After living a few months in the hotel, we moved to our new home. There was a housing development being built for the Americans about 20 miles out of the city. It was called ” Khaneh” which means “town” in Farsi. Farsi is the official language of Iran. No other country really speaks it and it is not an Arabic language. The houses were each separated by cement walls to divide up the yards. Most of the homes were rectangular shaped , had flat roofs and were connected together in twos. We were one of the first families to move into this community and our street had a funny name, “P 2”. Our yard were just dirt at first and we played badminton and volley ball in the back yard for fun until we got all of our belongings delivered ( a few things from the U.S.). We did not have to buy any furniture, my fathers company supplied everything we needed. Us kids had fun running through the house and claimed our bedrooms upstairs. One of the strange things about the house was the down stairs bathroom. The toilet was in the floor In the Middle east, and many other parts of the world, they just have holes in the dirt or floor. This at least had plumbing and you could flush with a pull chain. Needless to say ( for the girls in the family at least ) we did not use that bathroom. It ended up a place for us to put our bikes and sports equipment. We did not have a garage because we did not have a car. It would have been too dangerous for us to drive ourselves in Iran. At that time, the road laws and speed limits were not too safe for Westerners who were not used to Iranian roads, traffic and drivers. We never saw any stop signs and there were not many traffic lights. So we had buses that came into the community to take us any where we needed to go.
We also had no telephones. All of our communicating was done through writing and delivery. If we wanted to know what was happening in the city or for events in our community, we got notes delivered to our door by some of the workers in the different American companies. My father worked for Grumman and there was also Bell Helicopter, Pratt and Whitney, and other companies to work for the Iranian government. So for mail and phone calls for us, it had to be taken care of at my father’s office at the Khatami Airbase. Khaneh had a big center park where they built a few tennis courts, baseball and soccer field and outdoor movie space. So as far as having community activities, we all would meet up there. There were a few houses that were made into meeting places for the youth, hobbies, classes, a small library and a place to just meet up. So we did have a place to live where we got to be with other Americans. Many other foreigners and Americans lived in the city in their own chosen houses and apartments. We spent a lot of time in the city of Isfahan by taking the bus. What an adventure it was to see all of the sights and meet the interesting and hospitable Iranians!
At first, school for us was close to the city. It was very different from what I was used to in the States. The teachers were from around the world as well as the students. So it was an international education that we got to experience. We had classmates and teachers from many countries like Vietnam, Norway, England, the Netherlands, Iran, and many of the American States. I liked all the people at school, but I did not like the building and school grounds very much. It was sort of dismal for some reason. Eventually a new school was built further out in the country side and we started attending there. New classrooms, library, sports courts and all. More kids started coming into Iran and it was exciting to meet them. Our new life in Iran taught us how to be flexible, appreciative and open to new and very different changes from the normal American society we came out of.
The terrain in Iran in this part of the country is dry and mountainous. The altitude is very high and the climate is similar to a desert. But instead of sand, it was a fine dirt. The landscape was also very lush in many parts. By the river it always green in season and there were beautiful gardens and grasses. The mountains surrounding Isfahan though, were mostly rock. In the North in Tehran ( the new capital of Iran) they had trees in the mountains and snow. Our region had many farms and villages. We saw lots of sheep, goats,donkeys and chickens . In the outskirts of the city we saw many camels that the villagers owned for transportation. It was so cool to see camels. We even got to ride them! It was fascinating to see how these people lived. Many had no electricity. That is something most Americans can not comprehend. Realizing this is just one of the examples of how our experience of living in Iran taught me gratitude. But even though these villagers had so much lees than us westerners had, they were so happy and gracious! When we took trips into the countryside, complete strangers welcomed us into their homes for lunch and tea. One time when my grandmother came to visit us from New York, we took her out to the villages to show her around . My father was asking in Farsi ( they spoke no English ) about the possibility of hiring some one to take us on camel rides. The word for camel sounds just like” chador”, the word for the cloaks that the women wear, and they misunderstood my father’s accent. So they brought us out some fabric! Finally I took out a pen and paper and drew a camel and they got very excited and invited us into their home to meet the camels in their courtyard. The homes are mostly made of straw and mud put together like cement. They have high walls around the houses and it is set up like a big square with the center being open to the sky as a courtyard. The indoor rooms are surrounding the open space where they keep there animals and usually have a small fountain of water in the middle.. The rooms don’t have much furniture, they mostly have beautiful hand-made Persian carpets in all the rooms with big pillows to be used as seats. Even their beds are mats on the floor! For the dining area, that too is just a carpet on the floor with a hand-made table-cloth spread out on it and big pillows around it to sit at. You get to eat on the floor!
