I Ran From Iran
This is my story in my 12-15 year old voice. My impressions and an attempt at portraying the story of the life of an American child of the mid 1970’s and our family’s move to a whole new world, the Middle East.
Long Island, New York, 1975. Dad tells me we are moving to the other side of the world. His company has offered him work in the ancient capital of Persia, Isfahan, Iran. It may be like going back 500 years in time. Our family of six are leaving the United States of America into the unknown…..
The secure life as I knew it: comfortable and stable home in the suburbs of America, convenient and ever ready food and drink, indoor plumbing, cozy home, loving family, playing tennis with Mom and Dad, efficient transportation and infrastructure, great schools, like minded neighbors and friends, cultural sameness, mall shopping, bowling, going to the movie’s, listening to Beatles records, swimming in the Long Island Sound, fun parties on the beach, fast food restaurants, democratic and stable government, freedom…
Now we are to prepare for a new lifestyle, a different world as we know it and an adventure on the other side of the globe.
This is my story in the voice of my 15 year old self back in time. Using the words and experiences of my childhood.
It’s 1975 and we are moving to Iran. My father has been asked if he would relocate to the Middle East for 4 years with his company, Grumman Aerospace. The Shah ( King) of Iran and the Iranian government are trying to improve the country by building up their Air Force, establish social security and form good relations with the West. My Dad’s company sold F-14 fighter jets to Iran and they need to be there to teach the pilots, maintain the F-14’s and other work at the airbases. We had to prepare for the move by packing up our home in New York and putting our belongings in storage. Until returning my parents rented out our home and we said goodbye to all our friends and family. Our one pet, Bonnie the German Shepard, moved in my Aunt ,Uncle and cousins.
I knew I would miss everyone and the U.S.A., but I was so excited. I was 12 years old. We went to New York City before we left to visit the Iranian Embassy and we learned about the country and culture to get an idea of what to expect. We went to get our passports and about 12 immunizations to protect us from foreign diseases. Ouch ! I wondered what I was being injected with. I packed up a few belongings to bring with us. At the time, instead of a doll or teddy bear, my comfort item was a down feathered pillow. It took up most of the space in my hard cased pink Samsonite suitcase.
December 1975 we flew from JFK airport in New York City to London, England. On the plane I started a journal. I was so excited and really had no idea what my life was going to be like in the years to come. We landed in Heathrow airport, London after an 8 hour flight. The airplane was huge and we got to watch movies, listen to music and had some hot meals.
London was so beautiful. It was winter, so it was cold, but fascinating to walk through the streets of London before we got settled into our hotel. My younger sister and I got our own room . The key that was given to us was one of those big antique types. We were mesmerized by the snowy scene outside our window overlooking the city streets. Later in the night we were awoken by hiccuping, burping sounds and realized that someone was trying to open our door ! We got scared and assumed it was some drunken person. Luckily, my parents were in the adjoining room and they kept us secure.
The next day we got to do some touring before our flight to Iran. I remember the beautiful architecture, big taxi cabs driving on the wrong side of the road and knowing we were definitely somewhere else ! I was hoping that we could spend more time in London, but it was time to leave for Iran.
Our long flight to Iran landed us in the city of Abadan, which is in the south west of Iran near Iraq. It was dark when we got off the plane and warm and humid out. I was so excited to see palm trees there ! Big difference from cold London from the day before. We take a shuttle bus to our hotel and check in. The first room I walked into had a horrible nauseating smell ! Quickly my parents requested another room for us. This was our first introduction to life in the Middle East . The following day we flew on a small airplane to Isfahan, the old capital when Iran was called Persia. After going through customs, we caught a taxi cab to a hotel that would be called our home for a few months. My fathers company had this all planned out for us, so he did not have to be so concerned about all the details and arrangements. The Park Pol Hotel in the city overlooked a beautiful river and park ( the above photo shows the 33 bridge that spans the river). It was clean and comfortable and we were divided up into three hotel rooms to live in until our new home was finished being built. During that time we were introduced to the Iranian lifestyle. Touring the old and new parts of the city, learning the language, figuring out the currency ( rials), meeting the Iranians and getting to know all the other Americans and foreigners who were getting settled also.
While living in the Park Hotel, we bought most of our food from a small local grocery store called the Super Pol. It was very different from American food. Most of it was very fresh and natural, no preservatives or chemicals used. The main diet of the Iranians was lamb, rice, vegetables, soup, freshly baked flat bread called “noon”, pomegranates, pistachio nuts, barley , ground meat roasted into kebabs and chicken. It was all delicious. We also had interesting choices from England and Germany in the stores. There was not a McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell in sight. The bread was my favorite ! They bake the flat bread in a pit in the ground! There’s a fire at the bottom and they slap on the fresh made dough onto the sides onto hooks and let it bake. Sometimes we would find little stones in our bread !
We also shopped at the beautiful and ancient Bazaar. It was part of a large square that also held the an old palace and a mosque ( the Muslim place of worship), various shops and markets all surrounding a large rectangular fountain pool. It was a busy and popular part of Isfahan and held so much history. Inside the Bazaar was amazing ! There were individual merchants set up in little booths inside and out, selling so many incredible items and foods. The building itself was beautiful and fascinating. The ancient structure had 40 foot ceilings in some places and was a maze of corridors and rooms. It was very easy to get lost in this ancient “shopping mall”. Open windows in the roof allowed sunbeams to shine down on the dusty dirt floor. Individual shop owners had there wares out on display for us to bargain for. No set prices ! We found burlap bags filled with grains and spices, nuts, fruits, fresh and dried, butchers selling meats, fragrant Basmati rice, shining gold jewelry like I have never seen, hand worked copper plates, lamps, shoes, fabrics, clothing, Persian carpets, inlaid mosaic art, miniature style paintings and so many more exotic and hand crafted items. This place was nothing like I had ever seen before. Easily we could have gotten lost. The smells were intoxicating..spices, lamb kebabs cooking over a fire, fresh corn on the cob and the most delicious flat bread baking.
The Iranians were so gracious and friendly to all of us . They were happy that we were in their country. Always curious and hospitable. Most of the women wore large fabric coverings called chadors” over their regular clothing . It is part of their religious traditions and beliefs to be modest and cover their entire bodies and even hair. Not all women dressed like this in Iran. In the 1970’s while we were there, many women dressed more western. The men wore mostly dress shirts and pants and even though it could be very hot and dry in Iran, they wore dark colored clothing. The people that we eventually met in the countryside and villages, wore farmer and peasant type clothing. Most all of the women in the areas away from the city wore chadors. So we could see that the people had freedom in their lifestyles, even though most of the country was Islamic. We really stood out though, being fair skinned and light haired. I was not used to others staring at me and reaching out to grab my hair and face ! That took some getting used to and I was uncomfortable about all that. My parents explained to me why they did that and I just learned to ignore most of it, but would push away when grown men were grabbing my face to kiss my cheeks !
So much for my 12 year old self to take in ! My first introduction into Iran was exciting and so different from anything I had ever experienced. This was to be my new life for the next few years.
to be continued….. please read I Ran from Iran ( part II )