What some of us did when the revolution hit
By Mehrdad Pishegar
May 28, 2002
This is the story of how some Iranians residing outside of Iran, men in particular,
between the ages of 35 -55 became highly educated, higher than they had ever anticipated
or wanted, thanks to the Islamic republic! A typical story goes like this: It's a
couple of years before the revolution and the typical young man of our story is sent
abroad to study. Let's say he was sent to England to further his education or at
least learn the English language. Most parents expected their sons and daughters
to come back medical doctors and engineers.
They enrolled in a collage to learn English and a year later they were doing their
A levels (it is/ was the prerequisite qualification needed to go to a university
in England, the more of these you had and the higher the grades, the better the chance
of entering a university and studying what you wanted). News of unrest in Iran became
more frequent on the TV and things didn't look so good for the ruling bunch. They
got instructions from home to by any means prolong their stay and not go back if
possible, kind of sitting this inconvenience out. After all it was going to be temporary.
Before you knew it the Shah fled the country and you had mullahs in power. Most people
were ecstatic, free at last! But most families still anticipated further unrest and
told their loved ones not to come back yet, despite their revolutionary sentiments
to serve the nation. The nation needed doctors and engineers, they said. This thing
will die down soon and things will be back to normal again and then you could come
back, they claimed.
In the beginning things were not so bad and people were enjoying their new found
freedom. Most of our friends stuck in a foreign land wanted to go back and be part
of this and help make the future even more rosier. But most families wanted them
to stay a bit longer.
Few years later and still things are unstable back home, our typical hero manages
to get his BSc, bachelors in science. In some engineering discipline and since the
instruction from home are to stay further he is forced to consider post graduate
studies despite his own desires and plans. One other issue that forces him to consider
studying is the visa, you can stay, legally, only if you are a student or a citizen.
At this stage many did not want to become a citizen, that entailed marrying a native.
Neither our hero nor his family back home were ready for this drastic step yet, so
he chooses to do his master's degree.
Things are getting worse, besides the clamp down on
opposition, imprisonment, torture and executions, there is the war to consider. The
prospect of being drafted into the army of "hagh" against the "batel"
(army of Right against Wrong), under the leadership of yester year's rozekhun (preacher)
and now commander in chief of the army did not sound very inviting. And besides,
it seemed that our mullahs were deliberately prolonging this war. So one more reason
to stay away from it all.
Our hero, however, was experiencing financial problems. The economical situation
was getting so bad back at home that the families could not send money on a regular
basis and when they could there was always problems and delays sending the money
through official channels at the "official rate". There were many obstacles
to overcome and money was usually 6 months to a year late. Our hero constantly had
the university administrators breathing down his neck and threatening him with expulsion
unless he paid his tuition fees. So money had to be made using other tactics.
They started working in bars, restaurants and takeaways. Well, not having a work
permit complicated things a bit. Soon there were so many of them looking for a job
that these bars and restaurants had to set some kind of minimum requirements for
employment. Basically it went like this: If you had a PhD. You would certainly get
the job. Next came people with master's degree, it would be fair to say that these
also most certainly got the position. Then were the people with a BSc. degrees. If
you had your BSc. with honours then you stood a good chance otherwise you should
expect trouble and delaying tactics from the employer. The employer always hoped
that a more qualified guy would turn up and he did not need to make do with a mere
BSc. holder. The job was to manage the smooth operation of the kitchen by preparing
the salads, washing the dishes and so on, in good time.
So before you know it our hero had achieved the highest academic ranks and ran out
of things to study. Now after so many years he himself had no desire to go back.
He did not need his family to persuade him not to go back. Things were very clear.
He had to stay where he was. Not many people showed even a desire to go back, for
a holiday maybe, but not for good.
Those who had not got married to a native and wanted to stay were seriously thinking
of marrying one of their girl friends. Of course, not all of our heros had excelled
in their studies and had bought time by hopping from one meaningless course to another
or had got married and in some cases got divorced, after getting their permanent
visas, long time ago. These guys had usually saved some money or had got some from
back home and started a kebab place of their own. They were the ones, now, deciding
whether to take the MSc. guy or the BSc. with honours guy to work. Just goes to show
how important a good education is. Many would write a completely different essay
if they were now asked "Elm behtar ast ya servat?" (Knowledge or wealth?
