What could lie ahead
Go for it and bring about change
By Shahla Samii
January 22, 2002
As an Iranian expatriate living in America I have a story to tell. My
words are directed to the Iranian youth, in Iran and around the world.
I was born in Tehran at the end of World War II. Due to my father's business
we moved to Germany when I was five years old. I don't remember much from
my early childhood, and I did not go back for a visit until I was a first-year
high-school student in the US.
The trip to Tehran for my summer vacation filled me with joyful anticipation
as well as trepidation. I was happy to see my family who had moved back
to Tehran, but very anxious about going to the homeland I hardly remembered.
Also, although I spoke the language, albeit with an accent, I had no reading
and writing skills.
I arrived at the Tehran airport on a clear and sunny June morning. When
I came to the arrival section, partitioned by a glass wall from the main
hall, I saw my parents with many family members and friends I recognized
only because I had seen their pictures over the years, or they had visited
us in Germany. I felt shy and awkward. As soon as I stepped into the hall,
I was embraced, kissed again and again, and literally carried into my parents'
car and we finally drove home.
This was the home I had left almost 12 years earlier. It felt familiar,
but the garden seemed smaller. Although it had 2 acres of land, with old
and beautiful walnut trees that shaded rose bushes, fragrant jasmine plants,
seating areas and the pool on blistering hot summer days, as a small child
I had seen it as a forest.
After tea and pastries, my mother thought I wanted to rest from the long
trip. I went to bed exhausted by the long journey and sheer emotion, and
when I put down my head to nap, I slept 18 hours! The next morning I woke
up fresh and ready to explore and reacquaint myself with family and friends,
home and city, and to learn as much as a summer vacation would allow, about
my country and its people.
The first drive around our neighborhood startled me. I saw walls around
the homes and gardens, and I realized that privacy was important. Driving
towards downtown was quite an experience. Even then the traffic was a nightmare,
much honking and drivers seemed mostly unaware of traffic regulations! Tehran
did not strike me as a beautiful city, but the mountains to the north, still
capped by snow, and the blue of the sky gave the city a special allure.
I spent ten weeks in Tehran. Time flew by with visits and revisits with
friends and family, constant lunches and dinners with delicious Persian
food and the tastiest fruits ever, swimming and getting a great tan in the
hot sun. There was no humidity and the heat was bearable.
My parents took me on sightseeing trips to the bazaar in downtown Tehran
and the nearby Golestan Palace with its sparkling mirrored halls. We took
a short trip by air to Isfahan with its awesome mosques where the tile work
are masterpieces in design and color. From there we visited Shiraz with
its beautiful gardens and wide boulevards, and then to the historic sites
A few days after our return to Tehran we drove towards the Caspian sea,
through quaint villages, steep mountain roads passing olive trees and wild
flowers, sipping tea in roadside cafes, passing aromatic green rice fields
swaying softly in the wind, and finally arriving at the sea resort of Ramsar.
The background of hills and tea plantations to the picturesque landscape
of citrus trees and tall palms near the beaches and the deep blue water,
took my breath away.
During my visit to Iran that summer, wherever I went, I found kind and
open hospitality. I don't remember ever having drunk so much tea and tasted
so many home baked pastries and sweets. The summer flew by fast and I went
back to school with newfound love for my homeland and proud to be Iranian.
After finishing my studies in the US, I attended one year at the University
of Lausanne. By then my father believed that to be able to live in my own
country, I should come home and study Persian and reacquaint myself with
its culture and history. And that is what I did.
It was another four years since my last trip home. This time I was older
and I had to adjust to being a young, unmarried girl in society. I suddenly
realized that most girls my age were interested in superficialities such
as designer wardrobes, hairdressers, going to parties and living it up.
I felt out of place.
The values taught to me by my parents and in the schools abroad were
different. I realized that since I had never gone to school here, I had
no real childhood friends and could not build friendships on past connections.
I started Persian lessons, played tennis and read many books.
I did go to social gatherings, and on one such occasion I met the late
Shah. He spoke to me and I remember his kind voice and intelligent eyes,
and he asked me why I had an accent. I explained and the next time I met
him, several years later when I was married, he spoke to me and suddenly
said with a smile, "You have not lost your accent."
I write about this to remind those who seem to remember the late Shah
as an aloof and dictatorial figure, that he was the leader of a country
he loved and put above everything else, and that within the Iranian culture
and society were inbred flaws not of his doing, to which I will refer a
I met my husband two years after my return. He had studied abroad for
18 years and had come back to Iran with the vision and yearning of bringing
to his homeland the benefit of his education. And that is what he did. He
put his energies into healing the sick, providing and building better hospitals
and care, and he implemented his vision for higher education and availability
of universities throughout the country.
During that period many Western educated men and women came back to Iran
with that same eagerness: to advance the country in every field and bring
prosperity and a good life for all the people.
Iran was advancing at a rapid pace by the early 1970's. Oil money was
flowing in. The late Shah had a vision for his country: to educate, modernize
and become self sufficient, thereby lifting Iran to the level of Western
European countries. I am not a politician and there are many who have written
about this subject, but I am writing about the human aspect of those years.
I saw around me unbelievable wealth, accumulated over night, especially
in the private sector. It reminds me of what happened in the 1990's with
the high tech economy here in the US, resulting in the sudden extreme wealth
that brought on excesses in this society.
Unfortunately the excesses of the 1970's in Iran led to discontent and
frustrations, and in great part it had to do with the private sector and
not the government. Corruption became the norm for some. The inequality
of the have and have-nots became a thorn that grew to eventually hand the
mullahs their key to instigate revolts by the workers, intellectuals, the
middle class and all those who felt left behind, and finally resulted in
It is the Iranian youth of today that I implore to learn from past
mistakes. Today in Iran everyone is aware that the theocratic fundamentalist
Islamic regime cannot and will not give them the freedoms that should be
their right. It is to the same youth that I say: go for it and bring about
change, study and work and better your lives, become once again proud citizens
of your country, but watch out for the pitfalls.
Reza Pahlavi is aware of what happened in the past and what could lie
ahead. He has lived the life of Crown Prince and regular citizen. He has
lived with democracy and knows that within this system there are checks
and balances, laws that everyone has to abide by, and freedoms that should
not be taken for granted. He is young enough to understand the yearnings
of youth and old enough to have experienced the harsh realities of life.
For the young in Iran and around the world he has the right vision.
It is up to this generation to stand up for their rights -- education,
jobs and the freedom to pursue their dreams. Join forces to build a better
Iran for your own and future generations.