It seemed like I had waited for eternity, but March 13 finally arrived. This would be my second trip to Iran in nearly 25 years. I spent the entire year working and cut off all my social and cultural activities because I was too busy. During 2007, I only attended two very small gatherings and two weddings and I was perfectly fine. [Abadan photos]
Unlike last year, this year I had reasons, beyond my control, to be afraid of going to Iran. I am too old to change, have no fear and figured if I got held up, I would just deal with it.
A few days before my trip I watched a Finish movie while I was in agony because of an experimental procedure on my elbow. This Finish movie, Mother of Mine, was about children during World War II that had to be moved to Sweden and other places because their homeland was under attack. The adorable 6 year old experienced homesickness in a profound and memorable way. I was so mesmerized while watching the movie that I didn’t feel the pain in my elbow. I stopped screaming and wept. I watched it four times and knew this was no coincidence. I was being reminded what “home” means to each person.
This time, I switched airlines and took the day off to eliminate my anxiety. I got to the airport a few hours early but the nasty and unfriendly Cuban ladies at the counter gave me a hard time about my carryon baggage weighing over 8 kilos. I never heard that before and noticed there were people with bigger carryon bags. I guess because I was the first one at their counter they just picked on me. Because of the pain in my elbow it was hard for me to use my right hand yet, I had to move things around and then I asked for the manager who was German. To his credit, he was sympathetic. I ended up paying the excess baggage but was harassed by another Cuban who barely spoke English about the Spiderman Throw in my hand. I took its cover, threw it in the charge, and shoved it in my handbag. I vowed to write to Lufthansa and tell them that they seriously should consider having Americans or other nationalities at their counters. It is a well-known fact that most Cubans in Miami only are friendly to those who speak Spanish.
There was an hour delay, which did not sit well with me. The fact that there were no chairs to sit on did not help. I tried to busy myself by reading. Finally, we boarded. Luckily, the nice people next to me were an older German couple that did not bother me.
When I arrived in Frankfurt, I checked in at the lobby for my hotel room. I was truly impressed at how pleasant and courteous the people were. My room was just the way I liked it, clean with crisp white sheets. I took a shower and slept about three hours but was too anxious to stay in so I checked out.
My mother told me, since childhood, that I must never dislike or have bad thoughts about people or things because the very people or things I dislike, would come my way!
I went to the gate a few hours early. A very unattractive young man with exaggerated spiky hair was trying to sleep on several chairs he pulled together. He asked if I was coming from the U.S., which I answered yes. Once I heard his accent, I didn’t want to talk to him but he proceeded to scare me about excess baggage and how he had paid 600 Euros for two suitcases. It sounded like a big lie but I didn’t want to argue as he didn’t look like someone with a lot of money. He told me he was going to Iran for four weeks because of his work. This sounded like a typical Iranian, from that region, boasting about his non-existent high paying job. He got four weeks vacation even though he had worked there a few months! My employer provides four weeks vacation only after ten years of employment. I was proud of myself for not being obnoxious and asking how come he couldn’t afford a hotel room and business class seat, instead of economy, considering his big job for such a young single person.
Finally, we were allowed to board. I was filled with so much excitement that I felt light and skinny. An Azeri mechanical engineer sat to my left and an American lady who spoke flawless Farsi sat to my right. For the next few hours the brother drank beer, and argued about God. He felt compelled to tell me that in Tabriz, at their big religious events, the people did not cry when the high ranking Tabrizi mullah conducted the sermon in Turkish but, they would sob when the other mullah conducted the same sermon in Arabic. The American lady was delightful, and we had a very good conversation about the misunderstanding of so many people about Iran and the role of women in Iran. She told me she travels there several times during the year. I am sure she saw the envy in my eyes. The whole time I spoke English and she answered in Farsi. She also gave me a great tip, which I am eternally grateful. For some reason she also paid me a great compliment by saying the world needed more women like me and I am old enough to know when a compliment is genuine.
When it was announced that we were landing at Khomeini airport, my heart was filled with joy. I can only describe it as feeling young again. As we took the escalator down, the tall glass divider enabled me to see my sister and nephew waiting for me. They didn’t know that another Iranian family was there to see me, as well. I met them last year while waiting to depart. They were there to personally thank me because of something I had done for one of their family members in the U.S. The customs process of checking my passport and walking out of the terminal took no more than a few minutes.
