|Publisher:||Rubric Publications, Incorporated|
|Edition description:||RUBRIC PUBLICATIONS|
|Product dimensions:||4.38(w) x 6.98(h) x 0.41(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Ten Months in Iran or God wants me to kill you.
By J.F. Simpson
A Rubric Publications BookCopyright © 2004 John F. Simpson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIsfahan, Iran
I arrived in Isfahan early in the summer of 1978. After landing we were made to wait inside the plane for nearly forty minutes with the engines off and the doors open to allow any breeze that might be blowing to flow through the hot plane. It was unbearably hot, uncomfortable and the smell of 180 sweaty bodies was starting to induce nausea. We were told to remain in our seats and that the toilets wouldn't operate while the engines were off. The degree of absurdity in making passengers wait inside an plane, with the engines off, when the outside air temperature is over one hundred degrees is only surpassed by the degree of stupidity possessed by the person responsible for approving such an action. This event turned out to be a harbinger of my future experiences with Iranian Shiite Muslims and the absurdity of their interpretation of Islam.
Passengers who had small children were having an extremely difficult time controlling them and keeping them quiet and in their seats. One of the young female Iranian flight attendants took pity on those mothers who had small children and on the older passengers who were starting to look a little flushed and gave them cold drinks. The flight attendants were not doing much better than the passengers because you could see the perspiration soaking through their uniforms. The male attendants had taken off their jackets and their shirts were soaking wet with sweat. It was the most miserable experience I've ever had on a commercial plane and what I didn't know was that the situation was only going to get worse.
As I stepped off the plane, I knew I was somewhere quite unlike anyplace I'd ever been. We didn't get off and walk through the ubiquitous retractable walkway that connects an arriving plane to an air-conditioned terminal. We were told to exit at least a quarter mile from the terminal and made to stand on the hot tarmac in the sun with an air temperature that exceeded 100ºF. We had to wait for the bags to be unloaded and then we had to find and get our own bags from the pile of two hundred or more piled on the tarmac. I helped a British lady who had two small children, three carry-on bags and a forlorn look of malady on her face that I was sure preceded hysteria. I found her five bags and my two and placed them together on the tarmac; then we waited for a bus to take us and our bags to the terminal. It took one hour and thirty minutes to get inside the terminal. Once inside, our bags were ripped apart, we were searched and our passports seized. We had to fill out forms indicating who we were, who we worked for, where we were going to stay while in Isfahan and how long we intended to stay. We were told that we would get our passports back in three to four weeks. Of all the countries I visited during twenty years of traveling, Iran was the only country that didn't stamp my passport and hand it back to me on the spot; even in China, the agent looked at me, looked at my passport, stamped my passport and handed it back to me.
I continued to help the lady who had the two small children and eight bags during the two hours and several moves that it took to get through customs and immigration. My helping her caused us a little problem because the immigration officer thought I was her husband and he wanted to know why we had different names. We had a hell of a time convincing him that I was not married to her and that I was only helping her because she needed help. Once on the other side of the restricted area I tried to pass her bags off to her Iranian husband but he refused to take hold of any of them and immediately started giving her hell for allowing me to help her and wanting to know where we had met and how long she had known me. At that point I was sorry that I had helped her, seeing the additional trouble it had gotten her into. As I was leaving the area, I looked back and he was still giving her hell and still hadn't picked up either of the children or any of the bags. Well, honey, I thought, you married him. After I finally got out of there I was directed to an airport bus parked outside the terminal. During the bus ride to the hotel in downtown Isfahan I thought about the indoctrination course that was designed and delivered by Bell Helicopter to prepare Americans for the shock of being dropped into Iranian culture. The indoctrination course wasn't adequate and I don't think any course could be. With the exception of the overpowering smell of fermenting body sweat that permeated this bus, the ride was reminiscent of the suicide bus rides I had been on from Bangkok to Lop Buri in Thailand; so, I did the same thing in Iran that I did in Thailand; I closed my eyes and tried to think about something more pleasant.
