I swear I live on Tehran time. As they are nine and one half hours ahead of Minnesota, it is a problem;~J Heh. Must be why I am a night owl…and absolutely why I am always late:~P
I have had a rather bizarre life. At least that is what a therapist once told me during a session a few years ago. While it made me laugh, as the comment was rather blunt and crudely said, it is true that my time on planet Earth has been an unusual existence. By the time I graduated from high school, I had attended nine different schools. However, there were but two places I have always identified as home. Our family lake cabin in northern Minnesota and Tehran, Iran. Iran was the home I lived in the longest of all of the other places I resided as a child. I will always miss the place where my ability to flourish with each change in my life cemented, and where my independence and fearlessness began to manifest.
We are currently seeing profound changes in predominantly Islamic countries in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Western Asia that remind me a bit too much of my childhood experience of living in, and our eventual leaving of Iran, in early 1979. In the mid 70’s, Tehran was a wonderful place to grow up, and though I had hoped I might at least have a chance of visiting Persia again with the rise of protest during the summer of 2009, I now see that possibility must wait a while. At this time, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a very strong hold on it’s people and no outside admonishments or intervention will change the future of Iran. Unfortunately (or fortunately), only Iranians can change their country now.
This is not the case I think, in Egypt. I believe Egypt has a chance yet. A very big chance actually. Tehran and Iran had a lot of similarities with Egypt back in the 70’s. I believe if the United States and Great Britain had not overthrown a duly elected Prime Minister in 1953, and had listened especially well when cries for justice and democracy rose again to the point of revolution in the 70’s, we might have one less country run by a harshly conservative religion.
It is instructive to realize that Iran, Iraq and Egypt were all very secular countries in what most consider Islamic regions. The Shah, Saddam Hussein (Remember? He knew Dick!), and Mubarak all had considerable support from the United States of America during their time in power. The difference in each of these countries from many of their neighbors, is that their people are much more educated and all were/are accepting of other religions. Yes, prior to the 1979 revolution, Iran had a long history of religious tolerance. Before we moved to Iran, two Persian women came to visit with us to talk about their country. One was Jewish and the other was Baha’i. Never forget that Iran is the birthplace of the Baha’i faith and Zoroastrianism, with followers who still live in Iran.
I spoke with Kate Millett at length about Iran in the early 80’s, after assisting in efforts to bring her to Grand Forks to speak at a (wconference. Ms. Millet had worked in Iran before and after the revolution ended (with the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile to Tehran on January 15, 1979). She identified the major strength of the revolution as a socialist movement with strong feminist overtones, but I imagine some would disagree. She gave me the understanding that the revolution and the overthrow of Shah Pahlavi, startled the country so much that K I do know that the changes that took place in Iran between the beginning and the end of the last century were profound and in the 1970’s, Iran suffered from terrible inflation, and a were exposed to a sudden burst of extreme changes imposed upon Iranian society by the Shah and his third and last wife, Farah Diba. But alas, for the Shahanshah Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was but one example of cold war era US intervention that basically installed and or supported all kinds of cool leaders in post colonial and “ubercolonial” countries all around the world. Think Pinochet and Baby Doc and Marcos and Noriega and Somaza. God, you could make a song out of all of that;~J Heh. I am very twisted I guess. My apologies, as none of that is actually funny, but I really do think if you tell the truth, you must make them laugh, or they will kill you…(not mine I am sorry to say:~).
Persians are some of the most gracious, generous and passionate people I have ever met. When I lived in Tehran, a city of four million people, I never really feared for my safety. Not that living in Tehran was without altercations and the occasional difficulties of clashing cultures. I had a fair share of sticky situations whilst out and about in the city, from kids challenging me to a cab driver trying to overcharge me and we got into a heated disagreement. As well yelled at each other, a crowd formed. I did not see any real danger, as for the entire time I lived in Iran, I never felt afraid. For a city of it’s size, Tehran was one of the safest cities in the world in 1974.
However, the incident with the taxi driver could have gotten me in a lot of trouble had not an American couple seen what was happening and they swept in to pull me out of the crowd. That was in 1978. It was the beginning of the revolution and my home had changed.
That last year we were told to not engage in disagreeable behavior, and by extension to not argue with cab drivers over a fare;~J I was even warned by a very nice couple who gave me a ride home when catching a cab was especially difficult, that I should keep a lower profile for my own safety. I took heed and my parents and I left Tehran in the spring of 1978. I went to boarding school and my brother stayed with family friends in Tehran, as it was his senior year, and he wanted to graduate from the Tehran American School with his class in May of 1979. That fall when we returned home from the ‘States’, we stayed in a hotel that was bombed shortly after my parents went to Chahbahar and I had already left for school.
My parents, who had taught at TAS for four years, changed jobs and went to work for Brown and Root (Haliburton anyone?) at the Straits of Hormuz. They started a school for the children of construction workers, who were building a naval port on the most constricted area of the Persian Gulf, Chahbahar, Iran.
The school only went up to the seventh grade and as I was a high school freshman, I attended the Salzburg International Preparatory School (SIPS) in Salzburg, Austria for the 78/79 school year. I think my parents saw the changes that were happening in Tehran in the year preceding the revolution, and they moved to a safer part of Iran. I still considered Iran my home, as the holidays were still spent with my family in Iran.
My last days in Iran were over Christmas break in December of 1978 and January of 1979. That story is for another diary as after I returned home to my parents for Christmas break to a place I had never seen, I was trapped along with everyone else at the construction site. Word came shortly after arriving in Chabahar that much of Iran had gone on strike and no one was getting in or out of the country.
The other part of my life was spent on an island on a lake in northern Minnesota. Teaching offered my parents the entire summer off and they were all spent at our cabin on Pine Island. We had to use a boat to get to and from the cabin, and until 1982 or so, we had no running water or electricity. We had the lake, a hand pump in the kitchen, a stove to heat the water when required, lights and a refrigerator that were powered by propane and a unique neighborhood that has stayed surprisingly consistent over the years.
I will say with sadness that my last “grandmother” passed away this past week. Versa, you scared the pee out of me, but you were also a great teacher of the importance of nature and the need to understand the beauty and the dangers of our world. As I got older, I would argue with a Republican Woman of the Year, over politics and Jerry Fallwell and the feminis
t movement with great relish. Versa was an old fashioned conservative and did not like any Republican POTUS since Reagan. I liked her very much and I am certain her 99 years on this planet was a bonus for me and many others.
I had a lot of grandmothers and “grandfathers”. Almost all of the folks who owned cabins in our parts of the island were my grandparents age. My parents bought the cabin from my grandmother before I was born, and I hope someday will pass on to the latest addition to our family. Yesterday I became a very proud, brand new, great aunt. Grand aunt? I don’t know, but my beautiful niece and her partner just gave birth to the worlds cutest baby girl.
A life ends and a new one begins. Such is the stuff of life.