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For better or worse
I've come to accept the facts of life in Iran

By Abbas F. Saffari
September 8, 2003
The Iranian

I wrote "Making a difference in Iran" a few days after our departure from the U.S. Now a year later and thousands of milles away, I have found myself determined once again to write, this time from Iran itself. This is my experience and understanding of the country I grew up in and returned to, after living in the U.S. for 25 long years.

My family relinquished all comfort and conveniences of Western life, uprooted ourselves, and returned to Iran to help Iranians the only way we knew. The nature of my training in bio-pharmaceuticals on the one hand and the complete lack of my kind of expertise in Iran on the other, paved the way to a tumultuous journey to make an impact on people's lives.

Against all odds, I haven't allowed obstacles -- and god knows there have been plenty -- to change our mind and shatter our dreams for a better Iran. We haven't permitted ourselves to give-in to temptation of a comfortable life that we once knew in the States.
I came up with this phrase in my first working week: "We are here to face the worst and hope for the best." And I repeated it to myself and everyone else around me. I began telling people I haven't traded gold for copper by returning to Iran and that we all have duties toward the motherland regardless of political upheavals, economic hardship, and social injustices.

Not an easy road to travel by any measure. Getting used to life here is a mighty task if not impossible. Challenges have been numerous.

One afternoon returning home from work in a company vehicle, I was asked the infamous question I was being bombarded daily by my colleagues, "How come you returned home after all these years?"

I was in a station-wagon without air conditioning on a scorching summer afternoon, traveling from Karaj to Tehran. As patiently as I could I replied, life without challenges is a meaningless struggle.

To clarify my point, I made the point that life in the U.S. resembles the sound of a drum beat in the far distance. It sounds attractive but devoid heart and soul. You only live to work and work to live -- if you're lucky to find a lasting job. He broke into laughter and quietly said, "You've come to the right place. You'll find plenty of challenging mountains and valleys."

He was right. 

I immersed myself with ordinary and not-so-ordinary people at work and in the streets. I initiated conversations at every corner, though it was not easy to find a common ground. Written all over their faces was the feeling of discontent, disappointment, and total resentment because of what they have to endure after all the sacrifices they have made.

Yet despite all of it, they kept up hope, dreamed a better tomorrow, used every opportunity to celebrate occasions and traveled far to be with nature and loved ones.
I have mostly confined myself to work and home, with occasional trips to Tehran to visit relatives, hike the majestic mountains of Darakeh on Thursdays, and visit the large swimming pool at Amjadiyeh, where I used to compete in my teenage years.

Between these places, lies what I refer to as a "jungle". Jungle is the term I have given to the streets of Tehran with its crawling traffic, polluted air, and masses of unemployed people aimlessly marching up and down streets.
The work atmosphere in Iran is quite unlike any other place I've experienced. It has its own etiquette. For the most part, you never know who to trust. The prevailing culture is "gharib-gaz" meaning "bite the new comers". If people feel the slightest threat, you can rest assured they would gang up to eliminate competition.
Management is quite week, and without exception all top level managers are selected based on their devotion and connection to the system. There is a general feeling of distrust toward those who return from abroad to work. Nothing is confidential here, even your salary. Every one knows how much you earn and how many children you have.
To work in Iran simply means being physically present at the office. No one questions your performance. The year-end performance evaluation is a mere formality. Majority of supervisors would be physically threatened and their positions weakened if the performance evaluation of their personnel falls short of perfect status.

Incentives are rare. Having worked for 16 years in the U.S., I found myself exasperated at what goes on at work in Iran. There is no clear agenda, no vision for the future and no shortage of money, yet employees find it hard to earn a decent wage. Millions of dollars get channeled into annual budgets each year and no one questions what happens to it.
But mixed among millions of workers who aimlessly stroll to their job every morning and restfully leave in the afternoon, are rare jewels buried deep in the system. These few precious individuals are the very reason behind whatever progress has been made in last 25 years.

They are my true heroes. Despite all obstacles, they carve away at the bureaucratic system with steel determination and tireless devotion. They are in every profession, from municipality inspectors whose decisions can not be influenced with bribes, to an individual who pioneered the measles vaccine some sixty years ago and still comes to work in old age.
I measure success by positive impact on people's lives. Just a few days ago, I saw a clean shaven colleague who had carried a phony beards for all his adult life. Although he was known as a hard-liner in the past, he painfully admitted that he had been wrong for all these years.
For those who are longing to return to Iran, my writing may not be so convincing, but it is the true picture of today's Iran. How many would exchange personnel freedom and conveniences in exile and return to Iran under such conditions is questionable.

I've come to accept the facts of life here and we are happy and content. After all, this is where our neighbors know who we are >>> travel forum

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