My first impression of Isfahan was that everything was brown, tan or gray. The buildings, streets, sidewalks and cars were brown, tan or gray. The only relief you got from this tricolor world was if you were lucky enough to be around some trees or grass. Outside of the public parks, grass was scarce in Isfahan; however, many of the streets in the city were lined with trees. We were told the traffic in Isfahan was hectic and that most drivers didn't pay attention to traffic laws. That turned out to be the most understated warning of the entire indoctrination course. During the bus ride to the hotel, and later by riding in taxies, I learned that Iranian drivers only paid attention to a stop light if a policeman was standing under it and that stop signs were not to be obeyed at any time for any reason. The rule seemed to be whomever got to the intersection first, or had the loudest horn, had the right-of-way.
They warned us in the indoctrination course in Texas that several Americans had been injured and a few killed while trying to cross one-way streets because they had only looked one way before crossing. They also told us to always look both ways on one-way streets because one-way streets were only one-way if all lanes were full. They told us it was perfectly acceptable for an Iranian driver to go down a one-way street (the wrong way) on the sidewalk if all the lanes were full. Traffic circles had similar unwritten rules; a traffic circle had to be used as a traffic circle if you were going less than 3/4 the way around. If you had to go 3/4 the way around, you could take the short cut and go the wrong way for 1/4 of the circle on the outside lane or, if the circle was full, use the sidewalk. The city buses were the real killers; a city bus was free to go down any one-way street the wrong way at any time, even if the street was full, the cars were obligated to get out of the way. However, the true free-spirits of the road in Iran were the people on motorcycles and motorbikes because they were not obligated to follow any traffic rules at any time. They didn't have to stop for a traffic signal even if a police officer was standing under the light, but they did always try to do it behind his back.
The airport bus delivered me to the Kourosh International Hotel in downtown Isfahan. I've stayed at beautiful hotels in Paris, London, Munich and Rome; however, none of them can compare with the elegant decorum of the Kourosh. The furniture in my eighth floor two room apartment was white lacquer and white lacquer with gold-leaf trim; the upholstery was a royal-blue silk. I felt like I was living in a king's palace. The Kourosh provided almost everything an American could ask for when living away from home. The top floor had a nightclub that had good food, good drinks and good music. The ground floor had stores that provided most of the items that you would run out of if you stayed very long. Entering into the hotel at the end of the day was like escaping from Iran and entering a never-never land where you could eat American, Italian, French or Chinese food or go to the nightclub for a drink.
The Kourosh was mostly full of Americans, English, French, Germans and Italians because most of the Russians, Iranians, Turks, Greeks, Syrians, Lebanese and Iraqis stayed at cheaper hotels. I could generally tell where someone was from by listening to them talk because, even if you don't understand their language, you get to the point where you can identify the sound of a particular language or a language group like Slavic, Germanic or Semitic. I could not understand Farsi; however, I got to the point where I could tell if an Iranian was from Teheran or the countryside. But, I must admit that I was stumped many times by languages I heard in the lobby of the Kourosh hotel.
While staying at the hotel, I met Tim Brown an American language specialist who was employed by Bell Helicopter to teach Iranian soldiers to use an eight-hundred-word vocabulary in English. Tim was a mousy sort of guy (I think he may have been gay) but his intelligence was over the top. He spoke Farsi, French, Russian and Italian. Tim and I quickly became good friends; first, I think, because we arrived in Isfahan at the same time and second, I think, being with me gave him a feeling of security during his first few days in the city. He knew that in addition to being a helicopter pilot that I was also an ex-Green Beret. During our first few days in Isfahan he was constantly after me to go with him to explore the city; I also needed to become familiar with the city, so I usually went with him.
The shaft for the two main elevators in the hotel came down into the middle of the lobby, so when the elevator doors opened you were facing the front doors of the hotel. The hotel restaurant was located about twenty feet behind the elevator shaft, and if you were coming down to the restaurant you could either turn right or left out of the elevator and walk directly into the restaurant.