At 2:00 in the morning, I was the chatter box people always comment about because I talk so fast. I introduced the family to my sister and her son, and had a wonderful time talking to them for about 30 minutes. They were exceptionally generous and in addition to giving my son Noruz gifts, they also gave me gifts as well as a package of CDs of old Iranian singers.
Once we exited the parking garage, I noticed that one of the CDs was from Hassan Sharestani, which I had been looking for since 1990 when my car was stolen in San Francisco and all of my old tapes were stolen. I knew this was the beginning of a great year.
It was windy and my sister was afraid the car would turn over, due to the force of the wind, but I assured her that the wind could not mess around with a fat, middle aged Iranian woman!
I arrived at my youngest sister’s home at 5:00 am. After talking for a while, I went to sleep and she went to serve justice as she is the head of the legal department in a court system predominantly run by boys. I had not told the rest of my family because I had wanted to spend the first week in complete peace with my mom, dad, two sisters, and their two boys. My dad was not told of my pending arrival because, for some reason, these days he can’t keep a secret so he can’t be trusted.
At 10:00 am, after eating breakfast, I dashed out of my sister’s house to the building located within a few meters and surprised my dad. I made him promise not to tell anyone or I would go back to the U.S.!
I spent the mornings eating breakfast with my ten-year-old nephew, watching a show called, “Hello, Iranian People”, which was delightful to me. They had different people ranging from nutritionists to artists and even one mullah talking about various subjects, in a group setting. Once I got over the fact that women were wearing scarves and conservative clothes, I saw the brilliance and eloquence of these women and realized how far women have come. I was surprised to see high quality documentaries, children programs, and movies. I often heard, from Iranians, that all there was on Iranian TV was Koran! Good thing I never listen or believe these statements. There was one channel, which had Koran recited and the translation was splashed on the screen. I was surprised to see women calling in and reciting flawlessly. As you know, most countries don’t allow women to recite the Koran. I loved IRNN, which is a news channel that has world news in English running in at the bottom of the page while the polished and professional newscaster told the news.
Around 10:00 a.m., I would go to my parent’s apartment and spend time talking with my 83-year-old father and 72-year-old mother. My dad goes to the zoorkhaneh, house of power, three times a week and is in great shape as well as his hearing and social wit. I wish my stomach was as flat as his. My mother, on the other hand, has problems walking and her hearing is not so great. I had to shout a lot. My dad and I walked to a park everyday to get some exercise.
Everyday around 2:30, both of my sisters would come home. One is a social worker with special needs children and deals mostly with deaf and blind children and adults. We would eat lunch and laugh while I went over how I had managed to elude family members and remain undiscovered. The social worker would tell us heart-warming stories of human spirits displayed by the mischievous special children. My parent’s apartment is a fraction of the size of our old house in Khorramshahr but, it was warm and cozy and I was content being around my siblings. [Khorramshahr photos]
In the afternoons, we went out but I walked behind my sisters in case they ran into a relative, upon which I could turn around and run somewhere to hide. A few times, family members stopped by and I dashed to either the closet or the shower and hid there for a while. I was getting really good at keeping still for a while.
Wednesday was Charshanbeh Soori, which is the last Wednesday of the year. The TV was showing horrific images of those burnt by using fire crackers and other unsafe explosives used to make noise or light up. They were trying to discourage people using these unsafe materials but some of the skeptics stated it was to discourage the celebration of lighting fires which was a Zoroastrian tradition and therefore non-Islamic!
Thursday, we got up and decorated the haft seen, (seven S), spread in observation of the Iranian New Year tradition. The year changed and I gave everyone new dollar bills because everyone stated that I have a “light hand” and last year all those who had received the dollars from me had a good and prosperous year. Who was I to disagree that I am a good omen child.
My mother gave me a pair of earrings that I had been diligently looking for as far back as when I was a teenager. It is called “Ashrafi” and bears the pictures of kings from the Qajar dynasty. Although I despise the kings of this family, which were a bunch of lousy opium smoking sickly men, concerned only with their own pleasures and the plundered Iranian treasury and gave away precious areas, I wanted the earrings because, they were part of Iran’s history. Of course, the market is flooded with replicas but for me only the real thing will do. I was really touched that my mother gave me two precious pieces of jewelry, a priceless ruby necklace, which she had managed to take when the Iraqi bombs started to fall. She had placed them in a sandwich bag, put on her sandals, and left with her life. May all those who helped Saddam, live painful and miserable lives and burn in eternal hell in the afterlife!
