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Suffocating charmer
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 but literally.

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 why.

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 children again.

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 time ago.

For letters section
To Shahla Azizi

Shahla Azizi




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