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Part 12

March 23, 2004

With the Halloween debacle behind me I decided to make the month of November my issue-free month. Around the middle of November, my dad got a clean bill of health from his army of doctors and was feeling pretty good if not a bit tired from all the probing and testing and what not. And now with his good health, he decided that it was time for us to go back to Iran.

At the time our family urged him to leave me in the US even if he was intent on going back. In accordance of Iranian law, in a couple of years I would be banned from traveling abroad and would then have to serve in the military. The Iran-Iraq war was still raging with no end in sight. Plus, having had the experience of a shaved head during winter I knew I wasn't ready to be a soldier. I was 12-years old for God's sake, I was supposed to be collecting baseball cards and playing around -- not carrying a semi-automatic weapon.

My dad's reasoning was that we were a family, either we all stayed in the US or we all went back to Iran. There was no middle ground. He strongly believed that children needed to be raised by their parents. He had seen the struggle and hardship that many children left parentless in foreign countries went through and wasn't ready for me to go through that. He rationalized everything with me somehow falling into the wrong crowd and becoming a drug user or even worse -- not going to college! So since he had no intention of staying in the States it was decided that we pack up and head back to Iran. Before we left, my uncle Mahmood took us to Toys R Us and allowed us to purchase any toy we wanted.

Being a greedy little jerk, I picked the largest train set I could find, which was so huge that I could barely carry it. The mind of a child is easy to understand -- bigger is better, simple as that. I was so excited about my train and was dying to show it off to my friends in Iran, but with my luck I was informed that my train set was way too big to take with us to Iran. This meant no showing the train off to my friends, and worse, watching Mahan play with all of his reasonably sized He-Man action figures for the duration of our trip back while I sat there bored out of my mind.

Going back to Iran was a bittersweet event. I was happy to go back to my old friends but also sad about leaving the US -- with all of its safety, freedom and endless cartoons on television -- and I also didn't want to leave my newfound friends behind, even though we could hardly communicate with each other.

Our flight back was quite subdued compared to our trip to the US. Agitation washed over the passengers on the plane as soon as our Swiss Air flight crossed into Iranian territory and it was announced on the PA that all women needed to cover themselves. I felt really angry at the time that my dad would take me back to Iran and didn't care if I served in the military. Looking back, though, I really admire him for his wisdom to make sure that the family stayed together no matter what.

We arrived in Tehran and on our second day back, my mom registered us for school. The school year had already started three months before that so we didn't realize that the 1st trimester exams were only a week away. My soulless principal said that I would be responsible for taking the exams and didn't care that I had just gotten back from the US and that I didn't know what the hell was going on.

On the other hand, my brother's principal told my mom to bring Mahan back in two weeks after the exams were over. I was now very upset at my mom, my dad and Mahan for good measure. I was upset at everybody who crossed my path. Here I come back to Iran after being gone for three months and now I had to study 14 different subject matters for exams that were only a week away. All that while Mahan got a two-week vacation to hang out and play around. Unacceptable.

Needless to say my first trimester grades were nothing to brag about and I felt that I had now sealed my entry into the military with my miserable grades.

Perhaps the most embarrassing part of these exams was that I barely even passed my English exam. Having been in the United States for the past 3 months would lead one to believe that I could at least pass this exam with flying colors. Especially since the questions on the exam were as basic as stuff on Sesame Street. My mom was so amazed that I did so poorly that she actually went to see the teacher but was informed that there was no mistake; I had simply blown the exam.

School was usually pretty normal for most of the day until our final class when the infamous rolling blackouts of Tehran would hit us. It was kind of like the lottery nobody wanted to win. My parents had started a good communications network to warn others that the blackout was heading their way. Basically once the black out hit you, you'd call and warn all the relatives that lived in the various grids of the approaching black out.

Now the blackouts we could get used to, but the water rations were another story. You could be in the middle of a shower and they would turn off the water. Then you were stuck washing yourself with the little water that was in the tub before it went down the drain.

On the bright side of things, though, when the blackouts occurred during school, we were let out early and sent home. The trouble was that the roads were also affected by the blackouts since none of the street lights would work. So we had to be careful not to get run over by the lunatics who are allowed to drive their cars on the streets of Tehran (think Frogger but with cars aiming for you). And in case you are wondering, Tehran is the official breeding ground for NASCAR. Sort of like a farm system or minor leagues for insane drivers.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the blackouts happened during my 3rd trimester finals. Anyone who has gone to school in Iran knows how nerve racking the 3rd trimester finals can be. I mean, finals are stressful no matter what grade you are in or in which country you are in but in Iran, there is the added issue of family shame. Not only do you need to make sure you get good grades but most of all you just want to pass. If you don't then you were stuck going to summer school. Perhaps nothing is more as embarrassing in Iran than going to summer school.

While it's pretty standard here in the US, and is even encouraged so that you can get ahead in school, I have known parents who in public deny they even have children if the poor child should happen to attend summer school in Iran. Parents likewise began speaking in hushed tones when talking about a relative's child if he or she should happen to be attending summer school. "Did you hear that Amir's son is in summer school? How could things have gone so far? He used to be such a good kid... "

Anyway, at 5 PM I was sitting at my desk ready to take the exam when the cursed electricity went out. So we sat in the dark for a while until our teacher came in and told everyone to go to the basement, which had some windows at the top that let in light and air.

The principal then, along with our science teacher, drove two Paykans (the Iranian-made car which, technologically speaking, is still stuck in the horse-and-buggy era) into the courtyard and turned their lights on. That gave us enough light to allow us to take our exams. I passed my exams with flying colors and was ready to have a school-free summer break where all I had to worry about were the occasional bombings, avoiding heat stroke (Iran summers can reach 120 degree farenheit), and my fathers ailing health.

One of the issues the doctors had with my dad was the fact that he smoked. They told him repeatedly that for his health to improve he had to quit smoking. The problem is that in Iran the only form of "legal" entertainment is smoking. And 99% of the people (it sure felt like that) smoked. And the other 1% were infants who would begin smoking as soon as they learned to walk.

With the passing of days and months we got used to our daily routine but my dad's inability or unwillingness to quit smoking caused his health to deteriorate again. Around June of 1986 my father once again headed to Los Angeles for medical treatment. In August of 1986 we followed him to LA and left Iran for the last time. >>> To be continued >>> Index

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