Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The military police

This is something that I have wanted to write about for awhile: the uniforms of the Iranian military police. They wear these outfits that look like they were designed for the Tintin cartoon strip. And the worst part of it is, they know how frigging silly they look. It’s clear that they are embarrassed by their uniforms. The worst part of the uniform is their white boots. In combination with their red hats, they become doubly silly looking. The young men slink in their uniforms. They appear as though they are trying to make themselves smaller. They look like they *know* they have “kick me” signs taped to their backs that they are not allowed to remove.

They are out in force these days assisting the traffic cops with their efforts to improve the driving habits of Iranians. Today, as I strolled to do my shopping our corner was just filled with these guys. There were three of the guys in the silly uniforms looking with envy at their colleagues, the traffic cops, in their sleek black boots, shiny black jackets, and helmets. One of the traffic cops had a microphone on and was urging drivers to follow basic driving etiquette. When a motor biker zoomed through a red light he called, “Hajh Agha, Hajh Agha!” (Mr. Hajh – doesn’t really translate well). The biker paid no attention. Those calls were joined by, “Faster! Move on! Drive on! Stop! Make your turn!” and other helpful hints.

Just to ease your mind… I’ve been told that Iran is getting new uniforms for the military police. (I don’t really think they are the military police, but Iranians tell me they are.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Finger across throat, slide to the right

Most Iranians I meet are really curious about Americans and the way Iranians are perceived by the outside world. If you’ve been reading any part of this blog, you know that. I tell them that most foreigners do not know the difference between Iran and Iraq or between Arabs and Iranians. This surprises and upsets them.

“I watch an American movie almost every night to learn more about your culture,” one bearded man told me recently.

“Then I don’t think you’ve learned much about my culture,” I answered.

He continued, “That’s how I know you do not have the problems with poverty that we do.”

“We do have problems with poverty,” I told him. “We have 40 million uninsured people and one of the lowest health care standards in the developed world. Our poor are fat because fast food is cheap. Iran’s poor are healthy looking because nutritious food is cheap here.”

“That’s true,” he answered.

[I am always amazed at how healthy looking Iran’s poor are. Fast food is still a luxury here, and it is expensive. Many fruits and vegetables are cheap in Iran. Only the rich can afford to be fat in Iran. For less than the price of a Hardee’s Burger, you can have an excellent meal. Meat is expensive. Greens are cheap. Case in point: herbs. Iranians eat tons of fresh herbs. For about 50 cents they can get a gigantic bunch of mixed herbs. The equivalent would cost us about $20. I am always scavenging and saving herb scraps that Iranians would throw away. They think I’m weird.]

The man continued by telling me about family he has in Germany. “Their neighbor is a German woman. She is a good friend to my brother’s family and visits often. She loves my brother’s family, and they love her. Recently they asked her to come visit Iran with them. She said no. When they asked her why not, she answered [the throat-cutting gesture: finger across throat, slide to the right]. We were so disappointed that she felt that way about us.”

[Another reason that poor men look especially good in Iran is that they cannot afford to be fashion victims. Young Iranian men have a pathetic sense of style (sorry boys). They use way too much hair gel and shape their hair into bizarre shapes. They sport odd shaped facial hair growths, cell phones, pointy shoes or converse tennies, and wear American logo-wear --- most of it fake. Poor men can’t afford all that shit.]
The University Directors…

…Are frustrated and angry. This is no secret. This is taxi-talk, man-on-the-street talk, tv-talk, Khameini-talk.

In one car our driver said: “I was watching tv, and I could not believe it! There was a meeting with the directors of all these universities and Khameini was there and the cameras were there and they were complaining about bad management. I called Hajh Agha [Mr. Hajh refers to any man who has been to Mecca or any man at all depending on the speaker] and I said, ‘Turn on the tv! The university directors are saying what you are saying, and they are saying it to Khameini!’”

In another car we heard:

“I was watching with my sister, and we were in shock. I turned to her and asked: ‘Was there a revolution I did not hear about?’ There were university directors from all over the country, and they were so frustrated that they could not keep their mouths shut. ‘Our country’s problems aren’t big,’ one said. ‘They are complex and knotty, and they need delicate hands to untangle. We don’t have delicate hands, but if we look hard enough we can find someone who does.’”

We made comments about the hands comment. I asked, “Who do they mean by the someone?”

K answered, “I don’t know.” No one else in the car knew either.

The conversation continued: “There was a woman from Isfahan who said: ‘We don’t have money; we don’t have resources; we have people in positions that they should not be; and people who should be in those positions that are not.’”

They are speaking for the entire country.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

I'm acting like a blogger. I am linking to an article--maybe not a blog, but still...

The first paragraph of Thomas Friedman's opinion piece made me laugh out loud. I read it to an Iranian friend who also laughed. Neither of us had to read the second paragraph to know the right response...

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: A Political Arabesque:

"I have long believed that any American general or senior diplomat who wants to work in Iraq should have to pass a test. It would be a very simple test. It would consist of only one question: 'Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?'

If you answered 'Yes,' you would not be allowed to work in Iraq. You could go to Korea, Japan or Germany - but not Iraq. Only those who understand that in the Middle East the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line should be allowed to carry out U.S. policy there."

Friday, December 17, 2004

One nation, under God

I read an editorial in some respectable newspaper somewhere that critiqued the pledge of allegiance and the late addition of “One nation under God.” (And, once again, I am proving to be a horrid blogger because I did not blog it at the time and cannot find it now…) The writer provided a whole list of groups who could be offended by this reference including Muslims. This, the writer claimed, was because it mentioned God and not Allah.

Allah means God. It’s just the Arabic word for God. My Koran is translated into Persian and English. In the Persian translation, Allah is Khoda. Khoda is the Persian word for God. In my English version, however, Allah is Allah. The Torah is the Tawrat. Jesus is Isa. Mary is Maryum. Moses is Musa. Abraham is Ibrahim. Jonah is Younes. And on and on. This poor translation makes it seem as though Islam is something other than a continuation of Judeo-Christianity.

In the Koran, God is still angry with his chosen people (an anger begun in the Old Testament or Tawrat). That has not changed. I expect he will remain angry. I think most members of the tribe would agree with me in this statement. The Koran continually refers to God’s need to hold a mountain over the heads of his chosen tribe in order to get them to accept his word. That’s nothing new, is it?

(No matter what kind of feminist I am, I cannot accept that God is a she. If that’s true, then I must be a man.)

So, the long and the short of it is, that there may be many reasons to be critical of the comment: One nation under God. But one of them is not that it leaves out Allah.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A nation of hypocrites

What does enforcing an interpretation of religious beliefs on the unwilling do? It creates a nation of hypocrites.

What does enforcing an interpretation of religious beliefs on the willing do? It creates a minority of disgusted believers.
What believer needs or wants to be forced to believe? No one that I know of. It’s insulting.

We were in the home of a devout woman. She has been to Mecca 5 times. She can chant the Koran in a deep gravelly voice. I am certain that she is trying to die on a pilgrimage to Mecca. But boy does she resent the mullah-ocracy. I was a bit shocked by some of the things that were said about them.

It’s no real surprise though. The mullahs in Iran represent bureaucracy more than religion and where is there a people anywhere in the world who loves their bureaucrats?
But you cannot play pool with men…
I went out with some friends and K. It was raining and snowing so we decided to duck into this upscale Chuckie Cheese type place (without Chuckie and all the cheese…). There were lots of families there playing air hockey and vending games. We went upstairs to play pool.

It was fun until the morals police came to tell me I could not play. I had an overwhelming urge to throw off my headscarf, undress, and dance naked on the pool table. But instead I went outside to take a walk. That was smarter.

Okay, so you can play miniature golf, air hockey, squash, and golf with men. You can sit on one’s lap in a shared taxi. You can ski or snowboard with a man. But you cannot play pool. Must be something in the Koran about that…

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Response to email

I am responding to this email in the blog, because it is filled with questions that I often receive in emails. It’s from Samantha:


I came accrossed your blog "A view from Iran." Firstly, I would like to say that it is quite well written and would like to thank you all for writing your opinions and perspectives when such might not be the best option in a highly regulated society.

Me: Thanks. Anybody who says that the blog is well-written must be smart, charming, and most wonderful.

Anyway, am I right in thinking that one of the writers is an American woman?

Me: That would be me. T.

Someday, probably within the next three years I would like to visit Tehran perhaps for only a week or two, but if possible working with a social work/development initiative.

I am curious as to the challenges big and small an American woman living in Tehran might face beyond the obvious regulations regarding wearing hijab/chador and gender segregations. For instance how do women seek public transport, accommodations etc?

Me: Public transport is no problem. The buses and metros are sex-segregated – Thank God. If you are a woman getting on to a crowded subway car, wouldn’t you rather be in a car crowded with women than one crowded with men? Women smell better. Plus they are nicer when packed in like sardines. The metros also have family cars that both men and women can ride in.

Women ride in the back of city buses. You often see buses half-filled with men practically standing on one another for space while the women are leisurely sitting. It’s not fair, but it works to our advantage.

Intercity buses are not nearly as sex-segregated. Families and couples can sit together, but a single man cannot sit next to a strange single woman.

Minibuses are just crowded. Shared taxis are also crowded. It’s a great place for Iranians on dates because physical proximity (think: sitting on one another’s laps) is permissible.

Accommodations are different for foreigners than for Iranians. Only on rare occasions would a foreign woman be hassled over accommodations.

How does one deal with nationalist contempt (or indeed not deal at all.) Is Iran "safe?" I am not really sure where to start with my questions, so any advice you give is welcomed.