Which is better?).
Never mind these "uneducated" heros. Our story is concerned with "highly
Our over educated hero does not have a very good chance of finding employment easily,
since he is not a citizen. And besides it's the beginning of the 90's and we have
a recession with employment being hard to find. One option is to marry into citizenship.
Some choose that path and even find a job at the end. Some get their resident's visa
without having to get married. They either had money or had stayed there long enough
to qualify for permanent visa. Many of these, despite their high education, had no
desire to find a job in the field they were trained in and studied so hard for. After
all they were forced to study so long anyway. Mostly it wasn't out of their love
for science or technology. That is why many ended up starting a pizza or kebab place
after all those years of studying. Some went to put their education into good use
and have become very distinguished scholars.
Before I finish, let me tell you a story concerning one of these heros.
He had just received his masters in electrical engineering
and had swore that he would not work in a restaurant, come what may. So he started
sending out job applications in their dozens. Unfortunately, since he was not a citizen
and being Iranian did not help his cause much either, his application was always
refused on the grounds that they had already found a suitable candidate for the vacancy.
He would see the same job advertised in the papers a week later. However, he was
an athletic guy who loved training and was in great physical shape. He spent his
days going to the gym.
After a few months of fruitless applying for a job, waiting and being refused, he
notices that his savings are getting dangerously low and he should do something about
it. Friends tell him to do what the others before him have done, but no, he would
not work in a restaurant as a dish washer. One day on his way back from the gym he
notices a poster on the wall: " HELP WANTED". It turns out that London
zoo is hiring. In his opinion this is a much better alternative to working in a restaurant
and besides nobody will find out where he is at work. Next day he goes to the interview.
The interviewer, after looking at him and noticing his physique, tells him that he
would hire him right away. Our friend is very happy and asks the man what exactly
is it that he has to do. He tells him that their gorilla has died and since their
gorilla was a main attraction and they did not want to lose customers, they are looking
for a person to act as a gorilla until they get their new gorilla from Africa. Our
friend very quickly gets up to walk away, murmuring something like "goore baabaat
baa in kaaret, gooreel khodeti o jaddo aabaadet." The interviewer tells him
that the pay is 100 pounds a day. Our friend stops in his tracks. "100 pounds?
Did you say per day?" "YES," he said.
Restaurants paid something between 1.5-2 pounds per hour. So a 10-hour shift would
have been 20 pounds at the most. He notices this is an offer he can not refuse. He
tells the guy that for that amount of salary he will take the job but he has no work
permit. The interviewer tells him that would not be problem and he should not worry
about it. For the next few days he worked with the gorilla trainer and watched a
lot of gorilla footage on the video. He practiced being a gorilla. When the gorilla
trainer was satisfied with his progress he was told that from the next day he could
Dressed in a gorilla costume he is there in the gorilla cage. He starts walking around
popping bananas and hitting his chest once in a while. This goes on for a couple
of weeks until the manager tells him that there has been complications in the import
process of the new gorilla and whether he could stay on a bit longer. Our friend
accepts without reservations. This goes on for a couple of months and his friends
have, by now, found out about his job. When they go and visit him at his home they
take bananas with them as gifts, for fun. Our friend usually throws the bananas out
of the window and is not amused. He has become an expert gorilla. Even the gorilla
trainer has difficulties from time to time believing he is not a real gorilla. Our
friend can jump from one side of the cage to the other using ropes with amazing ease
and "gorilla grace".
One day when he jumps from one side of the cage to the
other for some reason, probably rusty joints, the cage bars break and he falls into
the next cage. As soon as he finds his bearings again he notices that he is in the
neighbouring lion's cage. The noise of the bars breaking and him falling get the
attention of the lion and he turns around and starts walking towards him. When he
sees the lion coming towards him, he hits himself on the head and shouts "Yaa
ghamare bani haashem! bad bakht shodam!" (Holy Jesus! now I'm doomed). The lion
opens his mouth and says "eh, aaghaa! shomaa ham iraani hastid?" (Are you
OK, sorry for the anecdote. I have no intention of insulting anyone. The story while
not true, reflects a truth. These people have endured and suffered a lot. So next
time, when some of you give statistics about how highly educated we Iranians outside
of Iran are, think of how they achieved it! And who were behind it all.
And I am not revealing who the gorilla guy!