Hossein is a student and writer of Persian descent living in the US. He is about to embark on a trip to visit friends and family in Iran.
After too long of a hiatus, I came back to Tehran early Friday morning. For anyone familiar with the Islamic Republic, one of the most obvious facts are that when you come back (after having left for a while) you really do not know what to expect. Laws and the social norms deemed acceptable by the IRIB change quite frequently so you really have to adjust once on the ground.
I found myself precisely in such a predicament. Things were different- Very different. The Tehran I knew rivaled such hallmark capitals as Paris and London in beauty, art, culture, and the grandiose sophistication that Persians are quite well known for. However, Tehran is a much different place now. The facet of the city that strikes you first is the utter pollution. The air is so filthy that words do not do it justice.
If you are out for than one hour, then your eyes start to water and, literally, your sense of smell becomes slightly altered. Since I left, the Iranian capital has tripled in size- leading to massive social ills such as rampant heroine usage, prostitution, traffic beyond all imagination, inflation that grows worse by the hour, and yes pollution that is quite indescribable.
I found myself walking down the busy streets of Central Tehran yesterday, trying to find the home that my father grew up in. In the process, I passed by one of the many buildings that the Islamic Republic calls the Ministries of Culture. The building sits in the middle of a gated compound that has a gigantic front lawn that spreads to the east and west of the building- very noticeable to the public.
As I approached the building, I could here from the bullhorns set on the north and west side of the building the voice of an Islamic Republic official praising the Basij (the people's militia that is closely aligned the Supreme Leader) and calling them the soul of the Iranian population.
Well, as I came closer to the rally, I quickly noticed that it was Basij week in Iran- a somewhat national appreciation for their work in progressing the Islamic Revolution. Standing outside the gate and looking in, the lime green flags that they are famous for along with Hezbollah memorabilia was arrayed for all to see.
As one that does not live in the Islamic republic, I stood there, outside the gates for awhile- mesmerized by what I heard and saw. I desperately wanted to go in and take a closer look at these members, these "future martyrs" of the revolution but was not allowed entry because you need a special invitation.
As I awoke from gaze, I found myself clasping those old, rusty iron gates and looked around to the people on the streets, the traffic jam that was 5 ft. behind me, and the thick cloud of smog over my head and noticed a very obvious fact about life in the Islamic Republic.
The utter division between the government and the people is quite mind boggling- They were inside the gates of that compound on freshly cut grass with their banners spread for all to see, but no one could come in without permission. Subsequently, the Iranian population was in the outside world having been left to deal with their enormous problems by themselves.
As I started to walk away from the rally, I noticed that I had been the only person outside the gates to stop and listen to the speeches. Everyone and I mean everyone walked by with no interest whatsoever.
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