Me: I have NEVER experienced any nationalist contempt. Iranians love foreigners (oh, that is if you are not Afghani or Arab.) On top of that, they adore Americans. I mean, we could not be more loved in Texas itself. It’s such a pleasure being loved. I have often used this space to encourage my fellow citizens to treat Iranians like princes and princesses when you meet them. That’s the way they treat me.

I always tell people that there is no one with more access in Iran than a western woman. We get access to both men and women. The dangers that exist in Iran are no different (for us) than the dangers we face in our own countries. I am not saying that Iran is the safest place on earth. All I am saying is that if you are not coming here to organize a revolution, then you should be okay by keeping up the normal defenses that you would anywhere else.
It’s all a big mistake…
A friend of mine that I will call "Jeff" wrote to tell me of a dream he had about Iran’s uranium enrichment program:

Your blog got me thinking and I remembered a dream I had some time ago.
I dreamt that the whole uranium enrichment program was a big misunderstanding – what the Iranian government was really embarking upon was an Iranian Enrichment Program. I'm not sure what that would be– some sort of cultural exchange, I suppose.

Iranians are tough negotiators. It’s clear to me that they understood that the EU was the more desperate of the two parties. The EU was desperate to show America that it could negotiate a treaty with Iran. Iranians had to have known this going in.

And what should Iran be desperate for? Iranians may be desperate for improved relations, but their government is not. They would like relations to be bad enough to keep them in power and good enough to keep their consuming citizens happy (or, should I say, complacent). Believe me, these guys are smarter than we are. I think that most people think that the regime is idealistic instead of what it really is: realpolitik-al (is that a word?)

Do they really think that we want to drink this stuff?

Last night I went to the pharmacy with K’s nephew. He needed some things, and I wanted some rubbing alcohol. They handed me a tiny bottle of rubbing alcohol. “Don’t you have anything bigger?” I asked. “Or is rubbing alcohol really expensive here?”

“No it’s cheap,” the woman answered and then called to her manager, “Should I get a bigger bottle for them?”

The manager came out to look at us. K’s nephew said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to drink the stuff. We have something much better at home.” This comment made the whole store full of people start laughing.

“I can give you two small bottles,” our clerk told us.

“Look, I just want to clean my ears with the stuff,” I said. I turned to my partner in crime and asked: “Do they really think we want to drink rubbing alcohol?”


“You’re joking.”

“Iranians do.”

“Well,” I responded, “I have often felt that I was being served rubbing alcohol. Now I know that it’s true.”

Anybody know where you can buy cat litter in Tehran?

Contact me: resoponses@gmail.com


A couple of friends of ours have been picked up for violating the Islamic dress code. (Which is what? I have been reading the Koran and so far the only thing I have read is that a woman should hide her private parts and her ornaments. What exactly does that mean? Isn’t the definition of “private parts” more social than religious? The whole hijab thing is seeming more like a fetish to me than any religious doctrine. It’s just like the injunction against eating pigs. Why make such a fuss over some parts and not about others? At this point, however, I have not completed reading the Koran, and I am *not* an expert.) They had to attend a class on hijab. I got the sense that it was kind of like driving school after being ticketed. “There were at least a 1000 people there. There was even a 14 year old girl. I mean, she was just a little girl,” our friend told me. “Everybody had at least one relative with them and some people brought there entire families. They showed us a film, gave us a lecture, and sent us home.”

The other night, I was stopped by one of these guards of Islam who did not realize that I was a foreigner. “You can’t dress like that,” he told me. I was baffled. I was wearing loose fitting Levi’s, a men’s baggy windbreaker, and my scarf. Without the scarf, they would have assumed I was a man. Only in a country like Iran could I have been accused of provocative dress.

K came to my rescue. He was livid. He really cannot abide anyone telling anyone else how to dress. The two other times that someone had the nerve to tell me that too much hair was showing, K really let loose with verbal abuse. “If I were to accept their comments and say nothing, this place would really be Hell,” he told me. “It’s none of their business.”

Monday, November 22, 2004

K used to complain about the flowers, streams, waterfalls, and mountains that made up a good portion of Iranian television viewing. Now he loves them. After Ramadan's grim and, frankly, nasty programming, we are both happy to watch flowers with Shajarian's voice singing along. Last night we both enjoyed watching birds flying across the tv screen.

During Ramadan our television viewing was dominated by anti-Israel, anti-America marches, war movies, children's war programs, and religious discussions. Iranian tv did show a few decent serials. The best was Mr. Mashallah about the family of a man who decides to find work in Malaysia. He pays some shady character--introduced to him by a member of his family—his entire life savings for a plane ticket and connections in Malaysia. The man cheats him. Mr. Mashallah feels he cannot face his family and pretends to be in Malaysia. It was funny, human, and sweet. There were a couple of other serials in this category as well, but I did not watch them.

Everyone in Iran (except for maybe the diplomats) watched Mr. Mashallah. It was far and away the most-watched program of the year. It was repeated three times each day, so there was a good chance you would get to see it. The most popular showing was about an hour after sunset. It was rare to get or make a phone call during that hour.

Iranian tv also showed the infamous Egyptian serial: Conspiracy of the Elders of Zion. In Persian it was called simply: Conspiracy. A live action children's program made during the Iran-Iraq war and shown during Ramada featured horrific war footage combined with live action animation of US and Israeli tanks running over dolls. A new children's cartoon features children being attacked by Israeli soldiers and tanks. Pretty grim programming for children.

Iranian tv is showing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 over and over again. The news is a vehicle for showing explosions in Iraq and Gaza. Every act of violence is blamed on a combination of America, Al Qaeda, and the Mossad (working together, I might add). Sports news is still okay. Last night we did see that horrible fight at the Pacers game. "Afghanistan must be okay," K commented. "They never show it."

I have been getting increasingly depressed about the television programming. Maybe it was always like this, and I am depressed only because my Persian has improved. Who knows? Our friend reassures me by saying, "Look the regime has given up on propaganda. It didn't work for the generation born after the revolution, and they don't really believe in it anymore."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Iran bows to EU pressure to freeze uranium programme

While negotiations between nations are always filled with brinksmanship, it's hard for me to believe that Iran will ever agree to an indefinite freeze on uranium enrichment. Iranians of all stripes think that Iran should have this capability. It does not seem to matter on what side of the political divide they sit. Many exiles agree. Why shouldn't Iran have the right to enrich uranium? they ask. They don't seem to question Iran's presumed need for nuclear warheads. (Meanwhile, many of them have demonstrated against nuclear power plants in their new countries.) In my whole time here, I have only met one person who disagreed with the government's policy, and he works for the Iranian government.

Look Iranians, you are getting parts from Russia: home of the Chernobyl disaster. Remember Chernobyl? Most of your buildings are not earthquake proof. I am going to personally ask you all to consider retro-fitting existing buildings, implementing a strict construction inspection regime, and making the inspectors bribe-proof before you enrich uranium.

It's just a personal request from me.

Thanks for considering it.

Friday, November 12, 2004


I have written before about the complicated system of manners that Iranians call tarof. When I first arrived I hated it. Then I grew accustomed to it. Then I learned more about it. And now…

Now I think it is one of the most dangerous factors affecting Iranian society. The thing is, Iranians agree with this assessment.

Exiled Iranians--who do not live in LA--have learned (for the most part) to love life without tarof. They have become direct and efficient. When they return to Iran (or when they visit LA), they experience major tarof shock. One friend described a trip to LA as "suffocating." Another friend visiting Iran after 19 years in Europe had this to say: "It’s just a way for people to do what *they* want to do. Tarof has nothing to do with my needs and desires as a guest. It's all about the host."

That's how I experienced tarof when I first arrived. As I learned to function within tarof, I learned to make it work for me as well. That's the point.

The point is that tarof is manipulative. It's a system of manipulation.

"It's so much better now," the same friend tells me. "At least people are talking about it now. Before, no one even spoke about tarof."

I know people who have not attended weddings because they did not want to tell surprise out-of-town guests that they had an appointment elsewhere. You can't expect to keep appointments here, but you can make them. And you do make them. A friend made a doctor's appointment 3 months in advance only to find that he was on vacation when she arrived at his office.

Tarof keeps people from being direct. It slows down the economy. It drives people crazy. Young Iranians are rebelling against it, and I wish them luck.

World Qods Day

Today is the day of a huge anti-Israel rally. World Qods Day. Qods is the name for the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem: the third holiest site in Islam. For two weeks, television programming has been mainly anti-Israel & anti-America. "They're getting people on to the streets again," K said, as we watched the early-morning coverage of the demonstration near the university in Tehran.

This, of course, is combined with the drama of Arafat's death. "They're saying that Israel poisoned him."

It's an election year in Iran. Most of the programming shows Rafsanjani and Khameini. Rafsanjani is poised to be the "once and future" president of Iran.

K and I were mesmerized by hours and hours of programming featuring Khameini meeting with the families of people killed during the Iran-Iraq war. (We watched for about an hour.) Families came who had lost all of their sons, one son, one husband, four brothers… They kissed Khameini. His aides wrote the names of the families. Khameini promised to visit some of them. Sometimes he gave a young man his checked scarf: a symbol of the Hezbollah. His aides brought him a new scarf.

Later in the week, we saw a speech by Khameini to students in Tehran. I recognized some of the students. (Believe it or not… K often recognizes people in the audience of speeches. That's the nature of Iran. It's not such a very big country.). They seemed to spontaneously and wholeheartedly break out into chants of "Death to America." About a month ago, in Isfahan, the crowd barely joined in for the obligatory "Death to America" chant. That said, it's impossible to gauge how Iranians feel about politics by their participation in chants and demonstrations. Superficial assessments get you nowhere in Iran.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Okay, here is my theory on why both the opposition and the regime in Iran support Bush. The regime is hoping for a close election that would leave Bush acting like he has a mandate without the actual mandate. Just like the last 4 years, btw. The best thing that could happen to the regime in Iran is a Bush electoral college win.

