For better or worse
I've come to accept the facts of
life in Iran
By Abbas F. Saffari
September 8, 2003
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
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
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
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
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
by my colleagues, "How come you returned home after all these
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
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
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
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
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
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
Management is quite week, and without exception all top level
managers are selected based on their devotion
to the system. There is a general feeling of distrust toward
those who return from abroad to work. Nothing is confidential
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
of their personnel falls short of perfect status.
Incentives are rare. Having worked for 16
years in the U.S., I found myself exasperated
goes on at work in Iran. There is no clear agenda, no
for the future and no shortage of money, yet
employees find it hard to earn a decent wage. Millions of dollars
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
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
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
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
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