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Tehran's good side
It's there. Just have to look for it

By Najmeh Fakhraie
June 20, 2000
The Iranian

When I think of Tehran the first things I remember are drug addicts, homeless children, heavy traffic and rude people. Not a good sign. But no matter how awful it might be, no matter how polluted or dirty, it's still MY city and therefore it deserves to be loved. If there's a million things going wrong with it, if things aren't going too well, the only ones responsible are the people who live in it. Me included.

Unlike what most think, Tehran is really a beautiful place. Anyone whose looked up at the sky on a clear day know's what I'm talking about. A city covered by mountains on all sides, like a bird in cupped hands. It's just a shame that so many cats are always trying to rip off its feathers. Because of this, its beauties are almost always unseen.

I read somewhere that Abraham Lincoln once said : "If you try to look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will." Well, knowing that I've found enough bad things, I want to see if I can also find the good.

So this morning I've left the house determined to look at things with a different eye. I've decided to visit Tehran's great bazaar in the south part of town. I've heard it is one of the oldest parts of the city and being interested in anything with a history, I am quite eager to get there. I've asked directions the night before. My uncle has spent half an hour drawing and explaining the way, but I've gotten even more confused. No sweat though; there's always somebody I could ask.

I reach Seyed Khandan, where there are supposed to be taxis which go straight to the bazaar. I'm told that the Seyed Khandan is named after a cafe owner who was quite a cheerful person, though I wouldn't know for sure. I try to recall my uncle's words and sure enough I come across a place where about a million taxis are waiting. The drivers are yelling different directions. "Vali Asr" or "Enghelab" or one that sounds more agreeable: "Toupkhaneh, bazaar. . ."

I'm not exactly sure where I'm supposed to get off though. So I walk over to one of the drivers, a plump smily-faced man, and explain where I want to go. He shows me his car and says with a big smile : "I'll drop you off exactly where you're supposed to go." This could be a trick. Taxi drivers are usually mean and grumpy; why is he smiling like that? Even if you have lived here a short while you begin thinking like that. You forget what trusting people really means. I try to shake it out of my head and sit in the car. Two people are already sitting in the car -- a couple talking excitedly about a dinner party the night before.

I pull the window down and look at my surroundings. A bunch of taxi drivers are standing around talking and having tea. I hear the words "Rafsanjani" and "BBC" but then their voices turn into whispers. Probably one is telling the others about a new rumor. Two other passengers get in the car and we are on our way.

The taxi driver seems expressive. He doesn't stop talking till the moment we get off.

"It usually takes longer for me to find all five passengers on each round," he says. "But well, it's the beginning of the month and people have just gotten their salaries. So they're all headed towards the bazaar to shop. You come here at the end of the month and they all want to go to Behesht-e Zahra [cemetery]". The other passengers curl up with laughter though it takes me a few minutes to get the joke. He talks about the cheerful Seyed Khandan cafe owner, the movies he used to see when "good 'ol Mohammad Reza" ruled, the cheap kababs he used to eat and everything else you can imagine.

We reach our destination and all the passengers get off, except me. The driver tells me to sit in the car because I have to get off somewhere else and I'll probably lose my way if I go alone. finally he stops and shows me a place a few steps away. "Have a nice day," he says. Well, I hope he has a good one as well.

The bazaar is one HUGE crowded place. The first part isn't too great. There are a million shops selling the latest home appliances. Every brand and size. TVs, stereos, refrigerators, everything -- "az jooneh morgh taa shir aadamizaad" as they say. Then there's the bazaar-e talaa foroushaan which is quite an interesting place where emeralds and diamonds bigger than supermarket potatoes sit in shop windows.

But once I reach bazaar-e farsh foroushaan I feel so glad I've decided to come all the way down here. Rows and rows of beautiful, magnificent hand-made carpets. The most eye-catching thing about them is the colors. Gorgeous bright ones I've never seen anywhere else. Each telling a different story, each holding a secret mystery inside. I can just imagine the fine hard-working hands who've worked on them day after day and wonder with amazement what has driven the person to make such a masterpiece.

I go over to an old man sitting on a stool and ask about a beautiful carpet he has in his shop. He seems quite keen to explain. He suddenly stops and asks me, "Do you have enough time?" And hearing that I do, he walks in his shop, brings out another stool and two cups of tea and says, "Well, you better sit down; you might get tired standing up. This is quite a surprise. I haven't seen anyone interested in the rugs themselves in a long long time. Most who come here are just rich couples who want the most expensive rug so they can show off. The art itself is of no importance."

We talk for a while. I don't have anything but questions and luckily he has most of the answers. He himself was a fine carpet maker in Tabriz but he came to Tehran at the age of 35. He goes on for a little longer and finally it's time to go.

"Thank you so much," I say.

"You're welcome. Now that we're friends, you can buy your jahaaz (dowry) carpets from me. I'll give you the best with a discount."

I'll be sure to keep that in mind (not). I can't help laughing.

"You think that's funny?" he asks, "I had a 14-year-old girl in here along with her husband a while ago. They both looked so young that I thought they'd lost their way to the toy store. Some people..."

He's told me about a place a little farther off which is worth seeing. An Imamzadeh where Lotfali Khan Zand is also buried. It doesn't seem too great from the outside. but once I step in I see the most beautiful aayneh kaari glass work. I'm afraid that the old man sitting behind the counter is going to tell me to leave and come back with a chador. But fortunately he doesn't. Just tells me to take off my shoes. Of course. How could I have been so careless ? I hand them over to him. There is no one else there except me. I walk over to grave where Lotfali Khan is left alone and abandoned. I look around a little more. It's time to go.

I've been told I can't come home by taxi. So I walk over to the bus stop. Luckily, there's a bus waiting. I step inside. There's only one empty seat beside a mother with her little daughter. I sit down and just as I do I am offered a candy bar. I'm about to say no, but then again why not? I thank the little girl and look outside. An old crooked beggar is walking with his cane. The girl smiles at me, and I know with deep confidence that if you just look clearly, finding the good stuff isn't that hard.

Najmeh Fakhraie is a 16-year-old student in Tehran.

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