They would love to have four more years of Bush's rhetoric and the resulting wedge between America and the rest of the world. Kerry is too subtle for them.

The opposition hopes that Bush will have a clear victory that would show American support for Bush's policies. This, they believe, would keep the Iranian regime wondering whether or not they would be the next target.

That's just my theory... no more, no less.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Are you crazy?

When I go visit friends and family in America, they ask me if I am out of my mind to live here in Iran. Sometimes Iranians ask me the same question, but for reasons that may or may not surprise my family and friends. Iranians ask me because they think I am crazy to live somewhere where my freedoms are not respected. Americans ask me because I am an American and because I am not a Muslim.

I have many observant Islamic friends now. Not one of them would dream of enforcing his or her brand of Islam on me or anyone else. "I have never forced my daughter to pray or wear hijab or practice any part of Islam," one of our friends tells me. "She has come to the practice herself, by her own choice." This view is the prevalent one among our friends and family.

This attitude does not seem to be limited to our friends and family. Taxi drivers express similar sentiments without any prompting. Total strangers do the same. A group of young people approached me to practice their English and said something similar to me. I am not a pollster, but I presume that this view is prevalent among Iranians. We'll have to find out.

That said, I get the sense that they would all be thrilled if I converted. That sentiment is not confined to Muslims by any stretch of the imagination. When you practice a minority religion, you notice how often people of a variety of faiths try to convert you.

We were in Isfahan on a recent Friday and could not help hearing the Friday prayers. They are broadcast all over the place. The mullah's Friday sermon contained the obligatory anti-American, anti-European sentiment. This time, the mullah said that Americans and Europeans were actively trying to change Iranian culture through clothing and music. "If Americans were influencing the clothing of Iranian youth," I told our friends, "they would be wearing loose jeans and sweatshirts." Our friends laughed.

I asked Iranians we met if they felt Americans were unfairly influencing their culture. The Iranians laughed and said, "Bring it on!" or "Not enough."

"But Iranians are so materialistic," a European friend commented. "They are so brand conscious – don't you think that is our fault?"

"I heard it was even worse in the time of the Shah," I responded. "I think Iranians come by this naturally."

Iran has a strong culture and a strong sense of history. Somehow they seem to assimilate assaults on their culture. Fast food places here seem, somehow, Iranian. Pop music seems Iranian. Dire Straits sound Iranian when their music is played here. So does Metallica. So does Sheena Easton. I don't know how to describe it. They just seem to be part of Iranian culture instead of an attack on it. Maybe that is because they do not displace Shajarian or Mansour. Even satellite television does not displace the homegrown Iranian serial/soap opera.

We Americans have done such a bad job of communicating with this region of the world. Why then, do you ask, is the view Iranians have of Americans so different from the view their neighbors have? Partly, I think it is because of the sheer number of Iranian expatriates living all over the world. These emigrants are great PR people. Everywhere I go, I meet people with relatives living outside of Iran. This is as true of the wealthy as the poor. I have even met a Nomadic family with a brother living in Germany. We need to learn from the way they represent our world to their families and friends.

When I read about terrorist acts all over the world, I do not see them as attacks against America. I don't even see them as attacks against what America represents. The facts just do not support this view. Synagogues, Mosques, Temples, and Churches have all been attacked. Cinemas, dancehalls, restaurants, and buses have been attacked. People all over the world have been the victims of terrorism. The majority of those victims have not been Americans. These attacks are attacks against diversity, pluralism, tolerance, faith, and modernism. I do not see them as calls for help or acts of desperation, but as acts of intolerance and blinding fear. Our language of fear is contributing to this. When we respond with fear, we use the same language as the people who would seek to terrorize us. When we respond with absolutes, we let them set the tone of the debate. Suffice to say, I think that we are fucking up.

BTW, I read William Safire's article about the vote in Afghanistan. It is really optimistic, but it jibes with what we unofficially hear in Iran. Iranians are extremely optimistic about Afghanistan. (They are also optimistic about Iraq. So you decide how much weight you want to put on their optimism) Iran is crawling with ballot workers who worked collecting the votes of Afghans living here. Here is what one friend told me: "People lined up for hours. They were so thrilled to be able to vote. I could not help but be thrilled for them. There were men and women in their 70s and 80s who had never voted and who could barely contain their excitement. It was so moving for me."

We don't have to be cynical about everything, do we?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Death of a Bagel Man

Sam Lender is dead…

When my great aunt was coming to visit us from Chicago, she asked us what we wanted. My mother said, "Just bring bagels." We lived in a bagel-deprived community and always got bagels from relatives living in St. Louis, Chicago, or New York.

My great aunt arrived with a long story about how she spent hours searching for just the right bagel. Needless to say, we were thrilled. She reached into the bag to hand us our prize: a dozen Lender's bagels.

Your gas guzzler…

…is funding the Shahab Missile project. Think about that next time you get behind the wheel.

I am not excusing the Iranian government for making the decision to extend the range of the Shahab missile: no, not that. I am just telling you that you are funding it.

Iran could use the excess money from oil sales to put emergency preparedness procedures in place in the event of the inevitable earthquakes. Japan has monthly drills. Everyone in the US has practiced getting out of their school or workplace. What about Iran? If I go into a building and ask people where all of the stairways are, they look at me with disbelief. Why would I want to know that?

Oh, and by the way, the mullahs support Bush.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Garden of Heaven

…at the Garden of heaven. For a long time now, I confused the word for "Garden" (Bagh-eh) with the word for Dad (Babba). So when people told me that they were going to the cemetery (literally for Muslims: Garden of Heaven), I knew where they were going, but I heard "Jeanette's Father" (Farsi speakers will understand my meaning).

I still cannot get over a Thursday visit to the graveyard. It is absolutely packed with visitors. On a recent visit, we were surrounded by a huge group of people commemorating the 40th day after their relative's death. People were everywhere: they were standing on graves, drinking punch and eating dates, and introducing wives and husbands. We arrived late: after the requisite, tear-your-hair-out mourning. It seemed to me that we had stumbled on an engagement party. The smiles were broad. Children were jumping and playing. There was plenty of laughter to go around.

At first I thought that either the person whose death they were commemorating was despised or very old. I think the second was true. There were too many people present for a despised person.

I enjoyed watching. It did, I notice, anger the regular mourners just a bit. They have been visiting the graves of their loved ones every Thursday since they died. I am thinking particularly of the mothers of sons who tragically died in car accidents. There are too many of these mothers at the graveyard and too many of their sons buried below the ground.

K was appalled by the state of the graveyard. Kids practice their aim by throwing rocks through the windows of the mausoleums. Garbage was strewn everywhere. The pavilion that hosts funerals is just an empty metal structure: "And Iran calls itself the center of handicrafts...? Why don't they have some on display here?"

K has a constant running commentary on the state of Iran. He is disgusted with the poor craftsmanship, the lack of will, the corruption, religion, politics, news, football, street decorations, earthquake preparedness. Almost every time we get in a taxi he starts with his complaints. By the end of the ride, he usually has the entire car in stitches. When he is really on a roll, he has his entire audience joining in. It might sound like all he does is whine, but it is a particularly funny and astringent whiner. I see a future for him as a stand-up comic.

I am more like a temp. Once I worked as a temp at a failing company. It was fantastic. I learned a lot. I did not get emotionally involved. I didn't care about the bad management, the bad policies, or the failure of the company. I just cared about getting my work done and learning as much as I could while I was there. That's what it's like for me here. I am a temp in Iran.

Armenian is synonymous with Christian in Iran. They have a special place in Iranian society. The Iranian majority thinks that the Armenian minority is more honest and direct than they are. This of course means that the slightest deviation from those expectations is met with extreme disappointment and even prejudice.

All of the Armenians I meet want to talk to me about America. They want to know about Irvine, Pasadena. Orange County, Beverly Hills, Boston, New York, and Chicago. They plan to meet family in America. They are all waiting for green cards or planning to ask for refugee status in Vienna. "Every Iranian has a plan to leave," K's nephew told me.

I sometimes envy the deep roots of people who stay put. Lately, however, I have been so pleased with my rootlessness. I do not envy the Armenian or Jewish populations of Iran with their deep roots in the country and in the history of Iran/Persia/…. I do not envy the sense of history, the memory of oppression and terror, the memory and reality of fear. I am so happy my family made the decision to move to America and cut their ties with a certain type of past. The gift they gave me was the gift of fearlessness, and I thank them for that.

I am happy with my American sense of history: as something that can be overcome. There will always have to be an America: a place where people can go to reinvent themselves and their histories. I get a sense that history remembered is history doomed to be repeated.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Mullah Factory

1.6 million…
…Mullahs. 70 million people. You do the math.

Iran is a mullah factory.

I made our cab driver laugh…
When I quoted this figure to him. It makes every Iranian I know laugh. I bet it makes the mullahs laugh too.

The cab driver eventually dropped us off at Derakeh which is a small area in the mountains filled with restaurants and tea houses. While we were eating dinner with K's nephew, A's mother called. She had found him a wife: a medical student, something of a beauty, with good prospects. The last time I spoke with her about arranged marriages she told me how much her daughters hated the idea of a young man they hardly know coming around to ask for their hands in marriage. "One time I let a young man and his mother come over to see if E would marry him. E was so angry!" I asked, "What kind of a young man gets his mother to arrange his dates?" A's mother said, "Exactly my thoughts."

This is exactly why we all thought she was joking when she called A to see if he wanted to meet this woman. K got on the phone and told her that all marriages had to be arranged through him first. I told her that A was definitely ready for a wife. "But he wants one with an American or EU passport," I told his mother.