I felt bad for my relatives because we were not answering the door or the phone so that our relatives would think we were out of town.
Finally, about 2:30 we headed to the train station. I was beside myself with joy as I was going home. Well, it turned out we needed one more ticket and the train had been separated so my sister Betty and I had to travel on one train and, the rest of my family on another which would be coming right behind ours. I prayed that no unwanted people would be in my cabin. My prayers were answered and a young and very homesick Khuzestani couple came in.
Our host was a handsome 21 year old man with sparkling blue eyes and as always, I was impressed to see a young man working and attending college at the same time. Some Iranians will tell you that all young people are on drugs and lazy. My sister and I made a bet. She thought that he was from the Azerbaijan region because he had blue eyes and light skin. I bet that he was from Khorramshahr because his warm and expressive personality signified he was from our region. People from Azerbaijan are usually conservative and do not open up until they get to know you. Well, I won. He was born, raised, and lived in Khorramshahr! You guessed it, in addition to dinner, I ordered tea all night long so I could tip him and make up for all those heartless people who had stolen the sheets or pillows, which he was responsible for and had to pay for. I also wished I had a daughter so I could ask him to be my son-in-law! The young couple, from Arab origins, told me about the year they lived away from Ahvaz and how they decided to come back. [Khorramshahr photos]
When we reached Ahvaz, it was early in the morning and a beautiful breeze brushed my face. When I was told that we would be catching a different train to Khorramshahr, I was elated. After more than 31 years, I would get to go home by train and relive my memories of college on winter and spring break.
In less than an hour the other train arrived and we anxiously awaited the arrival of the Khorramshahr train. In less than thirty minutes, a five car train arrived. We boarded as the magnificent sun began to rise. I sat next to the window so I could watch the sun rising and the vast vacant land with sporadic areas filled with rainwater or a few mud houses were quite the scenery. There were also some scattered weapons, which were the reminders of the horrible war. What were missing were the palm groves, which I remembered vividly. I noticed that due to the war, and years of neglect many had dried out, burned out, or simply destroyed.
As the train neared Khorramshahr, my heart began to beat faster. The fat 52-year-old Middle-aged women disappeared, and the young, skinny 21 year old was going home! When the train stopped, I had to catch my breath and remember that I was fortunate to be there and not regret the past or get melancholy. The station was new and much bigger than the one prior to the war, which I remembered. I took some pictures and we boarded a minibus for Abadan where we would be staying. [Khorramshahr photos]
I cannot describe the range of emotions I was experiencing as I was looking at the new and rebuilt Khorramshahr. There were more willow and cedar trees than palm trees but, they were just as beautiful. There seem to be a lot more Arabs where women wore the traditional Abaya which is a black fabric and covers the entire body. I knew the whole time my mouth was open in awe.
We arrived at the place in Abadan and I was thrilled to hear the much familiar Abadani accents. Because my sister works for the courts, we were given a place which actually was not supposed to be available but, we found out from the head of the place, later on, that he had agreed because he had been told we are all originally from Khuzestan and one was coming all the way from America to be there. Sweet and kind thoughts that could only come from an Abadani, I always say that God gives beautiful beings a beautiful outside to match.[Abadan photos]
There was a huge prayer room with exquisite Persian carpets and we were asked if we wanted to settle there. I said absolutely not because I did not want to damage the beautiful Persian rugs in case something spilled. We put our suitcases down and my dad, sisters and I went to find some place we could buy food. It was Friday and most places were closed. We walked around the corner past a tank that was left behind from the war, and found a restaurant. They were busy cooking for a wedding. I thought that was a good omen. The food was not great but by nature I am not fussy about food and care much more about how the place makes me feel and who is around me. Being in Abadan, and eating in a local eatery was good enough for me.
I was restless while the rest of my family took a nap. I ventured out and walked around the residential areas, stopped by a little grocery and talked to a young man about how real estate prices had skyrocketed in Abadan. By the time I got back everyone was up and tea was served and we got dressed to go to the Friday Market, which is similar to a Flee Market in the US. The place was packed and buzzing with shoppers looking for bargains, and vendors selling their goods. I bought some green almonds and a few CDs because some vendors were playing Bandari music and I liked what I heard.
