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well, not really. We rented a bitty cabin in the mountains and enjoyed the snow.
We brought the little ornament that the little sisters from Iran made for us and hung it on our tree. I think it is actually a keychain, but I have a hard time imagining fitting this into my pocket- so we thought perfect as an ornament! We each received one and they made them themselves, primarily out of salt. The stars are metal, not plastic and fastened with little nails.
We need to head to the airport at 1am to check in at 2 for a 5 am flight. Not fun times to travel with children. The airport is packed and of course overheated. Since we are so close to leaving and I'm overtired I find myself quite resentful towards the guy in front of me in short sleeves. I am so glad I did not come here during the summer. I would very likely have been arrested. I just can't imagine having to keep covered up in that kind of heat. In the cold, my hejab became my friend.
So, I met a whole new kind of Bush supporter here these last few days. (None are pictured here- these are just photos of folks having fun) These are young snowboarding types who actually love Obama- yet support Bush and really wanted McCain to win. Why? They have been hoping the entire duration of the Bush administration that the US would bomb Iran. They feel the only way for their government to be overthrown is by outside influence. I find this attitude both interesting and disturbing at the same time.
"Why don't you do something if you don't like it?" I say. "We can't." they reply. I do not know what' s it's like to be raised in an environment like this, but I cannot imagine that I could ever have such a defeatist attitude. But my upbringing is so different. I'm the daughter of immigrants. They left their country and surroundings because they didn't suit them on some level. I've always been taught to change things I don't like- and have largely been able to do that.
I remember when I first started working in the inner city in LA- the most shocking thing to me was the overwhelming attitude of apathy I found there. I was working with teens and had expected to find the medias portrayal of these kids as wild and rebellious. But what I found was the majority of them parked in front of a TV not caring about anything. I was the one who was saying, "Aren't you mad? Don't you care?" Nope. Most were happy to stay in front of their TVs are not care about much. So here are these young men snowboarding all day hoping the US bombs them so they can get alcohol legally. Over simplified, yes. But that certainly was the gist of our conversation.
The little sister decides to get herself the shovel sled today too and it's working quite well!
Our last day in Iran is a good one. Tomorrow will start our 2-day journey home.
The part the girls have been looking forward to the entire trip! So much fun.
Our savior arrived and was aptly named Mohammad. He is a punky young kid with a funky hairdo and an attitude to match. We are all quite happy to see a new and fresh spirit in the form of our new guide though he is 3 hours late.
When checking out and the bellhop takes our stuff to the car he sees me take out 30,000 rials and he says, “That’s too much. Give him 10,000.” I say, “Oh, really? Our last guide told me to give all our guys 30,000. He checks with the woman behind the counter and she agrees 10,000 is the right amount. He then says, “Did he tell you to pay that much?” I said, “Oh, ya! And so much more!” He says, “I hate Esfahanians! They’re all like that!” I do recall now that our guide prior to the grouchy man said, “Esfahanians are known for being serious businessmen.” I guess that her way of subtly warning us. Anyway, I mention that he was quite aggressive in the money department and he immediately gets on his phone to file a complaint on our behalf. Apparently the city of Esfahan will only allow their own tour guides to work in their city and networking with the boys is all part of their deal. This guide has been trying to crack into the city saying the guides there are not well qualified. It was our one sour experience. He’s got me writing to the Ministry of Tourism to see if it’ll help guides from other cities be able to work there as well.
Graffiti while driving through Tehran on our way.
He is the first guide who drives himself so I get shotgun! Leg room and not being between my darling children for the 6 hour drive we have ahead of us is a dream. We are gaining a new perspective on the 20-something life in Iran since this time it is coming from a male perspective. He’s lived in the states and Europe so has a good understanding of what life on the other side is like. Interestingly enough he says that Iranian girls are much freer than their counterparts in Europe, even in quite liberated countries like Sweden. The difference with European girls is that since they are modern women they do what they want by choice, whereas their Iranian counterparts are trying to prove themselves as liberated as what they imagine girls in the West to be based on what they see in movies. Many are trying to prove to the others that they are not going to be regulated by anyone else and in the process forget about regulating themselves. This is the same issue we have with teens in our country- they confuse rebellion with freedom. Acting out of anger against an establishment is not the same thing as making a decision based on what one wants to do. That has very little to do with true freedom.