At a certain point, the conversation turned serious. A got agitated. He called his mother all sorts of sweet names, a sure sign of agitation. This was even more humorous to watch than when we thought it was a joke. "Are you serious, my heart's delight?" he asked his mother. "No, no, no." A found all sorts of sweet ways to say no.

A is exactly the kind of young man who does not want his mother to make dates for him.

But at a certain point, most mothers want to see their sons settled down with a nice wife, don't they?

When I asked A about the phone call he said, "It was scary. My mom thinks I am going to leave Iran. She doesn't want me to go. That's why she is trying to find me a wife."

Sunday, October 10, 2004

SMS tricks

…20 years of Intelligence operations…

That was the text message sent to Iranian mobile phone users today from the Intelligence Ministry.

That guy and his 50 planes
A few nights ago Iranian television showed a couple of hours of extracts from the satellite program of the guy who promised to bring freedom to Iran in the guise of 50 airplanes filled with government opponents. It was all designed to make him look bad.

Khomeini did not hate America?
Can it be true that Khomeini did not really hate America? Apparently new writings are being published that show that he opposed the infamous "Death to America" rallies.

Prozac Nation…not quite yet…
I often fantasize about owning the Prozac contract for Iran. The whole nation suffers from depression. There is such a pervasive aura of helplessness here. "No one takes care of themselves," K's nephew told me. "No one takes responsibility. No one takes action."

"The will of the country is so broken," K told me after a week of traveling. "Everywhere I go people are so indecisive and corrupt. It's like everything is broken."

Unlike Iranians living outside of Iran, resident Iranians have an inferiority complex. Nothing Iranian is good enough unless it was made hundreds of years ago. They do not trust themselves. They do not like themselves very much. They are so confident of their inferiority, in fact, that they believe themselves to be the center of the world. They exaggerate everything they do wrong. They claim that they live in the worst country in the world with the worst government. They all say they want to move to America. And then, and then, dig a little deeper and they are proud of Iran and proud to be Iranian. As a culture, Iranians display the symptoms of individual depression. They can be listless, apathetic, and negative with flashes of energy and pride.

Iranians are caught in a blip of history. They cannot see their way out of it alone, but I am convinced that only they can succeed in bringing about change and reform. Everyone asks me, "When will America come?" (which surprises me given the daily news about Iraq… but then, they do not see themselves as analogous to Iraq) I usually answer, "America is not coming."

Iranians imagine a surgical operation that could simply remove their problem for them and leave them happy and healthy. "They think that America has a bomb that just kills mullahs," a non-resident Iranian tells me.

Resident Iranians blame themselves for the revolution. They blame the mullahs for the regime. Iranians in exile take the moral high ground: after all, many were the opposition. That said, a friend of ours recently told us that it was a good thing the communists lost. "At least the mullahs are practical," he says. "I have a friend who says that if we had won, Iran would be Cambodia."

Monday, October 04, 2004


We were coming back from a friend's house last week when we turned onto a street flooded by bright green neon lights and strewn with multi-colored Christmas (well not Christmas…) lights. It was all done to celebrate the birth of Mehdi, the hidden Imam. In the coming week chartreuse and pink flags line the streets of Tehran along with a poster showing a flower-filled soldier who is supposed to represent Mehdi.

Iranians have been laughing at me all week as I struggle to learn how to say hidden in Farsi. I try the Imam who got lost, the Imam you cannot see, the Imam you are looking for. I, myself, got a lot of entertainment from watching them laugh at me.

The lights for Mehdi are an addition to the already light-strewn cities. Every city in Iran has light sculptures. For my American readers, imagine that the neighbor (every neighborhood has one) who feels compelled to do an elaborate, but not too well-done, light show for every single holiday were given an entire country to decorate. Tehran has peacocks and horses and flowers made of lights. Ahwaz has palm trees and butterflies. Many cities by the Caspian Sea have giant roosters (why roosters?) and flower-filled vases. Small towns have more modest tulips. One place, I cannot remember where right now, had gnomes.

Once in a taxi I asked a fellow traveler if Iran was light-crazy before the revolution. "I was just a small boy then," he answered. "I don't remember." He asked the driver if he remembered. "Vwhy Babba," (this is the way I hear it. Iranians say this when they mean the California style "Dude" or the NY style "Yo". In this sense the term was inflected in a way that meant: "Dude: pay attention") "These lights showed up just 5 years ago."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Sponge Bob

I have a confession to make, I love the cartoon Sponge Bob Square Pants. I especially love Sandy the squirrel. She is such an amazing character, with her little aqua suit and her treadmill. So it is with no disrespect meant when I say that many of the mosques in Iran remind me of characters from the cartoon. Imagine the central dome like the head of an octopus with two skinny arms raised to the sky for the hazzans. I can't help but think that the mosques are alive.

Khomeini's tomb, on the other hand, feels like it was designed by Disney for the live action version of Aladdin. It is huge and gold.

Compared to the dusty, drab architecture of most of Iran, the mosques are a welcome diversion. They have such vivid colors and dramatic shapes and style. If it were not for the mosques, Iran would be an architectural wasteland of yellow brick and marble façade boxes. Architects! Iran needs you.

3 days to Freedom

There is this guy in America with his own television show who claims that he is bringing 50 planes to Iran on Friday in order to bestow freedom on this fine land.

How are Iranians responding? For them it is like the opening 5 minutes of Saturday Night Live. They think it's funny. Everyone I speak to is amused by the whole idea. Today I heard people joking about it. One claimed that it was a plot by the mullahs.

First of all, it is a logistical nightmare. Anyone who has ever landed in Iran's international airport would understand that. I guess he could land in Iraq and then bus the passengers of the 50 planes in, but that seems a bit silly as well.

They could parachute into the country.

They could all get visas and wait their turn on one of the airlines that flies into the country.

I guess we'll all know the outcome 3 days from now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Normal Life

What does normal life feel like?

K and I recently took a trip to Europe where there seem to be many more devout Muslims than in Iran. The Islamic women wore a range of clothing from complete veil to simple scarf. Islamic dress seems to be more a matter of culture than religion. For instance, Moroccan women use tight black scarves to tie their hair back behind their head. The scarves are form-fitted to their own hair and have interesting knots in them. Turkish women wear their scarves pinned in some complex way on their heads. Their scarves are mainly drab with the occasional drab flower printed onto the scarf. Many of these devout women wear clothes that could get them arrested in Iran. (No wonder devout Iranian women chafe at the restrictions on dress.) Despite this, none of the devout women we saw in Europe showed even a strand of hair.

This is not the case here. I have seen women in chadors with fringe showing. The newest fashion is to wear a scarf that covers neither the front nor the back of the hair. This means that women with long hair let it hang down out of the back of the scarf.

When K and his family and I went out to eat the other night, I was wearing one of the longest manteaus to be seen that evening. Mine reaches my knees. It's last year's model. The newest fashions just cover the ass. I don't really feel like keeping up with manteau fashion myself. I'll just wear mine until it falls apart.

Why do I write this? Because I want to tell you what normal feels like. Normal is that religious and devout women have friends who are secular. Normal is having observant cousins and atheist cousins. Normal is a Republican woman married to a Democratic man.

My great aunt kept kosher, my grandmother (her sister) loved bacon (the other kosher meat), my grandfather's sister shaved her head and wore a wig. K's mother never took off her headscarf. He has a photo of me in a swimming suit sitting next to his mother in her scarf and long shirt. We are both happy. That's normal.

We recently had dinner with some friends in a hidden restaurant with actual atmosphere and professional service. There were all sorts of people there: families with all of the women in chadors and families with women barely wearing headscarves. Our host managed to procure whiskey for us, which meant that we were actually eating and drinking in a nice restaurant. It all felt so frigging normal.

Normal is such a simple thing.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Elections & Locusts

I wrote a long boring review of the events of the summer and decided not to post it. Suffice to say that the Olympics are way cool. That's all I have to say. I am no longer an Olympics cynic. I can't, however, help hating the opening and closing ceremonies (not the parade of nations, mind you.). Speaking of the parade of nations, didn't it seem like half the countries represented were wearing the KLM flight attendant uniform?

Okay, jump to the present. Two things: elections and locusts.

While the rest of the world might be worrying about whether or not Iran is about to become a nuclear power, (Iranians actually think that the earthquake in Bam was the result of an underground nuclear test.) Iran is worried about locusts. Every night on the news we see footage of the locusts in Africa. There is a very real danger that they might make their way to Iran. These locusts are truly a plague of Biblical proportions.

To all my Iranian conspiracy theorist friends: underground nuclear tests can be detected. An article on the Lawrence Livermore Labs website (http://www.llnl.gov/str/Carrigan.html) tells how the radiation finds its way to the surface through fissures and, yes, faults.

Iranians are all asking me about the US elections. "Kerry was up in the polls," an Iranian friend says.

"That was yesterday," I told him. "Today it's Bush."

"My God," another friend said, "Can't Americans make up their minds?"

There was a discussion of which candidate to support. Half of the table was pro-Kerry and the other half was pro-Bush. "Bush is much better for Iran," the initiator of the conversation said.

"Who will win?" They ask me. (I have noticed that Iranians never ask me who I think will win. They always ask me: "Who will win?" Maybe it's an artifact of the language itself. Maybe it is representative of the conspiratorial mindset of Iranians.)

"Bush," I answer.

"No, Kerry will win," says another.

"If the world votes, Kerry will win." (Which is precisely Kerry's problem, I think. Americans really rankle at being subjected to world opinion. Perhaps it's an irrational response.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting, and a truck stop in Qom

We were on our way to Khorram Abad when we stopped to have tea and eggs at a truck stop in Qom. I like this particular truck stop, which is also a motel, because the restrooms are so frigging clean. There is a courtyard leading to a small mosque and the restrooms for men and women. Painted on the wall is a mural clearly inspired by Bob Ross via his television show: "The Joy of Painting."