On this occasion, we not only got to ride a camel, but we got invited in to have a meal with them. You just don’t see that in America. Imagine some foreigner just driving up to your house in the suburbs and asking if they could go for a ride on your tractor mower and getting their picture taken with you. Then you say “Sure stranger, come on in and have spaghetti and soda with us while you are here.” This is how the Iranians were to us. They were so kind and generous. It is important to them to be hospitable. What a good lesson we learned from these nice people. That day with my Grandma and family, we sat on their dining room rug and were served an incredible meal and tea. Roasted Lamb kebabs, rice with saffron, ( the “spice” they get from the inside of the crocus flower..very expensive and rare here), flat bread, tomatoes, onions, soup, a special candy made with nougat, rose water and pistachio called “Gaz”, and tea served in clear glasses. But the most incredible part of this feast was the bowl of fresh made yogurt that was served to us. It was no ordinary bowl, it was a goats head!! Yes, they carved out the roasted goats head and put yogurt, cucumbers, parsley and onion in it! That was the scariest dish I have ever seen. Of course I could not eat it..but I did love everything else. That was an experience I will never forget.
It took us some time to get used to the different food. We did miss some of the American food and we missed our family and friends back in the States. Each day things got easier and we adjusted to a whole different life. The Iranians were very kind to us and were curious about us too.
Our plan was to stay in Iran for 4 years. The Shah ( King ) needed help from all the companies to be a part of bringing the ancient Persia into a more modern civilization. He tried to get the fanatic religious to become more relaxed and tolerant of the Western world ( when I say Western, I mean the West part of the globe ). The Shah and his regime wanted good relations with the rest of the world. So things were going well with progress for the first 2 years while we lived there. 1975 and 1976 were peaceful times in Iran.
I got very involved in sports ( tennis, volleyball, track and swimming), photography, adventure clubs and art. We got to travel to other cities with the school sports teams. Our teams were able to travel to the capital city Tehran, to Ahwaz, and Abadan. On our bus drive to Tehran we went through the city of Qom where the religious worship at a famous mosque. These religious houses of worship are incredibly beautiful with their big domes and minarets filled with intricate hand painted tiles. The minarets are tall towers on the sides of the building where the Mullahs climb up to sing out their daily prayers. A Mullah is a religious leader ( sort of like a priest or pastor ) of Islam. The Muslims ( people of the Islamic religion), pray 5 times a day to Allah , their god. Up in the minarets the Mullahs climb in their long robes and head wraps. They call everyone to prayer and sing and chant parts of the Koran (or Quran ) , their holy book. The Koran was given miraculously their prophet Mohammed back in the year 610. Our morning alarm clock was the sound of the prayers being sung on loud speakers from the towers. What a unique and eerie sound that was to me! The Muslims say their prayers 5 times a day religiously and face a city in Saudi Arabia called Mecca when they pray. Mecca is the supposed sight of where Mohammed received the Koran given to him by an angel of Allah. We had a teenage Iranian boy help us some times at our home. I saw him stop his work and get on the floor to pray at the correct time in our kitchen one day. That really made such an impression on me that he was not afraid to show his loyalty to his faith in front of us American kids. In the Middle East, the weekends are Thursday and Friday. So we went to school on Saturday and Sunday. Friday is the holy day for the Muslims. So we followed that schedule. Our family is Christian and we attended the Catholic Church in Isfahan on Fridays.
