Am I happy to be landing in Tehran? Or not?
April 17, 2005
Once again I am in an airplane headed to Tehran. It has been
almost three years since I moved back to my birth place. In these
three years I have made many trips abroad. Each time I leave Iran,
that is after I board the plane and even more so after we cross
the border in the air, a feeling of elation and joy overcomes
me. Each time I return, on the other hand, I undergo a feeling
of panic and fear.
Many like-minded compatriots have told me that they experience
the same feelings of joy upon departure and apprehension upon
return each time they venture out of Islamic Iran. In fact perhaps
all border crossers of totalitarian states have probably had similar
feelings. Of course it does not help that I happen to publish
polemics voicing my utter disdain and hatred for the mullahs in
power. My friends tell me that I am too “American,” meaning
candid, about everything that I do and that too many people know
about my pseudonym. I often feel bad about the fact that I may
not only get arrested or worse for what I write but that if and
when I do family and friends will blame my own loud-mouthedness
for it. I fear their ‘I told her so’s nearly as much
as being arrested.
Anyway, I am headed to Tehran and although I was feeling rather
panicked last night right now I feel fine. I feel more than fine
actually -- I feel good. Thanks to the two Codeine pills and
copious amounts of Sylvaner wine that I have downed so far -- this
being a Lufthansa flight I figure I should go with the German
white rather than the Chilean red even though the meal was the
kind of wannabe beef that only airplane’s can serve. I also
feel happy because I am going to see my friend and my kids. And
oddly enough I have grown fond of my life in Iran. Although an
incredibly suffocating and dreary place, shrouded in a collective
sense of depression and hopelessness, with little to do outside
the home, Tehran has still managed to charm me.
The sense of camaraderie that develops when living under difficult
conditions has produced many friendships and provided the kind
of warm and welcoming environment that I longed for in the twenty-five
years that I lived in the West. The sense of loneliness that I
felt all those years has vanished. Iran, with one of the most
repressive and sexist regimes in the modern world, is once again
my home. And it is no longer my home only in the metaphoric sense
A genuine kindness flows beneath the thick skin of day to day
life that I remember from my childhood. A cut-throat bazaari ethos
blankets all relationships and transactions yet still people are
caring and not afraid to be involved in each other’s lives.
This, almost pre-industrial sense of community is incredibly addictive.
It is what I missed when living in the United States, where everyone’s ‘privacy’ and ‘space’ is
so sacred that it isolates and alienates and turns people into
cold individualists despite their originally pure intentions.
But I can’t seem to get used to the feigned Puritanism
that is imposed by the regime: I will be landing in Tehran in
three hours and my friend will be there to greet me, I have not
seen him for three weeks yet I cannot embrace him and give him
a little kiss. Not even on the cheeks.
Now you may all think that not being able to embrace a friend
is really a small problem compared to all the other forms of repression
that exist here. But it is more about the semiotics of the situation
than anything else. It is about the utter ludicrousness of proscribing
people’s behavior to the absurd degree that this regime
does. (In Iran I am constantly reminded of the scene in Woody
Allen’s “Banana’s” where the newly enthroned
dictator decrees that everyone should wear their underwear on
top of their trousers from that day on.) It is about me not being
able to be myself in the place where I feel the most at home.
It is about the bizarre reality of living a life that sucks you
into a quagmire of hypocrisy and lies because of someone else’s
ridiculous beliefs. I cannot help but feel frustrated and angry.
Why should I not be able to enjoy a simple return home after a
trip abroad, like so many do in the free world?
Could I not have the feeling of belonging and sense of warmth
without the stumbling blocks? How long can I keep going? Will
I be arrested this time like that friend who got locked up the
tenth time he entered the country? Or the couple who were chopped
to death several years after their return no one knows exactly
So what is my point you may be saying to yourself as I try to
find it too. Am I happy to be landing in Tehran? Or not? Well,
what I want to share with you is exactly my inability to answer
this question easily. I am happy to be back amongst loved ones
and friends. I am happy to see those beautifully soaring Alborz
mountains that surround Tehran. It is spring in Tehran and the
weather is great. I am happy to be going home. But I am saddened
about not being able to kiss my friend in the airport. About having
to hide my newly highlighted hair under a scarf. And I am frustrated
that the joy I feel about the prospect of seeing my kids has to
be marred by the fear I feel in my tummy that this time at the
passport check they will take me aside and I will never see my
As I click on "save", I wonder if I should delete this piece of
writing. In case they do take me in and want to check my computer.
Thank god that I write in this my adopted language the language
of a people freer than me. The language of people who can do
as they please -- who stopped burning women as witches a long