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True awakening
Going back to Iran was the best thing I had done in my life

By Kaveh Sartipi
November 2, 1999
The Iranian

"If you were to pay me a million dollars, I would not go back." This was what an Iranian co-worker said when she found out I was going to Iran for a month this past summer. I could not understand why. I kept telling her, this is your homeland, where you were born. Why would you not want to go?

Although, I must say, that when my parents first told me that they were putting in an application to get my Iranian passport, I was thinking the same thing. Why would I want to go back? All you ever hear is that Iran is in turmoil, still trying to recover from the revolution after twenty years.

Plus, this was going to be my last summer before graduating from college. I still have not taken my LSAT exam for law school, and I still have to get everything prepared to apply to various universities. I thought, I don't have time for this. I have other important things I have to do.

Well, that was then.

I have since gone to Iran and I can say that it was the best time of my life. I have no regrets, except for one. I did not stay long enough. I was there for only one month and I wish I could have been there all summer. It was truly awakening to see my homeland and the culture I am part of. And being able to see the rest of my family -- that by far was the best.

After going through the passport checkpoint and customs at Tehran airport -- which by the way did not involve any harassment -- I arrived to the area where everyone was waiting for their loved ones. Not a couple of family members, a couple of hundred from all over the country were there to greet me and my mother.

People (I had no idea who they were) kept coming up to me and introducing themselves and giving me hugs and kisses. I cannot explain the feelings. It's filled with emotions that you cannot prepare yourself for. I had no idea who these people were, just that they were family. Still, I could not control myself and just started to cry with joy.

Our country is filled with warmth and you feel it not only when you arrive, but throughout your visit. I saw more than one can imagine in a month. I was in Tehran, Isfahan, and traveled to the beaches near the Caspian Sea, including Ramsar. I visited my parents' village in Garmsar and Rikon, where everyone knows everyone else and they are all friendly.

I traveled to the mountains near Damavand to Shahboulaghi, where my uncle and aunt have summer homes. In Isfahan, I visited all the historical sites and was even able to go water skiing in Chadegan at a huge reservoir with beautiful scenery and great people. I also wanted to visit Shiraz but had to cut my plans short and did not get a chance to go.

I had heard a lot about the dangers of driving in Iran. When I first arrived, I was not scared, even when we would be going down a two-lane road and there were two cars coming at you, one in your lane! I had come to the realization that even though this is out of the ordinary for me, it is a habit for them. They are used to this. I also came to the conclusion that the best drivers in the world are in Iran, hands down.

I was pulled over a couple of times. The first was a real treat. When the policeman asked me to pull to the side as we passed a checkpoint area near Hamadan, my aunt quickly got out of the car and went to talk to the man. He said he wanted to talk to the driver, so my aunt came and got me and the officer asked for my license. I told him that I did not have one but my aunt was quick to say that I was visiting from the U.S. and had a foreign driver's license. He asked to see it, but I did not have it on me.

The officer decided to invite me to stay a few days at a luxurious prison so I could meet the judge. By this time, my aunt pretty much knew why we had been pulled over. The matter was quickly resolved with a contribution of a 1,000 tomans, or a little more than a dollar.

Going to all these places was not even half of it. Meeting and getting to know my family, being able to put a face to the voice on the other end of the telephone line, that was the best. I connected with people and talked about life and shared aspirations with students like me who have high hopes but face a lot of obstacles to get into college. The experience was worth traveling half way around the world.

The food. Oh, yes the food. I had never seen so much food made for lunch or dinner in my life. I thought we had big "ghaablamehs" here in the U.S. But guess what? Have you ever seen a "deeg?" It could feed an army with all that rice. And that was just for lunch. Forget about dinner! Talk about "taarof". They kept asking me to have more and more. Realizing that each one of these feasts cost the host as much as they made in a month, it was amazing they still kept insisting and inviting us over. The compassion and love in this country is unbelievable.

To make a long story short, this was the best thing I had done in my life. And by far, it was the best time of my life. I can't understand those who are not willing to go back and see their country. My advice, my two cents: If you can go, go. You won't regret it. I know I'm heading back next summer and this time, it's not going to be a one-month stay. I'll be there for the entire summer!

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