It was completely dark when we walked back. We ate tuna prepared by my youngest sister. I woke up early, as I always do, and went into the yard to walk around until everyone woke up. We ate breakfast and headed to Tahlenji Bazza, which literary means the bottom of the Lenj which is a special boat. As soon as we entered the shopping center, we met an Abadani man in his sixties and he said hello to my dad. They began to reminisce about the good old days and the man began to talk about the Shah so I quickly walked away. I was tempted at first to say that a fat and ugly Dick who lives in Paris, and his main job is kissing the ass of the college drop out bitch (aka Farah Diba) the Iranian mother of monarchist, should be conversing with him. Then on second thought, such an ass kisser belongs in Paris and is not worthy of being in my region!
My sisters and nephews went to different shops. The stores were filled with Western merchandise, and I was welcomed in every store. I bought a perfume and lipstick so every time I use them, I will be transported back in time. I also bought a movie, which I was told had been shot in Khuzestan. I was thrilled to meet two of the people who were in the video shot, mostly in Abadan, for the Sanate Naft Team, and can be seen on YouTube. I recognized them and they were impressed.
At lunchtime, we went back and found my dad and the guy still talking and he wanted us to go to his house. But, we all know that eating a food prepared by a pro Crown Cannibal is definitely Haram to me!
As we walked a little, I saw a Pakistani restaurant next to the Khorramshahr terminal. I remembered as a child when my dad would take me to a small place where I ate food with curry and liked it. When we went into the packed restaurant, I saw the picture on the wall that I recognized as the person I had seen as a child. The new owner, the son, was impressed and smiled. I had Ghalieh Meigoo, shrimp, tamarind and vegetables. It was out of this world. We ordered lunch from there everyday but there was a line a few hundred feet but he would let me go in and sit and order so I could take it home. I was fair enough to make my sisters stand in line to be honest and follow rules. I had a slight cold and was not supposed to eat Ghalieh but I was not about to be good now! [Khorramshahr photos]
We went back to our place to rest a bit and to come back at night because I have always loved the night scenes in my region. Everyone took a nap but since childhood I could not sleep in the afternoons, and used to play and once I could read, that was what I did when everyone was asleep. I was reading a book written by an American in 1958 while living in Iraq with her husband, an anthropologist writing his book on life in a remote village in Iraq. That had been the time my parents decided to take me to Baghdad to thank the Shia saint Hussein because I had survived, a few children had died before me, and as we were on our way to the boat, the radio had announced that the government had been toppled! That is why this book, in a way, is connected to my past.[Abadan photos]
At about 6:00, everyone awoke and we had tea and fruit and headed back to the Abadan streets. My God, there was a sea of people and I hated it. What I found surprising was the fact that there were no morality police around and women were walking with exposed polished toes and pants above their ankles. Their hair was sticking out of their scarves and most had tons of makeup, none from my region because they really are not as restricted as those living in other parts of Iran. They take advantage of the liberal atmosphere of Khuzestan. When I was in Arak, where my family lives now, the women police were driving around and were everywhere. I was convinced God must have had a really bad day when he created them because they were truly ugly and fatter than normal.
It was nearly midnight when we decided to go back because I was sniffling and coughing. We thought we should get some over the counter medicine. The handsome and young pharmacist gave me some over the counter antibiotic and cold medicine. He looked at me and in a very mischievous tone said, “The medicine made in the Islamic Republic is blessed and will either kill you or heal you”. I laughed out loud and for the first time in a long time, I was reminded why I cannot be like normal women and just date a man. I have to have a love affair and that man has to be not only handsome but also funny in an unexpected way.
After my visit with the Abadani rose, which was in the middle of barren soil and had two different color buds, I hit the sack. The next day we went to the Central Market, which I had not been to the year before. I loved the architecture and bought a carryon bag so I would always remember Abadan. I also bought two silk Narcissi flowers and one Lotus flower desk clock. That place was so packed one could barely move. When we finally got outside, the traffic reminded me of New York. We went back to the Pakistani restaurant and took the food home to enjoy in peace.
That afternoon my family went to a place for families with kids in Ahmadabad area. My nephew and I went to the famous Abbas Ashi, Abbas soup, and bought some vegetable soup, then stopped by at a bakery and bought fresh baked Iranian bread, and headed for the park.
