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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Twenty four years ago

Twenty-four years ago, on the second of February 1989, I arrived in Iran for the very first time. That was six months after the end of the Iran-Iraq War and during the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution. I worked for Iran Air at Heathrow Airport at the time, and I had been sent to Iran as an official guest for the festivities, along with other non-Iranian colleagues from other stations. My in-laws, who could not wait to meet me, were at the Homa Hotel almost as soon as I was shown into my room and got my tour guide’s permission to spend the night in their house. I took a black chador I had borrowed from a friend in London out of my suitcase. My friend had explained that Shahr-e Rey, or Shabdolazim, Hossein’s home town in the south of Tehran, is a pilgrimage destination, so a chador is always to be worn in the street (I have written more details about Shabdolazim in a previous post; for the record, the convention of wearing black chador everywhere in Shabdolazim only now applies within the shrine compound and not to the whole town). I found the idea of wearing a chador exciting, like a child dressing up. The trouble was that I was one hand short: overnight bag in one hand, bag with presents in the other, and the missing one to hold the chador in place. I must have been a ridiculous sight as I stumbled out of the lift to meet my father-in-law and sister-in-law. Haj Nasser the Blacksmith, as he introduced himself, was shorter and stockier than Hossein, but had the same endearing smile. Sister-in-law Mansoureh, a primary school teacher, was the same age as me and single, with eyebrows still unspoilt by the beautician’s hand over hazelnut-coloured, almond-shaped eyes. This was the first time I ever travelled outside Europe: I felt as if I had stepped into another, magical world. Everything seemed strange, exhilarating and yet familiar, as if I had come home to a place I had never seen before. I had not realised it then, but now whenever I am asked why I love Iran, I say I suppose it’s the people. (Except for the last paragraph, this text is adapted from Among the Iranians: A Guide to Iran’s Culture and Customs, Intercultural Press, Boston, Mass, 2010)