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Trip to Ramsar
The one who has left my nest will come back
Part 1

January 9, 2004
The Iranian

The summer of 1970 was the most memorable summer of my life.

Khorramshar seemed nearly deserted in the summers but I loved it. The beautiful boulevard by the Karoon River was all mine. There was hardly any traffic and unlike the rest of the year, there were few people walking along the river and watching the moon shining in the clear skies. It was hot and humid, but it never bothered me because once I got home, the inside of the house would be so cold it would feel like being inside a freezer.

But this summer was going to make its mark on my life because I was going to Ramsar. Not with my family. This annual gathering of boys and girls from all over Iran was every teenager's dream trip. It would be very different for me because I would be performing in the band playing trumpet and I would also sing with a band I had named Happy Girls!

I had begun singing originally with the band, which consisted of mostly boys and two girls. From the beginning I had found both Farideh and Ziba not compatible. Farideh was a brunette who was very shy and Ziba, who played the saxophone, never smiled and was a bit overweight.

The boys played various instruments. Shahram, the eldest and one of town's heart throbs, played trumpet and so did Cyrus, who was my age and quickly became my pal in pulling pranks.

I vividly remembered that at age nine I had attended a function and when I approached Shahram and started talking to him , very arrogantly, he had made the comment "pretty little girl." Right then I promised to break his heart when I grew up because I never liked arrogant people and I was to teach him a lesson.

Sia played the drums and tonbak and was amazingly talented by everyone's account. He was very reserved at first, but then he began to smile and play along with my pranks sometimes. Kia was the most mysterious person, with his very dark features and the distinct large nose and very kind eyes. He was short and had droopy shoulders. He loved to read so we became friends fast and discussed the books we read all the time.

But Amin was the one that became my best pal; I had to work so hard to cultivate the friendship of this very tall, mysterious boy with the pockmarked face.

I nicknamed him Casanova because at age fourteen I had read about Casanova not being very good looking but sweeping women off their feet. I had noticed that Farideh looked at him with such longing. The few performances we had given at the "house of youth" had made me realize how the other girls looked at him as well. I knew part of the reason was because he acted cool and did not show any excitement at the attention. That had always worked for me and had become part of my personality to ignore boys and be mean to them only to make them more determined to get my attention. It worked both ways!

Amin was reluctant at first but when I said, "For the life of me, I cannot figure out what those girls find attractive about you" he had smiled and said, "So you do not think I am attractive?" I answered no "Mr. Casanova," not at all.

I found out that he lived with his mother and they were poor, so in a way I became more understanding that he was guarding his dignity, because if any of those girls from snobbish families found out they would put him down. Family name and social status always bored me and I thought those were excuses to hide insecurities and shortcomings. I also thought one would lose out on opportunities to meet wonderful people simply because they belonged to a different class of society.

I rebelled from the young age and was never disappointed in finding great people whom I had so much fun with, but my high-class friends could not understand.

I had so much fun practicing everyday. In that big salon with empty seats we would try and tell jokes under the scornful eyes of Shahram.

I had always loved the sunsets in Khorramshahr because the heat would subside and sometimes I could feel a hint of a breeze brushing my face. In the evenings some of the kids from my neighborhood and I would walk endlessly and the younger ones were so envious because I would be in Rasmar the city by the beautiful Caspian Sea and those legendary mountains.

I knew that we would be the center of attention since the bandleader had agreed to let me perform with Ferry and Ziba wearing "Happy Girls" t-shirts. I did not divulge the reason I chose that name. I wanted our name to be the topic of conversation since my two band-mates were so sour-faced. People were bound to shake their heads in confusion!

The last week before we left I could not sleep most nights. Since childhood my parents had realized that I liked to listen to the radio or sneak into the hall at midnight to watch Count Dracula, and somehow the lack of sleep did not affect me.

There was a large group from my hometown going to Ramsar. I liked most of the people except the snobby and stupid Eti. I openly called her "maghze khar" or donkey brain because she often boasted that she did not need an education, because her marble-like skin would land her a husband. My answer was "of course dear, he would be a bigger idiot than you and the two of you would live happily ever after."

The day before my departure my dad took me to Kuwaiti Bazaar in Abadan and bought me some shirts and bathing suits. He bought some shrimp curry from the Pakistani food vendor as well. On the way home he said, "Beautiful lady, I never ask you to do anything but I have a little request of you if you don't mind."

I was surprised and intrigued because my parents never asked me to do anything.

I smiled and said it will cost you baba jaan!

He said, "That is a deal, lady."

Then his tone became more serious. "There will be many boys and girls that have never had the opportunity to be among other teenagers without their parents or family members. These young boys and girls will act differently than the people you are used to seeing.

