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Life

Trip to Ramsar
The one who has left my nest will come back
Part 2 Part 1

January 23, 2004
The Iranian

The national anthem was played and we all sang with a lot of passion. The coordinator of the program welcomed everyone and wished for a good and learning atmosphere. He went over the rules, which clearly indicated there should never be a girl walking alone in the bushes with a boy alone! I laughed because in my opinion a girl can walk with ten boys and they cannot do anything to her unless she wants them to, but rules were rules.

The band played several modern tunes and the crowd loved it and cheered repeatedly.

Then there were two singers from Tabriz. One was a tall and skinny one with black hair and blue eyes, who later became a classical singer hired by the Ministry of Culture. Then another really handsome boy with a hippy/psychedelic shirt came on stage and was introduced as Omid. I liked his voice, but he did not have much of a personality and would demonstrate it in the days to come.

It was close to midnight when the program wrapped and everyone headed to his or her camp. It was obvious that a member of the opposite sex noticed some of the people. I was so surprised to see a pretty brunette looking at Kia so lovingly, as though he was the most handsome boy on earth, which of course his soul and personality was, once a person got to know him. All the whistling and one liners I had blurted had made me tired and I was ready to go to sleep but inside my tent I found Farideh nearly in tears and knew right away she was worried about all those Tehrani girls cheering Amin.

I felt a lot of compassion and decided to comfort her since she was one member of the band. I went and sat on her bed and whispered, “Listen, I know you are worried about Amin, but just like most men, he enjoys the attention but in reality he knows with his shy nature and conservative background he could not handle any of those girls.”

Her face lit up as I continued. “Those girls are free spirited and just want to have fun. They would not be serious about him once they find out what the person is like.

They are like me and express their feelings for the moment. You have nothing to worry about. However, you need to make your feelings known to Amin. At least give him a hint by smiling or trying to engage in a conversation and I will help. You need to get a good night’s sleep because I do not want an unhappy girl on my team!”

She smiled and threw her arms around me and gave me a kiss then said in a barely audible voice, “I never thought you cared about anyone else but yourself.”

“ Good,” I said. “Keep that thought because I don’t want any assuming, judgmental person to annoy me. Only intelligent people will connect with the real person.”

I went to my bed and lay down. I could hear whispers in the next tent so I said, “Quiet! I have a big day ahead.” The noise died down.

The next morning, I woke up early as usual and savored the lush trees and the clear sky. I put on the t-shirt identifying our city and grabbed my trumpet and headed to the cafeteria. I chuckled as I pictured the look on the faces of some of these boys and girls once they realized I played an instrument. I made sure the trumpet was visibly tucked under my arm as I confidently walked to the line.

Only the boys from Dezful were in the line and I despised them because I had seen many of my childhood friends’ relatives visiting from Dezful. They always covered themselves with black chadors, they had terrible accents, and their views were backward.

I had noticed that these three boys were no different than what I had experienced. They gave me a nasty look as I walked by them and I made an ugly face so everyone could see.

A few minutes later, the pretty brunette I had seen in the Tehrani group stopped and said hello to me and began to compliment me on my personality, which she had observed the night before. I had noticed her eyes following Kia, but as a vain person I was surprised to see someone so pretty was interested in a boy that was not handsome. I had also learned by this old age that people who begin their conversation with compliments usually want something. I have never been wrong to this day!

Her name was Nasreen. The impatient me smiled and said, “You like Kia and want to meet him, right?” She blushed and said, “Nothing escapes you.”

I said, “Stay right here and continue to talk with me because we do not want the boys from your camp getting jealous.” We spoke about our families and it turned out that her mother was actually a teacher at a high school and two of her sisters were in college. I was impressed that she had good role models.

Kia showed up with his trumpet and his eyes lit up as he saw Nasreen. He adjusted his glasses and said hello. I gave him a brief history of who she was as we went for our food and we sat together. As usual I ate fast (an unfortunate habit I have not been able to shed to this day, which is a problem, because if I go on a date, the poor guy would be finishing his salad and I would be done eating my food!). I felt they were okay since there were other people at the table. I walked out to enjoy the open air and the scenery as I headed for the place where the ceremony was supposed to occur. I loved the music coming out of the big speakers and I felt that the DJ was a clever boy because they were mostly love songs!

People were gathering and I asked the coordinator to show me the spot for Khorramshahr’s band. I began to practice to make sure I was at par. Shortly after the rest of the crew showed up, I noticed that we were the only group with girl musicians. I looked around and saw the admiration in some of the boys’ eyes and the envy in most of the girls’.

