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Welcome to my blog! True to my name, Shiva the Spy, I will be your eyes and ears in Iran, bringing you detailed accounts of everyday life from my perspective. You'll have a window into the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects of the country. I will bring you the stuff that American media can't...or won't. So, check back regularly for stories, photos, commentary, and anything else your curiosity calls for.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

25-Day Briefing (Part 2)

Today, Muslims all over the world engage in spirited festivity to commemorate the birth of their prophet, Hazrat-e Mohammad. It's also the birth anniversary of Emam Jafar Al-Sadeq, an added bonus for Shi'a Muslims. So, in observance of this joyous occasion, most Iranians are afforded a holiday, on this second day of the work week.

It's also National "Vahdat" (Unity) Week, in which the sameness of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims is emphasized. Iranians come in a variety of ethnicities and religions, but prior to the revolution, Sunnis were often used as the butt of jokes, in miscellaneous television programs. Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution, had always tried to shift focus away from lines drawn between Shi'a and Sunnis, encouraging Muslims to recognize the solidarity of their 'Muslim-ness'. Much of the television programs and official ceremonies this week have featured cultural performances or practices from Kurdish and Arabic Iranians, who are predominantly Sunni.

How does all this tie in to the 25-day Briefing (Part 2), the sequel to Part 1?

Well, during my 25-day break, it dawned on me that for the nearly eight months I've been here, Iran has been in perpetual mourning. Even exuberant holidays, such as Persian New Year, were downplayed because they coincided with a series of solemn events.

This is just a short list of events that come to mind. The overt display of mourning may not be practiced by every household, yet grievous expressions and a dismal mood clearly dominate the public arena.

There seems to be a certain pleasure derived from all this melancholy; it elicits a sense of comfort and humility that allows people to share massive doses of emotional distress. I've never seen anything like it.

During the last seven months, weddings have been scarce, as newlyweds try to synchronize their grand parties with the quick breaks between mourning cycles. Most engaged couples simply wait until after the period passes. After all, nobody wants their blissful celebration associated with a depressing event; besides, bad timing equates to bad luck in the future.

My favorite aspect of the mourning season is the generous act of food preparation and distribution, known as Nazri. If the whole world practiced Nazr, nobody would ever die of hunger. It's the most charitable gesture, without feeling like charity, probably because no distinction exists among the beneficiaries. As a huge fan of Iranian cuisine, I particularly enjoy the fact that people go 'all out' to prepare the most high-quality dishes possible.

So, throughout Norouz, and into the week after, public lamentation has persisted, and I've been stuffing my beast of a belly. I also participated in some Nazri activities involving Shol-e Zard (sweet rice pudding made with saffron and rose water) and Ash-e Reshte (traditional chunky noodle soup with a bunch of beans, greens, and other veggies). Meaning, I stirred the pots a few rounds (I don't know why some relatives don't trust me with more pivotal tasks; my younger cousins act like scooping stuff into bowls, then sprinkling decorative spices on top, takes special training).

As of several days ago, however, the mourning spell has ended, and the observance of deaths has been replaced by the celebration of births. In addition, the spring has arrived, with its blossoming flowers, brilliant greenery, and cool breeze that thwarts the hazardous effects of pollution. In other words, it's happy time, summoning forth all the weddings that have been holding back. Everyday, I spot a few cars lavishly decked with floral arrays, flying through the streets, practically screaming, "Woo-hoo! We're finally married!"

Fortunately, I got to witness my first Iranian wedding. The bride—a distant relative—and the groom opted for a traditional wedding, in which the guests split up into two salons, separating the men from the women. Each side parties hard, laughing and dancing along to jubilant tunes.

Here's the bride, donning an ornately painted face and labyrinthine hairstyle; her gold jewelry was likely a gift from her mother-in-law to be:

One aspect that stood out was how the groom had to make an appearance in the women's salon, sitting beside his bride for a good hour or so, bashfully acknowledging all the females doting upon him, as some sort of rite of passage. Then, bride and groom take the stage in a money dance, where the bride's female in-laws begin showering the couple with money—literally, tossing bills into the air, over their heads. Soon, everybody's throwing cash at the newlyweds, who must quickly grab the notes, while skillfully maintaining their groove. After the money dance, the groom heads for the men's salon, and the women rejoice in merriment and dance, once again. Guests take advantage of this prime photo op with the blushing bride. Although, I do believe the groom was the blusher of the two.

The gala continues on to about midnight, when the salons must close. Guests pile into their vehicles to follow the newlyweds to the bride's father's house. The newlyweds themselves sit in the backseat of their brand-new automobile that's been decorated with flowers, awaiting the traditional drive home. Unbeknownst to me, I sit in the car of the Iranian Evil Knievel.

As mentioned before, this was my first Iranian wedding. Even though I've watched the adroitly edited videos of other family members' marital celebrations, nothing prepared me for what I encountered on this hellish drive. Apparently, it's customary for all the guests to surround the newlyweds' vehicle en route to the bride's father's house, while honking ecstatically the whole way. But, it's also not uncommon to race the couple's car as well as those of the guests, to the destination, even if it means steering erratically, speeding through heavily congested streets, running red lights, swerving purposely to and fro in order to cut off other racers, and a myriad of other potentially fatal maneuvers. Moreover, it's not unusual to crash into the newlyweds' car, while attempting all these stunts; in the end, such anticipated accidents wouldn't disrupt the jolly predisposition of the occasion.

