Should I stay or should I go?
The more pessimistic reports
from Iran are probably closer to the mark
By Giti Amirani
May 19, 2004
As every Iranian knows, it is an unwritten rule
that when friends or relatives return from their annual visit to
Iran, it is mandatory
that they bring back at least one, if not all, of the following
items: a large quantity of pistachios, handicraft goods, the
odd carpet and, if you are lucky, the latest batch of homegrown
jokes. Pistachios, of course, are perhaps the most predictable
item on the list and the ones most likely to be given away.
There is, however, one thing which each visitor brings back that
is never predictable. I wait for it with more anticipation than
all the objects in the heavy suitcases, namely people's stories
about life in Iran.
These are often a blend of colourful vignettes of the latest
trends on the street, such as mobile phones, the rise of internet
or the latest manteau styles on the high street, mixed with rumours
and hearsay which result in an apparently comprehensive analysis
of the country's state of affairs. However, the pictures which
emerge from each account are often so contradictory that it is
difficult to judge the extent to which they can be relied upon
to represent a true vision of contemporary life in Iran.
There are those, for example, who return with tales of a country
which never stops partying, where everybody goes jet-skiing or
mountain climbing at the weekend, where the latest Hollywood releases
are on DVD and where everyone, in short, is living the high life.
Such visitors would have us believe most of us are wasting our
lives in the West in a never-ending cycle of work and bill payments,
instead of catching the next flight to Tehran.
Until, that is, you hear the accounts of those who return with
a picture of a country that is going to the dogs. In this scenario,
the stories are not of a society devoted to a life of pleasure
but one which is overcome with despair, of boys and girls who are
constantly hounded by the "morality" police, where there
is no entertainment of any description, where the nation's young
are all hopeless drug addicts, where corruption is rife and the
price of everything so high that without super-wealth, you may
as well give up on life and stay at home.
The truth must surely lie somewhere between these two extremes
- but that would be too simple. To take an artificially "balanced" point
of view would be to minimize some of the more unpalatable aspects
of life in Iran today (as if someone could only be a semi drug-addict)
while ignoring the truth of some of the better ones.
is factually true in both scenarios does not necessarily amount
to the totality of truth, even if such a thing were ever possible.
That is why, ultimately, the contradictions revealed by the opposing
accounts reflect mostly each individual's personal experience
of their visit, which is why even the same visitor will sometimes
return from different trips with a wholly different view point.
If, however, one had to decide which picture approximates more
closely the everyday experience of the rest of the population,
alas, one would have to admit that the more pessimistic reports
are probably closer to the mark. Short or even long visits can
never provide a visitor with the full extent of the drudgery
of most people's lives and a month of continuous entertainment,
hosted by relatives and freedom from the stresses of life and
work back home can easily become confused in the mind of the visitor
with the everyday experience of the country at large.
On the other hand, those who rage most strongly against the problems
in Iran, be they social, political or economic, and vow never
to set foot in the country, must also acknowledge that enough
have taken the dramatic step of returning to live in this country
to prove the point that, for some at least, life in Iran is
preferable to life in the West and that, for them, its worst aspects
be assuaged by a mixture of compromise and sacrifice.
of those returnees, some make the journey back to the West
filled with disillusion and disappointment, while others persevere
their move, only goes to show just how much personal experience
dictates one's choices and views and, on a broader level,
why no two people can every fully agree about the most fundamental
May is Mamnoon
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