After playing the national anthem, we played various songs. It was then announced that the idea behind this gathering was to provide the opportunity for all Iranian youth to get to know their counterparts from different provinces and learn from each other what was unique about our demographics. They had some nature walk expeditions for those who were interested. I love nature walks, but prefer to be by myself so nobody disturbs my solitude and thoughts.

The crowd dispersed and I confirmed with my band members that we would meet at 2:30 to practice, since Happy Girls was supposed to perform this night.

I joined the walkers but stayed at a great distance, yet somehow one of the Grasshoppers managed to come and begin walking with me.

“ So you like being alone and do not care to meet someone,” he said. I looked at him and impatiently said, “Please walk away because I really do not want to discuss my personal preferences with you.”

He went on and said, “What is wrong with meeting someone and ending up in holy matrimony (he used payvande moghadas to enforce the holiness of his statement) to love forever?”

I burst into laughter and said, “It figures. No wonder the Turks are the butt of everyone’s jokes. People as ignorant as you give the whole tribe a bad name. Where in the hell is it written that a signed piece of garbage paper guarantees someone would love you forever?”

He became indignant and said, “What do your parents think of your bad manners?”

I said with an air of arrogance, “Well my good-natured and sweet mother thinks I am just a sweetheart, but my dad thinks the majority of the rules are dictated by stupid, arrogant, ignorant and insecure men who want to hold back smart girls that refuse to play by their rules, so they label those smart girls!”

He said, “Is your father is a foreigner?”

I started laughing really loud to make sure others could hear me as I said, “Well, the donkey assumes all other species have the same beliefs as he does. Listen, just because you are a Turk and have no idea what your true identity is because you do not even speak Farsi at home and so many of you are from mixed tribes, you assume my dad is a foreigner. Once and for all, my dad is as Iranian as they come and he is from Arak and has served his country and many of my female relatives were in the demonstrations in 1954 shouting, ‘We want either death, or Mosadegh.’ Are we nationalist Iranians or what! Now, go and let the breeze come in.”

He shook his head in disgust and left.

I spotted Amin and Farideh nearby and that filled my heart with joy. We explored the beautiful areas of the camp and I found little brooks with wild flowers around and some even inside the water. I had a fascination since childhood with springs, brooks and nature in general because I had spent many summers in countryside with my mom and siblings until I was fourteen years old.

I arrived at the cafeteria about 11:30 and kept answering one-liners to the boys remarking on my trumpet playing. I ate my lunch and went back to the tent to read a bit. I took my book and came out. I sat on a remaining stump of a tree that had been cut off, and read for a while. It was about 2:00 when I went to the area designated for rehearsal. It was well hidden behind the trees and far enough not to attract that much attention. Surprisingly, Kasra the Tehrani boy was sitting there and offered the foam little cushion to me so my bones would not get chilled from sitting on the cold stone (that would be something my mother would say). I spoke to him briefly and then went on the little stage to practice. Another boy showed up halfway through the rehearsal and took him away.

I had practiced five songs but could only sing three, so when the rehearsal was over I announced the three I wanted to sing. There were objections to the song “Angels” being too romantic.

I just smiled and said, “Well either I sing what I want or you can go on stage without me!”

Amin shook his head and said I was suspicious when he asked us to practice this song while we were in Khorramshahr, even though we all said it was not appropriate for the occasion.

They all shook their heads.

I said, “Let me explain how we will present us to the crowd.” I loved the baffled look on everyone’s face.

“ Well, Sia and Amin are supposed to be almost invisible so the ‘Happy Girls’ will take the center stage. Let’s have the two boys on the opposite sides of the stage near the curtain and when the announcer calls for us to go on stage, Farideh and Ziba will enter at the same time. I have no doubt the crowd would cheer because two girls will be playing. I will be behind the curtain where I will be facing Amin.

“ Once the cheers stop, I want Amin to look and see my hand gesture to signal for him only to begin playing his guitar. The audience will be curious and looking for the singer. So I will begin singing the first two lines and then stop so Sia can begin accompanying Amin with his drums and the two girls will play the high notes on their sax and trumpet.

How is that for a fun surprise?” I said.

Sia burst into laughter and said, “I love it, but the coach might not.” I said this is our secret and I would take the blame for this plan, and not to tell anyone else.

We dispersed. I was only a few feet away from our tents when I heard someone shouting my name. “Ms. Nemati, please wait!”

I stopped and turned around. It was the boy who had taken Kasra away. He caught up and, trying to catch his breath, he said, “Kasra is in the tent hospital, he was beaten up by the boys from Dezful for talking to you.”

I felt the blood rushing to my head. I turned around and headed to the boys’ tents. I began to scream our coach’s name. In a few second he was in front of me and looked frightened as he asked what was the matter. My voice was trembling as I said, “Call those cowards, those stupid ugly idiots from Dezful, because I am going to beat them mercilessly.”

