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Travel warning
U.S. State Department needs to expand its advisory

By Farid Moghadassi
December 6, 2001
The Iranian

As a U.S. citizen I decided to take the necessary precautions before traveling to my homeland this summer to visit my few remaining relatives. The U.S. State Department warns citizens to defer travel to Iran due to the usual evidence of hostility towards the U.S. and lack of an embassy in Tehran to provide services to American citizens. After reading this long page filled with the dangers of traveling to this land populated by terrorists, my stubborn red blood cells convinced me otherwise. So I decided to travel to Iran despite the warning.

Upon my arrival in Tehran, the nasty precautions had affected me psychologically, and therefore making me think like an Army Commando. My mission was to get in, visit some relatives, and then finally get out alive. Once in Iran, all the precautions from the State Department were pretty much worthless. The real threats were not stated but I experienced, them as time went by.

On a hot summer day in Tehran while driving on a highway, taking a deep breath by mistake, increases your chance of getting lung cancer within 5 years. Bragging to the cab driver that you come from America will automatically change his rates from Rials to Dollars. Deciding to take a crowded taxi increases your chances of sitting to the left of the driver on the same seat, holding on to the driver's shoulder with one hand and holding on to the driver door semi open with the other. One sharp turn is enough to throw you off the cab and onto the crowded street.

Worst of all and the deadliest of all was the practice of tarof circulating around family members, friends and merchants. On a trip to Karaj where my aunt lives, we decided to spend the night. This is summer time and to some in the town of Karaj, including my aunt, the air conditioner has not been invented yet. Only the fan. My aunt fixes my bed and insists on putting extra thick Iranian-style fur blankets over me in case I catch cold.

I politely refused. She thought I was tarofing but I honestly kept refusing. In the morning I wake up deep down under three feet of thick blankets. I was so hot when I opened my eyes I could only see a pitch black screen. I was wet, tired, and felt like my body has first degree burns all over. I thought I was paralyzed from the mid-chest down. I had a fever for a couple of hours and on top of that my aunt kept asking me if I slept well. In the middle of the night she decided to put 15 blankets on me thinking I was tarofing.

I am a hard core vegetarian who takes part in those protests against McDonald's and all fast food chains creating misery for poor animals. In Tehran I was invited over for dinner at my cousin's place. I had mentioned to her on the phone that I do not eat meat due to my strong belief in saving animals. I still to this day do not think they understood. Anyway, dinner time came and my cousin told me that she had prepared a dish specifically for me. It tasted like a mix of fried vegetables. Later on that night after dinner my cousin starts telling me that the dish I ate, had very small pieces of meat in it and she yells out loud: "See! Nothing happened to you!" Everybody starts laughing and she warns me that nobody can tarof with her.

I took a trip to a local shoe repairman to fix a small cut on my leather shoe. It took him maybe about 15 minutes to cover it. I ask him how much I should pay him and he replies don't worry about it. I kept insisting but he kept declining . After ending our session of tarof I decide to walk away politely after thanking him. But I do leave him about 200 tomans. He gets upset and I thought it was because I gave him money. After giving me a speech about respecting elders I figured he wanted more.

The US State Department cannot overlook the dangers of tarof and it should provide assistance to its citizens in case they fall in this trap.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Farid Moghadassi


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