When I came back from Iran in March 2011, I was convinced that it would be the longest year but I was so wrong. The year flew by so fast that I felt unprepared.
During 2011, I got a chance to fulfill a lifetime dream to learn to play Daf when classes started in Miami and that occupied my Saturdays.
Thanks to a website which sells used books the libraries want to discard (to save the environment) I finally felt that I could read as many books as I wanted and discovered some great writers including a Palestinian female writer and some American writers who captured ancient Egypt’s web of mystery and intrigue.
I also got TCM as part of my cable so I was able to watch old movies some which I had read the books as teenager (Maugham’s Razor Edge) or I had seen the move but wanted to see it as an adult. The nostalgic feelings are hard to explain because these movies would take me back to the exact time I had seen them or had read the book.
I had seen Portrait of Jennie in 1977 in Khorrasmahr with some of my friends on a humid afternoon while enjoying the cool blast of the Japanese air-condition.
I also listened to a CD I had brought from Iran and discovered the voice of Salar Aghili and was hooked. I am certain if people saw me driving while listening to his CD, must have thought I was high which is exactly how I felt.
Being able to finally do what I wanted did not leave time for anything else and time flew by, and it was time to go to Iran.
Because of my work, I could not travel in March so I scheduled my trip for Saturday March 31st. It was shocked at how expensive travel during this time of the year is, and I found out the hard way that is the beginning of Travel season!
Tit was my first time using a Middle Eastern airline which was rated 5 star (I am not sure by who) but all I wanted was to get home because they had discovered a tumor in my dad’s stomach and he had had a few sessions of Chemotherapy.
I was devastated but optimistic because the tumor had not spread.
My fight with American Airline would land in NY at 10:40 and the next flight from NY to Doha would take off 11:40. All my friends thought even for a crazy risk taker, that was too short of a time to make it but, I had faith, I would make it.
My flight from Fort Lauderdale would leave at 7:30 p.m. but I was at the airport at 3:00, and gave the dollar bills to my kid thinking my two credit cards where sufficient if money was needed.
Well, you need to make sure you do not make the same mistake as I did. When I went to pay for a small chicken wrap and bottled water I was told that “machines were down”. Having been in banking for 14 years, I knew this was a trick to get cash only because the establishment has to pay a merchant fee for transactions conducted on point of sale machines. I guess in this economy everyone is trying to avoid paying fees.
Needless to say, all the food vendors said the same thing so I starved for a long time.
When I checked my bags, I found out that American Airline did not have a contract with Qatar Airways, which meant I was given only boarding pass to New York, and would need to go to Qatar Air line counter and get a boarding pass from New York. That meant I needed the help of the Gods because I had less than an hour to find the gate and to get boarding pass.
As always, I thought miracles need help to happen, so the minute I boarded the airplane, I explained my situation to a pleasant flight attendant, and she switched my seat to the one behind first class.
The plane landed in New York at 10:40 and I dashed out of the plane. Anyone who has flown from JFK knows that is one of the worst airports in the U.S. because you have to catch train and get off at terminals and finding the trains is not an easy task.
The agent at the gate told me to go down and catch the train but while I was running trying to find the sign for boarding the train, I stopped and asked the cleaning man if he knew what terminal Qatar airways was. He did not speak good English but he pointed to the window to his left and I saw a Qatar plane, and dashed to that area and sure enough, the line was for boarding my plane! I was grateful for being old and wise and having listened to my instinct because if I had tried to board the train, God knows I would have missed my flight.
It was in the plane where I realized the difference between European and Middle Eastern airlines (even though I had paid much more than I normally paid for European airlines). The plane was packed with Indian men, and other than the crew, I was the only woman without head cover.
During the 13 hours flight I listened to some old Arabic music taking me back to my childhood when we used to gather to watch Abdolhalim Hafez the Egyptian heart throb with heavenly voice. When the song “Any tear of sadness’ No No No “began to fill my ears and I felt floating in the air. But when my favorite lines “no fear or regret of passing time”, my tears just flooded my face.
I have never been afraid of passing time but, having lost a few people suddenly including beautiful young 21 year old member of the Iranian community I live in, and nine month later losing her mother whom I loved very much, had changed my perspective and I had begun to think of how fragile and precious life was. Then finding out my dad had cancer, made me question my own mortality constantly. I still am not afraid of death but wish to see freedom and peace for all people in the Middle East.
When the plane landed in Qatar, I was appalled that I had to walk down the plane (instead of going through the tunnel) and then enter the actual airport.
I was totally shocked and had to catch my breath when I entered the inside, because all I saw was bearded man in white long shirts and women completely covered including some who had face covers. Since I had enough time, I waited until there were all gone and I then went through security.
