Good child of the south

The year 2009 had begun with so much hope for me because I was glad Obama was elected (I had prayed for 4 years that he runs and get elected). However; the bad economy cut in pay, and the overall situation in the world since 2008,affected me as well, so the possibility of going to Iran seemed unlikely. [2009 Photo essay]

Well, the bacheye khoobe joonob (the good kid from the south) in me had to find a way to go to Iran. I had cried hard while glued to TV during post election in Iran.  I tightened my bell anyway I could, and even began to ride the train.  

I was so anxious I screwed up and bought my ticket not realizing the time I was allowed to go was beginning of Ramadan so I had to pay $300 fine because switching flights and days is the same as canceling!

Anyway, I could not go to sleep on Friday September 11.  Saturday, I got up early and made a few phone calls. My son loaded my car with luggage to take me to the airport. I had not listened to Iranian songs since my return from Iran in April 2008,  because they affected me so badly I would burst into tears.  I had only listened to Bandari music to keep my emotions balanced.

My son placed a CD in the slot and the first song was vatan (motherland) by Pooya. As he began to sing “Carpet belonging to Exalted Solomon, take me to Iran’s sky so I can watch over it, and release me heart’s sadness”, I felt old and tired. My tears flooded my face but my son reminded me that I was going home so there was no need to be such a whiner!

I was anxious because as usual many people had told me stories such in the airport the authorities would take a person arriving and see if she or he is in the pictures of demonstration, which took, place outside Iran. One person stated that he had seen me on YouTube. One reputable Iranian told me that his suitcase was opened and he had to pay $200 for a few bottles of vitamins.

The checking and going through security through Fort Lauderdale airport was pleasant, and quick. I had to catch the next flight to Amsterdam from Minneapolis. I laughed when I saw the notice in Chinese and Farsi stating that $10k in funds had to be declared. I figured that means Iranians are wealthy!

It turned out that the plane was overbooked and they had a nice incentive for those willing to give up their seats. I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars so I was glad to see that issue was resolved quickly.

The last time I had been in Amsterdam was in August 1978 when I had arrived as a 23 year old. Now, the airport looked different. People were very helpful and friendly.

It turned out that there were two flights going to Iran at the same time. One was by Iran Ari and the other KLM. I asked on two occasions for someone to watch my carry on, so I could help two older Iranians who did not speak English, in order to make sure they got on the right flight by going to the information. I was saddened that my fellow Iranians seemed surprised that helping came so naturally to me, and voiced their appreciation. I told them that I had done nothing out of the ordinary. A young lady from Canada made the comments to the others that I always help people!

I found it quite entertaining watching Iranian ladies at least 20 years older and much shorter than me, in the latest tights with blonde hair (I must have missed the news that there is shortage of blonds in the West so Iranian women are making sure the shortage is not felt). I cannot justify getting all dolled up to sit in an airplane!

While waiting to board, two bearded and balding Iranian officials were taken to the frontline by a KLM staff, while avoiding eye contacts with women. That irritated me because I knew that was all for show.

As I entered the plane the two were sitting in the first row of the first class. I am not sure why but I made ugly faces at both of them.

The rest of the trip was spent talking to a distinguished man with great sense of humor (the two ladies in black shirt dress and head cover did not seem pleased until they needed their medicine bottles opened and I was the one that opened it with ease).

We got to Khomeini Airport and looking outside I declared my gratitude to mother universe for having given me the opportunity to arrive safely.

None of the stories I had been told were true. The passport check took just a few seconds and the pleasant young man said, “welcome”.  I placed my suitcases through the scanner and walked through. There was no opening the luggage or questions.

As usual I got home early morning and went to see my parents (who did not know I would be there) later in the day.  

I did not want my extended family to know I was there so the first 8 days were uneventful because I spent them with my parents and my sisters.  However; going between my sister and my parents place (they are two houses apart) presented a challenge because I was not about to remove my skirt and sleeveless top in order to change into a long coat, pants, and headscarf so, I came up with a brilliant plan! You guessed it, I wore an old beat up chador (my sister wears them to go to court serving as legal counsel) and as you can see I make a pretty damn fine haji kjhanoum. That made it so much easier to transport myself. I admit that the first day I nearly lost the chador but with little practice I become quite good at holding the two side together.

I felt so unfashionable in Iran because everyone wore ton of make up, had blond highlights in their hair, and most importantly had manicured hands and pedicure toes. I stopped wearing nail polish in 1997! I was dragged to a salon to get my eyebrows done because in comparison to the tattooed and exaggerated eyebrows I saw, mine were boring and needed to become more up-to-date. They wanted to thread my face but I did not allow it because it is painful and besides lucky for me my face does not have much facial hair.

After the end of Ramadan celebration, we headed to Mashhad and on the long drive there we stopped by my cousin whom I had never met. He was really nice and his lovely wife had done everything to make our one night stay very comfortable. The road to Mashhad was boring and barren. I am not sure why the Iranian authorities do not take advantage of the vast areas by planting trees to create green spaces.