The park was packed with locals, as well. I loved the Bandari music being played and asked some people if I could take their pictures smoking hookahs. A family next to me encouraged their two little girls to dance and when I told them that my dad used to encourage me to dance, they smiled and said they could tell I was a good dancer because, I was shaking my shoulders unintentionally. They kissed my face and insisted that we go to their house so they could make Ghalieh for us. I assured them that I was lucky enough to have Khuzestani friends in United States, and I get to eat that frequently and other food from my region.
It was really late and my mother was getting tired so we left. The next morning we headed for the Kuwaiti bazaar. Of course, it is very different than what I remember but the emotions it awakens while walking there are the same. I bought some Hugo Boss shirts and took a picture of the two owners who wanted to say hello to all Abadanis living away from home. I also bought some wallets to give as gifts to those who think I have a good energy as they tell me their wallets are always filled with money. I just wonder why my own wallet is never filled with dollars.
For five days we walked on various streets of Abadan and never got tired. I only had one bad experience. There was a jewelry shop that I saw a bracelet in the window with calligraphy. I pointed to the not so handsome man inside. He took the bracelet out of the window. I went in and heard him arguing with a lady with the same accent, you guessed it, Isphahani. He put the bracelet back and when I told him that I had seen him remove it from the window, he didn’t seem to care. I marched outside and cursed him in English using my favorite four-letter words, which he deserved for being so rude. I discovered a little store, which was closed, that had its window packed with antique Persian agates and some memorabilia from the Crown Cannibal dynasty.[Abadan photos]
The flu, which I had been fighting with and eating tons of sweet lemons and taking over the counter medicine, finally caught on, and I had to stay in a whole day. I was really mad but I had no choice and slept most of that day. I missed going to the Abadan museum.
We called an attorney in Khorramshahr, which I was supposed to take a letter from my kindergarten teacher to him. I also called Mr. Ebadi, a young engineer who had been wonderful enough to send me pictures from my beloved town and write about it. I told him that I had not eaten Sboboor for nearly 31 years, a fish only available in the Persian Gulf, and had to be baked in a clay oven with special spices, and no restaurant served it. I knew it would be hard to get it because there were too many visitors in Khorramshahr and many already knew about this fish and wanted to eat it. He told me he would call me and let me know. Later on, he called and told me that when I finished with the attorney to call him and he would pick us up.
The next morning we rented two cars and the journey to Khorramshahr began. One must be in my place to know how I felt on that beautiful sunshine spring day. On the way, we saw a Chinese Bazaar, which had just opened and it was a wholesale market for merchants. I was impressed at the knowledge of local merchants because most of them stated that there are three grades of goods, the best went to US, and the second to Dubai, and the last grade went to Iran!
I loved the new boulevards lined with willow and cedar trees and there seem to be a lot more residents than last year. We stopped in front of the lawyer’s office which was not that far from our home that sold two years ago. He had lived all over the world and even 8 years in Dubai. He had been homesick and now he was totally content living where he wanted. He complained about the land prices, which had gone up dramatically. It turned out our house, two story and 260 meters, which had been sold for $25,000, was now worth $150,000. It saddened me because that means I have to come up with a lot more money to buy an apartment there to retire and spend at lease the fall and winter. I wish I had bought our house and just left it as the buyer had done.
I picked up the papers from the lawyer’s office and thanked him. I then called Mr. Ebadi and told him we were going to walk around and would call him when we were done. We first went to the alley where our home was located. The windows were still boarded up as the result of the 8-year war was evident on the door, walls and windows. But no doubt the greedy buyer is waiting for the right moment to knock it down and build an apartment building as everyone else seems to be doing.
We walked across the street where the Jame mosque was located. I had driven by this mosque on a daily basis when I went home for college break but never went inside. There were little shops on a strip facing it and I bought a Jasper pendent and a big prayer tablet so every time I prayed, my forehead would touch the sacred soil of my hometown. The storeowner showed me his address book filled with his relatives addresses living in US. He too had lived abroad and was glad to be back home.