Our American ideas on cleanliness in this country took some getting used to. Through out all of Iran there were narrow ditches running along the roads that water flowed through. In Farsi they were named “jubes”. The Iranians used this water for cleaning their clothes, brushing their teeth, washing dishes, hands and faces, cleaning fruits and vegetables and sometimes the men would use it as a toilet! This was pretty shocking and gross for us Americans to realize. And they did the craziest thing to their beautiful hand woven Persian carpets. They laid out these newly made rugs, ( that we sometimes got to watch being made on old looms by young girls and women in the village), onto the roads and actually drove over them with their cars and buses! Even herds of sheep would trample these expensive rugs. We learned that this was done on purpose to give the carpets a worn and antique look to them. So if you have a real rug from the Middle East in your home, it may have a few car grease and sheep manure stains on them.
The fruits and vegetables form the outdoor markets and the Bazaar definitely had to be cleaned when we got it home. Remember the jube water and what could be in it? Well the merchants used to scoop up that water and splash it onto the produce to make it look fresh and chase away the flies! When my parents bought produce from these places, they had to put it all in the sink at home and soak it in a mix of water and disinfectant so we would not get sick. My mother had to pull the feathers off of the chickens we got from the butcher and most times have to pull off the head. We always had to inspect our food before we ate it. But we learned that most of the diet in Iran was so healthy and really very fresh. Luckily my Mom was very easy-going and flexible and learned how to take care of her family in this new country we called home.
One of the great things about being in the Middle East was that we lived near the Holy Land of the Bible , Israel. My parents were trying to decide where we should take a vacation and thought about Thailand in South East Asia or Israel ( which was not too far west of Iran). They picked Israel and I am so glad they did ( although I was tempted by the photos we saw of the beauty of Thailand). It was a trip I will never forget. We went to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Galilee and Bethlehem. Israel was so beautiful and spiritual for us. It was much more lush and green in most parts than Isfahan. It was refreshing to see so much greenery. 3 major religions, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, live near each other in this small country and we were able to tour most of their regions. One of the hotels we stayed at was a Kibbutz. A Kibbutz is a Jewish community where all the Jews share in ownership of the land and work together for the whole group. I had never seen anything like it before. We ate all our meals together with the community in one large dining room. The food was fantastic, although I did not like all the fish they served for breakfast. I thought I was going to find bagels, but they had none. Being from New York and growing up with Jewish friends and teachers, I thought bagels must have come from Israel. Well they are really Yiddish ( European Jewish ) from areas of Eastern Europe. At a Kibbutz all the community members share in work, school, childcare, property care, growing organic food, cooking and sharing meals and worship. This Kibbutz made most of their income running this hotel we stayed in. We all really loved Israel and I actually did not want to leave to go back to Iran. There was so much more that I wanted to see and do there. It was so incredible to see all of the places that I read and heard about from the Bible. We stood where King David and Jesus stood… To actually be in this place was such a blessing. I knew that some day I would go back.
Our third year in Iran was very eventful. There was a growing movement of Iranians that were unhappy with the Shah’s government. A mullah named the Ayatollah Khomeini was planning a revolution in Iran while he was living in France! The current regime had kept him out of Iran for many years because he had caused problems before with the government. Now Khomeini was using the Islamic religion to try and take over Iran and make it a religious Islamic Republic. During that year we felt a lot of tension. Slowly the young university students and fanatic religious started to turn against the westerners (us) and the Shah’s people. They first started by demonstrating at the colleges and in the streets of the cities. There were some bombings of the hotels that the foreigners were staying at! No one was killed at these demonstrations, but it was very serious and scary. We heard them chanting ” Yankee go home” and “America is the devil “. They believed that their country was being handed over to the west by the Shah and that he was leading them away from their religion. Suddenly many Iranians were trying to force us out of their land and they began to throw rocks at Americans in public and threaten us! One day we found a letter on our school bus that read in broken English :
” If you care about your wealth, your health and your lives you must leave this country now ! You are trying to change our religion and our way of life. If you care, leave us now ! This is a warning ” We still have that letter.
Soon we were all put under Martial Law by the Iranian government to try and get control of the revolution that was forming. This law is a way to get control of any uprisings in a country. It meant that every citizen had to follow a different, stricter law in order to get control. We all had to be in our homes and off of the streets at sundown. We started to hear that the Soviet Union was behind this and helping the Ayatollah. I don’t know if that was true or not, but that is what was being talked about. Things started to get to get dangerous for us. One day at school our power was shut off. We had to be escorted home by bus while helicopters flew overhead to make sure we all got home safely. We never went back to school again after that day.
