Spending Nights in Tehran


Thought I might dial it back tonight and just relive some great memories.  Somethings you just never want to forget because it plays a pivotal role in developing your personality… your ideals… and that’s what my trips to Iran were for me.

Going to Iran was something I looked forward to the second I stepped off the plane back in the United States.  Leaving my grandparents, cousins and other relatives/friends behind was always one of the hardest things I ever had to do (and still to this day nothing compares).

Tehran, Iran

I always left with this gut wrenching thought, “What if I can’t come back next year and see them again? What if this is goodbye for good?”

I’ve been back once since I graduated from college and even though, it’s only been two years– I feel like I’m gripping onto the memories in fear that one day, they just might leave me.  Because now more than ever, it is unlikely I can go back for sometime.

And now there is all this talk of war and harsher sanctions — there is still the endless imprisonment of bloggers, political thinkers, and human rights defenders —

Yet all the focus remains on Iran’s deteriorating relationship with Israel and their nuclear program, which causes people outside of Iran to forget that Iranians are regular people.

There’s only so much “reporting” you can do in an effort to educate people, sometimes you just need to remember.

My trips to Iran weren’t always something I looked forward to.  In elementary school, I would dread going because it was just another summer spent away from my friends at the pool under the California sun wearing whatever the hell I wanted.  I would spend my time in Iran writing letters to my American friends and ignoring the fact that my grandparents were getting old.

I took it all for granted.

When you’re too young to understand the importance of your culture, it’s just another obligation that your parents are forcing you to undertake.

In the summer of 2001 (I was 14), my mom decided it was time to show me what Iran really has to offer OTHER THAN rotating between our relative’s houses and eating food that caused me to get sick 95 percent of the time (that doesn’t happen anymore- I look forward to stuffing myself with chelo kabob and pizza/ketchup).

She took me on a trip to Shiraz and Esfehan where we spent days roaming the ruins of Persepolis (Takhte Jamshid), visiting the tombs of the famous poets Hafez and Saadi, strolling through the Chehel Soton bridge (40 pillars).

We devoured every historical and cultural site the cities had to offer.

The See-Oh-Seh Bridge (30 poles)

I had never seen Iran this way before.  

My previous trips were filled with old women kissing me waaaayyyy too close to my mouth (I swear the older they get, the closer to your mouth they kiss), getting the evil eye from my mother if I didn’t get up to dance, and awkwardly sitting in the corner as the shy little American girl who was forced to overeat because my grandmother was worried no boys would ever want to marry me for being too skinny.

My trip in 2001 set a new precedent.  My following trips would prove to never be boring again.

It started out pretty innocently– playing basketball in the streets with the neighborhood boys (like a true Amrikai girl), kissing my first crush in a dark alleyway behind a car, and going shopping with my cousins.

As I got older, I was able to connect more with my mom’s cousins who were closer to my age than hers.  They were in their 20’s while I was in my late teens.  Our family parties didn’t seem so boring anymore.  When I was younger, my mom would have to force  me to get up and dance, and now- I’m the first one on the dance floor.

Our family parties start before dinner and went on till after midnight.  There were tables of all different types of khoresht, chelo kabob and dessert.  There was alcohol for the men and tea for the women– because as you know, it is “unladylike” for Iranian women to drink.

Though that didn’t stop me… my mom’s cousins always hid a cup of whiskey for me fully stocked at all times in the bedroom so I could sneak off and take sips in-between dance songs.

We spent summer nights drinking whiskey on the patio of our villa, with a hookah in hand while my cousins played the santoor and tombak (Iranian instruments) until one of us fell asleep in the gazebo (usually me).

This is NOT me in Tehran

Once I entered my 20’s, my trips to Iran were an opportunity for my grandmother to try to find me a khastegar (suitable husband).  Once my mother convinced my grandmother that a second cousin was STILL inappropriate, my grandmother had to utilize her resources and networking skills in a way that I never thought possible.

Every family party, she spent the evening scoping out which boys talked to me or danced with me, and always tried to casually bring them up the next morning during breakfast.  Unfortunately for her, I was usually too busy eating my noon-o-panir (bread and cheese) to pay much attention to what she said about whatever guy I danced with the night before.

When “family friends” happened to stop by with their sons, my grandmother would force me to go “make myself look nice” aka change whatever I was wearing, do something to my hair that was different from letting it hang wavy, etc.  They would come over to “see my grandmother,” and I would have to sit there and pretend to be listening to the conversation.  Once my mamajoon realized I was tuned out, she would put me to work just to prove that America hadn’t taken out the true Persian wife out of me.

She would make me “tarof” (offer in this case) the fruit that was sitting on the table directly in front of their faces… pass out the plates and forks.  But her real mistake was when she had me bring the tray of tea out (she only made this mistake once).  I instantly dropped it in front of the table and my grandmother’s attempt at a sho-har (husband) was OUT THE DOOR in a second.

Needless to say, she eventually gave up and instead of going on the prowl for eligible Irooni boys, she started spending her evenings playing cards with me.

Tehran before the Islamic Revolution

It took me awhile to appreciate these numbered moments.  I had to grow up a little before I could understand what my Iranian culture really meant to me.  And sometimes its hard when you’re raised in a country where being Iranian is foreign and scary to others.

I was born in Wisconsin and raised in California — it gets really old when people ask me where I’m “originally from” even after they know that — or when they ask “what” I am.

I am not a “what”– I’m a person who’s identity is built on my Iranian heritage and American upbringing.

I am fully aware of the opportunities I have here — the fact that I can blog freely about issues that could potentially put me in prison in Iran, that I’m not required to be married, that I can wear whatever I want — but do these freedoms justify ignorance? 

I think it’s sad that there we’ve been living in this perpetual phase of Islamophobia… which is now starting to translate to Iranophobia.  I believe that the only way to fight against it is to remember.  Remember the moments that you’ve spent in Iran or the stories you’ve heard from your parents– no matter how tragic or amazing they are, they offer non-Iranians a window into the real Iran.

The only way to fight ignorance is to share.

Iran is a misunderstood country run by oppression.

Though I’m definitely guilty of overreacting and letting my pride over my culture win over my “diplomacy,” it doesn’t help to feed the stereotypes.

So what’s your favorite memory?






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  1. I’m not Iranian, but I love this :D

  2. That picture was See-o-seh pol (33 bridges). Chehel sotoon isn’t a bridge. I love the picturessss :)

    • Oh my! It’s been almost a decade since I’ve been there and I’m mixing up my landmarks… not a good sign. Thank you so much for the catch :)



      • Ugh same here girl. Haven’t been there in nine years. honestly, i’m a little scared to go back. not because i’m afraid of being harassed but i’m afraid of being extremely disappointed.

  3. Farideh says:

    that is definitely the seeohseh pol, not chehel sootoon.


  1. […] blog reads like a series of journal entries with titles such as “Spending Nights in Tehran” and “Good Little Muslim […]

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