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Hard landing

December 12, 2005

From "A Persian Odyssey: Iran revisited" by Rami Yelda (A. Pankovich Publishers, November 2005). "A Persian Odyssey" is a story of young man leaving the country of his youth and starting a new life in another land. Forty years later, he builds up the courage to go back for a visit to a country that by now is alien to him. He cannot even convince his American wife to go with him.

Yelda's tale of his trip is more poignant because he has no family and personal ties with Iran. His desire to go back for a visit without a planned itinerary is more a personal journey than a travelogue. His observations, contact with people he meets on his journey across Iran gives the reader a refreshing look at the lives of ordinary people and their hope and aspirations. The strong pull of an ancient culture still effects Iranians even the people who left without any plans to return. This book introduces you to this unique land and its amiable citizens.

The author, Dr. Rami Yelda was born in Iran and immigrated to the US in 1965. He is also a world traveler and a linguist. He lives in Chicago

Thursday, May2, 2002
Iranians do not allow international flights to land in Tehran's Mehrabad airport before midnight. Because of inadequate facilities, daytime landings are limited to domestic flights. It was barely after midnight when the plane started to descend. After so many years I could now see the blinking lights of Tehran, a much bigger city than the one that I had left in my late teens. Suddenly the feeling of being so close to the place of my youth became overwhelming.

The pilot announced that the plane was ready to land. There was some commotion in the plane when, to conform to Islamic regulations, the female passengers, all Iranian, started putting on their rusaries (head scarves) and wiping off their makeup. They were all wearing the required formless, dark and long manteaus (overcoats) that covered their entire body down to their ankles. It was evident that, from this point, we were entering a different world.

I had left a country that was named Iran. Now I was returning to a different state. It so happens that Iran is also a female name. Once in power, the ruling clerics had found it abhorrent to share the name of the country with females. The country's name was chaanged to: "the Islamic Republic of Iran" or simply "the Islamic Republic."

As we were leaving the plane, I asked one of the fllight attendants of the members of the crew {all Western} were staying in Tehran. "We never do," she said. "The cabin will be cleaned, and as soon as the departing passengers are seated, we will fly back."

It was time to climb down the stairs and proceed to the passport control office. In Chicago, where I live, an Iranian friend who was born and raised in a devout Moslem family in Tehran, had told me about experiencing a sudden panic attack at this moment. He had to be helped away from the exit door and was asked to sit and rest for a while. After recovering he had stepped down but had continued to feel uncomfortable. He had also said, "I was entering my own country but felt insecure. I knew that I had no personal liberties, and my fate was going to be determined by some young Islamic peasant brandishing a gun."

I was apprehensive but had no such dreadful feelings. I had heard horror stories from other visiting Iranaians but was hoping that the government had backed off from its atrocious deeds. I was feeling uncomfortable, though, since I did not know what to expect. After all, I had been living in the United States, "the Great Satan" and Iran's main enemy for a long time. Here I was, a lonely expatriate returning tp the country of hiis birth. I had no relatives or friends here and was uncertain about the immediate future.

The interior of the airport entrance hall had barely changed since I had left in the early sixties. Everything appeared dated. The airport did not seem to belong to one of the richest oil-exporting countries in the world. Islam forbids representation of living beings, since only Allah creates life and He should not be copied. Now in the airport entrance hall of this Islamic country, we were immediately confronted with three large portraits of Iran's Shi'a triumverate: Khomeini, Khamenei, and Khatami. All the three bearded clerics were wearing black turbans (not the usual white ones) indicating their revered status as seyyeds, direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad. The portrait of Khomeini, once an obscure former theologian and now the semidivine ruler of the country, was the most prominent and was placed in the center. He had a smirk and was looking at us with shifty eyes.

Khamenei, Khomeini's hand-picked successor and the Supreme Leader, was on the left. He was wearing dark, square-rimmed glasses and looked like a kind but bored merchant in the bazaar. Khatami, the present president, was the most photogenic of the three. He had a warm smile and for a long time had been the darling cleric of Iran.In the room there were no mean-looking pasdars clutching their rifles. These members of the militia, dressed in green fatigues and wearing short stubby beards, are "the young Islamic peasants" that my panic-stricken friend had referred to. Maybe they were waiting outside.Following the rest of the passengers, I stood in line to have my passports checked. There were two agents sitting in the booths.

A sour-looking young woman was seated in the left one. She exposed only her face and hands and was clad in a black hood and the standard black Islamic uniform, the hejab. She did not have any makeup on but could have used some. A bearded young man was seated in the right booth and appeared to have a better disposition. (By now we had been exposed to the two trademarks of Islam: the hejab and the beard.) I stood in the line leading to the man's booth.

A friendly Iranian returning from Florida was in front of me and, after hearing that I had been away for so many years, started giving me tips about life in Iran and assured me that I would have a pleasant and safe stay. "The situation has changed much in recent years. The pasdars do not bother people as they used to in the past."

When my turn came, I handed my Iranian passport to the agent. There was an old noisy computer in front of him. He typed for a while and after several minutes looked at me and then reexamined my passport. He typed more but appeared bewildered. I was starting to get apprehensive. Did his looks mean trouble? He summoned one of the supervisors, and that added to my fears. The supervisor, another properly bearded gentleman, went over my passport, looked at me and at the screen, and then asked me if I had left the country legally. I told him that I had. To my delight, he nodded to the agent and handed him the passport. The agent stamped it and handed it to me, saying "welcome to Iran." All that pointless anxiety! From now on I was on my own in a country foreign to me except that I looked like the rest and spoke the language.

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