I mustered the courage to go to the museum of war, which was in the same area as the mosque. I have refused to go to the areas where there is a lot of what is called Noor Caravan, caravan of light. The travelers on these buses are from Azerbaijan and Isphahan and supposedly go to pay their respect to the martyrs of war. Respect? My foot! They go because taxpayers pay for the whole trip so they get free transportation, lodging, and food. In case you are wondering how I know where they were from, I watched them on Iranian TV being interviewed. They are dressed ultra conservative and their accents are only from these two areas. We all know I have a big mouth and seeing these cheap ass free loaders, would have boiled my blood, and I would have said something to them, and would have gotten in trouble. I pray that mother universe avenges all those who supported the war.[Abadan photos]
Inside the tent, I was overwhelmed with mixed emotions and had to try hard to hold back the tears. There were pictures of old Khorramshahr and I recognized two girls who had gone to high school with one of my sisters. I asked if there were a way to purchase some of the pictures. A very polite young man wrote down my address and told me there was a project in the works to collect pictures and publish them in a book. Another young man came outside and told me to ask the readers of Iranian.com to help them and send pictures of old Khorramshahr if they have it. I encourage everyone to help this great cause. The address to send pictures: Ahvaz, Azadegan Avenue, Keykavoos street, Attari Street, Marty Mohammadi Alley, # 109
I took some pictures of the square and sat there for a few minutes to engrave the scenes in my memory. I also vowed that if I live to get my 401k and be able to buy a place so I can live at least six months of the year in Khorramshahr, I would go inside the Mosque, take my own prayer veil, and pray. I took some pictures and marveled at how lucky I was to be alive and at home after three decades.
We called Mr. Ebadi and he was there in less than ten minutes. We all got into his car, and he took us to Minoo Island, and some areas outside Khorramshahr. He also took us to the border where Iraq was on the other side. There was a young soldier on duty that told us to turn around and not get out of the car or take pictures.
My parents had left Minoo Island when I was an infant, but I felt a strong bond. Of course, some big time investors have bought all the land and soon will build high rises and profit enormously. Seeing the neglected palm groves saddened me.
We then went back to the private school, which is owned by Mr. Ebadi’s sister, and it was a beautiful, very cheerful little place with one beautiful Konar tree. The air conditioning was on and unlike most people, I love going to a places with air-conditioning. We chatted a little about what was happening in Khorramshahr and in no time the food was delivered. Only someone who loves Soboor fish knows what it feels like to have it after 31 years. All I can tell you is that all those years of waiting were worth it! Mr. Ebadi’s mom had done an outstanding job and everyone in my family was thrilled to eat this very delicious fish, which was done to perfection. We chatted some more and then decided to get a taxi and send my parents back to their residence in Abadan because I didn’t want to worry about them walking too much.
We went to the Bazaar and I went to a little bakery and bought some puff pastry, which has been my favorite since I was a child. It was truly out of this world. I had never tasted puff pastry like that even buying it from the best French bakery in the U.S. where I live. We walked a little and then decided to have some faloodeh, sweet noodles, and ice cream. I kept fantasizing about when I retire, I would make my rounds everyday.
We went to the little jewelry section but didn’t find Arash jewelry, which is where I bought my bangles last year. I took it as a sign that I didn’t need any jewelry even if it was made in my beloved town.
The afternoon breeze was comforting and local residents were everywhere. We walked by a little shopping strip, I sat on a bus stop bench as my sister and her son went across the street to play in the park. I watched the cars, as they passed by, and kept imagining how I would spend my afternoons watching the children play in the playground, once I retire.
The sun began to set. We went to a vendor selling nuts. I bought some Basoorak, which is a nut with a tangy taste, and I loved it. It was getting dark and my parents were alone in Abadan so we decided it was time to leave.
A young man with a really old Paykan stopped by and a few minutes later the car stopped. He managed to get it going and shared his frustrations about his marriage to the 14-year-old bride that did not appreciate his hard work and his decency. Doctor Azam is accustomed to giving advice since I was a teenager, so I made sure I told him what to do!
We got home exhausted, but elated. The next day the head of the department and his driver took us to the bus station to go to Ahvaz. The boss was a tall and handsome Abadani, married of course, who now lived in Khorramshahr and loved it. I was in a somber mood during the ride to Ahvaz and when we got to the train station we decided to sit at the park across the street and eat. I went and bought kebob from one of the stores around the square. I ran into a European looking man and asked if he spoke English. Simon said yes! We invited him to join us for lunch and we chatted. I was so thrilled to find out this 23-year-old Swiss, had experienced Persian hospitality everywhere he had gone. He was going to be on the same train but would be getting off in Tehran.