Luckily for me, I saw some Iranians speaking Farsi and that eased my anxiety. The flight from Qatar to Khomeini Airport was about two and half hours and going through passport line in Iran was a breeze. However, one of my suitcases did not arrive and by the time it was my turn to let the people at the desk know, I was last person standing, but they were very polite and gave me a printout with claims number and told me in two days, they would contact me or I could call the number and my suitcase would be delivered to my desired destination.
My nephew and his wife were there to pick me up and as we exited, I realized dawn was breaking and sun would be rising.
The restaurants on the side of the road are many but to me the road is boring and I wish there were trees planted alongside of the road. I got home about 8:30 and after a quick shower went to see my dad (two houses down from my sister’s).
He began to cry and kept telling me that I was his beautiful daughter whom he loved very much. I told him to stop crying because I hate tears. The minute I showed him the cool jacket I had bought for him, he smiled and forgot his tears. I guess getting excited at getting new things is my inheritance from him!
I felt totally grown up for deciding to spend my entire three weeks with my family and not to go to Khorramshahr even though the longing was unbearable. This trip was about my dad and showing how much I loved him.
I already knew that the sanctions were really hurting ordinary people and everything was expensive so I made it clear that I did not want to be invited to any of my relative’s houses.
Each night, I could not sleep and lied awake for hours ( I am sure the time difference had something to do with it) and would get up at 6:30 with my sister and her husband and as soon as they left, after a shower and eating breakfast of Cream and honey (which I never do in the U.S.) I would walk two houses down to spend the day with my dad and mom.
Thank God they have a wonderful lady who comes in at 7:30 and gives them their breakfast and cooks lunch and cleans their small apartment but unlike most people, I never feel that because the hired help is getting paid so you should just sit there. I helped her everyday. I washed apples or oranges, juiced them and forced my dad to drink them and washed dishes everyday (my neurotic mother had return a Dishwasher because she believes it does not rinse properly so dishes are not clean!).
My dad would sit for while and tell me that he loved and say flattening comments to my mom. After 2:30 p.m., my sisters would come home, eat lunch and then lie down for a nap while I did my Persian cross world puzzles.
A few afternoons I want to my dad’s chemotherapy sessions and seeing so many afflicted with cancer, was the most humbling experience in my life. I burst into tears on a few occasions because when we went to buy the drugs I would see people who could not afford them because they did not have the required insurance.
I would eat a very small amount of rice and no meat art lunch or dinner, and when I said “how could you eat meat when so many people in this country can not afford it?” the only one that understood my pain and tears was my aunt who felt the same. I guess because everyone has their own problems, its hard to be concerned about others.
There were 5 or 6 people in a small room with serums giving them Chemo in two separate small rooms.
I had my usual rant about the morons going to Karbala rewarding the same Iraqis who ravaged my town, and raped women and told them that their visit to Mecca was not accepted by God because the money could be used at home. Amazingly, the older women were the one who completely agreed with me and commented that “Karbala was the young people who wanted to get married and did not have money” or “young people without jobs which the money could be used as a start up fund”.
There was one bearded dude who dared to challenge this middle age woman by saying (in his barely audible voice) that living abroad should not be the reason for blasting people’s beliefs.
Well, I lost it and went on full attack accepting that he may be one of the boys who could have me arrested. I said: “ actually, those of us who live abroad, are more honest than most people in Iran, and for your information, you can bring your mosques’ akhond and I will debate him because I read the Koran every day (I also love and read Zande Avesta), and if you really read the Koran you will see that going to Mecca once a month is not acceptable and neither is sending your 20 something year old son (which is what most rich Hajji’s brag about in Iran these days). As a matter of fact none of your visits are acceptable because based on the Koran, if there is a poor person in your family or neighborhood that could use the money, then God forbids you spending it on the trip.”
He did not say anything and the next day when a young man came to the doctor’s office crying because he had no money (I was appalled at how indifferent people were acting and was really mad at the rich merchants sitting their with their prayer bids totally calm and unaffected).
Holding my tears back, I walked to him and asked him why he was crying and when he said because he did not have money, I said really loud so everyone could hear “Being poor is not a reason to cry because not even engineers or civil servants in this country have money, and only Hajji’s dealing in commodities are rich”.
I gave the young man the amount needed to buy newspapers which he could sell and keep a percentage. Another woman clad in chador followed suit and gave him some money.
The bearded dude had to open his stupid mouth again and asked how I knew if the man was really needed help.
I was outraged and could not help being rude. I said. first of all Mr. Muslim, giving alms is supposed to be without questioning the other person’s qualification, and besides someone as handsome and dignified as the man you just saw, would never step on his pride and cry in front of someone so unattractive and heartless like you, unless he was desperate?