Who knows when we first discovered Bob Ross and his happy trees, big brushes, and palette knives? It must have been channel surfing one day and hearing his soothing voice say "There…" My sister watched it with her husband to be all through college. "It was the perfect program for Sunday morning when you'd been out too late." (She probably meant: Sunday afternoon.)

The fact is Bob Ross is everywhere and appears just when you need him. He's like the Virgin Mary. I used to believe that the next great religion would have Elvis as its prophet, but now I am convinced that Bob Ross is a more likely candidate. He has to be much more popular worldwide than Elvis. Take Iran, for example, his show appears on television here and his kits and books are translated and prominently displayed in bookstore windows. Elvis, however, is nowhere to be found. (Although Metallica, The Eagles, and Eminem are all popular.)

I am not sure what makes him so compelling. Posters at the Jump the Shark website talk about his afro and his soothing voice and his anti-cool confidence. Maybe that's it. There is also something so cool about watching someone create a painting or drawing right before your eyes. To me it does not matter how much I may or may not like the style. It is a kind of magic. (I am still mesmerized by Mr. Drawing Board from Captain Kangaroo) And what is amazing is that people actually can learn the Bob Ross style. I saw a whole show of Bob Ross paintings created by a 7th grade art class. I was pretty amazed. Learning the style gave these kids so much confidence.

It's soothing too, to be in a strange country, close to its theological heart, and see a mural clearly inspired by Bob Ross. It's as though his ultra-mellow voice is speaking to you from the painting itself. For those of you traveling to Iran, you can check out the mural on the road leading from Tehran to Qom (unfortunately, you cannot get there from the reverse direction.). There is a motel on the right side of the road that has good pizza, good eggs, good coffee, and clean restrooms. This is not the only Bob Ross inspired painting in Iran. I will pay more attention in the future and list more of them.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I might actually start writing again. Until then, check out this article:

Bad Jens - Iranian Feminist Journal: "Performance in Everyday Life and the Rediscovery of the 'Self' in Iranian Weblogs"

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Movies, tests, and…

Protests? No.

Our friend K came over to visit Friday afternoon. We went to an outdoor café for lunch. "I was watching the tv with my brother and it was all about how Tehran is up in arms and that there is a revolution and that there are fights all over the city."

We sat in the garden of the restaurant watching the fountain. I heard "…fights all over the city" and thought of boxing. "Iranian tv?" I asked.

"Los Angeles. They were like 'Get out into the streets. The revolution is happening.'"

"There weren't even police checkpoints last night. This year is a lot calmer," I said.

"Concour," K (my husband) said.


"They had the tests for the university yesterday," his nephew explained. (There were 4 of us at lunch.)

"They are smart," we all agreed. (Which reminds me, K's niece and nephew have been here all week taking exams for the university. They could have bought the answer key to the tests, but they did not want to cheat. More power to them, I say.)

Reporters come to Iran and are taken in by the openness of the youth and the agitation and discomfort they see all over the country. They think that everyone is ready for political change. Frankly, I am more and more convinced that the agitation and depression expressed by Iran's youth have more to do with sex than with politics. Lately I have noticed bigger and bigger groups of young people mixing without being harassed by the police. Politics have taken a backseat to sex.

The other thing I have noticed is that television is much better when any unrest is possible. This weekend (Thurs. & Fri) you could have watched The Deer Hunter, Frenzy, Fellini's Roma, Jumanji, a Disney cartoon about Dinosaurs, and more that I am sure I missed.

I saw a brief anti-American demonstration as well. (I did not see all the movies I mentioned… there is too much to do for that). It was clear from the tight camera angle that there were no more than 20 people involved. I think you could gather more people in Austin, Texas.

I am taking a break from writing. Maybe I will write more than I think, but I am planning to take about 5 weeks off. Check back later.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Burnt out

Lately I have not wanted to write. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that I have had no desire to be polite. Part of the problem is that as my Persian improves so does my understanding of the television news. Now, like most Iranians we know, I just want to watch sports news. Aahh, women's archery: great! News about high school wrestling: double great. Water polo? You guessed it: wonderful. Football: can't get enough.

About a month ago, one paper had a headline reading that the government was looking for 2000 volunteers for suicide missions against Americans and Israelis. This, of course, caused ordinary Iranians to laugh. They found it ridiculous.

Last week, the Tehran Times had an editorial about the recent beheadings. It started off quite reasonably with a tirade against the beheadings and against the attempt of the terrorists to align themselves with Islam. The next step was to give a little slap in the face to fellow Sunni clerics who, the paper claimed, were not vociferous enough in their condemnation. The following paragraph blamed the terrorism in the middle East on Zionist forces and claimed that the beheaders were aligned with Israel.

After midnight, I have caught this little music video in English about how Islam is a religion of peace. It's a kind of We Are the World type song. Only the melody is worse. Listening, I could not help wondering, why couldn't they get Cat Stevens to write this tune? Could it possibly be more insipid? No way.

Cab drivers

Obviously we do not have a car, which is why we talk to so many cab drivers. So here is the cab driver update:

Lately, I have found myself in some customized cabs. One had quilt padding on its ceiling. A little crystal lamp hung from the middle. There was a wild array of checked and paisley fabric with green, pink, and yellow plastic baubles everywhere. I loved it.

Another cab was covered with medallions and badges. There were rhinestone eagles and horses, a pair of lovebirds, symbols from a variety of countries, and a small silver Statue of Liberty. The driver was a veteran of the war with Iraq and spent the trip discussing his experiences in the military with K. He was a gentle and sweet man.

Another had seats covered with cowhide.

One driver told us that one out of three drivers is an intelligence agent. I wonder if he was?

Another driver discussed the Gypsy Kings and the song "Hotel California." (Is there a more popular song in the entire world?)

Another driver was thrilled to find out I was American. "May you live a long life," he told me. "I myself never say 'Down with America.' I say, 'Long live America.' That's what I am saying."

"Iranians are the only people in the world who still love us," I said.

"No. That's not true. Everyone loves Americans. So maybe we do not like your government, but we like the people. Are there nicer people in the whole world? America is a great country, and Americans are nice people."

K actually agreed that Americans are nice. I was surprised.

The driver asked me about Bush and whether or not he would be reelected. I could not say.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Have I just gotten used to it, or is there actually less pollution in Tehran this summer? I mean, I can actually see the mountains and black junk is not coming out my nose (yet). By no stretch of the imagination is the air clean, but it does seem to be better.

One reason might be that the stinky, diesel spewing, public buses are being replaced by new natural gas buses. You get behind one of those buses and you don't smell a thing. It's great.

Oh yeah… and one more thing about my Dad…
Last night before I went to bed, I was thinking about mushball when I remembered the Dear Abby part of the story… so here goes.

There were a few times when there were not enough men for both teams. On those days (which were rare), my father would play for both teams. He would stay in the outfield the whole game, taking just a couple of minutes each inning to bat. I did not understand how he could play for both teams. I remember asking him, "How can you play against yourself?" I don't remember his answer, but I do remember his laugh.

What I did learn is that it is possible to be both competitive and cooperative. And everyone has more fun when the two are combined.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

Happy Father's Day

And mother's day, and any birthdays I know I have missed.

My father wants cards for father's day. Honestly, he should just be happy that I can remember it at all! ;)

But I do… So this is dedicated to both my parents and to my whole family.

When I told my mother that my family would always be more important to me than K, she said, "K is your family." Such a simple thing to say…such an important message to me. It is because of the lessons I have learned from my own parents that I have learned to treasure my own relationship. This is the first thing that I have to thank them for.

I am disorganized, scattered, and unfocused. I have my parents to thank for this. These qualities have made my life endlessly interesting and really quite wonderful. So this is the second…

Once we get past two, there are too, too many things to say. The one thing I want to stress is ho amazing it is that small things become so important to your life. I remember little conversations, one-time events, an hour or two spent with family and friends. These memories have such power. I keep learning from them and enjoying them.

For instance, I remember watching my Dad play mushball (16 inch softball) at our grade school's field. The police came because a classroom window had been broken. "Are you kidding," one of the men said. "You think we could hit this mush ball that far? It had to be one of the golfers." My dad went up to bat next and hit the ball farther than anyone had ever seen the mushball hit. "Good thing the cops weren't here to see that," one of the men commented.

I remember sitting with my mother and brother at the Chinese restaurant near my mom's store. My brother was complaining about my father's temper. "Why is it that he gets mad at me one minute and is my best friend the next?" my brother asked.

"Would you prefer it if he held a grudge?" my mother asked.

That was that. No more complaining.

And I remember jumping from a dune on the shore of Lake Michigan and wishing that my parents would let us go into the water that was over our heads.

I cannot describe the good luck I feel at having been born into my family. I only wish that I could spend more time than I do with all of them. Thanks you guys.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Tornado country

Just in case you *do* live in tornado country, The Onion has this helpful advice:
The Onion | Infograph.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

All earthquake, all the time…

Iran is a rumor mill. After the earthquake in Bam, there were all sorts of rumors. Some people said that the earthquake was caused by an underground atomic test. Others said that the people of Bam were warned the night before. Every little tremor in the country was reported on which gave people the illusion that the small tremors were not normal. People have said that America has a new satellite that can predict earthquakes all over the world; others have claimed that x-rays will give them the information they need to predict the "Big One."