Back in our home community we waited to see what was going to happen next. Being that we had no phones, we were not really sure until my Dad got home from work to tell us what was happening. In Khaneh we had armed guards patrolling the neighborhood. Martial Law meant that we had to follow flag signals. Green: safe to go out, Yellow: beware and Red flag : stay home. We had heard that many dangerous activities were going on in Isfahan. It was even worse in Tehran were everything really started. Huge protest and demonstrations were being held all over the country. The Shah began to lose his control.
In early December 1978, a few mornings after we left our school, someone came and knocked on the door with a note. It was my father’s company telling us that all the women and children had to leave the country the next day! The letter stated that we all should pack a suitcase with warm clothing because we were stopping over in Germany on our way back to the United States. We were scared but excited to be able to go to the U.S. The American government told the companies to evacuate everyone, but the men, to safety . The plan was to leave for a while and come back when things calmed down in Iran. That night I packed up one suitcase of clothing for our evacuation out of Iran.
The next day we all walked over to the line of buses in Khaneh that were prepared to take us to the airbase where my Dad worked. They said we should just be going away for a while until the Shah gained full control over the revolution and uprisings. So we boarded the caravan of buses that took us into the desert to the airbase . We said goodbye to Dad and eventually got on a DC-10 airplane with all of our neighbors and classmates to escape the county ! It seemed so unreal to me that we were escaping the country, yet I was excited about going to Germany and back to the U.S.
On the bus ride heading to the airplane, I saw some Iranian children from a village chasing after us, yelling and waving. I remember being worried that they were going to report us leaving the country. I was worried about my Dad and all his friends being left behind. My little brothers and sister did not really know what was going on and my mother was unsure about what to expect next. We boarded the big DC -10 airplane and safely headed to Frankfurt , Germany.
We stayed in a beautiful hotel in Frankfurt, my first time in Germany. It was so interesting to be there and we got to stay for a night and spend time in the city to tour a bit. Then we flew back to the U.S. and landed in Bangor, Maine and were greeted with the cold snow. From there we flew to Calverton, Long Island, New York ( Grumman’s airbase for the F-14 production). Upon arrival, we were met by a few news reporters who heard about our escape. They interviewed some of us. It was then that we all thought we should tell them “I ran from Iran”! We were driven to various hotels on Long Island to live in until we heard when we could go back to Iran. We were very happy to be back in America and got together with all our family and friends . My Dad sent us cassette tape recordings of what was going on in Isfahan while he stayed. It was actually getting worse and more dangerous for him and all the westerners. The American men had to hide a few times up on the roofs when some of the revolutionaries tried to come through Khaneh. Finally the U.S. government told Grumman and the other companies to pack up all of their belongings and get ready to leave Iran. In Tehran, the protests became critical and it was clear that they were winning. My father and his co-workers finally left about a month and a half after we did. We left the hotel and settled back into the town on Long Island that we had left 3 years ago. All of our friends that evacuated with us out of Iran headed back to their own states where they originally came from. We said goodbye to them and have never seen most of them since. But it was a huge relief that my Dad and all the other men got out too and came home safely.
Within that same year, a large group of young Iranian students overthrew the American Embassy in Tehran , Iran. On November 4, 1979, an angry mob of Iranian revolutionaries took control of the building and kept 60 Americans as hostages ! We escaped the country just in time. We stayed safely back in the United States and watched as these Americans were held in Tehran as the Islamic Republic stepped in. The Ayatollah Khomeini came in and took control. The Shah and his family had to escape to save to save their lives. Many of the Iranian military were killed by firing squad ( including some men that my father knew! ) For 444 days the Americans from the U.S. Embassy were held hostage. Finally, when Ronald Reagan became president, they were released.
Many Iranians also fled the country through out the time we lived there and beyond. Those who wanted the country to be like it used to be when they had peace and freedom. Now it is an Islamic Republic government. That was over 30 years ago. I wonder if it will ever get back to the peace that it once had with the rest of the world. It was such an incredible experience for us. Maybe one day we can return.