We got to Mashhad in the evening and it was packed with people. We went to the Bazaar and I bought some souvenirs. We went to the shrine, which was packed with Thursday night crowd, and the next day,  woke up early morning and went there with my sister only and I prayed for the world peace, improvement in economy and healing the sick people I know. Being there was an uplifting experience but I needed to move quickly because women pushed and shoved to get to the tomb. I put my two cents worth by stating that being there is like going to someone’s house and no matter where in the house you stay, you are welcomed. We then drove straight back to Arak quite exhausted. We bought fresh of the tress pistachios but did not have time to buy or eat Mashhadi melons, which are famous. I also wish we could have spent some time in Neishabour (Oamr Khayam’s birth place) but we were on a tight schedule so God willing next time I will make sure we go there.

The following afternoon my sister Betty, and I took off by train to go to Khorramshahr.

Except for the backward lady and her daughter from Arak (she did not like her daughter’s working in a hospital because there were men there!), the other passengers were from Khuzestan. One very young and pretty girl actually had her own blog and seemed very informed about the world in general.

We got to Khorramshahr early in the morning and I felt really at home. I spent the next few days going into the streets and even small alleys to experience the place in its entirety.

The unwavering spirit of my hometown people dealing with dust, unfiltered water, and bad economy was humbling.

I met people selling food and goods from small two feet wide trays, it made me marvel at human spirit because you can accept your lot in life or you can change it in anyway you can, and my proof was watching these people.

Every one complained about the fact that not much has been done for my town even though so many had lost their lives fighting for Iran. Many were pissed off that even though Iraq had invaded my town, now we were sending them our best fish and money to rebuild (not to mention tons of gold donated by women from all over Iran).

I heard cab drivers and other vendors stating, “oh, Iran has done a lot but it is for Palestinians and Iraqis because Iranians are not worthy of the money”!

I was told the water is salty, smells, people are forced to buy filtered water at high price, and they were right. Taking showers and brushing my teeth with that water was an experience but I am never above the brave people of my town so I did not complain.

Some said that money comes to Khoramshar for rebuilding but the corruption is wide spread so the money is not spent the way it is supposed to. During Noruz, the president had ordered one milliard touman (roughly $980k) be distributed to the poor and the social workers had personally delivered the money to each household. Some said the money should have been spent on creating parks and green spaces.

A lot of new and modern banks have been built but the complaints I got were that most of the employees were not natives and most companies and jobs went to non-natives. That made me mad because these people also get “badi abo hava” or bad weather bonus because they are not natives.

I was amazed at how the population has grown compared to three years ago. There were many new building and many cars. After 7:00 pm the streets come to life with people going shopping and they stay out until later and in some cases near midnight.

I was overwhelmed and felt really sad that my town, which is honored constantly on TV for fighting Sadam, did not have filtered water or enough trees to help reduce pollution. When someone (who has a good job) told me that each night she goes to sleep asking God not to wake her up, I cried. I felt her despair because she had stayed during the war and sold cigarettes and whatever she could to help support her family and I was outraged when she told me that as a student they were forced to attend school during bombings but when Tehran was bombed, the schools were closed.

The wonderful old Arab neighbor made me the food she thought I liked everyday and except in two occasions I was not allowed to eat out.

Our house had been demolished, three new houses were built, and one of the occupants was very kind and told me to stay with him and his wife anytime because that was still my house. He seemed genuine and I was touched by the kindness.

I only had one unpleasant experience and that was when I went to buy ticket from Khoramshar to Ahvaz.

An Isfahani woman (her face screamed Hezbollahi) was at the counter and when I asked the cashier a question regarding why buying ticket was different from 35 years ago,  this lady felt the need to inject her bullshit.  

One man stated that Iran had gone backward 35 years. The bitch replied that Khorramshahris did not want progress and Khorramshahr did not have as many martyrs as it was claimed!

My first thought was to beat the shit out of her knowing my fellow Khoramshahri’s would back me. But I decided to really let her have it by insulting her.

I said, “oh, my people went to war so the cheap Isfahanis and Torks can come here once a year pretending to pray for the martyrs while they really come for free kabobs, food, and all expenses paid (the tour is called Caravan of light) trip so the rest of the year they won’t shit so they do not get hungry. I bet you are one of them, and if you like I can take you to the small alley where our old house is so you can see how many died fighting from that small alley”.

I honestly thought I would be arrested because you never know who is spying but I felt really justified in giving the bitch a piece of my mind. I really wish the government would spent the money on the town’s people instead of brining these people to go to the grave sites so they can get free omelets and the best food available during Noruz. That was the same statement from many people I spoke to.

I also found out one official had been scared that I may be a US spy because I was from US and had camera and was going to take pictures! Well, obviously he did not have much brain because a US spy will have hidden camera in his shirt button or belt and no doubt has better things to do than wonder the streets of Khoramshahr!

People from Abadan were praised for their high spirits and the fact that they live life to its fullest. One young man told me that he and his son were the true Abadanis because they stay despite having to drink bad water. Ironically, his father lives in LA but the young man had no desire to move to LA or anywhere else except to stay in Abadan.