Every time you turn on the television here, there is a discussion about earthquakes. Predicting an earthquake is still impossible; predicting an earthquake is possible; what to do in an earthquake; what not to do… that sort of thing. Honestly, I am not interested in long-term predictions. I do not care if you can tell me that in the next 10 months there will be an earthquake. That's like telling someone in Oklahoma that there will be a tornado this summer. What I want is a few minutes, but I'll settle for a few seconds. This article says that a few second warning is indeed possible: (http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/science/20040602-9999-1c2warn.html). If you give me a few seconds, I'll go outside with a mattress on my head. How about it? Is the Iranian government willing to spend $20 million on an earthquake warning system? Seems like a good deal to me.

More talks with taxi drivers
"The problem with Iran," the driver told us, "is that we are not free. That is our problem. Khatami has been great. He has opened things up a lot and life has gotten better for us."

"I don't know why the government is complaining about America in Iraq… for 8 years, during the war, all we heard was how bad Saddam Hussein was. Now they want us to be unhappy that America removed him? Why? America did the right thing, and they are still doing the right thing."

"When the new government comes in, there will be a civil war. The government bothers young people too much. Young people cannot take it anymore. We will have a civil war."

"Make sure to tell Americans that we are not their enemy. Iranians are not the enemies of America."

Friday, June 04, 2004


At about 10:25 every evening almost every television set in Iran is tuned to channel 3 to watch a show that almost everyone calls "Bamshad" but which is actually called Nokhte Cheen (Dotted Line). If you walk down the streets of any city in Iran at that time, you will hear the sound of the show coming from almost every home. If you don't have a tv yourself, all you have to do is open your windows and listen. People with satellites turn to the domestic channel for this program. Advertisers have learned that Iranians watch this show. As a result, it now has the most advertising of any show I have seen in Iran.

The show is funny. Even for me, with my limited understanding of the nuances of Persian and day-to-day culture. Bamshad, while not exactly the star, is irresistible. Fat himself, he wears a very obvious fake belly that accentuates his weight. At first this character annoyed me, but like everyone else, I have grown to love him. Especially when he sings.

Just two nights ago, the topic of the show was the earthquake. The characters ran out into the streets, camped in a park, kept their hands on the walls to anticipate tremors, and pretty much gave us all an opportunity to laugh at our own behavior. We also were treated to Bamshad's singing. He sings one song about how "you" broke "your" promises. You can hear people singing this song themselves in every corner (that I have been in) of Iran.

Before and after Bamshad, there is news and anti-American propaganda. One piece of anti-American propaganda features the statue of liberty spinning against a red background. Her flame morphs into a cup of skulls. Her face morphs into a skull as well. A man sings an anti-American song while the words to the song run along the bottom of the screen: kind of the bouncing ball effect. K's niece was thrilled to discover that the statue actually existed in America.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Who doesn't like a song they can sing along to? Having a good voice doesn't matter. It's just singing that matters.

Iranians love their music. They love their own pop music and their own classical music and their own folk music. On a bus crowded with hip, young students, the driver was playing Haida (I am sure most of my transliterations of Farsi or incorrect. Just say them aloud with an American accent, and you may have an idea of what I am hearing), and the students were all singing along.

In an intercity taxi, our driver was playing a selection of Iranian tunes, and everyone was singing. On one cross-country trip, I heard the pop star Mansour so much that my dreams were permeated with his lyrics for weeks (Divuneh shod divoneh: I am going crazy; Beza bereem: Let's go; Azizah delehman: My sweetie).

Music does not divide generations (yet) in Iran. Sure, people listen to Western and Arabic pop, Electronica, Haitian and African music, and too much Celine Dion,… Sure Eminem graffiti is everywhere along with Metallica grafitti… but most Iranians also listen to and love their homegrown music as well.

The day after the earthquake, threats of aftershocks kept everyone running in and out of their houses and places of work all day. First our neighbor walked up and down the street getting people out of their houses. "They say an earthquake is coming." Everyone came out of their houses. I tried to explain that I thought earthquake prediction was not quite possible, but apparently there was a small quake that only I and the seismograph noticed. (There are probably tons of those small quakes every single day.)

Second, K's brother called to tell us that the police were calling schools and telling them to take the students out, so we went outside again. Then a friend's mother called… then the tv news said to leave your house. The next day's news said: don't worry. This news made everyone worry more.

People are scared of Tehran. K's family keeps telling me to come visit them. "No way are we coming to Tehran," people outside the city say. It's not hard to imagine an earthquake destroying Tehran. In fact, it is hard not to imagine it.

I have been terrified of earthquakes my whole life. I blame it on my Old Testament childhood. All those Bible stories must have seeped into my unconsciousness somehow. Not that being scared of earthquakes is not smart, just that I don't really know why I have always been scared of them.

Thanks to Kaveh for this link:
To the USGS info on the quake in Iran.

Friday, May 28, 2004


There was a 6.2 earthquake 70 kilometers north of Tehran, which we felt. The house shook, and it took me about 2 seconds to get out and onto the streets. Our whole neighborhood was there. People were shaken and friendly. We all milled about for about 30 minutes before going back into our houses.

K is putting together an emergency evacuation pack. "Aren't you supposed to do that before the earthquake," my sister, an earthquake veteran, joked.

I don't mind saying that I was scared, and that I still feel a bit woozy from my fear. The earthquake occurred in the north of Iran, which has much more wood structures than any other part of Iran. A 6.2 in Tehran itself would be devastating.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Marmulak (Lizard)

One of our stops on our travels around Iran was Khorramabad. We stopped there to visit the castle-like structure that dominates its skyline. From our short visit, I can say that Khorramabad is kind of a strange place. It is a city dominated by men. The women you do see mainly wear chadors or simple black. Even beige seems colorful. On the other hand, under the women's chadors, you can catch a glimpse of sequins, flowers, and bright, bright colors. According to our Iranian friends, most of the men from Khorramabad were sepa, pasdaran, or basigi. This means they were either volunteers or in the elite forces. This is a religious city where people take their daily prayers seriously. I say this, because as we were ascending into the castle we heard a group of men joking with each other. The older men were teasing a young man about his decision to study to become a "marmulak." Everyone, especially the young man, laughed. Later, when we were walking on the streets, we heard "Marmulak!" from a cab filled with young men. The appellation was directed at the cleric who was walking nearby.

Marmulak is the Persian word for lizard. It is also, by far, the most popular movie in Iran. It is Iran's Shrek 2. Everyone we meet in Iran is talking about the movie. "I had to wait 2 hours for a ticket," one of our young friends told us. "But it was great. The best movie of the year. No doubt."

From what I can gather, Marmulak is a series of comic sketches that poke fun at Iran's clerics. K and I tried to see it last week, but the line for tickets stretched several blocks. Last week was supposed to be the last night of the movie. The government belatedly decided to pull it from the theaters. "It is a symbolic gesture," K's nephew told me. If Khorramabadis are making jokes at the expense of the clerics, the film has already permeated every level of society.

You can get bootleg copies of the film at stores all over Iran. Some are even selling the uncensored version, which many of the people we spoke with saw. "It has 20 more minutes of uncensored comedy," K's brother told us. "You have to see it."

One should not make the mistake of thinking that just because Iranians are laughing at their clerics that they have lost their faith in Islam. Praise for the film has come from some of our most religious friends. K's sister, who is a believer, loved the movie. Iranians, I think, have lost faith in their clerical elite and in the utopian vision of an Islamic society. All well and good I think.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Women, again

"Women would be much less sexy if they were not wearing manteaus," K's brother told us the other day. "They are so tight and sexy looking now, it would be better if the women were wearing their normal clothes."

It's hard to believe that in certain areas of Iran, women will not be dressing according to their own tastes by next summer. Things could change of course, but right now, many more young women than last summer wear their scarves low on the back of their head. (The best thing to do, it seems, is pull your hair back in a ponytail and then rest the scarf on it.)

The hemlines have come up and the waste lines have come in. It's fashionable to wear manteaus so tight that the buttons are stretched. At first I thought that women were just buying their manteaus too small or gaining weight. When I went to buy a new one a couple of months ago, the sales clerks all tried to convince me that the manteau that was too small for me was the one I should get. "It's too tight," I told them. "It looks better too tight," they responded. It was then that I finally caught on to the trend. D'oh.

On our travels we talked to many groups of young women. At one tourist spot we met a group of about 20 university students who wanted me to explain to the family we were traveling with that they were dressed conservatively because they were in university. "But they look so great," the man of the family commented. I had to agree, they did look great.

The thing I keep saying about Iranian women is that they are really fun and really different when no men are around. (They can be fun when men are around too, but not as…) One of our friends told us a story that reinforces this point. He went to Damascus last year with a tour group of about 45 people from about 12 different (mainly Western) countries.

"There were busloads of women making pilgrimages to Damascus. You could always tell when a busload of Iranian women had arrived. You could hear them laughing with each other before they got out of their buses. Then they would get out and come directly to our group and start taking pictures of us. This was a bit strange for us because we were the ones use to making the pictures," he laughed. "Within five minutes the women were all practicing their English with our group. The other women from different countries never approached us. Only the Iranian women."

We related this story to K's sisters. "Iranian women are more religious than Iranian men," they told us. "That's why we go on more pilgrimages than the men. But also we go just to be together and have fun."

Born free

"What is it like for someone who was born free to live in a country where you are not free?" K asked me.

"It's not easy," I answered.

"I am not myself here," K added.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Joop, aged 16, Netherlands

It seemed like every foreigner traveling in Iran during the past couple of weeks was either from France or the Netherlands. The French women wore their scarves either in turbans (like the clerics in Iran) or barely covering their hair. Few, if any of them, bothered with a manteau. The Dutch women, on the other hand, were much more conservative. Some of them even wore long manteaus and hoods instead of scarves. Still, they managed to look stunning.