Well, Evil Knievel had nothing on our driver, who was bent on winning the race, no matter what the cost. Usually, I like fast-moving, blood-pumping action; it's fun. But when our speed demon decides to zoom ahead of the others, past the red light, barely evading about three lanes of oncoming traffic, then proceeding to zig-zag through a crowded street, as motorcyclists skim by, cheering and egging our daredevil on, all whilst perched behind the wheel of a Paykan (i.e., tin can on tires), I suddenly felt the obligation to scream until I was hoarse. But my scream was understood as a high-five, encouraging him to further amaze us with his road tricks. So, I shrieked, "Stop!,” causing him to smoothly pull over to the curb.

Never, in my entire life, have I ever sensed danger to the point of utter fright. All it would've taken was a rock on the street to set a whole series of events into action that may have ended in one or more deaths. Sure, I felt like an old lady, in a group of a bunch of my peers, but damn. My fear was so intense that even after I exited the vehicle, my lower jaw was trembling rapidly, another first for me. Even a half-hour after switching vehicles, the vibrating jaw kept going, just like the Energizer Bunny. Oddly, I felt guilty afterwards for being the reason our driver lost the race.

Anyway, the wedding’s after-party went on for about two hours at the bride’s father’s house, where both men and women danced around the newlyweds. Mostly, the younger crowd rocked the dance floor, without their headscarves, while the more seasoned guests stood on the sidelines clapping with the music, and smiling cheerfully. Afterwards, the bride and groom jumped into their vehicle again, along with most of the other guests, to continue to the final phase of the event, another party taking place at the newlyweds’ new home. Some old folks, such as myself, called it a night right there.

Here’s a photo of the newlyweds prepping to lead the caravan to their house. The bride put on her white cloak prior to exiting the salon, where the original wedding party took place. This custom is followed among moderately-to-highly religious families, who want to observe Islamic dress in public. Otherwise, I’ve spotted brides with heads uncovered, out in public. Perhaps it’s part of an unwritten carte blanche that’s afforded to uncovered women (especially brides) and reckless drivers, on wedding days.

Well, that concludes my 25-Day Briefing. I had more to tell, but this is becoming exhausting, so I'll spare you the tedium. Besides, I need to move on with my life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shiva jon I am glad you are all right and in one piece.
Did you dance?

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As an Iranian who has not been to Iran for many years, I had forgot how much Iranians drown themselves in sorrow and grieving. This seems in stark contrast to our close relatives, the Indians, who use their festivities to promote cheerfulness. The obsession with grief and martyrdom in Iran is very tiring.

ASJ81, you may have a point about the "need" for nuclear technology. The problem is that the issue of "who needs nuclear power" does not arise with regards to every nation, just Iran. Russia, USA and Canada have gigantic energy resources, but they "need" nuclear technology.

From a practical point of view, however, Iran does have some use for nuclear power. I myself believe nuclear power is very dangerous for the environment, but Iran's leaders do have some credible reasons for pursuing nuclear technology.

First, Iran uses a lot of oil because it has been so abundant and Iran is backwards technologically. All the oil consumed inside Iran is sold for almost nothing (to alleviate the poor economic situation of the common people, since the elites control all profitable enterprises). The oil that is exported is Iran's only real source of income. If five or ten percent more oil could be exported due to the use of nuclear power for internal needs, this would mean a five to ten percent rise in Iran's economy overall.

Second, nuclear technology is a pillar of modern science. No nation that calls itself advanced is lacking in nuclear technological expertise. Iranians are the proudest people on the planet. They want to be the best at everything. So even if they do not choose nuclear technology, they feel they must master such a powerful and 'prestige' technology. Iran sees itself as independent and strong, so there is a real "need" for nuclear technology from a psychology point of view.

Finally, since Europeans and Americans have convinced themselves that they care about democracy, Iranians support nuclear technology almost universally. In fact, if you asked Iranians about a nuclear weapons program, I think 90% would strongly support it. So the Iranian government is much more moderate than the people when it comes to nuclear issues. From a democratic point of view, the government "needs" to follow the will of the people. Of course, democracy is not an issue when people don't accept the orders coming from the West.

I should add that the nuclear issue was a perfect tool for both the warmongering Americans and the fanatic mullahs of Iran. Both sides can create tensions and spout bold threats while hiding their own disgusting internal problems. But in the end, as an Iranian, I must hold my nose and give some support to Ahmadinejad. When the US chose the Shah over Mossadegh fifty years ago, Iranians learned that they must never rely on outside forces to improve their nation.

If you want to understand Iran's situation today, you can read "The Fairies". It was written by Ahmad Shamloo in the 1950's after the overthrow of Mossadegh by the CIA. The Iranians today are stuck, just like Shamloo's sad fairies, between a castle of suffering and a city of slaves.

Shamloo showed one beautiful aspect of Iranian culture. He answered a dirty coup with a children's poem. Today's Iranians are very busy with campaigns and 'activivists', but they will not make anything important for people of fifty years in the future like this.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Nima said...

What a beautiful blog you have Miss Shiva!

incidentally I have a blog with the same intention. I am going to introduce Iran BUT through my special critics and conceptions on a philosophical context.

I'll look your page over.

9:02 PM  

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