I even met a young and educated storeowner who was born in Kuwait and travels the world, but he has chosen to live in Abadan (his mother is Iranian and his father is an Arab and they spend most of their time in Abadan as well). I met a lot of college graduates doing odd jobs ranging from selling pizza to pots and pans. But, their smiling faces and hopeful attitude was what touched me. As always they were friendly and genuinely hospitable. What surprised me was the fact that at night Abadan seemed like South Beach. All the shops were opened and people in the latest fashions (I did not see any morality police in either Abadan or Khoramshahr) paraded and they were having night picnics on bare land!  

I did go to the offices handing Port transaction in Khorramshahr to see if something could be done for my dad who has lost 15 years of his service. Thanks to the asshole Crown Cannibal, my dad service to his country as the fire chief and the safety expert of the most important commercial port in the Middle East (in 1970s), and his sever burns due to explosion of Hirash (gas company), was not important because apparently the incompetent people working for the previous regime did not bother to deduct retirement insurance for 15 years. My father was too busy keeping his firefighters in shape and  to combat constant fires because, day and night ships with millions of dollars worth of goods were docked in Khoramshar and fires were frequent. I remember as a teenager how distraught my dad was at loss of some of his firefighters. He had assumed that by doing his job everything was fine. Anyway, nothing can be done now so he gets his retirement pay but it is so much less than he deserves. I hope now he agrees with my statement “ may the dogs piss on Shah everyday in hell”.

The Port building was beautiful with marble floors and beautiful pistachio green furniture. I encountered some very pleasant natives and a few remembered my dad and invited us to their house.  

One of the old residents took me to the old places to see if I remembered. It was bitter sweet. The old places I had visited as a child or teenager were tattered or in ruins but I continue to remember the way they were.

I had planned to take some videos of boats and the area we call “shat” but that morning I had to go to court with the our old neighbor because her kids were to busy to go and find out if court could give them a document to take to the banks to see if their dad had hidden assets.

We had to leave Khorramshahr at 12:45 so I missed taking videos of the Arvand River.

It is hard to explain but when you are there, it is surreal and you lose your organized mind and act spontaneously.  It is always afterwards that you wish you had done this or that. However; as always I bought tools I use daily from hairbrush to teacup form Abadan and Khoramshahr so I am reminded of my trip everyday. Also, once again it was proven to me that you get what you want, when mother universe thinks it is time. After years of looking for a palm tree pendent (I am crazy about anything with palm trees), one day juts before the bazaar closing I wondered in an alley, and sure enough only one store had the pendent. The owner was an old time resident so he only charged me for the gold itself which was not much. Needles to say I am happy I can wear palm tree purchased from my town!

In our cart there was a young lady who had grown up in Shiraz during the war but had come back to Khoramshar to live. She worked in a hospital and traveled two days a week to Tehran to attend graduate classes. I knew she was from a prominent family and could live anywhere in the world yet she had chosen to live in my town. She told me that if I ever began any projects there (I love to do one with everyone planting a tree) to count on her.

We got back to Arak at 4:00 am and I had to go to graveside at 4:00 pm because it was my aunt’s memorial, which traditionally is held 40 days after the deceased had departed.

That night I went to do some final shopping and specifically to find the book “da” written in Farsi by a woman who had been in Khoramshar during the entire 8 years of war and it is her account of what took place. The book has been a best seller for a long time and each time is reprinted it sells out quickly. I was lucky and found one.

The narrow sidewalks of Arak were filled with so many young people. It saddened me that they had no place to go but to wonder the streets. On our way home Mahahsti’s songs were coming out of the car stereo. Although the love song which goes something like this:

You used to tell me that you understood me

You used to tell me you appreciate me

You used to say that you will be mine forever and your kind heart will never be disloyal

You lied and broke my heart

Come and take my life, I still love you”

It overwhelmed me and I could no longer hold my tears. I felt tired and helpless. As usual I wished I was a billionaire so I could dedicate all my time and money helping those who needed it by providing better volunteer resources, planting trees, building recreation centers and libraries for young people to go to.  

I hate feeling helpless, useless, and hearing so many people sharing their hardship stories made me feel useless. I was sad that so many people spend endless hours watching satellite showing American soap operas and even MTV shows such as Pimp my ride dubbed in Farsi, or Fashion TV showing the latest fashions in Milan or Paris instead of reading or doing something constructive. Well, the American style glossy magazine “ideal life” is full of advertisement ranging form Dolce and Gabana perfume to a package filed with gadget for enhancing sexual performance (I am no expert on these toys but the stuff in the picture with needles and rings looked more like torture gadgets!).

I felt sad leaving my family especially my parents who are now old. The departure was a breeze from Iran because people were really pleasant and professional but it did not ease my feeling of helplessness or sadness.

I really hope that sanctions are lifted so they ease ordinary people’s suffering and I pray that America establishes relations with Iran so American companies look into investing in Iran. There are so many talented, educated and willing to work people in Iran >>> Photo essay

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