He had the audacity to ask again if I really thought he was unattractive, and I said he was so ugly that if I ran into him early in the morning, I would recite the Koran’s sura asking God’s protection!
I was surprised at women’s bravery in expressing their opinion when I went to buy drugs (for my dad) at Red Cross pharmacye (very polite pharmacist) one chadori woman said “damn this worthless country that can not provide its citizens with affordable medicine”.
Another young woman with gloves and head cover to her eyebrows (which meant she was very devout Muslim not to even show her hands), said “God damn the person responsible for this injustice. How the hell am I supposed to come up with money to buy drugs that is needed for my parents?”
I am sure the sanctions play a huge role in shortage of drugs and that is why sanctions only hurt ordinary people.
It broke my heart to see medical buildings without elevators and the day I had to take my mother to the doctor and then my dad for blood test and in his condition he had to walk three flights of stairs (and the morons have marble stairs which are hard on knees) I cursed everyone and decided I could not go out to the doctors because watching so many old people walking with canes and having to go up those damn stairs was painful to watch and be quiet about it.
Another shocker was seeing the number of young people who were in the waiting rooms of each doctor’s office.
No doubt, the fact that Arak has the second worst air pollution in Iran with petrochemicals being dispensed from various factories, lack of trees and vegetation (Arak used to have some of the most beautiful cherry trees and grape wines and gardens and now is a jumble of apartment buildings which look like prisons without any green vegetation), contributes to number of people being sick.
Luckily, my parents’ apartment faces man made forest but above the trees you can see the pollution like a cloud.
The number of overweight people especially kids is just as bad as here. They have discovered chips, pizza and fast food, and drink sodas like there is no tomorrow. They load up their plates with rice and meat and gulp it down with glasses full of Coke or Pepsi or other sodas.
Their tea cup is filled one fourth with sugar, and they eat pastries with the sweetened tea!
I wanted to change the scenery and take a short trip with my family to Isfahan but the after chemo effects made my dad weak and we sacked the idea of Isfahan.
I then decided on a day trip to the country side (I have always loved Iranian country side) to the village of Hesar which I had seen when I was 9 years old and remembered the mansion opened to public during the day . It had magnificent gardens and gazebos covered with flowers the owner had brought form Europe, but that Friday it poured rain.
The last Friday I was in Iran, I thought about going to another village which has a shrine and the best kebabob and we woke up to the news of my nephews arrest with some other girls and boys at birthday party.
I did go to the Hamam museum and found it fascinating that during its heyday the Bath had a separate section for non-Muslims and I loved the bridal section (pictures).
I visited an old house that is now a museum (I have been madly in love with old houses since I was a kid)
I also went to see the mansion which used to belong to my ex-boyfriend’s uncle during the 1970s. I laughed remembering the heated discussion we had back in 1977, when it was decided by the government that it would become part of the Cultural Heritage. I was all for it, and my boyfriend thought it was undemocratic to posses someone’s home and his uncle should be able to sell it for profit! Seeing it three decades later, I was glad it’s a museum now.
I wish all the old houses in Iran could be part of the cultural heritage and become museums but I was told the foundation does not have the money and most owners donate their houses to the local mosque or areas of government where they knock these houses to build apartments for profit.
Well, as I said to most people, they need to take responsibility and do the right thing and donating their old historical houses to the Iran Cultural Heritage Foundation instead of the mosque is a no brainer.
I also had huge arguments about the amount of money spent on glossy banners and so many black flags to commemorate Fatimah’s anniversary (prophet’s daughter) of her death because in my estimation several thousand dollars must have been spent on those glossy little banners being given to the drivers in traffic.
I asked many people m “do you think Fatimah wanted you to spend all this money for black flags blowing in the air and all these glossy banners, or do you think she would prefer hat instead you spend the money on poor people?”
Most looked at me and said that I was right and Fatime would want the money to be spent on the needy but, they had never thought that way!
My point was that ignorance is no excuse and people can not expect everyone else or government to think for them, and they need to use common sense which unfortunately, these days is in short supply.
After many years of searching, I finally found the movie Ghete’ye Natamam or “Unfinished Piece” which I had seen in a Film Festival. I had been mesmerized by the plot, the scenery, and the old house in Kashan featured in the movie. That was the only movie I bought and none of the books I wanted were available in Arak
Overall, I am glad I went to Iran, and spent time with my dad and family. I just pray that result of his endoscopy at the end of my show that the tumor has shrunk.
This trip once more showed me that I have so much to be thankful and lucky for me having inherited my dad’s optimistic views, I count my blessings everyday.