As usual we got off to a late start. I was worried that we would miss the demo if we went to the church but August said, “Don’t worry, we have time!”
Down with America!
We rushed off and headed toward the demonstration. It was already after 11:00. We got into a taxi (driven by an Armenian) headed towards the University. The traffic was worse than ever. Everyone was headed to the same place. As time ticked away I was getting ticked off. Iranians have no sense of time. I knew we should’ve gone before going to the church! Sitting in traffic at a standstill when you are in a hurry to get to a once-in-a-lifetime event only gets worse when your taxi driver is playing hardcore European pop-techno with 300BPM and Gregorian chanting.
It was almost noon when August suggested just walking. We jumped out and headed down one of the closed off streets towards Palestine Square, the crux of the demonstration. Walking along I started to calm down. There were people everywhere heading they same direction I was but without the urgency. People were laughing, kids were running around. I even saw a guy selling Barbie balloons to parents passing by! It was a very festive atmosphere.
I saw some 10 year old kids packing effigies of Sharon, and the local kids Taekwondo club walking down the street in full practice uniforms holding a “Down with USA” banner. It was a parade more than it was a political demonstration.
By the time we had gotten to Palestine Square (only 1 block from the Palestinian Embassy which features a picture of Khomeini and Arafat together above the entrance) they were cleaning up the ashes of burnt flags. Everyone was getting ready for prayer. We tip-toed with our shoes off through the rows upon rows of worshippers heading to the center of Tehran University where ex-president Rafsanjani was speaking. They also had a guest speaker from Palestine. The amount of people was amazing! Imagine any major university campus packed full of people shoulder to shoulder in neat lines with only 3 feet ahead of them for bowing room. The entire campus was like this, and all the surrounding streets for blocks! And apparently it is almost like this every Friday, but since today is the last Friday before the end of Ramadan there are a little more.
The cleric-run Iranian government tends to schedule political demonstrations the same days as major religious functions. (what was that about separating church from state?) It is kind of like organizing a protest rally in the US that just happens to be at the same time and location as the Superbowl. Whoa! That’s a lot of people turning out to show support for the endangered Andean lesbian tree frog!
So of the tens of thousands attending 90% are just there for the prayer, with the minority being political activists, and the attitude of the people here was similar to that of a fat, beer-swilling American football fan to lesbian tree frogs. I am not trying to compare what is happening in Palestine to obscure endangered animals, I think that the average person here empathizes with the average Palestinian, I am just saying that most of the people “demonstrating” were going through the motions just so they could be there to pray.
So I am hanging off of a fence taking pictures of the crowd with a big looming mural of Khomeini in the background. The demo is over and everyone is heading home in rivers of people. I take down my camera for an instant and come face to face with a young Iranian that is head and shoulders taller than everyone else. “Happy Remembrance Day,” he says to me in perfect English. “Well, I guess it isn’t really that happy...” he continued as he passed by. WTF!? I hopped down and told August. “That dude must be from Canada, or have been to Canada!” Looking ahead I see that he is waiting for me to catch up.
We shake hands and he asks “Are you a freelance journalist?”
“No, just a tourist.” I replied with a smile.
“What!?” he laughs in disbelief.
Turns out he went to Canada when he was young and spent 12 years there with his family. He returned to Iran only 2 years ago and is going to college. I gave him my card and told him to mail me. At the site of my card all these old men and other people crowded around wanting one too like I was giving out coupons. August advised me I should only give my card out in private.
We said good bye and parted ways, promising to mail one another.
More of the same
We went back to the hotel so I could pick up a new flash card of my camera. August bought a banana on the way to eat in the privacy of my room. We decided that the rest of the day should be spent looking at more churches and meeting another Armenian friend of August’s.
We took a taxi south and wandered through the narrow alleys until we finally came upon the Church of Saint George,
August and I stopped at a burger joint for some eats, and ended up running into the Herbalist. He came over and invited us to his house for some tea. After some ta’rof declining we finally accepted and agreed to meet him at his home.
We took a taxi way up to north Tehran. The area was filled with expensive looking apartment buildings and nice cars. These people weren’t extremely rich, but were definitely well off. August told me that the kind of people that live in this area don’t worry too much about Islamic morals, that they are particularly Europe-oriented.
The Herbalist’s apartment building was very nice. About 8 floors with 2 massive suites per floor, and two underground levels for parking. The Herbalist’s apartment consisted of a large room separated into two sitting areas, TV area, kitchen, and a dining area overlooking the city. A short hallway ends in their son’s room, with a bathroom (western toilet) on the right and master bedroom on the left. The kitchen is thoroughly modern, with 2 fridges and an L-shaped counter topped with some space-age plastic.
The Herbalist’s wife is a software designer and they have one 5-year-old child. The wife’s sister-in-law was there. We all sat down in the TV area while the Herbalist turned on some music. The kid was running around having fun.
We talked of many different things. The sister-in-law worked as a hygienist at a children’s dental clinic that was for rich people she admitted. She spoke English quite well, but said that her strength was French. She told me that she used her English, French, and smattering of Italian with the embassy kids at her work. She was very Europe-oriented and was excited to hear that my wife was a feminist and worked as a domestic violence counsellor. “She needs to come here!” was her comment.
The Herbalist made me some tea for the cold I was getting. I guess my body was giving up after all the running around, fasting and constipation. ;)
They asked me about my impressions of Iran, if they had changed, and what I think about the outside image of Iran. The Herbalist blamed the US for Iran’s bad image, but was quickly rebuffed by both the Dentist and August. I told them that I thought the international media was maybe responsible for the spreading of Iran’s bad image, but that the source lies squarely with the Iranian government. This comment was received by vigorous nods by the dentist, and a thoughtful look by the Herbalist.
It was a really good time and the Herbalist invited me back for a good-bye party on my last day. We got a taxi and I was back at the hotel at 1:30AM.