Friday, October 14, 2005
A father and son pay a visit to Tehran A trip to Tehran to visit relatives with my Dad
This summer I went to Tehran, Iran with my dad to visit our relatives. It had been 28 years since Dad had left Iran for boarding school in Wales. He last went back to visit in 1977 just before the revolution which overthrew the Shah and brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Because most of Dad's family still live in Iran, this was the first time I had ever met most of them.
After an 11-hour flight we arrived at Tehran airport. As soon as we touched down, all the women passengers started putting on headscarves and coats to comply with Islamic rules. This is one of the reasons my mom decided not to come on this trip. The immigration officer welcomed us to Iran and after checking our passports, he asked Dad where he had been for so long, then charged him 200,000 reals to re-enter the country! (about $20). After going through customs we were greeted by my cousins, aunt, uncles and great uncles and grandma. On the drive home I immediately noticed the total absence of any driving etiquette. Drivers were swerving in and out of traffic avoiding a huge pile-up only by inches. When we finally arrived, Dad's knuckles were white and his right foot was still pressed on an imaginary brake pedal.
While we were there, we visited the city of Shiraz and went to see the historic site of Persopolis. I wanted to go because in fifth grade I had done a project on Iran and Persopolis was one of the most interesting artifacts of ancient Persia. My first impression as we pulled up in front of the surrounding wall was that it was enormous. It was built 2,500 years ago and it was amazing how much of it has been preserved. The things that really caught my attention were the tombs. They were built into the mountain and the fronts were hundreds of feet high. When one of the ancient Persian kings died, they would fill the tomb with monuments to his greatness, gold and his favorite possessions. While we were looking around, I was listening to my iPod when, suddenly, I was surrounded by a group of about 20 boys who all wanted to know what the American was listening to. After passing it around the group at least three times, with demands and promises to bring them all iPods when I next come back to Iran, we had to leave.
After flying back to Tehran, visiting the bazaars, eating lots of great food and visiting more relatives, we flew back to Boston. Although I really enjoyed my visit to Iran, I was glad that Carlisle was home.
A trip back to my birthplace in Iran
This summer, after 28 years, I finally made the trip back to my birthplace, Iran. When I left Iran, I was around the same age as my thirteen-year-old son Cameron. I had been back a couple times while I was attending boarding school in Wales and for the last time in 1977 after my freshman year at Manchester University, England. The country that I left behind saw a revolution with the Shah overthrown and the Islamic government installed, fought a ten-year bloody war with Iraq which killed millions and left many more wounded. Iran has found itself at odds with the west and had recently been named as one of the axes of evil by President Bush.
I had been planning this trip for a while and one day I asked Cameron whether he would come with me. To my surprise he said yes. I was not prepared for his answer and was wondering why he would want to travel to a country about which he had heard so many bad things. Maybe he was trying to find out about his roots or, then again, maybe he just wanted to do something different.
We arrived in Tehran around mid-day, 20 hours after we left our home in Carlisle. We were met by the family and, after a very emotional reunion, we left the airport for our house. On the way home it was hard not to notice the pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini everywhere. I didn't remember seeing that many pictures of the Shah when he was in power. I was also somewhat amused and puzzled at the same time as to why the stern look on every portrait. Is having a smile a sign of weakness?
We arrived in Tehran after the run-off between Rafsanjoni and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which Ahmadinejad won by a wide majority. As the mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinejad was very effective in improving the city government. Many parts of the city, especially the poor areas, were revitalized. He ran on a campaign to end corruption and waste. He was indeed considered the underdog against Rafsanjoni who had held the office two times before and was well known and connected. He started to campaign early and took his cue from western politicians, pressing flesh and holding babies. In one brilliant TV moment he donned a refuse collector's uniform and started collecting trash along side the other workers. He won the run-off with a 60% majority!
It is easy to see that many of the strict Islamic rules during Khomeini's time in power are relaxed. Gone are the strict dress code and ban on listening to western music. I was amused to hear familiar easy rock music without the lyrics on state radio and TV. Iranian society these days is very much connected to what happens in the West. Access to the Internet is widely available. Satellite TV is officially illegal but CNN and MTV have large followings. One can readily see small gains in personal freedom but any meaningful freedom is still elusive. Freedom of speech and of the press is still very much curtailed by the mullahs, but behind closed doors political discussions are both frequent and passionate. Despite still having to wear the hijab (headscarf or Islamic head covering), women are in the workplace in visibly increased numbers than under the Shah. They appear to have an important place in the new society that is not consistent with the ideas of suppression we have in the West.
The Tehran I remember from my youth has long been devoured by uncontrolled development. It now has a population of 9 million, 14 million if you count the surrounding metropolitan area. Inner city traffic and pollution are major problems but both the highway system and the new subway system are very impressive. With gas prices at 20 cents a gallon, it is very hard to convince people to use public transport.
We left after two weeks and enjoyed visiting long lost relatives, having our fill of the local cuisine and having played tourist at the major sites. Despite it being Cameron's first visit, I think the experience was equally as novel for me, as it felt very much like visiting a different country, not the one I had left so long ago.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito