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Visiting Iran: Part 4
Part (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

August 19,2004


We live in Phase1, Block B1 of Ekbatan. Ekbatan is pretty nice for the middle class Iranians.

Today we went to my aunt's house for lunch. My aunt's family are pretty religious and in the beginning of the revolution they were enthusiastically following the path of the revolution and directly participated in it.

But after the death of my first cousin due to leukemia, and the third cousin's death who was out and about with Dr. Chamran during Iran-Iraq war and was blown to pieces by the Iraqis, and the death of my fourth cousin due to depression, my aunt's family are still religious but are dissatisfied and saddened by the way the revolution has turned out.

They live on a street named after their "shaheed" (Martyr) son, and are sorry for their losses for nothing. My second and only male cousin from that family is a professor of physics and is an active reformist. He is also influential in his inner circles where he was one of the original revolutionaries and still has the respect of the regime. But he is outspoken and critical of the conservatives. His wife is a doctor in theology and she too is critical of the regime.

My take is this: if people like my cousin have switched sides then no one is left on the other side except a bunch of thugs who are in it for nothing but power and money. My aunt lives near Shahpoor in southern Tehran. They have always lived there. She is one of the most loving people I know. Unfortunately she has lost three sons and that's not easy. But she keeps an optimistic view on life and goes on. Today she invited me and a whole bunch of her children and grand children for lunch.

Most of our conversation circled around fragility of the regime and estimations on how and when the regime will be gone. Most of the guests agreed that reforms will continue and Iran will achieve its goal without bloodshed. Two people whose words counted the most claimed that conservatives have no choice but to fight; and fight they will. They forecasted a bloody revolution at some point that will shift the country to chaos, then democracy.

I hope they are wrong but the two people who were saying this were ex-Hezbollahis. They said the ruling mullahs have tied their fate to several million people, just in case. These several million are the same people who are willing to do the beatings for the regime. They appear in various gatherings for Hezbollahis all over Iran. They are bussed everywhere, and they know if it wasn't for this regime they would have ended up with a lot less share of Iran than what they currently enjoy.

They know if the regime changes they are in deep trouble. This system was intentionally created by the mullahs i.e. they have created a class from the poorest of the poor, hired them in government agencies regardless of their skills, and kept them around for safety reasons, and they are asked to show up with their families in various demonstrations as "representatives of the people."

I have been wandering around Tehran, seeing things, talking to people for sometime now. I have been conversing with people in taxis, on the streets, in stores, restaurants, and in police stations. They all talk openly about how the Mullahs have stolen the revolution and how they are now stealing the money and are preparing to migrate to Canada and other countries. There are some ridiculously funny rumors, such as Rafsanjani building an island in the Pacific Ocean for his family, etc.

The only supporters of the regime we see are on TV. I don't see them on the streets. Tehrani boys and girls are busy with their hair styles, clothing, etc. The middle aged are busy bringing in the bread, and the elderly are still wondering why an egg which used to be 5 rials is so expensive now.

Those who will effectively change Iran are busy. They are working hard. Ironically most of them used to be supporters of the Islamic Republic who have since turned their backs on the regime. They are actually pretty pissed off at how they've been played and spent.

I am not sure if you know about Asgarowladi. Asgarowladi runs Tehran's Bazaar and has close ties to the regime. Yet the most interesting fact about him is that he was born to Jewish Bazaari parents. Later in his life he converted to Islam and is now one of the richest men in Iran. He is one of the people who has criticized Khameneie for not being conservative enough. He wanted the government to crack down harder on "bad-hejabs" (dress codes).

Iran is a land of wonders. Its supreme judge is from Iraq and its supreme leader wears a Palestinian shawl, and its richest businessman who runs the Islamic bazaar is a Hezbollahi who used to be a Jew.


I attended a round table political gathering in Tehran. The "International Relations Committee for Political Parties", had a meeting and Bahram was invited. I went with him as his guest. It was a round table official meeting.

In my mind I had preconceptions that I would see a bunch of bearded men around a table, but what I saw were young educated men, mostly doctors (Ph.D.) and one elderly physician who was representing Anjoman-e Pezeshkan-e Eslami (Association of Islamic Physicians). Almost all the organizations in Iran have an "Islamic" suffix, but its members are anything but.

The discussion was pretty open. The meeting was in a government building. We had tea and shirini (cookies), and were discussing how to word a request document so the government would not object and would respond favorably to the committee's requests. Among the attendees there was a man who used to organize and bus anti reformist demonstrations, beatings, etc. He was there participating in the discussion calmly and collectively.

I also said a few words as a guest, but Bahram talked the most. He is a respected figure in inner political circles. Ironically he is the most Western looking political figure, yet the conservatives do not dislike him. They let him be.

I went to the Tehran Stock Exchange. It is a relatively modern establishment. TSE started in 1966 but in recent years has become very active. Government is building five new modern exchange centers in Iran. I noticed many of the people there were clean shaven men, and some women too.

We asked for information and were directed to go to the library on the 16th floor and read about TSE. We did. The library had magazines from Fortune to the Economist, etc. There were all kinds of books about investment and finance; both in English and in Persian.

I went to Ferdosi elementary school. It is now a center for Islamic education, designed to figure out a way to bring in the glorious teachings of the Qoran to schools, to the world, and to somehow show the world how the Qoran and its teachings are good for you. It's a daunting task but someone had to do it.

I went inside the yard, through the hallways, to what used to be classrooms. Echoes of my childhood years were still there. Most of the yard is filled with new buildings and what remains is used as a parking lot. Across from the main gate of the school where Mamad Agha sold "Futeina". Mr. Khoram's stationary store is now a different store.

In Meydaneh Khakh Bahram and I went to a Kabobi which used to be a Ghahveh-Khaneh during my childhood years. The same owner has been there for 45 years. Bahram asked him to bring in his best Kabob. He said: "my friend comes from America and has a sensitive stomach. You'd better not feed us junk".

The Ghahveh-chi took a good look at me from where he was sitting, and in heavy Turkish accent replied: "him? He can not be from America! Americans are skinny, they eat fish and other sea creatures. Your friend is fat and looks like he eats lots of chelokabob."

I smiled at the Ghahveh-chi's candidness and at the same time I realized that in his world "fat" means health and vigor. So I was not offended but I had to tell him that America has fatties that don't even fit in his dreams. I told him that what he sees on TV are skinney actors and models, the real Americans are much fatter than Iranians.

We had a great lunch: 4 sikhs of Kabob Koobideh with one serving of rice, one sangak bread, two cups of yogurt, 10 barbecued tomatoes, all for 2800 tomans (less than $4). We gave a 100 toman tip to our waiter.

The fabric of the harsh right-wing attitude is coming apart in front of my eyes. Places that used to be filled with Hezbollahis are quickly shrinking. I saw a Pasdar with a machine gun and a whole bunch of police force the other day. I wondered what they were doing. It turned out they crack down on street vendors every now and then.

I went closer to listen to a conversation between one of these Pasdars with a vendor. He was telling the street vendor that if he doesn't leave the area he will have to arrest him and confiscate his merchandise! And the vendor was tenaciously sticking around. The Pasdar then pushed him: "Go!" he said. The forces when on the streets, generally do police work.>>> Part 5
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A Taste of Persia
An Introduction to Persian Cooking
by Najmieh Batmanglij

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