"Mom, Dad, why is my nose so big?"

A whole generation of Iranians is going to grow up wondering where the hell they inherited their big noses from.

Everywhere you go in Iran, you see young men and women with bandages on their noses. One long, white bandage down the front of the nose. Three shorter ones crossing the bridge.

One night we were walking with K's nephews and nieces and sisters when we spotted a man with the bandages on his nose. "How awful does a man's nose have to be for him to get a nose job," I asked?

K's nephew responded, "But I want one."

I thought he was joking. He is a perfectly good-looking man with a bigger than average nose, but one that fits his face very well. His sister also told me that she wanted one. Apparently neither of them were joking. They thought it was pretty funny that their wishes made me laugh.

What can I say? I like an unusual nose. I like big noses. In my whole life I have seen maybe two people I thought should get nose jobs. Only one of them was Iranian...

Friday, October 17, 2003

An Oscar for Iran
K and I were riding in a taxi today. Our driver was as skinny as a man can be without being unhealthy. His high cheekbones practically jutted out of his face and his grey eyes were sparkling. He talked the way a recently converted Moonie talks: you know, kind of excitedly and from a different world. I was sure that he must be a fanatic of some sort and was, I admit, a little scared.

A car cut in front of us and K swore. The driver said, "Aahh… you people who have lived outside of Iran are shocked by the way things are now, aren't you?" He kept looking at K as he spoke. I wanted to ask him to keep his eyes on the road.

"We used to be a relaxed people," our driver said. "Life here used to be good," he added.

"Now we have a Nobel prize winner." Then he turned his attention to me and said in English, "Madam, Irani Oscar has."

"It's Nobel Prize," K corrected.

"You should have seen the airport," the driver told us. "There were so many people there they had to take Ebadi out the back way."

K and the driver talked about the way that the Iranian media reported the prize. (Slowly and in whispers.) "The internet is great," our driver said in that same voice that some guy might tell you that he has just been abducted by aliens and how much fun he had. The two then went on to discuss the difference between the British and the Americans. Iranians do not like the British. "Americans are good because they spend their money," the driver said.

K started to complain about Americans, but we arrived at our destination just in time for me to avoid his lecture.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

There's no joy in blogville...

(I'm sure I'm not the first or the last to write this...)

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Cubs
It turns out that my parents aren’t even fans of the Cubs. "I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan, and your mother is a St. Louis Browns fan." You never give up your childhood allegiance, and the first game that my I saw live was the Cubs. Not that I am a huge fan, mind you. I am a small fan. And I think my allegiance was more to Harry Caray than to any team. I don't have the discipline to be a real fan.

My friend went to visit a shaman who told her that the spirits told him that this is the Cubs' year. Until then, you might want to listen to Harry Caray's version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame and keep praying.
This morning, I heard the BBC's report about Shirin Ebadi's homecoming at Tehran's airport. The people the reporter spoke to sounded thrilled. They also spoke perfect English which made me wonder who exactly they were speaking to. It is rare to meet Iranians who speak so well.

Later a friend came over. I asked him about how he felt. "Oh thrilled," he said. "But our president is a jerk. His first comment was that the award was politically motivated."

"Yesterday he congratulated her," I said. ("There is no one who does not delight in the success of his compatriot," Khatami told journalists after leaving parliament, adding that "I am also pleased that a compatriot has achieved such a

"Well maybe it was politically motivated, but it's the Nobel prize, for God's sake. He could have simply congratulated her the first time."

"Did you go to the airport?"

"My sister did."

"What did she say?"

"She said that it was way too crowded for her to get anywhere near anything interesting. 40 or 50,000 people turned out to greet her." (oooh… so that's why it was so easy to find English speakers…)

"On the BBC they said that people were parking their cars on the highway and walking because it was too crowded."

"The government closed the roads to the airport. That's why people had to walk there."

"Did you see what [insert conservative, pro-government newspaper name here] said yesterday," K asked? "It said that if a thousand people show up to greet Ebadi that the government should see it as a rebuke against their policies."

"From what I head," our friend said, "there were tens of thousands of people. It was an amazing turn-out."

"What was the news coverage like here in Tehran," I asked.

"Well they announced it about seven hours later and at the very tail end of the news. It was barely mentioned."

Now, every day the newspapers here write more and more about Ebadi. She gets more column space by the day.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Wow. What a couple of days. I disconnect from the internet to spend some time with K's family and Shirin Ebadi is awarded the Nobel Prize. This morning I got my email and several of the letters were from people asking me how Iranians feel about the award. I opened my Dad's first (I know him, after all). I was shocked. I had not heard a thing.

Sunday was the birth date of the 12th imam who Shi'ites believe never actually died. (I was hoping that Shia pundit would explain this holiday, but there is no mention of it on his blog.) It is a day of celebration in Iran. The whole country seems to be lit up by green, red, and white lights. Banners fly over the streets, and lampposts are decorated with leafy branches.

Holiday television programming was dominated by a marathon cultural event that was taking place in Tehran. It even supplanted the football (soccer) match between England and Turkey. The next day, there was football between Iran and New Zealand (big win for Iran) and some programming with that deep male voice narrating that signals you are about to hear a load of crap. (You know the voice…)

There was no mention of the Nobel Peace Prize. Not a word. Today, however, the papers all have front-page stories about Shirin Ebadi. Iran News has a positive article and claims that the government has congratulated her.

Iranians that we talk to are excited and happy and proud. Iran News says that she will be welcomed back in Tehran tomorrow. The government says a "top official is expected to attend." What does that mean?

Thursday, October 09, 2003

The Cubs
I was talking to my mom who told me that their small town in Illinois has been unusually cold. "Your father says that hell must be freezing over." This, of course, is his way of expressing cautious optimism about the Cubs? World Series chances.

I am pleased to see that Allah is also a Cubs fan.

I have received several emails thanking me for my limited view of Iran. I can leave, they tell me, the big picture stuff to others.

We were walking down the street when K spotted steam coming from a food cart. "Labu," he said excitedly. As we got closer we saw towers of red, steaming beets. Some of the beets were the size of mush balls (any mush ball players out there?) I am not sure how they get to be so big.

The beets are sold by weight. The guy behind the steam cuts them up, gives you a plastic fork, and you eat them on the street.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The NYT is writing about Iranians in Karbala now. Now that it is legal for Iranians to travel to Karbala (at least from Iran's standpoint), I do not meet as many people who are making the trip. The illegal trip cost about $100. The legal trip, now, costs $400.
Resolute Iranian Pilgrims Meet Awed G.I.'s
Maybe that is why more people are walking through the mountains now rather than taking the bus.