During our spring travels we met up with a great family from the Netherlands and did some traveling together. Their son, Joop, was quite the attraction. Tall, blond, and cute, he attracted notice from Iranians of all ages. I am sure that almost every Iranian with a camera who crossed our path has a photograph of Joop. He was photographed with babies, young women, old women, young men, old men; women in chadors and women wearing their sexy manteaus. Joop has to have been the most photographed person in Iran during the last month. I doubt that more photos were taken of even Khatami. Joop handled it exceedingly well despite the fact that we Westerners are fairly squeamish about having our photos taken.

I thought that it would be impossible for us to see a taller person than Joop during our travels. He is well over 6 feet (but normal in his class in the Netherlands, can you believe that? "It's because we Dutch sleep so much," his mother told me), but with all of the Dutch tourists in Iran, we did manage to see two men who were taller.

What surprised me most about the Dutch tourists was how little they spoke with another. "We can talk when we get home." So many times we found ourselves in situations where Iranian or American tourists would have talked to each other and shared their experiences, but the Dutch were silent with one another.

The Dutch, however, speak with everyone else. Iranians seemed particularly drawn to the Dutch family we were traveling with and engaged them in all sorts of discussions. What surprised K and I the most was how many soldiers came up and talked to them. "They are not allowed to speak with foreigners," K explained. Many of the soldiers leapt into discussions about politics and culture that surprised me. It seems that Nicholas Kristof had similar experiences during his trip to Iran.

Shy no more
It is impossible to be shy in Iran. Sure, Iranians can feel shyness, but they cannot act on it. Even the shyest child has to learn to carry on a conversation. Iran is curing me of any last vestiges of shyness that may have lingered from my teen years (I think I became more shy as a teen than I was as a child.) In Iran you are expected to discuss your age, your weight, your family state, and any other bit of personal information with anyone who asks. You may be asked to dance or sing at a family gathering, and it would be terrible to say no, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. (Not that I did not say no hundreds of times, it's just now that I have learned to play along, I have much more fun everywhere.)

It is with my new brazen personality that I embarked on our spring travels. This means that I talked to all sorts of people I would have not spoken to before. In addition, I allowed myself to be the center of attention more than once without retreating into a corner and blushing until my face felt like it would burn off.

It is fun not to be shy. I would recommend Iran as a cure for those of you facing any issues with shyness. Mind you, you'll have to stay long enough that you are no longer annoyed by all of the attention you will receive, but it will be worth it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Mohammad, aged 12, Shiraz

May 11, 2004

Well it's been a little more than 10 days. I am currently sitting under a mulberry tree beginning this account of my spring travels. The mulberries in this tree are white, not the reddish-purple I am accustomed to. When I asked how long until they would be ripe, I was told that they were ripe now. I spent a good half hour feasting on white mulberries.

Mohammad, aged 12, Shiraz
If you have met Mohammad, aged 12, of Shiraz who is practicing his English, please email me (responses@gmail.com). I met him and so, I am certain, did every foreign tourist to Shiraz. We met at Hafez's tomb, where his father and another man were trolling for tourists who could help young Mohammad practice English. He had been studying for a year and already his English was better than that of most of the translators that I have met in Iran. As we spoke, his father urged him to get me to talk faster and ask more difficult questions. I think the conversation was more difficult for me than for Mohammad.

Hafez's tomb was really wonderful. It was packed with tourists and Shirazis alike. People surrounded the grave reciting Hafez's poems to each other. Most squatted by the grave and placed two fingers on its marble slab and whispered a quiet prayer. Mohammad told me that they were whispering verses of the Koran.

I had heard a lot about Shiraz before going there. All over Iran, Iranians told me how wonderful the people of Shiraz were. Iranians complain about each other incessantly, but when it comes to the people of Shiraz and Rasht (I haven't been there yet), they have nothing but good things to say.

I was prepped to fall in love with Shiraz, so it should be no surprise that I did. "The people here are educated," K said. "That's why they are so friendly and why they care so much for their city."

We had lunch in a really wonderful place: a restored bathhouse. Every single person in Shiraz tells you to eat there, so we did. An amazing threesome played and sang traditional music. I would have been happy to pay to see them (which we did, since the food was more expensive when the band was playing.) Children danced. People snapped their fingers. (You haven't heard fingers snapped until you have heard Iranians snap their fingers.) I told K that the whole place felt one beer away from being on its feet dancing.

I read that Hafez was offered several court postings but turned them all down because they required that he leave Shiraz. After going to Shiraz, I have a better understanding of why he would want to stay there.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Spring Travel

April 28, 2004

You guys are going to have to forgive me if I spend my free time enjoying Spring in Iran instead of writing for this Blog. Spring here is pretty frigging great. First, Tehran is as clean as it can possibly be. You can actually smell flowers instead of smog. The sky is a bright blue and the mountains are sparkling. We are driving around, visiting different people and places, looking at the young green and the random red wildflowers. We actually drove through a part of Iran that was pristine (I am afraid to say where we were, because I don't want to see plastic bags and other unburnable trash blowing through the country side next time we go there) and empty. We drove for an hour and only saw two other cars. We did see several herds of sheep: several Nomadic tribes are moving to their summer homes right now, so you see a lot more herds moving by the side of the road now.

Looking forward to more Spring travel. Stop by here in about 10 days, maybe I will come inside then…

Saturday, April 17, 2004


I need to mention that one of my correspondents wrote me that the attack on the mosque was a hoax. Thanks for the information.

Everything is becoming normal...

April 17, 2004

One of the things that happens when you stay in a country long enough is that everyday life starts feeling normal. My heart no longer races when I am a passenger in a car hurtling down the wrong lane into oncoming traffic. I see color everywhere, even when people are all dressed in black and beige. I am obsessed by foreigners (I have talked about this previously). I don't notice a lot of the strangeties of my every day life anymore.

That said, I often think of my father's stories of the ragman driving his cart through the streets and calling out his offer to buy old clothes; or the vegetable vendor rhythmically chanting his offerings. Every day, I hear similar chants. First the vendor with the fresh herbs drives slowly through our neighborhood. Next the small truck with tomatos, cucumbers, and oranges. Later a man will come by asking for left-overs to feed animals with. Some days a truck comes by with offers to buy old appliances or plastic bottles or old clothes for rags.

At first, I thought these calls came from police vehicles. I was not used to anyone but the police broadcasting their voices from their cars. Now, the rhythm is clearly recognizable to me as are the words.

Advice to Iranians on feeding non-Iranian visitors

This is another everyday thing I have meant to write about for awhile. This is Very Important Advice. If you have a non-Iranian visitor to your home for a meal do NOT, I repeat NOT, feed them kebab of any sort. Trust me. They are sick to death of kebab. Your visitors might even appreciate some of your vegetarian dishes. Iranians might feel offended if they receive a vegetarian meal, but most westerners would be thrilled to eat one after eating kebab after kebab after kebab in the restaurants.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

No news
What I thought was the perfect anti-American news apparently received little attention in Iran. While I am a proponent of a free press, I am also relieved.

We are so proud of our city….

Iranians who are proud of their cities often boast about diversity. "There are 72 ethnicities in my city. We have lots of Christians and Jews too. It is the best place in Iran." Iranians are starved for diversity. "In the time of the Shah, there were foreigners here. People from all over the world lived in Iran. Now, it's just us." Well, and the Afghans…

When I reflect on the welcome I have received in Iran and how kind most people have been to me, I feel that I must urge westerners and particularly Americans to respond in kind. If you meet an Iranian traveling through your country, be nice. Invite the traveler to your home for tea or dinner (if you can). Say something nice about their culture. Thanks.


The largest bill in Iran until a couple of weeks ago was worth about a dollar. This means that if you have the equivalent of $100 in your pocket, you are carrying around a brick of money. Iranians have bills for tiny amounts of money. Those bills are worn to death. They are often dirty and taped together. When a store does not have small enough change to give you, you are offered a piece of candy or a penny's worth of gum. At first I thought it was a small gift.

I have been reading lots of traveler's accounts lately. Many of the European accounts complain of police harassment and cheating. The American accounts are different. They all marvel at the hospitality offered to them and the rich culture. My theory is that American travelers to countries such as Iran have different expectations from their European counterparts. For instance, an American expects a certain amount of price gouging (the hotels, however, engage in far too much of it). Once, when K and I traveled to the Shah's palace, we witnessed German tourists arguing with a cab driver. He wanted 2000 tumans (about 2 euros) for a trip that should have cost 1500. They were arguing. I said, "What difference does it make to them. The same trip would cost them 11 euros in Germany, and the driver is certainly not rich." K, however, believed they were right, "It's not the money," he said, "it's the principle." All of the Iranians, including K, joined the German tourists in their fight and they paid the correct fare.

Money is important in Iran. To rent an apartment in Tehran you might have to shell out a $7000 deposit. Maybe more, maybe less. Imagine that! "Iranians have money," K's nephew tells me. "They just pretend that they don't."

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

A few months ago, it was rare to hear a bad word about Bush and our policies in Iraq. That is changing. Iranians have been overwhelmingly supportive of Bush. The Karbala pilgrims were among the most enthusiastic supporters. That is changing. People here are starting to question the US role in Iraq and Bush's warlike tendencies. It is a notable change. (see some of my way previous posts on Karbala) I still hear support, but I am starting to hear more and more criticism. I am sure that once the news of the US attack on the mosque hits the streets here, most support for the US will dwindle away.

We are our own worst enemy.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Happy New Year
When I lived in New York, I loved the summer and the holiday weekends when the New Yorkers left town for "their house in the country." I stayed behind enjoying the free concerts and the heat and the relatively quiet streets. This is the way it is in Tehran during the 15 days that people take off to celebrate the New Year and its attendant holidays.