We boarded the train and I didn’t sleep during the ride. I spoke to a young man about the cultural heritage and was interrupted by the shouting of a young man because the time for prayer at the station had not been long enough! He proceeded to insult the conductor by accusing him of watching football while others were praying. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and I figured if the scrawny little idiot wanted to pick a fight, the sheer force of a 160 pound fat middle-aged woman was enough, but if backup was needed, my nephew Pooria, a body builder and State champion, would be called upon.
I told the man, not only his prayers were not accepted that night; they would not be accepted for a longtime. I kept my composure and said, “The first rule of pleasing God is to be respectful and mindful of others but, you just disturbed my sisters who have very responsible jobs. One has to go to court and prosecute corrupt officials, and the other is a social worker that helps deaf and mute kids. By shouting, you disturbed their sleep and they will not be able to function. You also have worried your wife and the people in your own car. I understand you have a legitimate complaint but screaming is not the solution, this is the 21st century and you could pick up the phone and complain to the authorities or write them”. To my surprise, he was embarrassed and didn’t say anything. We reached our destination at about 2:30 in the morning.
It was before 9:00 a.m. and the phone began to ring. My vacation was officially over because now my relatives would start coming, and I had to be pleasant and receive them. I was invited to go to Shiraz, Isphahan and Aradabil where one of my cousins moved last year. I wanted to go to see the Sabalan Mountain but everywhere in Iran was too crowded. Of course, I was truly impressed that police had surrounded the roads. I still have nightmares about my last trip, in 1978, driving on the road where bodies were scattered everywhere due to an accident. The image of one shoe next to a body and those lifeless bodies have never left me and neither has the hatred I felt for the Crown Cannibal not spending money to make roads safer and instead celebrating the crown on his bitch’s head and spending mind boggling amounts of money.[Abadan photos]
I hate being invited and only like to go where I want to go but in this case, I didn’t have a choice. Everyday I would see some relatives, get dressed to go to lunch, come back and get dressed for dinner.
A few days previous, my ear began to hurt and I felt like I had a cold. I was told a new flu virus had come to Iran. It was not until I began to feel excruciating pain that I agreed to go to a doctor. I had been told about this handsome doctor with a good energy who happens to be related to my brother in law. My sister took me there in the afternoon. It was a small office and I was let in without wait. Well, looking at the tall and handsome doctor explained why one could heal really fast! It turned out that my left ear was badly infected. He wanted me to postpone my trip because there was a possibility of my eardrum being damaged. I also had laryngitis. He prescribed some powerful antibiotics and two shots of penicillin, two days in a row. I was asked if I was allergic as I have never had penicillin shots, so I didn’t know. My sister got the ampoules and the disposable needles from the little pharmacy inside the building and then took me to the person who would be giving the shots.
I have been scared of needles since I was 7 years old because I remember the doctor’s office with the basin filled with those huge syringes and still have nightmares. The little place and its curtain looked medieval, and the old man didn’t look like a nurse to me but I had no choice. I was told that the shots needed to be on my rear. As I laid on my stomach scared to death, a thought crossed my mind and I began to shake with laughter at the irony of my situation. There I was with my head covered, long sleeve loose tunic and pants, an example of a good Muslim girl, yet my fat middle-aged rear end was exposed and a needle would be inserted in each cheek! I took a deep breath and to the old man’s credit, I experienced little pain. My sister was proud of me because the shot was supposed to be painful.
The next was Seezdeh Bedar, the thirteenth day of the Iranian New Year, and we had planned to go to the village where my dad’s family is from and we still have relatives there. I changed my mind once I realized so many would be going.
That morning the TV program was broadcast live from Khorramshahr. I was glued to the couch for nearly three hours. The hosts were sitting with the bridge and the Karoon River as the backdrop. They featured a local Nakhoda captain and I learned so much about the history of my region, saw the fish market, interviewed some local geniuses, including the girl who was the world champion in karate, and featured a local singer on a paddleboat. I knew God loved me and that program was his gift before I departed.
I asked my brother in law to take us to the countryside the last day I was in Iran. We went at lunchtime and it was cloudy. We arrived at one of the vineyards my family owns. I was horrified to see how neglected the almond trees and vines were. The image of the place in my mind was that of a beautiful area with almond trees loaded with almonds and the vines with exquisite grapes. The Ruby grape, similar to champagne grapes sold in the U.S., was one of the most beautiful and tasteful grapes I had ever tasted. My dad told me that this year they had contracted some people to plow the soil and they were told to keep all the grapes and almonds.
