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For Bambie's sake
We have "culture shock" and we have culture shock

November 2, 2001
The Iranian

In 1975 I had just come to the U.S. to attend college. Once, late at night, a female student and I took a break from our study group to get a cup of coffee. We needed to stay up longer to cram for exams. The cafeteria was closed but there was a coffee vending machine down the hall.

I was eager to get the caffeine into my bloodstream. I told my friend "this is just awesome" -- meaning the coffee was awesome. She misunderstood me and said, "It must be culture shock for you, huh?" I said, "What culture shock?" She said, "The coffee coming from the machine." I explained to her that I had had many cups of coffee from vending machines and there was no culture shock. "Do you want to hear a real culture-shock story?"

I started telling her of the time in 1964 when my brother Kaveh and I, who were both born here in the U.S. (my father was a student here at the time), were going to Iran since my father had decided it was time to go back to his homeland.

Before we left, "Bambie" had just been released by Disney and it was the last movie we saw. We both fell in love with the adorable deer and wanted to have a real Bambie pet. My mom told us that in Iran we will be able to have pets like they did when they were young. We could have a puppy, or even a baby lamb. Naturally, after hearing that, we couldn't wait to go to Iran.

Our mother had also claimed that we had a lot of relatives in Iran. The day we got to Mehrabad airport we were welcomed by a caravan of at least 15 cars -- full of cousins, uncles and aunts whom we had never seen before. Our mother had said the truth. We DID have a lot of relatives. Seeing them gave greater credence to her "you can have a pet in Iran" promise. My brother and I had already decided to name the yet unseen pet Bambie.

We left the airport and drove to my grandmother's house near Chaharrahe Hassanabad in downtown Tehran (this was 1964). When we got out of the car we saw Bambie! A beautiful lamb had been tied to a rope and was ba-ba-ing. Mom had not lied. It was true. We could have a pet.

My brother and I ran to hug Bambie. All of a sudden a guy unleashed the lamb, grabbed it by the neck, slammed it to the ground like a defeated wrestler, took out a sharp knife, said something in Arabic, and next thing you know, blood was gushing everywhere. The man was killing Bambie.

We had shed so many tears when Bambie's mother had died in the cartoon; now we were witnessing Bambie's murder in front of our own eyes. We were simply devastated. Of course, my parents explained that this was simply a ritual; since we had made it to Iran safely, they were sacrificing the lamb to give the meat to the poor. It was a kind of Thanksgiving.

Coffee coming from a machine into a cup isn't really 'culture shock', I told my college friend. Slitting Bambie's throat... THAT's culture shock.

What made me remember that conversation was the current war in Afghanistan. I thought with all the money being spent on the war, the government should hire at least one cultural specialist. The position would not educate the Afghans, but rather U.S. policy makers to assist them in pursuing their objectives without looking ridiculous.

If I was named cultural advisor in this war, I would tell the armed forces not to drop fliers or broadcast messages that the U.S. military is so strong and technologically advanced that it can pinpoint a missile through a bedroom window. I would not acknowledge that we have "smart bombs". The reason is that when we accidentally bomb market places, houses and buses with not-so-smart bombs, no one on the ground will believe we truly made a mistake, and they will buy into the Taliban propaganda that the U.S. is hitting civilian centers on purpose.

I would not drop ready-to-eat rations with peanut butter in them. I would advise that they replace it with lavashak and tamr hendi that we loved so much as kids. Minute amounts of certain foods like peanut, when ingested, can be life-threatening due to allergy. I once read a study that in Canadian schools, children have had skin rashes and stomach upsets just from simply contacting residual peanut butter on tables.

I would also tell the armed forces to never mention that they would suspend bombings on Fridays out of "respect" for the Moslem day of prayers. Now, they are also talking about stopping the bombings during Ramadan. If you want to stop bombings due to logistical reasons on a particular Friday, do it, but don't try to get extra credit by saying it's out of respect for Islam.

As cultural advisor I would recommend that if you are going to stop bombing for religious reasons, then also stop bombing on all major Islamic holidays. And if you are dealing with the Northern Alliance Shiites, then all their separate holidays like the birthdays of Imam Reza and other disciples should be considered no-bombing days. That would leave the allies with only a few days a year to carry out military operations.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Sepehr Haddad

By Sepehr Haddad

Haddad's features index


A big beautiful lamb
Memoires of a sacrifice
By Mehrnaz Mahallati

Buying a dog in Tehran
By Jahanshah Javid


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