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Not going back
American traveler sees religion, religion & more religion

February 27, 2001
The Iranian

Letter by an American woman who recently traveled to Iran.

Afshin joun, I knew that things had changed after the revolution; I knew that this was not the Iran that I had known. But I just wasn't prepared for the devastation, the desperate poverty, the overcrowdedness and the pollution that I saw. It is SOOOOOO sad to see what has happened to a once beautiful and thriving society.

This rigid Islamic government set out to kill a person's spirit, and succeeded mightily. There's a Welcome Desk at the airport where you learn that 43% of the population is under 14. old. That means that almost half the population is not contributing to the economy because they are underage and unable to work. The police and the army are just kids, still teenagers.

The women sit in the back of the bus, like the Blacks during the Jim Crow era. Did you know that women are not allowed to watch sports in the stadiums? You see men jogging in the streets, but not women: they have to go to special lanes in parks if they want to jog, still wearing that costume. Can you imagine how those poor women must suffer in the summertime? They can't ride bicycles either.

Because everybody wears black in the streets, I stood out like a sore thumb because my sneakers were white, my nails were red, and I wore makeup. I took a pair of red jeans, but I was never allowed to wear them outside the house because the family was afraid that I would get arrested.

And those damned pasdars who patrol the streets on foot and whose only reason for existence is to arrest women whose rousaries have fallen off their heads (can't they find a better way to make a living?).

Our friend came to see us from Rasht and told us that the navy stopped hiring women years ago; that all military personnel must read the Koran for one hour a day, two days a week; if they don't show up they get arrested. Lunch hours are divided in half: 30 minutes to eat, 30 minutes for compulsory prayer. They take attendance, so if you don't show up, you get arrested.

Nobody can wear makeup at work, whether private or governmental employees. The one thing that I found striking was the complete absence of music. The silence is deafening. All TV channels show is religion, religion & more religion; in the radio you hear: religion, religion & more religion. There's only one soap opera on TV and it's, you guessed it, the life of Imam Reza.

They have an equivalent of Blockbuster Video where you can rent films about religion, religion & more religion; also, only movies approved by the Islamic government. There are no clubs, no theaters, no concerts, no movies worth seeing, no decent restaurants. People get dressed to the hilt when they visit one another because otherwise when will they wear their pretty clothes? To go where?

The pollution is so bad that people wear surgical masks in the streets; I was covering my nose with my rousari to protect my lungs. There's absolutely no tourism: what non-Iranian man is going to save all year to take his family on vacation to a country where his wife or daughter can get arrested for showing her hair? Turkey has all the tourist business that used to go to Iran by the millions when I lived there (just like Puerto Rico, who got all the tourists that used to go to Cuba before our friend Fidel "liberated" them).

When I was in Iran, they had the largest hospital in the Middle East for patients with burns; they used to helicopter burn victims to Tehran for treatment, but no more.

The police stop cars, if they smell alcohol in your breath, look out! What drove me bananas was those larger-than-life billboards of Khomeini every three blocks all over the place.

Unemployment is sky high, and the cost of living is enormous. All and all, we just don't realize how lucky we are to live here in the U.S. Farshad told me that he rather flip hamburgers in a MacDonalds in a small town in Alabama than to go back to Iran to live. On the other hand, you can fill up your tank with $1.00, they have beautiful parks, and the people are warm and friendly (except the pasdars).

Because of the exchange, to me everything was very cheap (like Mexico) although people say it's expensive. Also, they can get any forbidden thing they want in the black market. When I told Farid that I usually have a glass of wine with my dinner every night, he told me: "Just tell me what you want and I'll get it for you." The next day, he brought me a bottle of cabernet.

When we visited Jaleh, her husband served vodka (I don't drink vodka, but that's not the point). I told them that we were on our way to creating a black market for cigarettes if the Democrats continue their witch hunt against smoking.

It was good to see the family; I love Fereshteh and from the moment that I landed it was as if we had never been separated. It's just that their life is so dead-ended; they have so little to look forward to; everyone's standard of living has drastically dropped.

You see, people in the streets were willing to talk to me because they knew I wasn't Iranian and I wouldn't rat on them. For example, they were complaining about the two million Afghans who are illegal aliens in Teheran and who they claim are stealing work from them by offering their services at a lower pay rate. I told them at least those illegals are working, not living off the public charity like parasites the way they do here.

There's such a feeling of hopelessness. And those tiny little boys who follow you around at 10 p.m. with a scale in their hands trying to weigh you for one toman; Fereidoon said those children should have been in bed getting ready for school the next morning. And in every lamp post they have those posters with two hearts and two rings that say: "young people should get married; marriage brings stability and happiness."

Farzad said they don't want young people screwing around; that's not a bad thing; it's just that people like, say Sunny, want to work and travel and have fun while they are young, before they assume the responsibilities of married life. But things definitely are not bad for men; very little has changed for them.

It's the women, oh dear, the women.

While I want to see the family again, I really don't want to go back; it's too boring and depressing. What I just told you is a fair assessment of what I saw. Don't I wish things would have been different. And to think that once Teheran was known as "the Paris of the Middle East." I came back to the States with the deepest feeling of sadness I have felt in a very long time.

Loves you always,


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