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Iran in a different light

By Fariba Amini

Take me to a place where there is only God's light, you and I,
Take me to a land where there is warmth and no sadness in people's hearts
Where kindness and hope fills their hearts...

from a Persian melody

Pomegranate store in Kamranieh-Tehran

I described my trip to Iran as inspirational. I guess when you visit your homeland after twelve years, you have different emotions, you see the good and the bad aspects. At the beginning, I saw the negative components, such as traffic and pollution. I saw the stark realization that women (myself included) had to put on a scarf and a long tunic in the 100 degree heat to go out was only exacerbated by an occasional reminder by other women guards, that my hejab was "Not quite appropriate." I saw the negative in the way some men treated women or in the way the store owners were rude sometimes. I was in a store once on the old Pahlavi Street, now Vali Assr, when I reproached the store owner and asked him why customers were treated this way? Why is everyone in a bad mood? His reply was, "lady are you new to this place?" and when I nodded my head, he said, "stay a bit longer and you will be Bad Akhalgh too!"

Men smoking Hookas in a Chai Khaneh-Tehran Bazaar

But where there are negative aspects, there are also positive ones. I can't describe the depth of my feelings when I returned back to Washington; everyday since then I have lived in Iran, I daydream of the places I went to, the people I met. I met old friends, some who had been in prison after 1979 and who were trying to lead a normal life. Some who just live off their parents and don't really work because there aren't any jobs for them or because working with those running the show would be nearly impossible because of their lack of respect for the rest of the population. I remember visiting the University of Tehran and wanting to go through one of the gates where a bearded man was sitting and I asked him politely if I could go in since I used to be a student there. He said, absolutely not, at which point I got furious and said to him, damn this country that doesn't allow its citizens to visit its university! And he, in a sarcastic way said to me, "yes, damn this country!"

University of Tehran dormitory-scene of bloody confrontations on 18 Tir 1999

Yet, I went through the main gate and there, another bearded man was standing and I asked him the same question. He hesitated first but then told me alright go but don't go into the class rooms, they would make trouble for me. So I thanked him and I went in where I found two students from Daneshkadeh Fanni (Technical School) and I spontaneously asked them if I could interview them and they said, Yes! They didn't even know me and they took me for a whole tour of the university.

Front door to Evin Prison in Tehran

Another time, I wanted to take photos from Evin prison. We would pass by there every time we went to Shemiran but I was told not to do it. "Did you forget the fate of Zahra Kazemi?" they would say. But I was determined. Thus, one of the days that I took a cab to go to Tajrish, I asked the cab driver if he would slow down so I could get a photo. It was a day of molaghat. Unfortunately the photo didn't show the whole tableau of Evin so on the way back from Tajrish with the same cab driver I asked if he could pass by there again. He didn't refuse, in fact, he was so courageous that he slowed down right in front of it and I took the photo. When the guards saw me and blew their whistles, the cabdriver pushed his gas pedal and zoomed past the prison. He could have been arrested alongside me.

Outskirts of Evin Prison in Tehran

I can't recall how many times I was captivated with my compatriots' exhibition of honesty and pride; like the women selling cloth in Ramsar Bazaar whose photos i took. I wanted to pay them, but they would not accept any money. Or the time I did not have any more cash in Chaboksar and wanted to make a telephone call from the telecommunications office and the young man said, "don't worry just pay me the next time you see me." I told him I may not have the time to come back and he said "just pay me when you come back to Iran the next time!"

Ahmad Abad - Home of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh

Or the time when we went to Ahmad Abad with the son of of Dr. Mossadegh's cultural minister. We stopped to ask a storeowner on the Tehran-Karaj road how we can get there. He asked "are you talking about Mossadegh's Ahmad Abad?" And then he said, "he was a good man who cared for Iran."

Naghsheh Rostam, Shiraz

How many times, we were offered tea or our Shirazi driver would stop to buy Faloudeh or grapes on the way to Naghshe Rostam and would refuse to accept money. One of them who knew I liked the song Dokhtar Shirazi, made a CD and brought it for me. They were the true depiction of the generosity and warmth of Shirazi people.

I can't say enough.

Men selling dried herbs- Ramsar Bazaar

The people who live under strenuous conditions, and everyday, for some reason or another, are harassed or detained because of the way they talk, the way they walk or handle themselves, where liberty has lost its essence and is determined by a few hypocritical men who tell the majority how they should conduct their lives in public and private, is not just noticeable but admirable. If one goes to Iran and does not see the enormous sacrifice people are making just to survive daily life, then one is blind to the goodness Iranians have in their soul. Despite these pressures, they try to enjoy this vast resourceful country.

Women in Ramsar Bazaar selling cloth

I remember taking the metro down to DC to participate in this last anti-war demonstration and saw kids laughing and playing without inhibition. I never saw that in Iran. I did not see happy children or even laughter in public. Like many other normal human behaviors, laughter is not permissible. We need to see a happy Iran, an Iran that is the essence of what Khashayar Shah wrote in his declaration, "I am the one who admires the truth and I despise lies, I cannot see that the mighty shall oppress the weak. I only praise that which is the truth. God's desire on this earth is not to create chaos but peace, prosperity and fair rule. I am not convinced by what is said about the other unless good laws determine and judge. I will see to it that a person will be punished if they hurt others. I cannot see that a man inflict harm on others and would not accordingly be punished." When I went to a flower shop to buy some flowers for a friend of the family, the young man working there showed me this katibeh; he was so proud and said, see what we used to be and now We have been turned into this ugly nation.

Boy in Sefidab, Gilan province

After everything I saw and experienced in those forty five days, I have to say with confidence that once Iran is free, free from this oppressive atmosphere, it can again find its righteous place in the world of civilized nations. We will have to pray and hope that day will come sooner rather than later.

Friends talking, Hafezieh, Shiraz

Woman beggar with her child, Vali Assr Avenue, Tehran

Ali, friend of a friend

... Payvand News - 10/14/05 ... --

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