Golafarin Razi *- “Che ehsasi dari?” (What is your feeling right now?) my mother asked me. “Nothing.” I replied. We were standing aboard an Iran-Air flight, it was the summer of the year 2000. I was eighteen years old, arriving back in the country of my birth and ancestors after having left when I was just shy of five-years of age. I didn’t want to tell her how I was feeling. I couldn’t answer her question just then. I stared ahead steadfastly, and suddenly the doors opened. We were in the middle of Mehrabad airport, it was the pitch-black of night. I stood for a second and looked around before I made my way down the stairs. I didn’t know what to make of this place just yet, but here I was.
To say the least, the city of Tehran confused me. I’d read so much before I’d traveled to this place, not in anticipation of the trip but because I had wanted to stay informed and stay in-touch with it. It had been important to me not only to know its history, but also to know its current state. It hadn’t been easy, requiring vigilant effort on my part — I was constantly quizzing people about how things had been, before, after and during the Revolution in 1979. This was, of course, the point that everyone agreed upon: that as of 1979, “everything changed”, but people couldn’t agree on the exact details, it seemed. However, it did seem to me that Tehran belonged to no one, and everyone was trying to claim it for themselves. The more traditional and religious people would pass by the secular and modern groups and tell them to “Stop laughing,” and sometimes even suggest that some of the women fix their hijab; the more secular crowd didn’t seem fazed one bit by the more traditional people and on more than one occasion, I saw them talk back to some of them when given these suggestions. “They are fighting over this city,” I thought, “but this city seems to be fighting back”. The truth is, as of 1979, had it really belonged to any one of these two groups completely, one of them would have won the Turf Wars after (as-of-then) two decades of daily confrontations of this nature. It belonged to neither group completely, and neither side was ready to accept its fate, nor was this strong city willing to back down from teaching these two groups that they had to coexist. I came to realize: the city of Tehran has a mind of its own.
I will not tell you about the exotic smells and spices and opulent tapestries authentic to Iran. I will not tell you of the grand Old Bazaar and its rich stacks of hand-woven Persian rugs, the faces of Farschian’s miniature women, lilting eyes and tumbling hair weaved with silken threads upon them. You don’t need to know about Tavazo and places like it, with barrels laden with dried fruits, pistachios, almonds, and nougat, where every customer walks around for sometimes an entire hour, quite literally like a child in a candy-store generously tasting from these open-barrels and letting shop-boys dressed in traditional Qajar outfits know of which delicacies they’d prefer to purchase and how much.
No. You don’t need to be tempted by saffron and caviar that is the finest in the world. Why? Because these are all sanctioned, that is why. Trade of these goods, and others from Iran is not allowed outside of the country. Which is a shame really, because the rest of the world is so eager of the finer things in life and it seems Iran is laden with them.
Towards the end of my trip, after I’d made the acquaintance of many of my relatives, I started to retreat a bit, into my own space. I’d wake up earlier than everyone else to hear the “azaan”, the melodic sound of the call to prayer I’d remembered from my childhood. This was one of the things I’d missed; I wanted to hear it now in silence, in solitude. For those of us who have left: we leave Iran, Iran never leaves us, I believe that. In anticipation of going back, certain memories resonate so strongly that they seem to pull us to themselves, and once we return, they are the first ones we want to re-live as soon as possible.
I’d left so long ago, it seemed. In reality it had only been thirteen years. But in those thirteen years, both I and this country had been through a great deal and grown quite a bit. Iran was a country re-born and in its birth, had found an identity so distinctively different from all the rest it had had before that no one seemed to know quite what to make of it just yet.
Do I know enough about the government and policy of Iran in such coherence and completion to comment about any of it? No. I just know what I’ve seen with my own eyes. And what I see is a country full of people trying. Just like they’re trying in every other country every single day, so is the same true about the people of Iran. Which in my eyes, as a person raised with the mantra “All men are created equal,” stressed on an almost daily basis, means the people of Iran deserve the same chance as people in many other countries have. And I hope someday, they get it.