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.