March 31, 1999
"Hey Bobbie! What's up?" It was
Sean Miner, Babak's American neighbor. Sean's family was one of the 12,000
American families sent to Iran by either American oil companies, electronics
and construction firms or as part of the U.S. army's large presence in
Iran at the time.
"Hey Sean, what are you up to?" Babak replied. "I just
got a new Sizzler! C'mon let's go try it out." Jimmy was referring
to the latest craze in Hot Wheels cars. These were cars that rolled very
fast down connected plastic tracks. They were really fast. The designs
were futuristic and the shiny cars had taken over the kid market from Matchbox.
Now they had come out with "Sizzlers", a new concept of motorized
car that you charged up and placed on the track and they magically moved
on their own. Babak had seen them in the Sears Christmas catalog that his
mom got from some American friends. He wanted to see this new car badly.
"Yeah, sure. Let's go," he quickly replied.
"Hey are you coming or what?" Malek finally asked.
"Uh..., well..., no, I'm going to go to his house." Babak
stammered embarrassed that he had ignored Malek.
Malek paused. Clearly hurt, he looked away, then back to Babak again
and said, "Are you going to make it to soccer practice?"
Babak realized he had let Malek down and immediately replied, "Oh,
yeah I'll be there for sure. 3:30 right?"
Malek didn't answer and wheeled his bike around angrily and pedaled
down the street towards the Tappehs. Babak watched him roll down the street
and turned his attention to Sean who was picking rocks from his new hiking
All the American kids Babak knew had hiking boots. This was something
he never quite understood. Babak wore the average Kafsh-e-Bella sneakers
and it was fine. When it got hot you could soak your feet in a joob and
cool off. The wet canvas kept your feet cool and you could keep going.
Hiking boots seemed like a stupid idea, they were heavy, made of thick
leather and were really stiff. It seemed almost as if the Americans wanted
to be insulated from the dirt and grime of Tehran's dusty streets. Babak
always knew that Americans never quite liked living in Iran, because they
were constantly telling him how fun it was in the U.S. Babak was fascinated
by the stories.
"Are you going to the pool?", Sean asked. "Uh, I think
so, my mom's gonna let me know." Babak replied. The huge Olympic-size
pool was part of the Pars American Club that the American kids of non-military
families used to go to. This was a private club in the northern part of
Tehran frequented by Americans mostly, and the American and other foreign
wives of Iranians. Babak had gotten his lifesaver patch from the American
Red Cross swimming program that was taught there.Military families had
their own pool at the Gulf base where you could get American hot dogs and
root beer. Babak had gotten in frequently to play little league baseball.
This was the first year he had stopped since the attacks had began.
A couple of Americans, embassy employees, had been ambushed and attacked
by the Mujahedin Khalq on the way to work and as a result people were nervous
about hanging too closely around Americans. Babak's mom had decided he
shouldn't play baseball this year, although he had for the past five years.
It wasn't that important since they were going to France to visit her mother
for the summer anyway.
Babak, now 16, had outgrown the elementary school he had attended since
kindergarten, and his mother felt he needed to go to one of the up-and-coming
and private bilingual high schools that had popped up all over Tehran.
Having come this far, she wanted him to continue his bilingual education
and enrolled him in the 10th grade. Babak was excited to go to a new school
and couldn't wait to meet the cooler kids he had heard so much about and
occasionally seen at the many teenage parties.
Life for Babak became one big social engagement calendar. The American
kids and their wild sense of freedom seemed to owe nothing to anyone. They
were arrogant and exciting. They were hilarious and he enjoyed their company
even though they never really let him in their inner circle. He floated
in and out of their "scene" at will and although he enjoyed this
immensely, the pace was often exhausting. American kids smoked, did drugs,
drank like fish, had constant sex and always, always flew at full speed,
completely out of control. He was always told of the many parties at one
of the kids' houses. He found school to be completely fun -- and stimulating
his now raging hormones in just the right way. The curriculum was generally
easy and he hardly studied to pull his usual B. His father had complained
about this as Babak occasionally dipped in the C's or came home late.
He enjoyed literature and history classes the most. Taking courses in
a bilingual school usually involved learning double subjects. In his old
school he had to take equal doses of English, math and a science, mornings
in English, afternoons in Farsi. The new school had balanced this and he
only took science and math classes in English and studied classes like
literature, and history in Farsi. He enjoyed the subtle contrasts in English
and Western literature like Shakespeare, with the beauty, romance, and
intensity of epics like Ferdowsi's Shahnameh.
History was another story. The only thing Babak was learning of Iran's
long and proud history was the large number of dynasties he had to learn
and he couldn't help but think how short the Pahlavi dynasty was in comparison.
Well it wasn't really a dynasty anyhow, but more like a coup by Reza Shah
a former colonel during the disastrous last days of the Ghajar dynasty
where the vastness of Iran's greater empire had been auctioned off to the
Russians and Turks like an old carpet. Understandably this had infuriated
Reza Shah who eventually took matters into his own hands. Babak was especially
fascinated by how Reza Shah had been known to angrily tear the chadors
from women in the street. The Chador was one of the puzzling things Babak
never understood. The concept that covering a woman head to toe was somehow
righteous and reverent didn't make any sense. Not at least if men were
allowed to walk around with shirts open to their belly and tight jeans.
Malek's father had become well known as one of the more outspoken merchants
of the Bazaar and his loud resentment of the Shah and the aristocratic
nature of Iran's elite was well known among the equally hierarchic and
structured culture of the Bazaar. He had made all the necessary religious
affiliations with the local mollas and as such had gained in both social
and financial prominence. It was therefore no surprise that Malek was eventually
enrolled in a religious high school in Qom and shipped off forthwith. This
pleased Malek's mother who lit candles for him every Friday in the small
Davoudieh Mosque near their house. Meanwhile, Malek's father's rank in
the bazaar become more and more solidified.
Malek, under the strict tutelage of his father, had grown to take on
similar beliefs. He had seen first hand how Babak had been slowly swayed
away from him and seduced by the "corruption" of Western ways.
They did not talk anymore. Childhood games and riding bikes around the
neighborhood had stopped and the occasional run-ins on the street were
filled with awkward and empty silences. They no longer had the things they
had in common as kids riding around on bikes.
Except soccer. During the World Cup that year, everyone had taken to
the national team as never before. It was the first time Iran had qualified
for the World Cup. Babak and Malek discussed the strategies and opportunities
facing Iran's team as they went against Australia and Scotland. They stayed
up late to watch the games as the were broadcast live in color via satellite
from far-away Argentina. For a moment they were true friends again and
the intensity that had built up during their separation by schools and
fathers, was gone throughout the tournament. When it was over, they each
knew that they would never be as close again and that their childhood had
End of part two. Go to part
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