The spring equinox marks the Persian New Year. "The clerics didn't want us celebrating New Year and the last Wednesday of the month and the 13th of Bidar. As a result these holidays have become more important than they were during the Shah's time. Everyone goes outside to picnic on the 13th of Bidar. Now we have fireworks on the last Wednesday of the month. It's just to annoy the mullahs." All I can say is that the whole country, clerics and all, has embraced this time of year. Everything is sparkling clean after weeks of finger-numbing scrubbing. Even Tehran's air is clean (everyone is somewhere else).

The fact that Tehran's air is clean is actually amazing. When you walk outside, you smell flowers and trees. The sky is a bright blue and the snow-capped mountains are etched against the sky. The city is gorgeous.

Women (again…)
Every woman in Iran has to be a housekeeper. She has to be a good cook and ready to prepare meals for 30 at a moment's notice (how many of you have table services for more than 30 people? I have yet to eat off a paper plate in Iran.). She has to be a nurse. Really. At some point in her life she will find herself in a hospital caring for a sick relative. She will have to learn to give injections, clean wounds, and nurse the sick. Whether she has a child or not, she will likely find herself caring for children.

"If you see an Iranian woman successful outside the house, you know that she did it all herself. She didn't have any help from anyone," an Iranian woman friend of mine said. "Look at these women. Any one of them would be hugely successful if they had the chances I have had." (She lives in San Diego now.) "Even if they left Iran today, they would take off. S would be a professor somewhere. S2 would have her own company. We grew up together. I know how smart and driven they are."

Recently I got into a fight with some men. "Iranian women can't do anything." (They meant in the workforce.) "Get two of them together, and it is all gossip. Three and all they do is fight. Men work well together. We like each other."

"When these same women leave Iran, they are much more successful than the men who leave Iran. How do you account for that?"

They could not.

Anyway it's not altogether true about women in the workforce. When you run across women working, they seem to be enjoying their work. They seem to be more efficient and straightforward than the men.

Once again, I have to harp on this point: Iran is filled with smart men and women. Many of them leave the country and apply their skills elsewhere. The smart women are relegated to the house. This country is suffering because it cannot and will not take advantage of its native intelligence.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


It has been snowing for two days, and there is a nice thick snowbally snow on the ground. The sky is white, and everything is quiet.

This has been the most exhausting and perhaps the most exciting year of my life. I feel like I understand the curse: "May you live in interesting times." Everything is interesting to me, and I long to be bored. Or at least, calm.

When people say "They live life to the fullest," what exactly do they mean, and how do they do it? How do they flit from one adventure to another, from one event to another, from one conversation to another without collapsing from exhaustion? What exactly does living a full life mean? I would love to spend an hour or two watching television. Does that mean that I am not especially cut out for living life to its fullest? Or can a full life include television?

Oh how I miss The Simpsons.


After months of brick, limestone, and brown, rocky mountains, a little bit of color goes a long way. A spot of yellow, a red roof, a blue windowpane, yellow and orange flowers, and the new green of new growth on the pine trees are like gifts for the eyes.

Driving north to Shomal (which means "North") provides just such gifts. Because it actually rains there, the roofs are pitched so that the rain can run off. They are then tiled in a variety of colors.

Fog begins as soon as the mountainsides change from rock to forest. You get the sense that the sun rarely shines on the forested side of the mountain. A combination of weather, color, accents, and food makes you feel like you are in a different country. The olive oil and pickled vegetables are amazing. The people look more Russian here: they are stouter and rounder than most Iranians I have seen. Because we are there before the holidays, the city we are visiting is empty and quiet.

The quiet is deceptive. On the way back to Tehran, we are stopped by closed roads. There is a demonstration against the government. Of course, we don't see it. We just hear about it. Then there is a heavy fog that slows us down even more. And then snow.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Iranians are criers. This might be why they are so fond of Bollywood films. Someone always dies. Everybody cries. Ashura commemorates the death of Hussein (or Hossein) and, I am not an expert here, the roots of the split between the Shi'as and the Sunnis. Or maybe it is just the heart of the split, I don't know.

Parades of men and boys march on the street. "Every neighborhood has its own group. Their importance is measured by the quality of their heiyat [I guess in English this would be a kind of mix between a cantor, a choir, and a marching band], these [Persian word that I did not quite catch for something we don't have in American English but are probably best described as decorative things that are more than banners because they are heavy and substantial] that they carry, and the rhythmic marching. It's a big deal preparing for Ashura."

"K used to march. You should have seen him beating himself," K's nephew said.

"Until I was 14."

Three of us walked about 1/2 mile to see our neighborhood's heiyat. We followed the group as young men hit themselves with metal whips in time to the chanting. The man doing the chanting had as beautiful a voice as I have ever heard. You could spend days listening to him sing without getting tired. I have heard better voices, more emotional voices, more interesting voices, but rarely have I heard a voice that had less bathos and more beauty. We walked past sheep patiently waiting for their time to die, drivers angrily trying to make their way through the small streets, onlookers like us, and a sheep whose time had come. The heiyat marched into a private garden and prayed for or with a family that had just killed a sheep. The family brought out juice and cookies.

The next day K and I made our way to an area of Tehran where at least 100,000 men (and maybe 100 girls) marched in the streets. Rows of men and boys (and the occasional girl) beat themselves in time to the chanting. "That is real exercise," I told K. "These guys must be exhausted."

Each group had its own mantle or banner (think: heavy!), its own amplifier and speakers, and its own hazzan singing chants about the battle in which Hossein lost his life. I heard "Karbala, Karbala, Karbala," and "Hosseinjan, Hosseinjan, Hossienjan" for hours.

We must have walked at least 9 miles with the heiyats. "If I had grown up here," I told K, "I would have dressed like a boy and joined one of the heiyats."

"I know," he said.

We saw men on horses and camels dressed as their heroes from the battle that cost Hossein his life, babies dressed in traditional Arabic headdress and long white shirts, and rows and rows and rows of men in black beating themselves. "Why do you just see babies dressed like Hossein? Why not boys too?"

"I think there is something about giving your baby to God or something like that. That's why. I don't know."

Many families make food for the multitudes of people wandering the streets. This is not Halloween type food, you know a piece of candy or a caramel apple. No, this is Food with a capital "F." K's sister-in-law had a sheep killed and made a dish of lentils and potatoes and mutton. His sister's family made vats of a delicious rice-pudding with saffron and almonds. "This family has fesenjoon that you would not believe," N told us pointing to a door. "And they are giving away chicken with rice," she pointed to another door. "It's really delicious."

On our walk, we were offered cookies, dates, fruit juice, and lots of water (luckily). We could have lined up for meals, but we did not.

"The heiyat came by my mom's house," K's sister told me. "Sixty people lined up in front of the house to pray with us. They sang our mother's name. It was so beautiful."

His niece told me about it too in typical 4-year old fashion: "And then, and then, and then, there was the heiyat and they were all in front of the door, and they were all singing. It was fun."

When we got home from our hours of watching the men marching, we heard about the bombings in Karbala and other cities in Iraq. It seemed so pointless and endless: that a holiday commemorating a battle fought more than 700 years ago could still be the source of fresh pain and renewed fighting seems tragic and senseless to me. I could just imagine how the singing about Hossein and the battle he lost in Karbala must have felt to Shi'as that day. But I also could not imagine.

"When our neighbor got home and heard the news, he had a heart attack and died. His sons were in Karbala. They were fine, but their father died."

A couple of days after the event, 5 of us found ourselves in a car heading south. In the driver's hometown, we saw about 10 buses loading up. "They are going to Karbala," our driver said.

"They must be brave," A responded.

"Or they don't have televisions," I said.

We drove on and listened to the radio. "You should hear what the Iranian government is saying," K said. "They are saying that the bombings were the work of the Mossad, the Americans, and Al Qaeda."

"Working together?"

"That's what they are saying."

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Post Election
The day after the election, I was running around Tehran with K's sister. We got into a cab. She looked at the driver and said, "So, what's up with the election? They have not said one word about it." He laughed; she laughed, and they talked together for the full 25 minutes of our drive. They discovered mutual friends and all sorts of other coincidences.

On the way, we saw groups of people milling about in front of anonymous doors. I thought it had something to do with the election. At our destination, we saw a soldier come out of one of the doors and talk to the people grouped around the door. "Do you think someone was arrested?" I asked. "Let's find out," K's sister said. We walked over to the group and K's sister discovered that they were waiting to sign up for mobile phones.

A mobile phone costs about $1000 in Iran. Seems steep to me. It's amazing that so many people manage to have one. I have a theory that people can afford these kinds of things because they live at home for almost ever.

Once I went to Bellview in NYC. I had to use the bathroom, and when I got there it was covered, I mean covered, with shit. I have never gotten over the shock of this experience and expect something similar every time I go to a hospital. This experience has yet to be repeated.

You really see differences in our cultures when you go to the hospital here. If I go to the hospital in America or Europe, there are tons of nurses and orderlies attending to patients. There is an aroma of disinfectant. Wheelchairs roam the halls and patients are hooked up to tons of machines. This is not the case in Iran, even in very good hospitals.

A very good hospital in Iran is clean and has good doctors. There may be a couple of wheelchairs, but they are not required. There are one or two amazingly efficient nurses, but they don't have time to really care for the patients. Each patient must bring someone with them who can attend to their needs. That person stays with them in the hospital.

When an Iranian goes to the hospital, tons (I mean tons) of people visit. They come with sweets and flowers. People spill out from the rooms into the hallways. They wait in the waiting area. I think that each person who goes to the hospital must have an average of 4 people visit them every day. Most of the people I saw had many more people visiting, so I am making a conservative estimate. Iranians are not afraid of the sick the way we are in the West.