The other day, conversing with a lawyer colleague of my husband, I was once again forcibly reminded of the trickle down effect of information, the puzzle-like nature of abridged and edited data. In truth, this is not a realization that ever escapes the periphery of my mind's eye, the knowing that what I'm reading, seeing, hearing and processing is at best a subjective and singularly limited view of any topic I choose to engage in or with.
There are two things that are true to the nature of a story, one is that there is always another side and two, that for every side we don't know about, there are another ten that are not even getting told. Keep that in mind as you read about my Iran because there is an inherent understanding I hope you are aware of every time I make that statement: it is not really my Iran. It isn't even the Iran of those who live there on a daily basis. Their in situ realities are nucleic sized bits of a complete panorama none of us, even those who get to live some experiences denied to others, ever get to see. Reality is as one can only tell it and even then, not that at all.
Neither one of these two photos is mine though I wish they were. I also wish I knew to whom I could credit them to. Both came bundled in a bunch of Iran photos I received a long time ago via mail. I saved them to my files because the images were beautiful. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you either what parts of Iran they show.
Dizin mountain resort, one hour or so outside Tehran. Unknown photographer.
Before I left for Iran I got asked this question three times within the span of two weeks. One of the people doing the asking was my local librarian! Will you be bothered by the sand? I could tell my questioners all had similar visions of rolling sand dunes and the incongruity of a jumbo 747 landing in the midst of nomadic desert dwellings.
The CIA factbook says that Iran is roughly the size of Alaska geographically speaking and that its terrain shows rugged, mountainous rims; high, central basin with deserts, mountains and small, discontinuous plains along both coasts. See for yourself (above) what Iran can look like depending on the seasons and the location. I know there is sand, but so far, I haven't clapped eyes on it.
Two young women wearing mantos and hejabs walk in the city center near the baazar, Tehran. Notice the open-toed sandals of the girl on the left.
Feminine unmentionables openly displayed at the baazar in Tehran. More expensive offerings can be found in high-end malls. Obviously, there's always a need for these no matter the outerwear one is swathed in.
An older lady sporting a more conservative but light-colored manto and hejab shops at a manto shop. Manto stores can be found by the dozens in every shopping mall. There's fierce competition amongst them to keep stocked up on the newest fashions.
Photo found on the Internet. It was probably taken in Tehran where the girls are more bold in their street fashions. These three are almost borderline in what is allowed. Technically, the sleeves of the manto should cover up to the wrist and flow down to mid-thigh closer to the knee. Also the hejab or head covering should cover all but the crown of the head but, as you can see, only the lady with the red hejab is correct in how she wears hers. Having said that, most of the younger generation tend to wear their hejabs like the two girls to the left. Everyone wants to show off their highlights and hint at the length of their hair.
I think that when westerners envision how women have to dress in Iran, what the mind more commonly supplies for them is images of the burka or the chadri both of which are more common to Afghanistan or to Saudi Arabia or Yemen for example. In my two trips to Iran, I've never seen any female wearing either one. Not in Tehran or in Isfahan nor in more conservative-minded Tabriz. What is required by the government is that women who are outside their homes (as once inside the house none of these clothing restrictions apply), wear either a full length chador or an overcoat called a manto used in conjunction with a hejab or head covering.
The older generation tends to be conservative on this front. Let's say that about 80% of women above the age of 50 or 60 (that I observed), wear darker mantos and longer sleeves with darker-hued hejabs. Now the younger female generation (especially in Tehran) push the envelope on this. At malls, where young men and women go to hang out, to see and be seen, the girls could rival the rainbow in their choices of manto and hejab coloring. Not only that, but they wear fishermen length jeans (mid-calf or hemmed at the ankle) as well as open-toed sandals to show off their pedicured feet.
Here's an interesting statistic: The census of 2006 puts the total population of Iran at around 70 (though many state it could really be closer to 75) million. Of that amount, one quarter or 25 percent of the population is under the age of 15! and 70% or thereabouts is under the age of 30! What those number imply, amongst so many other (interesting) things, is that the majority of Iran's population was born after Shah Reza Pahlavi's reign and the subsequent Revolution that overthrew him; also, that they were born after the US hostage crisis and that an immense majority of the current population now in their early to mid-thirties, was literally in diapers or not yet born either when the Iran-Iraq War took place.