He looked puzzled. “What have they done?” he asked.

I tried to slow down as I said, “Those less than animals beat up a boy from Tehran simply because he talked to me, so you better go and bring them out or I will go in their tent.”

I could tell my good-natured coach was upset. He never liked violence, especially among teens. He turned back and walked away. I kept breathing deeply to allow my anger to subside because I knew I would do something I would regret if I did not act rationally.

A few minutes later I saw the three boys and my coach approaching. The boys seemed visibly upset as I began screaming: “You are bunch of cowards. You think because your mother has bought you pants you are men. A real man fights with an equal partner. You three ugly, low lives knew you were wimpier than any girl so you ganged up on him. I really should kick you hard where it hurts the most so you understand what real power is. Why did you touch him?”

The tall and skinny one, which I had nicknamed “chosooneh” which is a slang term for cockroach, looked at me with sad eyes and said, “Forgive us but we thought we were protecting your honor!”

I lost it and lurched at him and hit him so hard he stumbled. I lifted my leg to kick him in the stomach with my shoe but my coach and a few boys from our camp that I had not noticed were there, and grabbed me and held me back.

“ My honor? My honor, you shit for brains! I am honorable because I value myself and I don’t need a stupid low class idiot like you to protect it. Maybe your uneducated mother and sisters like you have no brains to know what honor is so you have to guard it. My honor does not need guarding.”

I kept screaming as I said, “You give Iranian people a bad name. If you had any brain at all you would know that a girl can do what she wants no matter how restricted she is. Haven’t you been reading about the girls from the poor neighborhoods of Tehran going uptown by bus so they can have fun where nobody knows them? Do you know why? In their neighborhood talking to a boy is a mortal sin so they remove their chadors once they get uptown and those rich uptown boys who promise them the moon seduce many of them. According to the newspaper reports, the south of Tehran is full of them.”

He said, “I am sorry. You are right. We reacted.”

“ Sorry is not good enough for me so you better put your tails between your legs and go to the tent were Kasra is resting,” I said.

They looked at each other. I seized the moment and said more rationally, “If you do not do what I asked you, tonight on the stage I will point you out to the crowd and will ask any boy who thinks a woman’s honor comes from within to beat you all mercilessly.”

My coach stepped in and said, “Please do what she says. Otherwise, she is crazy enough to ask the boys to beat you.”

“ So what do you say?” I asked.

He said okay.

I took the lead and they walked behind me. As we entered the tent, Kasra sat up on the cot and greeted me.

I pointed to the boys and motioned for them to act.

The skinny one stepped forward and said, “I am really sorry, brother. We are from a very strict background and not used to seeing boys who are not related to a girl talking to them.”

Kasra smiled and said, “I understand.”

The other two stepped forward and apologized and shook his hand. I purposely placed my hand on Kasra’s arm and said, “I will see you tonight at the Amphitheater.”

He smiled and said, “I will be there.”

I looked at the boys and said, “Now stay away from me because the sight of you makes me ill. I have always despised your terrible accents and make fun of them at every competition by pretending I am from Dezful, and your people are ignorant enough to believe me.”

I went back to the tent and tried to calm down because these types of ignorance always send me to the edge. I wanted everyone to think like my father: “A man or a woman should be honorable because they value their integrity, not because the society forces them to pretend.”

I just lay down and tried to picture myself on the stage to distract myself.

The speakers announced that dinner would be served. We had agreed that we would change for the performance after we ate so we would not spoil the surprise I wanted so badly for the crowd.

I was not really hungry but nibbled on my food and then went back to the tent to touch up my make-up and make sure I looked presentable.

Farideh and Ziba came back shortly and we changed. Our t-shirts had dark backgrounds and the letters were in deep colors as well. The boys met us a few hundred feet away and we headed to the Amphitheater.

We walked up behind the stage and noticed that the majority of the people were already seated.

The coordinator finally went on the stage and the national anthem was played. He spoke for a few minutes and then announced that Happy Girls would be performing. He walked down the stage and Farideh and Ziba walked parallel and took their position on the stage. The crowd began to whistle and cheer. Amin and Sia took their place on the opposite ends of the side of the stage.

As usual, Amin began and they played the tune for “ba negahert” which was a fast beat as an introduction. When they stopped, the crowd cheered. I waited until there was absolute silence and motioned to Amin who began gently stroking his strings to make very romantic and soothing background sound.

My voice from the back of the stage echoed:

Oh angels, oh angels
Look from above
The valleys are filled with flowers
This heart is longing for him

I stopped and could barely hold myself at the crowd’s reaction. They were looking all over the place. I motioned and Amin raised the sound and lowered his head to signal Sia to begin playing his drums. That in turn was the signal for the two girls to accompany the music. I slowly entered the stage and began singing again:

Oh angels, oh angels
Pray from above
So that
My sparrow would come back
The one who has left my nest will come back

The crowd went wild. The boys were whistling and some of the girls were cheering too. When I finished the first song, I bowed and thanked the audience with a big smile.

