Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I am Here

Eight hours earlier a young Iranian girl was sporting a wife-beater and low-riser jeans while parading her midsection in the Munich Airport. As we prepare to land in Tehran she is now covered in appropriate Islamic attire. She has a black scarf covering her hair and a tall tight fitting leather jacket down to her knees. Eight hours ago she was reading a book and smiling. Now she is silent with a blank stare.

A middle-aged Iranian woman in front of me was chatting with a German lady in broken English during the flight. As she gets up to leave she adjusts her head scarf concealing her hair. In Farsi she talks to a friend in a row behind me “why don’t men wear their hejab (Islamic covering)?” mocking the whole process as she fixes her scarf. Then she translates her conversation to her new German friend who is also wearing a hejab now. She explains, “men don’t have to wear this” pointing to her head, “they can wear short sleeves shirt and do what they want”, they both laugh. Carrying on the conversation she says,” I guess they are the boss” as they both laugh again like teenage girls sharing a secret. A few seconds later, the Iranian woman continues, “but inside the house we do what we want and we are the boss”, they burst into laughter again. She fixes her scarf once more which barley covers up to the middle of her head. With a frustrated gaze looking at her friend behind me and loud enough for others to hear, she says “this is Islam” in annoyance.

We have just landed in Tehran, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In less than ten minutes someone has already voiced her disapproval of Hejab. Scores of international flights are arriving bringing with them the privileged and well connected Iranians along with Asian and European businessmen. As we leave the plane we are reminded that there are no photography is allowed at the airport.

Tehran Mehrabad International Airport is a mess. There is no way to describe its inadequacies with regard to international standards and safety issues. The airport sits dangerously in the middle of this ever expanding city. The airport used to be on the outskirt of Tehran. However, years of poor city planning and neglect has allowed homes to be built all around the airport property. The new airport, Khomeini International, which was completed last year, is still not operational. The Revolutionary Guards took control of the airport and closed it down, once they learned that Euro-Turkish contractors were in charge of safety and flight security.

After the passport control and picking up my luggage, I make my way to the sea of people on the other side of the glass in the waiting room. It is amazing how many people are here. A large group bursts into cheers and push forward at the same time. They must have noticed their loved one making his way out. I feel like a fish swimming against the current. There must be 10 to 15 visitors for each traveler.

I finally step out of the terminal and take a big gulp the polluted Tehran air. As I look around for a taxi, a few gypsy-cap drivers rush up to me offering their services. After negotiating with a driver for a fair price we get on our way. Bargaining is a must her in Iran. I haggled him from his 5,000 Tomans asking price to 3,500. It is late and I am tired, but if you don’t haggle here, you get screwed.

It is 38 minutes before midnight and Tehran is alive as Times Square. There are no fancy neon lights or scores of tourists snapping pictures of each other. There are just men and cars. We circle the Azadi square in my driver’s white Kia. He suddenly starts chatting with me to which I node and look directly into the back of the cars in front of us. He says “there was a time when people used to go out and have fun agha (Farsi for mister)”. Not sure what his point was, I say nothing and nod to be polite. He continues “now people are out doing nothing.” I am still not sure what he is trying to say. The traffic is heavy and swarms of men, young and old are at every corner and turn. Perhaps women are camouflaged with their black chadors (a long black sheet covering head to toe) in the dark. The driver sighs out load “eey Khoda” beseeching God. Still, I don’t say anything, but he continues. “Now agha people go out because they don’t have nothing to do.”

Not even an hour into my journey in Iran and I have witnessed a woman’s objection for wearing hejab, and a taxi driver’s rant about the socio-economic issues of Iran. I have arrived, I am here, and this is Iran.

Ramin Talaie - Tehran, Iran

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