Little children playing out on the street, Tehran.
For my final debunked perception, I'd like to address that which ascribes a palpable not to mention visible Iranian hatred of the United States and its citizens. I suppose there is fair reason for those who have never been to Iran to imagine why a US citizen might be persona non grata there. Even I, who was a relatively small child, when the US Embassy was stormed and taken in Tehran, can recall images of the terrified-looking US hostages, blindfolded
Boof Burgers is a popular hamburger chain in Tehran. In decor they look like classic American diners. All their signs are dual language in nature.
and manacled, iconic identifiers to the start of the Iranian revolution. There's also of course all the current bad blood that flows freely between the government of the United States and the government of Iran, a matter which does nothing to help further the understanding of its peoples. Nevertheless, I can tell you the following: The West (to not say solely the US) influences Iran greatly. For example: English is openly taught at schools and universities and a western way of life (to not say an American way of life) is openly pursued and viewed as a fashionable, sometimes even preferable, way of living. Western music, western books, western foods, western cars, western styles of clothing and certain western ideals, those tangible and intangible trappings of a world outside of Iran, speak like you cannot believe to the heart of modern-day Iranians. That is not really because they idealize the United States but more because its young population has a sincere desire to catch up with the rest of the world. They don't want to be left behind and with that in mind, they do their best to circumvent the degree to which imposed restrictions deny them the right of advancement.
At almost every shop I visited in Tehran, I could ask my questions regarding wares and prices in English. Nearly always I was answered in the same language. And, rather than evidence dislike or hatred towards me because I clearly looked foreign and spoke a fair enough English that I could initially be taken for an American citizen, all I got in return for that incorrect assumption was kind curiosity and politely worded questions about my stay and reasons for travel to Iran.
To them I represented, tourism, US dollars (still a preferable monetary tender to Iranian Tomans) and the enigma and aura of the US. In one toy store in particular, the Persian owner even came out to say hello to me. He told me that five years earlier, he had quit living in Houston (couldn't make this stuff up even if I wanted to) and returned to set up a business in Tehran. A child of his still remained stateside and he told me that he had just arrived from Houston a few weeks prior after a visit to his college-aged daughter here.
All this to say, that I've never felt any fear for my person as an apparent foreigner or a probable US citizen (which I'm still not) while in Iran. Rather the contrary really, a bit like enjoying the superstar life one might say.
Lamb burgers and lamb sausage pizzas? Boof Burger
menu in Farsi.
As I have no desire to overload you, I'll stop here. I'd be great if you would ask me about perceptions you've long held about Iran which you would like to explore further. Should you have one (or more), I promise to address them to the best of my ability. Before I go, I'll leave you with this photo of a small grocery store I visited. If you enlarge the image, you will notice a ton of western products on sale. Much, much more than I'd seen sold on my first trip to Iran three years prior (or maybe I wasn't paying as much attention as I was this time). Not only did the owner speak fantastic English, but he recognized me on further visits, always bringing out the bottled orange juice I preferred for my son as well as the Halls breath mints he knew I favored. How nice is that?
You have a great day and I'll see you on the Leaping Thought Chahar Shambe (as I know your are all veritable pros on you Farsi days of the week by now, I won't clarify what day you should look to for my next post. :-)
For more and different perspectives on Iran, I point you to the following links I've gathered over time. They are blogs, news articles and just anything found on the subject of Iran. Happy reading.
- Fox News article on Iran. Part I and Part II
- The blog for Brown Book Magazine - a self-titled urban magazine and blog guide to the Middle East.
- Jadi Blog - Blogging and updating regularly from inside Iran, Jadi keeps "an eye on freedom of expression, censorship, internet filtering and..." she leaves it hanging there.
- 3 years ago, Sean Penn the actor spent a much publicized 5 days in Iran acting as a reporter for the San Francisco. Here are his own impressions of the country. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5.
- Arash Dejkam's Iran Pages. Many great photographs categorized by regions.
- More interesting photos sponsored by the website of the Iranian Cultural & Information Center.