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Tehran under dust
Maybe a nice long rain will wash it all away

By Shabnam
June 10, 2002
The Iranian

Probably just like so many other tales you've heard, this is my story.

Of all the events that have taken place in the course of my life to date, I can isolate the one particular moment in time which is my defining moment. The moment that literally set my past and future worlds apart. The moment which I said goodbye to everything and everyone I ever knew, and left Iran.

Only if I knew then what I know now, I would have hung on a moment longer, saying goodbye to the little girl I left behind.

The first few painful years, I was consumed with connecting to the world the way I once had. The way that once, had made me feel whole. But then amnesia, and high school prom, and a niversity degree, and a couple of post bachelor degrees, and a position at a reputable firm, and an apartment in a posh area of town, and a set of nice German wheels, and a loving family, and great friends...

And one day when I stood still long enough to hear my own voice. I heard a cry that echoed from within. And heard a girl exhausted from perpetual self-consciousness, from trying to justify her presence by achieving and then some, and from standing poised on one leg rather balancing herself as a whole.

And so after taking a long hard look in the mirror, I began a new pursuit, without a real direction. I started studying Rumi, and soaked it like a dry sponge. I started surfing the net, and read every single article on

And one day I read somewhere "Man Farzandeh Nasleh Mohajere Tabeedam" (I am an offspring of the generation of exiled immigrants), and so with a knot in my gut, I found a common denominator in my longing. I quit my job and decided to travel to Iran.

My story is not one with deep insights, but it's about the ecstatical realization of being on a journey (thank you Gelareh Asayesh!)... about hearing my own voice on issues that tickle my heart... And ultimately, about making choices or living with the ones made for you.

Iran Air

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. So here I am in Tehran, and by all accounts every second to this moment has been an adventure.

My introduction to Iran actually came quite unexpectedly and suddenly -- on board Iran Air's flight 710. This plane had faithfully held on to its 1970's motif.

As I entered, with my full hejab intact, following a bare-headed lady with dramatic scarlet red lips, I was greeted with a large kitchen table in the center isle of the first class cabin, decorated with a lovely art deco piece of sorts, badly in need of dusting.

To my immediate right was a Namaz Khaneh (Prayer Room) -- I suppose in case of emergency prayers given the dire state of this poor bird, since I do recall that one's excused from praying on a trip according to Islam.

Anyway, during the next five hours or so, the predominant mood was one of intense relaxation experienced by all aboard. The gentleman in front of me never took his seat during take-off, while two men fought over an empty row of seats, and most of the empty seats in my immediate sight were piled up with jackets and bags.

A man across the isle took out his scissors and got busy cutting his nails. All evidence that us Iranians are not bound by international aviation rules of any sorts! Cell phones rang, smell of cigarettes filled the cabin on a couple of occasions, and for the first hour that the crew was preparing to serve our baghali polo (rice with fava beans) and barre (lamb), I had the feeling that the rice was actually being cooked right on the plane.

What I first took to be sarcasm in the flight attendants' attitude soon appeared to actually be wonderful hostessship. When a baby was restless a few seats ahead of me, one of the attendants (a man actually), took upon himself to play with him ever so gently for 20 minutes or so. When I refused my meal, they taroffed (insisting, very sweetly -- a special brand of Persian behavior).

They had casual conversations with the passengers, and most (except me - I was quite dazed over this unexpected display of kindness) left saying gracious and long thanks and goodbyes to the crew.

As I sat there with my cheeks burning with excitement, I was thinking how glad I was that I didn't weasel out by taking the more luxurious British Airways, and missing this experience first hand. I was also secretly fantasizing about giving all the 100 or so gentlemen sporting the same mustache and five O'clock shadow, a nice clean shave!

Ground zero

Although Tehran has grown considerably -- high rises, low rises, highways and bridges -- the blueprint to me was still recognizable. What mesmerized me though was not the city's growth, but dark gray dust.

The weight of pollution in Tehran can be physically felt everywhere, masking the majestic Alborz Mountains, drawing a curtain of gray on every single building in the city, and even on the faces of people.

In short, no one and nothing has escaped the effects of socio-economic hardships, recession (although technically two or more consecutive periods of recession is defined as a depression), and hyperinflation, in this country.

On my first look, outside and inside, at times I had an image of walking into a marvelous house built in the past and then frozen in one instant in time. Like the Titanic when it first began to sink and the rooms just kinda filled with water. Everything floating.

Once I had chuckled at the statement "Time is cruel", but now I felt its cruelty lies in its power to depreciate. I look around and I know that without motivation and resources, you are stuck in a time capsule. And this capsule is not even kind enough to stop erosion. And here, I see the lack of one or the other, and then inevitably both.

My heart spent the entire day in a state of intense contraction. Not just over the excitement of re-union, but also over anxiety that my eyes may reveal my utter shock.

Visiting with family was a delight, especially in the unselfconscious ways which everyone, old and young, can just BE together. Conversations just flow and you can tell it has nothing to do with the novelty of your presence.

On this first Friday, I drove from Gheitariye to Abbas Abad, to Niroo Havaee, to Shahrara. Redundant recounts of driving excitement aside, behind the thick haze I caught a sudden outline of the snowcapped, almost womb-like Alborz mountains, far more outstretched and magnificent than in my dreams.

As I took note of everything I saw on the drive, more than anything, I counted and counted flower shops and bakeries, open on Friday AND packed with people, when the whole city is practically shut down.

Aaahhh, the hope and excitement I found in this little statistical exercise of mine was uplifting. It was evidence that despite all else, there is still a wonderful spirit roaming all around the dusty streets of Tehran. And the dust... Maybe a nice long rain will wash it all away.

>>> Go to Part II: I will remember you

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