" Their behavior may appear silly or childish to you but in reality it is because they have never had the opportunity to socialize with the opposite sex and all they know is the decadent guidelines the society has dictated to them."
I was listening closely because I had not seen my dad this serious in a while.

" I want you to think that many of these young people are bright and talented as you are but the environment they live in has not given them the chance to flourish. I want you to be understanding towards them and accept those who praise your openness and freedom to express yourself, but my dearest daughter, please be compassionate towards those who act shocked by your free spirited character.

" Please do not make fun of them because it would only make them resentful. Instead, by being compassionate, you may win their curiosity to see beyond your very expressive and fearless personality!"

I loved my dad and knew he would never ask me to do anything unless it was really for my own good so I smiled and said "I will try!" He smiled back and said, "That is all I ask."

He drove me to the railway station the following day. I had a nickname for Khorramshahr's station, which was "akhareen maghsad" (the last destination) because the trip would end here. I have always had a love-hate relationship with endings that do not promise a new beginning. That is how I have viewed my personal relationships when they ended. There was no new destination in sight, so I had to look for new horizons.

The platform was packed with people. Most of the relatives of those on my team had shown up to say goodbye and some seemed surprised that only my dad was accompanying me.

I looked at my dad and gave him the smile, which meant, "Can you believe all this drama for a camping trip?" He just nodded his head in agreement.

I found our coach, who was in charge, and with his good-natured smile he said, "Mr. Nemati, when I come back I will have thousands of gray hairs." My dad replied mischievously, "And a lifetime of fun memories to live by!"

If only all the men in the world where as cool as my dad, I thought.

I kissed my dad goodbye, as he had to go back to work. I did not want to stay on the platform and chat so I went into the train and I situated myself in the cabin I was supposed to be in. I placed my boombox on the floor because I planned to listen to music once the train started to move. I pulled my book out to read, but Eti's overly made- up face appeared.

I was annoyed, so I said, "Your stupid charm to attract a potential husband better take place outside the cabin, because I do not want to hear any of your brainless remarks." She placed her suitcase on the floor and left.

Shortly after everyone was on board, the whistle signaled that the train would begin the journey. I pressed the play button on my boom box to hear the song that was on everyone's tongue in those days. It was called "ghaafeleh del" or caravan of hearts and sung by a very handsome newcomer, Iraj Mehdian. His beautiful voice filled the cabin:

My beloved who has traveled and has a hundred caravans of hearts following her,
Wherever she is, God please keep her safe

Everyone was enjoying it until his next song, which was very provocative for those days, came on. In this song he said,

You are proud of your looks, it will be gone in one night
You are proud of your seductions, it will be quick as a fever

Well, all the daring teenagers, including myself, would change the lyrics from "bejamaalet meenazy" which means you are proud of your beauty to "tobemalet meenzay" which means you are proud of the precious thing you own, literally meaning "you are proud of your virginity but it will be gone in one night"! To the surprise of my coach I accompanied the singer on my version with a big smile.

Once we picked up the passengers in Ahvaz station, I decided to go and walk around the train for a little adventure. My coach asked me where was I going, to which I answered, "I am going to check and see if there are any interesting and good-looking people on board!"

Kia asked if he could join me and I said sure. As we walked in the hall of the train I poked my head in each cabin and made little comments, then decided there was nothing to see and headed back.

The hallway in our section was filled with boys and girls eagerly trying to get each other's attention. I was quite amused and just went in the cabin and picked up my book and continued to read. I must have dozed off because when I woke up we were in Dorood, which was very cool at night, even in the summers. I went back to sleep and woke up as the sun began to rise. I have always loved sunrise and find it magical. I opened the window and stuck my head out to feel the cool breeze as the train hummed its way. I asked Kia and Amin to sit at the restaurant for breakfast with me. For some reason I have always loved the ambience of the train's restaurants and the food tastes really good to me!

We finally arrived in Tehran. We were picked up by a bus and I realized we were somewhere in the south of Tehran. The streets were packed with cars and it was too crowded for my taste. The air was filled with the smell of gasoline emitted from the cars.

We came to a bus station and a much bigger bus was awaiting us.

The driver caught my attention right away. He was tall, with a big mustache and about my dad's age. He had mostly gray hair and as he ordered his assistant around I noticed his accent, which indicated he was one of those referred to as Jahels often portrayed in the movies . These were the protectors of neighborhoods in the era of insecurities in Iran. Some of them actually had their own gang that people referred to as "nocheh" or apprentice. But for the most part they were people with good hearts and a great sense of honor. I had always been curious about them because of the way they were portrayed in the movies.
I went up to him and said I wanted to sit in his assistant's seat. He was so shocked it took him a few seconds to recover as he said, "Why?" I said, "I want to sit so I can see the road and I can chat with you."

He smiled and said, "Is that okay with your coach?" I said with a serious tone, "His opinion does not matter; I do what I want." He agreed but the young assistant seemed really annoyed that a girl was that forward.