We arrive at the hotel at about 8pm and in the hotel lobby is an Aussie in shorts with his legs up on the desk checking his emails. It is a shock first of all to see someone else with blond hair after 15 days, but more to see his absolute casualness. It is not really OK to wear shorts here, even for men. All the guide books warn against it -but here he is in the snow with outside temps at -2C sitting in shorts with fuzzy blond leg hairs sticking out. On the one hand I am disturbed by the lax attitude in a country that requires, well… uptightness. And on the other hand I am so happy to see such familiarity and informality I want to kiss him. He’s half my age so I refrain but return a very hearty hello to his wide smiled, “Ello.” This is the 2nd to last day of our trip and the first recognizable tourists we’ve seen other than a Japanese group at the Imam Square and suddenly I’m excited to go back home. Seeing this one small display of comfort says so much to me. I think for the most part we Americans are a bunch of slobs compared to much of the world, but in all of that sloppiness is an ease that is difficult to describe. It’s like a pair of comfy jammies- not always appropriate in public, but oh so cozy.
We left Esfahan in the morning for Abyane up in the mountains. This is a small village halfway to our next destination, Dizin. The scenery was beautiful most of the way as we followed along a range of snowy mountains. The contrast between the desert and snow has a stark kind of beauty that looks a whole lot like Arizona.
Once we arrived in the small village our guide took us for a walk. He kept telling the girls to be careful and, “Don’t walk there- you’ll crack your head!” “Don’t fall. It’s slippery!”
It was pretty funny and quite ineffective. They came up to me a few times and asked why he keeps telling them what to do.
We stopped again at a woman selling her goods, where he directs me, “Take her picture.” So I do.
She is lovely. Then he says, “Now please buy something from her.” So again, I end up reluctantly buying something. I’m not at all opposed to supporting local artists but do enjoy choosing myself what and whom I’d like to support. He stops at one woman who is selling dried apples. He takes a whole handful and says, “It’s free. She wants to give to you. Please take it.” At this point I feel like saying to him, “Stop telling me things are free and then to pay for it!” but I don’t. He thrusts a big handful at the little sister who shakes her head. He says, “Take it” So she shakes harder. I tell her that she can say, “No, thank you.” if she doesn’t want any so she says, “No, thank you.” He says, “Yes! Take it!” and she hides behind me. I tell him that she doesn’t want any and he tells me, “You should tell her to take it.” Now he’s pushing things. I’m still smiling on the outside but am ready to end our walk together. I’m thinking how different my account of this country would be if I had a guide like this the entire time. I wonder if I would’ve made it till the end. Seriously.
He told us we were meeting our new guide at this city at noon that would take us up to our next destination and stay with us the rest of the time. It is apparently another man. This time the girls have just said, “We hope it’s someone fun!” They no longer care if it’s a man or woman. He dropped us at our hotel at 2pm and then said the guide would be here in the morning. This is how all of our days have gone. Within minutes of each other the stories are quite different and we have no idea which one is correct until it happens. We say our goodbyes at the elevator and I thank him for everything. He then says, “It is our custom for you to tip us.” I understand tipping and all of that but I really like tipping people when I feel like they’ve done a good job. I know he did his job in a way that he thought was good, but we are paying a private tour guide rate in Euros that is competitive with rates in Europe and Japan- they are not in anyway cheap. Our last guide spent up to 10 hours with us a day. His maximum has been 4. Every single place he took us to put high pressure on us to buy things and it just wasn’t very relaxing. I think the working rate is plenty for working only 4 hours a day. So I really did not want to give him a big tip on top of it. He tells me to pay the driver $50 tip because that’s, “so little and he has many children.” He says, “Give me your wallet and I will pay him.” I say, “I will pay him.” And keep my wallet in my hand but this does not stop him from reaching over into my wallet and pulling bills out. I pay the driver the $50 tip, as he’s already been paid for the trip. I hand it to him and say, “It’s not a little bit of money in my country. It’s a lot so please stop saying it’s so little.” He says again to me, “It’s nothing.” I say, “It is a lot for me.” And get into the elevator giving him exactly what he keeps telling me my money is worth- nothing. I don’t feel particularly good about it on my ride up the elevator but am glad the interaction is over. I should’ve probably given him something and chocked it up to cultural differences in language and expectations. Suddenly I’m keenly aware again of my womanhood in this country and probably didn’t give him anything just because he’s a man demanding something from me, a woman. I’m not an Iranian girl and he can’t make me give him a tip so I don’t. Feeling defiant and as rebellious as if I were 16 again I find myself quite irritated. I feel guilty for not having given him a tip but at the same time cannot imagine feeling good about giving him one either. Maybe it’s just one of those situations that has no good solution. But I like to imagine all situations can have a happy and peaceful resolution. Maybe that’s my lesson from this country. Maybe there really are no good solutions to the problems that currently exist in this part of the world. Or maybe I’m just tired and need a good night’s rest.
