For those of us living in America , it is always interesting to hear how things are back home when a friend or relative travels to Iran . We want to know first hand what their perspectives are. But have you ever wondered what the Iranians living in Iran think once they visit America ? I want to share an experience with you as I hosted one of my best friends from Iran who came for a month long visit this past June. It was his first ever visit to America .
Farhad is not just an ordinary friend. I have known him since high school. We were also roommates at college in Iran in the early 1970’s. While a Junior at college, he was arrested by Savak (Shah’s secret police) for distributing political pamphlets, put into prison, and sent to the Army to serve a mandatory 2 years service. I lost touch with him for over 25 years. A few years ago while visiting Iran , a mutual friend invited me to a college reunion in Tehran and it was there that I saw Farhad again. He told me the story of his life and how he was able to finish his engineering degree after completing his term in the army, how he was briefly detained again after the revolution, and how he began working like a ‘normal’ person, as he puts it, in the engineering and construction field.
When he called last May and told me that he is coming to America for a relative’s wedding, I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to see him to catch up with the past and present. Fortunately, the wedding was right here in Orange County . When he arrived, I asked what he would like to see for the next 3 weeks. His response was just as unique as he is. He said “look Hossein, I can always see the usual tourist attractions, Disneyland , Hollywood , Universal, etc., but” he continued “What I like to see is life in America .
I want to see a school, a college, a private company, a city government. I want to see how you live, how you get a driver’s license, open a bank account, etc.” In short, he wanted to see ‘how an ordinary American lives’. This was actually music to my ears as I know many people in Iran only view America from what they see on television or what they read in news media. Their view of America is normally shaped by what George Bush is doing and by America ’s foreign policy toward Iran . The reverse is also true as many Americans view Iran based what it is projected by U.S. media.
For starters, I showed him an elementary and a high school in Irvine as well as University of California , Irvine . His impression? “A High School in Irvine has more sport and lecture facility as the largest university in Tehran !!” – and that’s only one high school in a small town! He also wondered why there is no wall around the school. He was amazed just at the size of land devoted to schools. I told him that the money for public schools come from our taxes (property taxes) to which he observed “so because you pay taxes, the government is accountable”. I saw how he was beginning to understand the one major aspect of American democracy: taxation with representation. That was great for a former leftist now in the land of ‘free enterprise’.
I spent the next two weeks showing him various aspects of life in America , a visit to Irvine City Hall , my office, a few construction projects (he is a civil engineer). Finally, I did convince him that he has to visit Las Vegas . After all, how could you experience America without a visit to the Sin City ? Besides, I love the trip to Vegas. The 6 hours trip across the long desert road with the arid surrounding mountains brings back memories of the landscape in Iran , especially Fars province. We also had 6 hours to catch up on all matters from personal life to politics in Iran and America . What impressed him again was the freeway and how futuristic the old generation has been to think about future expansion.
Hearing how many people die in Iran by car accidents due to inadequate roads, I could see his point. We stayed in Vegas for two nights and on the way back I also showed him the Hoover Dam, Colorado River , and Laughlin Nevada . He got to see all the major hotels on the Strip as well as two shows “Cirque du Soleil O” at Bellagio, which I highly recommend, and the legendary Jubilee! – Vegas Production Show, running since 1981 in Las Vegas . His observations? Besides being impressed with all the glitz that come with Vegas, he was impressed with the fact that an otherwise useless strip of land has become a mega million dollars industry, and that the theater at a private property (Bellagio) was more advanced than the main conference hall in Tehran. He also was impressed with the level of safety and how well behaved the crowds were, despite all the drinking and gambling without the watchful eye of the “morality” police, as he puts it.
He spent the next two weeks visiting friends and seeing attractions from Santa Barbara to San Diego . The night before his departure I asked “So Farhad, what is your overall impression of America ?” to which he replied “Hossein, I observed that in America you do not have any Government! ” When asked to explain, he said in Iran and many other countries, we have to deal with someone in the central Government on a daily basis face to face. That’s true whether you need a birth certificate, drivers license, building permit, school admission, oil, money at the bank, travel, making a movie, forming a company, getting married, you have to deal with someone in the Government, wait in line, provide a ‘ton’ of document to prove you are who you say you are before anything gets done.
In America , on the other hand, generally speaking you only deal with Federal Government at most once a year when you file your taxes and that’s done via mail or online. For the rest of your needs, you deal with private entities with minimum amount of paperwork. Your driver’s license is the proof of your identity and you only show it without providing a photo copy and two passport size photos every time! This may sound contrary to the thinking of my Republican friends who think Government is still too big, but I guess everything is relative. In a nutshell, my former socialist friend saw first hand the value of ‘private’ enterprises and how public interest and privatization could benefit a democratic nation.
While here, he also visited many Iranian owned businesses and Iranian Americans. He was very impressed with our success in America . He was also amazed how we have kept our cultural identities and are up-to-date with events back home. His advice for us? Do what you are doing and excel at every aspect of you personal and professional life whether in science, education, business, medicine and all professions. Keep in touch with people back home and help in any way, shape or form you find appropriate. There are many people in private and public sectors that could use your expertise. You might never return to Iran but the experience and knowledge you have would always be useful no matter where you are.
Finally, I did explain to him how I was amazed at the diversity of America when I first arrived here some thirty something years ago. I told him American people do not resemble one another even if you painted them all one color! They speak all languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations and religious beliefs. For a long time I could not figure what on earth is uniting the Americans. Is it our land? Our history? Our economic power? Money? I tried for months if not years to find an answer. Now I know. Only freedom can work such miracles! I hope we never lose our freedom and I do hope people in other parts of the world get the freedom they deserve. Till next time, bon voyage Farhad!