There's not much left but hope
March 1, 2001
Tehran is one big city. Twelve million creatures moving along an uncertain
path which most of the time seems gloomy and dark. How they manage to
go on and on is unknown but promising. There's not much left for us but
hope and when there's hope there's reason for a better day, a whisper in
the cold dark night that tomorrow's sky will be a little brighter. Though
no one could ever promise that for sure, it's still a nice thought to wake
up to every morning.
When I first started writing about Tehran I thought ,"Okay, I'll
write about the kids out in the streets, or the journalist taxi driver
and the movie and there'll be nothing else to write about." But now
I see that every street, every corner, every incident is something worth
writing about. something worth looking at a little bit closer. This city
is so huge that no writer or painter or photographer could capture even
half of it.
Tehran is really an international city exactly like New York. Of course,
with some slight differences (well, maybe more then just "slight").
For one thing what David Letterman says about New York doesn't apply here:
"New York City is really an international city. You can get just about
any kind of food here - German, Greek, Chinese, Italian, Mexican -- and
that's just off the floor of the cab."
But you can still find people in every class, rank, color and size,
just like in New York. It's just funny that no matter what "kind"
of people we are, we all snore, laugh and cry in the same language. Maybe
the different worlds we live in aren't really that different after all.
I've met different people here but I don't think I'll ever forget that
man I met the other night.
When you sit in the taxi, people get on and off at different stops along
the way. You hardly notice them. You reach your destination, pay the driver
and after a few seconds the whole ride is forgotten. Nothing strange or
special. Nothing worth remembering.
But that night as I was busy talking to the person sitting next to me
I saw a man get on and sit in the front seat. What made me notice him at
first was his height. He was one of the tallest men I had ever set eyes
on. Clean shaven, well dressed with silvery hair and round glasses. A face
I might see almost anywhere. But once he started speaking I knew that the
voice and the words might not be heard just anywhere.
He started with : "Mr, if you left a whole lot of money in a car,
how would you get it back?" Funny accent. I eventually found out he
was Kurdish. The taxi driver just shrugged his shoulder. "I don't
know. I don't think I could ever get it back. I'd try to forget about
Once the man heard this, his face turned into the saddest expression.
He kept repeating something in whispers. He kept saying : "God Almighty,
please help, please. . . "
It seemed pretty funny to the driver and the other passengers. You come
across a lot of beggars in Tehran. Old and young, men and women, dressed
in rags or shining with jewelry. They're some of the best storytellers
on earth, making up the weirdest tales one could never imagine. Anything
for a few rials.
There's a place near Enghelab Square where you can find a whole lot
of them sitting inches away from each other. 24 hours a day, 365 days a
year. Their mother has been in a terrible accident and needs a kidney.
They've sold their house but all the money has been lost or stolen. This
"mother" seems to have nine lives because though they claim she's
going to die in a matter of weeks they're sitting in the same spot with
the same old story all year round.
But somehow as this man was talking, something in his voice told me
that he wasn't lying. For one thing he did not ask for money even once
but just kept asking for ways which he could find his own. He was a farmer
who lived in Kurdistan and had brought his mother to Tehran. She was sick
and needed treatment. He'd found a good hospital for her and planned on
showing his family around in the mean time.
He'd filled out the necessary papers at the hospital and was about to
pay when he realized that the plastic bag containing the money he had brought
along was left in a taxi. He begged the nurses to let his mother rest
until he could go and figure out a way to pay them. But over and over
again he was told "injaa bimaarestaaneh, hotel nist (this is a hospital,
not a hotel)."
The hospital staff finally agreed to take the mother in for two days.
If he was not back with the money by then, she'd be out on the street.
Now her son, our Kurdish passenger, was trying to go to Maydan -e Shoush
-- a place where there were supposed to be a lot of Kurds. He said,"If
only I had enough money to go to Kurdistan, I could gather any amount there.
But I've lost everything I brought with me. I don't know how to get back.
If only I could go back to Kurdistan."
Sure, he could've been lying. He must have had some relatives in Tehran.
Why would a person put all the money he has in a plastic bag?
In a strange way something told me he wasn't making all this up. There'll
never be a way to find out the truth but I don't think there'd be a reason
not to believe him. You're innocent until proven guilty. When there was
no harm in believing his story why shouldn't I? There was something so
heartbreaking in his voice. Not a poor fellow, but one who claimed he had
lost everything he had and couldn't go back to get more. It could happen
to any of us anywhere in this cold cruel world.
The taxi stopped. We all paid the driver but he refused to take money
from the Kurdish man. He left the money on the dashboard and walked away.
I reached in my wallet and pulled three thousand tomans -- enough money
to get him where he wanted to go. Not by airplane but at least by bus.
But even when I was approaching him, something made me step back. There
was a kind of dignity there that made me think he'd get mad or extremely
upset by my offer.
I put the money back in my wallet. But I was worried for those two children
of his, hungry and alone in this huge unfeeling city. All I could do now
was hope that this "Almighty God" would show him a helping hand.
I was hoping that the sick woman was safe in the hospital. But what good
does hope do? "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride" and
as far as I could see all the beggars here are still walking on their own
It just doesn't seem fair but I guess in a place where they put price
tags on a person's life, you should have a thick wallet or else you'd
be in deep trouble sooner or later. But even with all the horrors out there,
on those long, sleepless nights, it's nice to know as you lie there waiting
for the dawn, that you're not the last living creature on earth; that you're
untied with all the other sleepers and dreamers and those who are simply
Najmeh Fakhraie is a 17-year-old student in Tehran.