|Tehran under dust
Maybe a nice long rain will wash it all away
June 10, 2002
Probably just like so many other tales you've heard, this is my story.
Of all the events that have taken place in the course of my life to date, I can isolate
the one particular moment in time which is my defining moment. The moment that literally
set my past and future worlds apart. The moment which I said goodbye to everything
and everyone I ever knew, and left Iran.
Only if I knew then what I know now, I would have hung on a moment longer, saying
goodbye to the little girl I left behind.
The first few painful years, I was consumed with connecting to the world the way
I once had. The way that once, had made me feel whole. But then amnesia, and high
school prom, and a niversity degree, and a couple of post bachelor degrees, and a
position at a reputable firm, and an apartment in a posh area of town, and a set
of nice German wheels, and a loving family, and great friends...
And one day when I stood still long enough to hear my own voice. I heard a cry that
echoed from within. And heard a girl exhausted from perpetual self-consciousness,
from trying to justify her presence by achieving and then some, and from standing
poised on one leg rather balancing herself as a whole.
And so after taking a long hard look in the mirror, I began a new pursuit, without
a real direction. I started studying Rumi, and soaked it like a dry sponge. I started
surfing the net, and read every single article on Iranian.com.
And one day I read somewhere "Man Farzandeh Nasleh Mohajere Tabeedam" (I
am an offspring of the generation of exiled immigrants), and so with a knot in my
gut, I found a common denominator in my longing. I quit my job and decided to travel
My story is not one with deep insights, but it's about the ecstatical realization
of being on a journey (thank you Gelareh Asayesh!)... about hearing my own voice
on issues that tickle my heart... And ultimately, about making choices or living
with the ones made for you.
Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you
came. So here I am in Tehran, and by all accounts every second to this moment has
been an adventure.
My introduction to Iran actually came quite unexpectedly and suddenly -- on board
Iran Air's flight 710. This plane had faithfully held on to its 1970's motif.
As I entered, with my full hejab intact, following a bare-headed lady with dramatic
scarlet red lips, I was greeted with a large kitchen table in the center isle of
the first class cabin, decorated with a lovely art deco piece of sorts, badly in
need of dusting.
To my immediate right was a Namaz Khaneh (Prayer Room) -- I suppose in case of emergency
prayers given the dire state of this poor bird, since I do recall that one's excused
from praying on a trip according to Islam.
Anyway, during the next five hours or so, the predominant
mood was one of intense relaxation experienced by all aboard. The gentleman in front
of me never took his seat during take-off, while two men fought over an empty row
of seats, and most of the empty seats in my immediate sight were piled up with jackets
A man across the isle took out his scissors and got busy cutting his nails. All evidence
that us Iranians are not bound by international aviation rules of any sorts! Cell
phones rang, smell of cigarettes filled the cabin on a couple of occasions, and for
the first hour that the crew was preparing to serve our baghali polo (rice
with fava beans) and barre (lamb), I had the feeling that the rice was actually
being cooked right on the plane.
What I first took to be sarcasm in the flight attendants' attitude soon appeared
to actually be wonderful hostessship. When a baby was restless a few seats ahead
of me, one of the attendants (a man actually), took upon himself to play with him
ever so gently for 20 minutes or so. When I refused my meal, they taroffed (insisting,
very sweetly -- a special brand of Persian behavior).
They had casual conversations with the passengers, and most (except me - I was quite
dazed over this unexpected display of kindness) left saying gracious and long thanks
and goodbyes to the crew.
As I sat there with my cheeks burning with excitement, I was thinking how glad I
was that I didn't weasel out by taking the more luxurious British Airways, and missing
this experience first hand. I was also secretly fantasizing about giving all the
100 or so gentlemen sporting the same mustache and five O'clock shadow, a nice clean
Although Tehran has grown considerably -- high rises,
low rises, highways and bridges -- the blueprint to me was still recognizable. What
mesmerized me though was not the city's growth, but dark gray dust.
The weight of pollution in Tehran can be physically felt everywhere, masking the
majestic Alborz Mountains, drawing a curtain of gray on every single building in
the city, and even on the faces of people.
In short, no one and nothing has escaped the effects of socio-economic hardships,
recession (although technically two or more consecutive periods of recession is defined
as a depression), and hyperinflation, in this country.
On my first look, outside and inside, at times I had an image of walking into a marvelous
house built in the past and then frozen in one instant in time. Like the Titanic
when it first began to sink and the rooms just kinda filled with water. Everything
Once I had chuckled at the statement "Time is cruel", but now I felt its
cruelty lies in its power to depreciate. I look around and I know that without motivation
and resources, you are stuck in a time capsule. And this capsule is not even kind
enough to stop erosion. And here, I see the lack of one or the other, and then inevitably
My heart spent the entire day in a state of intense contraction. Not just over the
excitement of re-union, but also over anxiety that my eyes may reveal my utter shock.
Visiting with family was a delight, especially in the unselfconscious ways which
everyone, old and young, can just BE together. Conversations just flow and you can
tell it has nothing to do with the novelty of your presence.
On this first Friday, I drove from Gheitariye to Abbas
Abad, to Niroo Havaee, to Shahrara. Redundant recounts of driving excitement aside,
behind the thick haze I caught a sudden outline of the snowcapped, almost womb-like
Alborz mountains, far more outstretched and magnificent than in my dreams.
As I took note of everything I saw on the drive, more than anything, I counted and
counted flower shops and bakeries, open on Friday AND packed with people, when the
whole city is practically shut down.
Aaahhh, the hope and excitement I found in this little statistical exercise of mine
was uplifting. It was evidence that despite all else, there is still a wonderful
spirit roaming all around the dusty streets of Tehran. And the dust... Maybe a nice
long rain will wash it all away.
>>> Go to Part II: I
will remember you