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."