We are the only guests in this whole hotel right now as it is very off season. We are alone here in the middle of the mountains and there is only one woman on staff here and the rest are men. At dinner we are alone in a huge dining room with 3 men repairing window cracks next to us so we enjoy the delicious scent of silicone caulking as we eat our soup. The one young man who has a wild crush on the little sister and keeps making googoo faces at her and little clicking noises with his tongue, has told me to remove my hejab. No one is here he says and you don’t have to worry. Suddenly, I’m feeling like I might like to keep it on! I do untie it from under my chin as eating with it on does drive me crazy but leave it loosely on the back of my head. I feel weird being in front of these 3 men without my head fully covered. Weird.
We begin our day with a second attempt at taping or even photographing at a school. Our guide’s English is not quite as good as the last two and we seem to be having a bit of misunderstandings. Even though this was supposed to be arranged by the agency they left it up to him. He understood that I wanted to put the girls into a school for the day so I could sight see in peace without my children bothering me. So he asked all the wrong questions to get us there. Once there we were once again told that we could visit a few classrooms but could not film or photograph- the whole point of the second visit. I was wondering why he kept telling me the children should stay in the car with the driver while I went to Imam square by myself.
Our new tour guide is not exactly what any of us expected. Since our last two guides were in their 20’s we somehow had the assumption that our 3rd would be the same. He isn’t. He’s in his 60’s minimum, probably 70’s and is delightful. He moves at a quick pace and really wants to keep us moving. We hit the bird park in the morning and then a few other sites that he had us moving in and out of the car at record pace.
The whole time at the bird park he kept telling the girls, “Hurry up, let’s go.” I’m really not used to moving at someone else’s pace.
The last two guides moved at our pace but this guide wants us to keep up with him and it’s well, a different experience for me.
I mostly smile and ignore him and keep at my own pace.
He drops us off at our hotel at noon and says he’ll be back at 4pm. I am surprised by this since our last guides spent all day with us so this drop off at noon is unexpected but I must say greatly appreciated. Except our hotel room is shockingly horrible. All our other accommodations have been quite nice but now that we’ve had two days in a row with time to actually spend in our room it figures that it is a depressing, cold, stinky nightmare.
He is back at 4 and our itinerary says we will go to the covered bridges. The guide books are full of the praise for the ambient tea houses along the bridges and I am excited for this adventure. Just as we are driving to the bridge the clouds begin to part for the first time in more than 4 days.
The sun is low and glowing on the bridge beautifully. We cross the bridge and he is telling us again to hurry up.
I mention something about the tea houses and he says, “No, no tea houses. Come on- hurry up the driver is waiting.” I do my best to linger and take some photos.
We get back into the car and he says, “Now we will go to Coffee Net.” This is what internet cafes are called here. This morning I told him I’d like to go to one to check in since I cannot access it with my American laptop.
I protest, “Oh, but the light is so beautiful now. Can we please stop at another bridge or mosque?”
“Yes, to Coffee Net.”
We pass Imam Square and I can see the dome aglow in the setting sun. It takes my breath away. I say, “Oh, can we please stop here quickly. The light is so beautiful.”
“Yes, yes, tomorrow we will go there.”
“No, now. Can we please stop?”
“No, not now. To coffee net now.”
So with the best light and most spectacular scenery since arriving in this country we head underground to -not a coffee net -but one of his friend’s, who is a carpet salesman with a computer. We are dressed in umpteen layers of warm clothing expecting to be outside for hours tonight since the bridges are most beautiful at night. Now we are downstairs being served tea by a bunch of carpet salesmen in a toasty room with the strong scent of butane in the air. They are offering to give us a good deal on a Persian rug that we don’t even need money to buy! WOW!! This is too good to be true. We only need to charge it – Master Card or Visa- anything ok! And we can have a $5000 rug for free! The internet takes about 6 tries to connect and all my hopes of writing a quick email to family saying, “Still alive and having fun” and running back upstairs to the light have disappeared. I am now sweating into my layers and tired of saying, “Thank you, they are beautiful, but I’m not interested in purchasing a carpet or a rug.” We go back upstairs to a dark night sky.
He drives us straight back to our hotel and says we can get dinner here. I feel like I’m in a bad joke now and say, “I thought the bridges are most beautiful at night?”
“Yes, yes. They are.”
“So why aren’t we going to them?”
“Yes, yes.” He replies.
I then say, “Please drive us back to the last bridge and drop us off. We will walk home after.” It is over 3 miles away but he is fine dropping us off. We are relieved to be on our own but then he says, “You should put your camera away because my last tourist got his stolen here at night from him even though it was around his neck. But he was a man, maybe you will have no problem because you look strong so can fight.”
“Yes, yes.” I say and get out of the car. We walk around a bit and there are tons of people out as it is their weekend. Then we go to a hotel for dinner and ask the hotel to call a taxi for us to take us back to our own hotel.