When everyone was seated, he asked for everyone to recite the blessings to the prophet and most complied.

My coach said it was dangerous for me to sit in the front of the bus in case there was an accident, and I answered "If my time is up, so be it!"

We left Tehran and as we got on the Chalous Road I noticed the magnificent mountains and the dense tress. I realized that my dad was correct in saying the people in the Caspian Sea areas had remained very Iranian and unaffected by the Arab culture because of their lands being out of reach by most conquerors.

I asked the driver for some Koocheh Bazzari music and he was delighted that I knew most of the singers, although I admitted that my dad listened to classical singers and we did not play that kind of music in our house.

He told me that he had a daughter my age and his wife, who was illiterate from the countryside, wanted her to be married and not finish her education. He, on the other hand, wanted their daughter to have a better life by becoming educated and perhaps even working so she could marry for love and not for security. Hearing those types of remarks were so rare in those days that my heart was always filled with joy to find out that my dad was not the only one who thought that way. Most of my dad's friends who were educated (including a few doctors) did not share my dad's views and thought educated girls would make good mothers to check their kid's homework!

We stopped at a teahouse on the road and I asked the driver to be my guest. He smiled and used the expression "looti" which made me smile. That meant being a generous and compassionate person. That was what people said about my dad often and I was thrilled to be called the same thing. He politely declined and said, "The teahouse owner would not appreciate it" and it was not appropriate. I just smiled.

One of the snobs in my group came up and said, "What could you possibly find interesting in a bus driver?" The cruel me snapped and said, "A whole lot. I would rather talk to someone like him than a boring snob and stuck-up idiot like you, and to further piss you and your kind off, I plan to have one of his kind as a boyfriend when I am grown up. I just love to see the expression on your face and Elahe's, the fat ass (another snob), when I introduce him as my boyfriend! You will all be royally mad and I would just love it. Now, get lost and stay away from me before I really embarrass you!" There were some words mumbled which I said, "Just like a coward that you are, without courage to say what is on your stupid mind."

The driver and I continued our conversation as I encouraged him to let his daughter finish at least high school. We spoke about politics and I was thrilled to hear him say that he hated the shah. He told me to be careful whom I said these things to and I thanked him.

The scenic view took my breath away as I looked out the big front window and marveled at the beauty of my motherland. We finally arrived at the camp.

I was in awe of all the green that surrounded us and immediately decided that someday I will spend part of my retirement there, walking among the trees and wild flowers and smelling the ocean breeze.

I told everyone to go ahead without me because I wanted to savor the scenery and would be right behind them. Everyone seemed excited and was talking about the tall trees and the landscape.

I placed my suitcase down and looked around. The magnificent Caspian Sea was a few hundred meters away and it seemed endless. I was marveling at the magnificent picture Mother Nature had created. Out of nowhere three boys, identically dressed, popped out in front of me and startled me.

I tried to remain cool as I looked at them and realized they seemed to be brothers with only a few years' age difference. They all had blue eyes and curly blonde hair and had blue t-shirts with a writing I did not recognize. They seemed quite muscular because their t-shirts were snug around their buffed arms.

The one in the middle said, "So we scared a dokhtar Abadani." I looked at him sarcastically and said, "Oh yes, just like a camel, you stepped on your own brain."

He looked baffled as I continued, "For your information, I am from Khorramshahr but I guess in your ignorant mind we are all the same. If you were intelligent you could see that Abdanis have a different tone in their skin than Khorramshahris. By the way, not even for a second did you scare me. Don't ever assume because you are a boy you are stronger! My father has trained me in art of defense with my brothers so if caught by surprise I can beat up a man pretty good with the right moves."

He was taken aback with my matter of fact voice, so he said, "Do you need help carrying your suitcase?" I said, "If I do I will ask."

He pointed to his shirt and said "Do you know what this means?" I said sarcastically, "It says, 'I am dying to be noticed.'"

He laughed and said, "Actually it is in Turkish and it means Dragonfly." I shook my head and said, "You are not cute enough, so change it to yellow dog. It is more appropriate." He became serious and said, "You are so heartless," to which I answered "and you are very annoying, so please leave me alone." They walked away quietly and he turned around once and just looked at me, as I remained unfazed.

It would be in this place that I would first form my opinion of Iranians from different provinces, and my various trips for sporting events and later on, being in college, would instill these characteristics in my brain to affect my decisions for forming friendships in life. I made rules as to which Iranians I would never be close to and with which ones I would never emotionally get involved.

I would break my rule once in my life and would live to regret it.

