Photo by Nader Davoodi
Tehran's good side
It's there. Just have to look for it
By Najmeh Fakhraie
June 20, 2000
When I think of Tehran the first things I remember are drug addicts,
homeless children, heavy traffic and rude people. Not a good sign. But
no matter how awful it might be, no matter how polluted or dirty, it's
still MY city and therefore it deserves to be loved. If there's a million
things going wrong with it, if things aren't going too well, the only ones
responsible are the people who live in it. Me included.
Unlike what most think, Tehran is really a beautiful place. Anyone whose
looked up at the sky on a clear day know's what I'm talking about. A city
covered by mountains on all sides, like a bird in cupped hands. It's just
a shame that so many cats are always trying to rip off its feathers. Because
of this, its beauties are almost always unseen.
I read somewhere that Abraham Lincoln once said : "If you try to
look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will."
Well, knowing that I've found enough bad things, I want to see if I can
also find the good.
So this morning I've left the house determined to look at things with
a different eye. I've decided to visit Tehran's great bazaar in the south
part of town. I've heard it is one of the oldest parts of the city and
being interested in anything with a history, I am quite eager to get there.
I've asked directions the night before. My uncle has spent half an hour
drawing and explaining the way, but I've gotten even more confused. No
sweat though; there's always somebody I could ask.
I reach Seyed Khandan, where there are supposed to be taxis which go
straight to the bazaar. I'm told that the Seyed Khandan is named after
a cafe owner who was quite a cheerful person, though I wouldn't know for
sure. I try to recall my uncle's words and sure enough I come across a
place where about a million taxis are waiting. The drivers are yelling
different directions. "Vali Asr" or "Enghelab" or one
that sounds more agreeable: "Toupkhaneh, bazaar. . ."
I'm not exactly sure where I'm supposed to get off though. So I walk
over to one of the drivers, a plump smily-faced man, and explain where
I want to go. He shows me his car and says with a big smile : "I'll
drop you off exactly where you're supposed to go." This could be a
trick. Taxi drivers are usually mean and grumpy; why is he smiling like
that? Even if you have lived here a short while you begin thinking like
that. You forget what trusting people really means. I try to shake it out
of my head and sit in the car. Two people are already sitting in the car
-- a couple talking excitedly about a dinner party the night before.
I pull the window down and look at my surroundings. A bunch of taxi
drivers are standing around talking and having tea. I hear the words "Rafsanjani"
and "BBC" but then their voices turn into whispers. Probably
one is telling the others about a new rumor. Two other passengers get in
the car and we are on our way.
The taxi driver seems expressive. He doesn't stop talking till the moment
we get off.
"It usually takes longer for me to find all five passengers on
each round," he says. "But well, it's the beginning of the month
and people have just gotten their salaries. So they're all headed towards
the bazaar to shop. You come here at the end of the month and they all
want to go to Behesht-e Zahra [cemetery]". The other passengers curl
up with laughter though it takes me a few minutes to get the joke. He talks
about the cheerful Seyed Khandan cafe owner, the movies he used to see
when "good 'ol Mohammad Reza" ruled, the cheap kababs he used
to eat and everything else you can imagine.
We reach our destination and all the passengers get off, except me.
The driver tells me to sit in the car because I have to get off somewhere
else and I'll probably lose my way if I go alone. finally he stops and
shows me a place a few steps away. "Have a nice day," he says.
Well, I hope he has a good one as well.
The bazaar is one HUGE crowded place. The first part isn't too great.
There are a million shops selling the latest home appliances. Every brand
and size. TVs, stereos, refrigerators, everything -- "az jooneh morgh
taa shir aadamizaad" as they say. Then there's the bazaar-e talaa
foroushaan which is quite an interesting place where emeralds and diamonds
bigger than supermarket potatoes sit in shop windows.
But once I reach bazaar-e farsh foroushaan I feel so glad I've
decided to come all the way down here. Rows and rows of beautiful, magnificent
hand-made carpets. The most eye-catching thing about them is the colors.
Gorgeous bright ones I've never seen anywhere else. Each telling a different
story, each holding a secret mystery inside. I can just imagine the fine
hard-working hands who've worked on them day after day and wonder with
amazement what has driven the person to make such a masterpiece.
I go over to an old man sitting on a stool and ask about a beautiful
carpet he has in his shop. He seems quite keen to explain. He suddenly
stops and asks me, "Do you have enough time?" And hearing that
I do, he walks in his shop, brings out another stool and two cups of tea
and says, "Well, you better sit down; you might get tired standing
up. This is quite a surprise. I haven't seen anyone interested in the rugs
themselves in a long long time. Most who come here are just rich couples
who want the most expensive rug so they can show off. The art itself is
of no importance."
We talk for a while. I don't have anything but questions and luckily
he has most of the answers. He himself was a fine carpet maker in Tabriz
but he came to Tehran at the age of 35. He goes on for a little longer
and finally it's time to go.
"Thank you so much," I say.
"You're welcome. Now that we're friends, you can buy your jahaaz
(dowry) carpets from me. I'll give you the best with a discount."
I'll be sure to keep that in mind (not). I can't help laughing.
"You think that's funny?" he asks, "I had a 14-year-old
girl in here along with her husband a while ago. They both looked so young
that I thought they'd lost their way to the toy store. Some people..."
He's told me about a place a little farther off which is worth seeing.
An Imamzadeh where Lotfali Khan Zand is also buried. It doesn't seem too
great from the outside. but once I step in I see the most beautiful aayneh
kaari glass work. I'm afraid that the old man sitting behind the counter
is going to tell me to leave and come back with a chador. But fortunately
he doesn't. Just tells me to take off my shoes. Of course. How could I
have been so careless ? I hand them over to him. There is no one else there
except me. I walk over to grave where Lotfali Khan is left alone and abandoned.
I look around a little more. It's time to go.
I've been told I can't come home by taxi. So I walk over to the bus
stop. Luckily, there's a bus waiting. I step inside. There's only one empty
seat beside a mother with her little daughter. I sit down and just as I
do I am offered a candy bar. I'm about to say no, but then again why not?
I thank the little girl and look outside. An old crooked beggar is walking
with his cane. The girl smiles at me, and I know with deep confidence that
if you just look clearly, finding the good stuff isn't that hard.
Najmeh Fakhraie is a 16-year-old student in Tehran.