This is a tale of four Iranian doctors. There’s an Iranian shopkeeper in here too, but that would have made the title too long. Of course, the tale isn’t so much about the doctors (or the shopkeeper for that matter) as it is about you. Yes, you.
The first pair of doctors
This story was told to me by my wife who witnessed the event. In a large hospital – it doesn’t matter in which of Iran’s cities – a child is crying with pain. He had just had his tonsils removed. The child’s father does his best to calm the boy without success. So he asks the two male doctors what can be done to ease the child’s pain. The doctors take in the father’s clothes and thick accent, and mentally mark him down as a ‘dehati’. “Bring ice cream!” they say.
So the father leaves the hospital, and after a long while returns with the fanciest ice cream he could buy. It must have been more than the man could afford. With pride, the father shows the ice cream to the doctors. They take one look at the pistachio-filled confection and launch a barrage of insults at the father, utterly humiliating him. The Ice cream is no good, they say. It has nuts in it. Then they take and eat the ice cream, as the child continues to cry.
In London my Iranian friends would talk of a shop that sold Iranian goods – gaz, advieh, torshi and so on. They all said that the Iranian shopkeeper would deliberately overcharge his Iranian customers, but didn’t dare do that to the occasional English customer for fear of the trading standards regulations.
When I said that was bizarre, normally it’s the other way around, the reply was: “that’s typical Iranian for you!” It doesn’t matter if the shopkeeper really overcharged Iranians, it is the wide perception that nobody can rip-off an Iranian like another Iranian that is important. I could add other anecdotes, and I bet you could also. So I am left wondering about a proud nation with a heritage of thousands of years that has such a hard time putting community above self.
The second pair of doctors
I was recently privileged to be invited to Budapest, Hungary, to receive an award for my book. The “Persian Golden Lioness Awards” ceremony was organized by the second pair of doctors in this tale, Dr Abdi and Dr Dorbayani. The awards celebrated the achievement of international Iranians, such as Omid Djalili, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Azar Nafisi, Kayvan Mashayekh, Sattar, Bruce Bahmani, and others. It also recognized the contribution of non-Iranians like Monika Jalili, Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Robinson, to Persian-related culture.
In all it was a celebration of the cultural achievements of the Iranian diaspora. It helps counter the all-too-common TV image of Iranians all being ranting fanatics. I have lost count of the number of times an American tries to understand that my wife is Iranian when she conducts herself as any businesswoman. Many have a hard time reconciling the TV image with individuals who don’t fit that image. Anything that promotes the image of Iranians as individuals, some of whom are extremely successful in the international arena, is a good thing.
By putting on such an event, raising the profile of international Iranians, the doctors Abdi and Dorbayani put their community above themselves. Now if you wear a cynic’s cap for a moment, you may say that it was not purely about the community, it was about raising the profile of the doctors and their institute, the WAALM/IFSI, in Budapest. To that I would reply that if you put as much into an event as they did, you would deserve some coverage and raised profile too. Some may dream of putting on such an event, but very, very few will see it through to reality. The hard work and sacrifices they made are an example to all, especially to the Persian diaspora, for it is just such placing of community above self that is the key to healing the past and creating a hopeful future for Iranians everywhere.
So what is the point of this tale? I learned that the organizers of the Persian Golden Lioness Awards sank a good deal of personal money into this venture. I learned that they only found one financial backer. Yet they still went ahead. They still put their community above themselves. As thoughts turn to the next ceremony, they will need backing in cash and public interest. Without the support of the Iranian diaspora, the event may fade away or become just another generic international award. So that brings me back to you. If you care about the image of your community, maybe you should back the doctors, or lobby for support on their behalf. It really is up to you.