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To Iran and Back Again

Cryogenically frozen in Western culture, a nineteen year old college sophomore sets out to bask in the culture of Iran with the natural curiosity and inquiry, doubt and appreciation of a new-born.

About Me: I am a nineteen year old Iranian male and am currently a sophomore in the University of California Santa Cruz. I last visited Iran a decade ago. My first-hand perception of the country is that of a naive nine-year old boys, hardly literate in important texts, eyes still squinted from the darkness of the womb, I was a boy and nothing less. At nineteen I'm going back, and with the atmosphere modern politics has blanketed over Iran, I'm ready, willing and expecting what I see to contradict Western propoganda, and if nothing else, to limn the real Iran, its culture, its people and the indefinable attributes of a nation and its inhabitants that make it what it is. Here is the first part of my memoir.

Sunday, July 15, 2007: "I'd Die For Iran"

Half a minute ago my cousin, laying on the floor seconds away from falling asleep, asked me, "Naveed, would you ever be a martyr?" I quoted Nietzsche saying I would always doubt my strongest convictions and would never let myself become so passionate about one ideology, and he replied by saying that he "know[s] one thing, he will die for Iran."

I did say yesterday that Iranian's are unhappy with Iran and want to leave, but the nationalism among Iranians is extreme. Every student is an activist, savvy in the politics of their country, quick to critique and quicker to defend, each Iranian is like Iran's older sibling, they can pick on Iran all they want, but if anybody else persecutes, they'll stand up.

The beginning of the day was hectic, going from bank to bank to open up an Iranian account for me. (Iranian interest rates are incredibly high, some banks give 20% rates.) On the way there a line at the gas station stretched a fourth of a mile because of the sanctions the Iranian government had enacted as of two weeks ago - each family is allowed one gallon a day per car - to ready the country for either a possible sanction by The West, and/or to save money so that when and if the West decides to intervene, they'll have enough oil to do without imports. Nonetheless, Iran is the fourth largest oil exporter in the world, and Iranians get their oil for - ready yourself - thirty cents a gallon. Thirty. Cents. A. Gallon. That is quite the social contract, give up your right to speak against the government, your right to go out with girls, your right to drink alcohol, but Gas Is Cheap.

Dinner tonight was at my cousin's house. His brother - my other cousin - lives in Los Angeles and I know him very well, and a night with his cousin is interesting since mannerisms, facial expressions, and tones of voice are remarkably similar. Walking into the household I remembered to keep my hands in my pockets when greeting the females. (A women came just to say hello and I had to wait for the cue to see if I should shake her hand or not, and when she did stick he hand out I fearfully, and subtly, stepped back, but caught on and shook back.) His daughter has a perpetual smile that is uber endearing and she quickly showed why the thesaurus has femininity and docility as synonyms. An American girl her age would have the obstinance of a rock, but she quickly gathered tea cups and offered everyone lemonade.

Eventually her brother came with the same down-to-earth, jubilant demeanor and sat down, and a little later his grandpa, my cousins' father, came.

The grandpa is in his seventies, an extremely devout Muslim, and possibly one of the most interesting people I've yet to meet. The majority of his statements were small talk, joking around with us kids, saying rudimentary English sayings making us laugh. He set up a chair next to himself, called my sister forth and began to interrogate her about her job as a kindergarten teacher, something he found interesting since he too was a teacher for young kids. He dismissed her, looked at me and said, "You Are Next," in English with every syllable stretched, every vowel elongated. I took a seat next to him and after making sure I could speak Farsi by testing my vocabulary he taught me a poem by Sa'di that essentially said "We are one." At one point he spoke of his younger days, how he protested against the Shah and screamed, "Death to America!" in the streets, and I asked him if he was at Black Friday.

Black Friday was on September 8, 1978 when the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, declared martial law massacring a group of protestors, a gruesome date in modern Iran's history, and he had been there. He said that since he'd had military training he knew to hide in the gutters, and he could hear the poor protestors running straight towards the gunmen, and when they left he came out and helped bandage the wounded and take them to hospitals. He said there was alot of something, but I hadn't heard the word. "Alot of blood?" I asked. He smiled, and told me to keep eating my rice.

While in a conversation with my sister, I felt a hand rest on my shoulder, and my cousins' grandpa had a thick book in his hands, he kissed it, bowed his head and gave it to me. It was the Qur'an, in English, Farsi and Arabic. Flattered, I had nothing to say but thank-you, but he made it easy for me.

Genuine passion is not a rarity in Iran. Men and women are faithful to the bone to both their creed and their country, and the system perpetuates such vigor. For a revolution to occur one generation would have to be a marty for a next. To reap the benefits of their own bloodshed would be ideal, but most don't want that drastic of a change, and most wouldn't be willing to give their lives for change. So, Iranian citizen's remain devout and nationalistic. The Iranian military gives no wage, it's mandatory for two years, but a majority of the young are willing to give their lives for Iran, not necessarily for God, but for the simple idea that it is their home, their land and their pride.

Read Naveed's full memoir at his blog

... Payvand News - 7/18/07 ... --

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