There were two rows of tents set up on two separate sides of camp. One was to house the boys and the other was for the girls. As I reached the girls' tents, I was amazed at how many eager boys were scattered around and looking. I found them pathetic but remembered my promise to my dad to go easy on these pathetic souls! I walked into my tent and saw a few unfamiliar faces, which turned out to be our neighbors from Tabriz.

Eti was hard at work on putting make-up, and these neighbors seemed mesmerized. My dad had told me that people from that region were ultra conservative and strict, and a few girls in my high school from that region often had expressed their distaste for girls who wore make-up. I had found them boring and backward and really never cared to have any friends with that type of mentality. I poked fun at Eti by saying, "Just think, if they see you without make-up they will be scared and run away!"
It was announced that we were going to the beach, and as I put on my bikini, I saw the horror on the face of our neighbors. One of them worked up the courage and said, "You are going out like that? The boys can see you!"

I was so tempted to say something nasty but my dad's face came to my mind so I said, "Listen my dear, I go to the swimming pool all summer long and there are many boys there. I grew up playing cards, soccer, and basketball with boys so to me they are just like girls!"

One of them smiled and said that my bikini was pretty but I was too skinny. I shrugged my shoulder, grabbed my towel, and headed out. Eti had put on a one-piece bathing suit and I said, "Well at least your big, white ass will get you a husband!"

I arrived at the beach filled with girls (the boys had been taken much further to avoid contact with us!). It was hilarious to see girls diving in the shallow water with their clothes on and some had t-shirts over long shorts. Some of the girls from Tehran had one-piece bathing suits but we seemed to be the center of attention since all the girls from our area had on bathing suits (I was the only one courageous enough to have two-piece on).

We splashed water on each other and I then sat on the beach for the late afternoon sun to give my brown skin a healthy dose of bronze color. We came back to the tents to rest and get ready for dinner. Everyone was looking forward to going to the big cafeteria that was serving food, which would provide the opportunity to meet all the boys from all over Iran.

I had made it clear that the "Happy Girls" would not reveal their identity until we were actually on the stage the 2nd night. We would not wear our t-shirts until then. All of us would be performing the next morning as part of the program with the large band, which would include musicians from all over Iran.

We got dressed and went to the cafeteria. There was already a long line waiting to be served. I asked my group to hold my place as I went and checked the people in line to see if there was anyone worthwhile to talk to!

I walked by the line and looked at everyone. I was able to tell where some of the people came from by hearing their accents.
I was completely turned off by the Isfahani camp. The boys were mostly short, and overbearing by being loud and trying to be charming. I never have liked that accent and for the life of me cannot understand why some people refer to them as "sweet accents." The girls were not pretty at all and the way they spoke was not feminine at all.

The people from Kermanshah were tall and shy. There were no girls and only a few boys. They were polite and did not look in my eyes as I said a few words.

I spotted the three boys from Tabriz and the four girls I had already met. It turned out their brothers were there and that is how they were allowed to be among the wolves! The girls were dressed very conservatively. Although it was warm and humid they had long sleeves and their collars were all buttoned up. I felt practically naked with my bare legs and no sleeves, not to mention the red lipstick, which seemed to bring shock to some faces.

I stopped to meet the Shirazi group of five boys and one girl. They seemed very friendly but they spoke too slowly for me and I got bored.

The Mashhadis had boys only and I did not find them interesting enough to talk to.

In front of the line were Tehranis. They were almost as big of a group as we were. The boys seemed too aggressive and forward. That has always turned me off. The girls seemed friendly and made compliments about my dress and sexy sandals. A short boy with sandy blonde hair and blue eyes asked me which camp I belonged to and I politely answered because his approach was very calm and general.

I went back to my spot and we were much closer to being served. The aroma of my favorite dilled rice and lima beans filled the air and I promised Kia I would let him have my lamb shank since I had never liked meat since childhood.

As always, I finished first and went to the amphitheater to make sure I would have a good spot to sit at. There were some boys from Tehran nearby, and the short one introduced himself as Kasra. I made comments about the beauty of the place being in the open so one could look up and see the stars shining and fill our lungs with the fragrance of the wild flowers. He smiled and in a very nice tone said, "Wow you are so romantic, but you do not look it!"

I held myself from lashing out and said, "Well, what does a romantic person look like?" He was caught by surprise so I said, "Let me define what the stupid and mundane rules say about that. A romantic person is shy, weeping, willing to do anything for the beloved and has no desires and dreams of her own, as she is portrayed in our poetry books. Right?"

He looked embarrassed and said, "You have a point." I felt his pain so I changed the subject to tomorrow's ceremony. The place began to get filled with campers.

Once everyone was seated the Khorramshahr's boy band took center stage. I began to whistle to encourage the crowd. The Tehrani girls cheered as Amin stepped on the stage with his bright red shirt and his aloof manner. I knew that there would be much competition to grab the heart of our Casanova! >>> Part 2 (last)

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By Azam Nemati





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