Then they became quiet again so I looked in the crowd and said mischievously, “I am going to sing ‘the king of hearts’ because I know some of you are no longer the rulers of your hearts.” There were deafening cheers.

For the third song I walked closer to the edge of the stage and looked in the crowd and said, “This song is a tribute to those lucky ones who happen to love someone. I am going to sing, ‘I love you.’ Love is a good thing, isn’t it?” Boys whistled and I heard a few “I love yous” which made me smile.

I motioned for the crowd to be quiet and said, “I need your cooperation and I want you to sing back when I point the mic in your direction so you better pay attention!”

I just became the drama queen singing “I love you, and you know that is not my fault, your love has driven me crazy and made me become a wanderer.”

I had one of the most fun nights of my life. I realized that one is as powerful as one wants to be. I had performed in a few small salons in our region but never to this magnitude, which would prepare me for my adulthood to be comfortable in front of crowds.

The crowd rose out of their seats as we bowed and then I just put my hands to my lips and blew a kiss to the crowd. I knew my coach would reprimand me for bad behavior but I always did (and still do) what I want and pay the consequence later.

I enjoyed the last few days of my camping, watching the teary-eyed teenagers looking at their beloveds longingly. I could even see some of them writing what I was sure were love letters.

I had befriended a few boys and girls I thought cool enough to talk to. Amazingly, there were two girls who were just as adventurous as I was and looking for trouble.

I picked on Omid form Tabriz who had a beautiful voice and was very attractive. He never smiled, so I was on his case about his psychedelic shirts and he did not know what to do with me. The singer Omid who became famous in 1993 with the song “Iranehman” eerily looks and sounds just like the one I met in 1970.

The weather was magnificent and I enjoyed getting a tan and simply walking on the sandy beach and trying to imitate the locals’ accents, which was quite a challenge.

I was also amazed at the number of girls coming on to Amin and trying to approach him. Well, I thought that was pretty pathetic.

The memory of the day of the departure is very vividly embedded in my mind.

It was a glorious sunshiny day. Despite the humidity, there was a gentle breeze. There was a sea of teenage boys and girls. The song “maraaa beyaad aar” or remember me by Fereydoone Farokhzad was blasting from the loud speaker. I had no doubt the old DJ (he was 25 years old and very funny when I had finally sneaked up on him and told him I had wanted to see who he was) had chosen this song on purpose.

Some girls were sobbing and of course I burst into laughter at that sight, only to get slapped on the elbow by the two girls I had become friends with.

Most of the boys had somber looks on their faces because in Iranian culture “a real man never cries.” Of course I disagree with that statement but then again I disagree with most statements!

One of my new friends who had also fallen for Amin chided me. “Come on, be compassionate. These people are in love.”

I totally dismissed her statement by saying “No, you come on and be reasonable, we are kids still. What do we know about love? Love is not just being smitten by someone’s looks or appearance. You fall in love when you are grown up and have accomplished all your goals in life and the soul-mate is someone who understands you and loves you unconditionally and would not try and change a thing about you.”

Both girls burst into laughter and said, “You of all people who walks around and calls everyone ugly, boring looking or backward!”

I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. I was having so much fun looking at a scene with so much emotion that I have never experienced anything like that ever since. I walked around and said good-byes to those I had liked and made faces at those I did not.

Everyone started boarding their buses and to this day I remember the look of longing on many faces and wondering if someday I would feel such emotions and look at someone with such longing in my heart.

I had exchanged phone numbers and addresses with only a handful of people.

Kia sat next to me and looked really sad. I tried to cheer him up and he told me that he was going to marry Nasreen because “I know she loves me for the person I am and not what I look like on the outside.”

I felt a great deal of tenderness because I realized how hard it must be for someone physically unattractive to cope in a society that put so much emphasis on looks only.

I smiled and said, “And then you can introduce me to your prospective in-laws as your sister.” He smiled and said, “They will be shocked to know I have such pretty and loud sister!”

A few weeks later I actually was invited to Nasreen’s house and met her large family with the two attractive and eligible girls. I was really impressed at the fact that they were so good to Kia.

The rest of the trip I spent time looking outside and marveling at the glorious scenery and vowed to go back there any chance I got.

I look back at that trip with great deal of melancholy and wonder. Did any of those “forever loves” survive? Did other boys and girls who met at Ramsar end up getting married? Are any of them still together?

Perhaps by reading this memoir they will let me know................. The End
>>> Part 1

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