Thursday, September 06, 2007

Questions 9,10,11 & Beyond: What flavor of ice cream do Iranians like?

Update below

"The best ice cream has a little rosewater in it with pistachios, and you can get it at Bijan Bakery in San Jose," I told the class of 6th, 7th, & 8th graders at Christa McAuliffe School.

My niece's middle school invited me to talk to their 60 students. As they entered the room, the students greeted me with a handshake and their names. Wow. It was just so polite and welcoming.

"What do you know about Iran?" I asked.

War, children living in misery because of war, how the war in Iraq sometimes spills over into Iran, mud brick buildings, nuclear weapons... came the replies.

"How did you get these ideas?"

The news media...

"What do you know about California from the news?"

Celebrities, surfer dudes, forest fires, expensive....

"Is that what your life is like?"

A resounding NO.

We looked at some of the photographs Kamran and I took in Iran. (Slide shows here) There were questions about the photos and about Iran. Here are some of the questions that were asked:

Are there video games in Iran?

How much are video games?

How old are women when they have to start covering up?

What is free speech?

What is an embassy?

Do non-Muslims have to cover themselves?

Can men wear whatever they want?

So if Iranian women have to cover up, that means they don't wear tight dresses right?

If Tehran is like Los Angeles, does it also have a lot of smog?

How much is a dollar in Iranian money?

How do you keep track of all your rials?

How much does 900,000 rials buy?

Do they all have like five wives and twenty children?

Do women do everything that their husbands tell them to do?

Do bald women have to wear scarves?

How old are they when they can get a driver's license?

When can they vote?

What is the major religion?

What is a mosque?

Why do I only see men praying?

(Maybe I'll actually tell you how I responded to the questions in a coming post...)

This is the fourth time I have spoken to a group since coming to America. I have to say that I am so impressed with the questions people are asking. There is a lot of genuine curiosity. "Americans aren't afraid to ask even the most basic questions," Kamran says, and he is right. The curiosity I have encountered is just fearless. It's a pleasure.

I want to thank the classes at Christa McAuliffe school. Give yourselves a round of applause! Oh, and as promised, slide shows here and here's a little clip about young men and their hair in Iran. Make sure to read the update about this clip:

UPDATE:In preparing to view this video, you and your children should be aware that it contains anti-semitic, homophobic, and xenophobic material. I linked to the video in order to show young Iranian men struggling to exert their individuality, despite external pressure. It also highlights the dichotomy between what these men are doing and the racist message imparted by Iranian State tv. The video is included in the hopes that it will encourage open and frank discussion of all of these issues between you and your children.

As I explained to the class, the Iranian press is neither free nor fair. The Iranians I met in Iran are accustomed to reading messages from the government and in the media in a layered and complex way. They do not accept information unquestioningly. It would be a mistake to assume that negative messages in the clip are blindly accepted by viewers in Iran.

During the past few months, the morals police have been stopping young men with less than conservative hairdos, men wearing ties, and women pushing the limits of the dress code. This clip has several layers to it: 1) it shows the way that young men find to push the limits and 2) it shows the way that the state-controlled Iranian media tries to spin that using homophobia, anti-Americanism, and antisemitism. If you choose to watch this clip, remember that! Here is another link from Current TV that some might find interesting: Culture Cops.

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