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Traveling Iran in a mini-skirt, 1968

As a group of AFSers we were taken on a bus trip to Isfahan and Shiraz, which are more southerly cities, and very ancient and fascinating.  We stopped at Persepolis, which was an ancient Persian ruin, and we stopped at Qom which is the holy city.

At the time all of us girls were wearing mini-skirts.  We got off the bus to go in search of a particular mosque, and a crowd of people from Qom, the religious city came, ran after us to trying to stone us, but we ran back to the security of the bus and zoomed off into the night, because this is a religious city and we were insulting them by not wearing chador.  They were throwing rocks at us.

 

Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran.

Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran – Image via Wikipedia

And you know, I’m sitting there on the bus thinking: “What is with these two AFS organizers, these women, where’s their head that they put us in such danger?”

Isfahan and Shiraz were absolutely stunning, beautiful cities.  I think it was when we were coming — I can’t remember whether it was Isfahan or Shiraz, I’ll never forget this — we round the bend and overlooking the side of mountain are soldiers with rifles pointed out at anyone about to make this entrance into the city.

 

Perspolis ,Shiraz

Perspolis ,Shiraz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know for a sixteen-year-old from suburban Massachusetts, it was very different.  The cities are so ancient, so beautiful.  I just remember the white of the desert and the blue of the tile from the mosque.  The sky was blue.  The tile was blue.  There was gold trim, and the white of the desert, and it was just beautiful.  Beautiful!

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Iran, 1978 – when the Cinema Rex burned down

English: Cinema Rex building after the fire; s...

The Cinema Rex, after the fire. Image via Wikipedia

Before I left Iran, some of my host family (cousins) took me by car to see some of the extremely poor sections of Tehran and also to see the very opulent “crown jewels” of the Shah at a museum.  They told me to remember what I had seen.

When that theater burned, it was very vivid in my mind because the next day this newspaper — which I couldn’t read because it was in Farsi — had this picture on the front page of these charred bodies.  It was really graphic.  What everybody thought at that point, and I’m only now coming to find out that it was something different, everybody thought it was the Shah and his secret police that had locked the doors.  But now I’ve been doing a lot of internet research and the feeling is now that it was actually the Islamic fundamentalists that did this and blamed it on the Shah, and that sort of started everything rolling.

I remember soon after that they had limited the number of people that could be together in a group in public, and we were going to be going to Esfahan with a family with nine kids, so we had to go in three cars and sorta not all be together.  With the parents there were about 20 of us.  It was interesting!

 

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Eating Chicken in Iran, 1964

 

English: Chicken in public market, Mazatlan, S...

Image via Wikipedia

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Iranians are very, very polite if nothing. 

I mean, just the essence of diplomacy and grace.  And so very few people were going to say anything that could ever be perceived as offensive.

There was one time that I remember though, when I must have surprised them.  They kept a few chickens out in the courtyard, and we would usually have a hard-boiled egg in the morning for breakfast, which I’m assuming came from those chickens as a rule.  Every now and then we would have chicken for dinner or lunch or whatever, and they served the chicken with the head and the feet cooked with the chicken as well.

And it was the guest of — oh God I still remember it — the guest of honor’s prerogative to have the head of the chicken.  Oh man.  So that was a little challenging to negotiate, and finally I just had to say, “I just can’t do this.”

It’s odd because as a child I grew up in the country, and we had chickens and we slaughtered them and ate them all the time.  But I guess I made some kind of comment about, “was this one of the chickens that had been out there?”

And then they started teasing me, and they would tease me unmercifully about did I feel the same way about breaking the eggs as I did about eating the chicken?  (Laughter)


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Host Father Executed in Iranian Revolution

My father was a very independent intellectual.  I was at Yale as an undergrad.  I became friendly with a kid from Tehran whose father was in the Air Force.

In 1979 during  the revolution, there was a lot of tumult, chaos and anarchy, and factions were vying for control after the Shah left.  Constant change, purge the opponents, then another group comes in, imprisonment and executions.

The Shah with President Nixon

The Shah with President Nixon, Image via Wikipedia

In 1979 I learned that Father had been arrested by one of the groups that had been in power at the time.  I don’t know the charges that were brought against him, but clearly whoever was in power at the time didn’t like what he was saying.  He was very outspoken.

I remember he was critical of the Shah and not necessarily always supportive of the government at the time, an independent thinking person, and very tragically he was executed.  I learned about it—and I’ll never forget it–I was in law school at the time—I picked up The New York Times and they reported that he was executed.  I felt horrible.