God forgives me but I know most of my family is waiting for my father to die so they can sell the two vineyards, one located in the East, and one West with apricot trees and a river that runs through, as well as the area with many timers. They do not know that my very liberal dad has signed all the deeds to my mother, as well as his other assets. The thought of greed always saddens me because I want my parents to live forever and don’t care about monetary issues.
I took a walk to the nearby cemetery where I was used to walk, as a child, and read the poems on the tombs. I was once told that when you become sad or arrogant that you need to go to the cemetery to be reminded where you will end up so there is no need for sadness or arrogance. I found my grandfather’s grave and some of my relatives and said a prayer. I then took a walk with my six foot tall Manak and was saddened to find the river and the spring with little water. I took three rocks as mementos to bring back.
One of my sisters had grilled kebab and we ate and drank tea, and then headed back home. I had to go to dinner with another relative. I happened to like Shapur since childhood. He works for TV and is one of the kindest and smartest people I know. It was past midnight when I got home.
The next day I had to pack because I was leaving. My nephew Hamed and his beautiful wife, who represent the new generation of Iranian women, she is a doctor, came to visit me in the morning. I marveled at how the younger generation was much better than mine. They know what they want and go after it despite the challenges. Hamed’s sister is a nuclear scientist and teaches at the university. The past three weeks I had met so many women in my own family as well around me. I had been the only girl to go to college in my family and I was humbled when I found out most of the girls had pictures of me for inspiration and wanted to be like me, the nice me anyway.[Abadan photos]
That evening, my brother-in-law Reza, and my niece were to take me to the airport. As we were leaving, I forbid anyone to cry. My sister handed me a ring I had admired on her hand. It was beautiful with a carved moon and star; I love the moon and stars. It was very heavy and slightly big for my pinky ring but against my inner voice and due to stupid excitement, I put it on my finger and kept looking at it. My suitcase was a bit overweight so a nice young man and lady told me to take some stuff and place it in the lighter bag. The polite lady at the passport area was also pleasant. That is when I realized the moon and star ring were missing. My heart sank and I prayed that perhaps it would have fallen in my suitcase when I switched things.
When I got in line the TV screen changed to Moscow. I was speaking to an Iranian lady who lived in Texas. The man next to us thought he was cute and said he hoped they would not take us to Moscow. I looked at him and said well, if they do, you get to tour Kremlin palace and maybe my wish would be answered and they would give me a piece made of Alexandrite. The man looked puzzled and with a deep accent said “vere ees keremleen”? Your wish is to have Alexandra? I laughed hard and shook my head. Okay, I get it. Not everyone knows that Alexandrite is a color-changing gem, and the Russian one is rare, but not knowing about Kremlin, is a disgrace.
I basically cried until we reached Frankfurt. I was startled when I looked at the German immigration officer at the gate. When I arrived in Miami the warm and humid weather reminded me of Khorramshahr but I felt my soul was vagabond wondering around in the streets of Khorramshahr, and my body was empty. I had no tears.
I was glad I was going to work the next day so my mind would be occupied. I would tell anyone who has not been home; you should go and experience everything for yourself. I don’t have blinders on and Iran, like everywhere else, has its share of challenges but, there are a lot of positive changes. I love the fact that local tourism is being promoted. I love the fact that there is a concerted effort to preserve local cultures and raise awareness.
I was a staunch supporter of getting to know your own culture when I was a teenager and in college. That is why I preferred going to Gilan with my friends and sleeping in one room, to save money, rather than going to Europe with my dad, as the guest of the government. I admit that I liked the clothes and shoes my dad brought me from Paris and London but that was my European experience.
I hope I can go home every year until I can get my 401k. Let’s hope we will have eight year of a better economy the next time around so we will have our 401Ks. I am not going in spring even though it is my favorite time of the year. I am going when the cities are not packed with tourists so I can walk without bumping into others.
I wanted to share my experience in details with those who can’t go home or unable to because they want to remember Khuzestan before the war with Iraq. I sympathize, and understand how they feel but to me going there is energizing and revitalizing, and well worth working the entire year without any days off.[Abadan photos]