We also met two other men today. One, a Bush supporter. No ordinary supporter, either. This man in his late 20’s was moved to tears when he spoke of what Bush has attempted to do in the Middle East. He was saying that he really respects Americans and the whole world can really learn from us about how to function. He says he knows many Americans do not support President Bush because we’ve lost so many American lives to try to help the Middle East so he can understand my anger. I say, “It’s all lives lost most Americans are mad about- not just American.” He looks confused. I say, “An Iraqi life lost is as sad as an American life lost.” “No, no.” he says. “Not true.” “American life is more important because they are helping.” I think this goes along with their whole martyr thing here. It’s a difficult concept for me to grasp. But all over the country there are still pictures of martyrs- soldiers who lost their lives fighting in a war 20 yrs ago.
The next man was a father and husband in his early 30’s. He will be going to grad school in the states next year and befriended us in a restaurant. “When I will go to your country next year my daughter will have the same rights as your children. I can’t believe this. It is so incredible to me.” He looks over at his little daughter in a pink snow suit with bunny ears on top and is now choked up so much he can no longer speak. He taps his chest and says, “I’m sorry. I really love your country.” He wonders why I am traveling here with my children. He then invites us to dinner tomorrow night but says, “I understand if you’re worried about accepting such an invitation because of hostage situation.” Um… since Americans have not been taken hostage in roughly 29 years in this country it is not an active concern of mine- to be taken hostage by a family with a pink bunny. We accept our invitation and they will pick us up at our hotel at 5 tomorrow.
Is a lovely city with lots of sprawling boulevards and parks along the main river. This is also where the famed bridges run. We have left our lovely guide and driver that we have come to adore so much. Our goodbyes were actually quite sad. We hugged and said we’d stay in contact. Then there was our driver -a very sweet man probably in his 50’s. We’ve spent many days with him and have eaten all of our meals together. I want to hug him but then remember I can’t. Then shake his hand? Nope, still touching. He places his hand on his heart and smiles a very gentle smile, his eyes look deeply into mine. This gesture without touch or words I find more intimate than many hugs I’ve received – particularly by those people who thrust their shoulder at you and then whack you on the back. It is honest and genuine. I feel my eyes moisten. Then our bellhop summons us towards the elevator and we leave each other. When they return to their car they find a small gift waiting for them on their seats. Just as our elevator door opens she runs back into the lobby thanking us for the gift and another round of hugs ensues. She promises to write and offers to send a particular confection that girls have been devouring by the box to us at any time. It is all very sweet and I’m trying very hard not to cry! She has definitely left her mark on our lives and in our hearts in the very unique shape of herself. She has finals for university and in the morning we will meet our new guide. A man. I requested a woman guide and was under the assumption that we would have the same guide the entire time but that is not the case. The girls are bummed and have lots of resistance to a man guide. I am of the mindset that things happen as they should so am open to this change of plans. I must admit that I still have much inner resistance and some fear to looking at many of the men I see around me.
Today as we drove from Yazd to Esfahan we were stopped 3 separate times by police. The first time our driver was asked to pull to the side and we were not let through the mandatory stop. Our driver was questioned about many things, asked for his license, registration, etc. In the end he was reprimanded by the police man, who wears a machine gun across his chest, about his muddy license plates. Our driver gets out and wipes off the plates with some tissue. He gets back in the car and is laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Our guide also laughs and says, “What a stupid man.” I relay what has happened to the girls and they say, “He should’ve seen the car yesterday!” as our car was covered in mud from driving through the flooded city. The second stop happens and I am looking at the officer with inner distain waiting for him to do something equally as irrational. He pokes his head into the car and looks at the girls and smiles a huge toothy smile and says, “Salam.” (hello) I am proved wrong. He is dressed in fatigues, has a thick wooly beard and looks just like all the posters of terrorists hanging in our local post office. I know I have more work to do on releasing judgment of these men. Our new guide will apparently be with us for the rest of this trip.
Since our guide left us at 3 oclock this afternoon and our new guide will meet us at 9am in the morning it is the first time we are left to ourselves for more than sleeping since we arrived. This is not technically legal as we are Americans and are required to be under licensed supervision at all times.
I think the implication was that we stay in our hotel but instead we relish in our freedom and take a walk along the river and go to a park.
We even order a take out pizza all on our own and are able to read our total in Arabic numbers!
As we walk along it starts raining on us again and the little sister begins to sing,
Rain is falling,
Rain is falling,
Clouds are forming,
Clouds are forming,
And then says, “Sing with me, Mommy.”
“I can’t.” I say.
“You can’t? Why not??”
“It’s illegal for women to sing in public here.”
At this, the big sister bursts out laughing. “Illegal?? How can singing be illegal?”
“It just is.” I say.
“So only I can sing because I’m still young and don’t need my head covered?” says the little sister.
“Yup.” I say.
“Goody!” she replies and goes on skipping along and singing her song.