During my first week at the hotel I stepped out of the elevator one evening, made a hard right turn for the restaurant and ran my face into the perfumed breasts of a very tall woman who was making a left turn into the elevator. Each of her breasts was as big as a melon and I bounced off them. I am five foot nine inches tall, with my shoes on, and my nose was even with the nipples of her breasts. After regaining my senses, I looked up at her and laughed; she looked down at me and laughed. I told her that I was sorry and she said something to me, with a very big smile on her face, in a language that I could not identify and continued on her way. She was the biggest most beautiful woman I had ever seen and I couldn't talk to her. Although I continued to look for her during my stay at the hotel, I never saw her again.
The next day at breakfast I was telling Tim about her but I was sure he thought I was making it up. As we sat waiting for service, Tim identified seventeen languages being spoken just at the tables that were close enough to us that he could hear what was being said. I was never very adventurous for breakfast at the hotel because I knew the cooks were hired off the street and not professional chefs like the club restaurant on the top floor. To be safe, I normally got eggs, bacon and toast because it's hard to screw up eggs, bacon and toast. So, when the waiter stopped at our table and asked what we wanted, I placed my usual ordered and got the reply "no bacon".
"You don't have any bacon?" I said.
"Yes, we have bacon, but can't serve bacon."
For a short while, talking with this waiter made me feel like I was on Candid Camera.
"You have bacon." I said.
"Yes, we have bacon." He said.
"But, I can't get bacon?"
"Yes, no bacon."
This would probably have been very irritating to someone who didn't have the warped and exaggerated sense of humor I inherited from my mother; but, to me it was so funny that I started laughing. One of the other waiters came over, one who had waited on me before and knew me, and asked what was wrong. I told him the story and he told me that my water was new and that his English wasn't very good yet. He told me the reason I couldn't get any bacon that morning was because the bacon cook didn't show up for work.
"The bacon cook." I said. "You have a cook just for the bacon?"
"Yes," he said. "All of the regular cooks in the kitchen are Muslims and they will not touch bacon. The bacon cook is a Filipino and he didn't show up for work this morning." I looked at the waiter who was still standing there and told him, scrambled eggs and toast. The no-bacon thing never happened again, so I think they must have hired two bacon cooks.
The Iranians are very class conscious and it was evident in the hotel restaurant for breakfast more than any other place or time. As far as I could figure out, the pecking order in the workforce went something like this from top to bottom: Koreans, Filipinos, Afghans, Indians and last Bangladeshis. The Koreans and Filipinos were cooks and waiters; the Afghans were waiters; the Indians and Bangladeshis, who were actually in the same bag, were assigned the most menial jobs and the dirtiest jobs.
The Iranians also seem very class conscious when it cames to their paying customers; that order from top to bottom went like this: Americans (I think because we gave bigger tips), English and Canadians, Europeans, Russians, Koreans, Filipinos, Afghans, Indians and Bangladeshis. There were many nationalities there that I couldn't identity but as a general rule the darker the skin the lower they were on the list, except for black Americans and as far as I could tell they were treated just like the white Americans.
Probing for the Truth
Tim had a T-shirt that had "Thank God It's Friday" printed on it in Russian. During the six weeks we had to spend at the hotel before we found a house, he would wear the shirt on a weekend, pretend to be Russian, and go for taxi rides. Once in the taxi he would ask the driver, in Russian if the driver spoke Russian, what he thought about the Americans. The next weekend he would wear an American T-shirt and do the same thing in English and ask the driver what he thought about the Russians. The results were easy to predict; whatever nationality he pretended to be, that's who the driver loved and detested the other. On some weekends he would pretend to be Italian and the driver would hate the Russians, French and the Americans. The only consensus that he was ever able to come up with was that the Iranian taxi drivers always liked the Italians and always hated the French.
Our House in Isfahan
Tim and I rented a house in an affluent neighborhood across the street from the University of Isfahan. During the time we lived together I don't think we saw each other more than three or four times a week because he worked at night and I worked during the day. He had the car we leased at night and I had the car during the day; on weekends we either took turns or we went someplace together. He liked going to the bazaar and he also liked visiting historical sites.
Excerpted from Ten Months in Iran or God wants me to kill you. by J.F. Simpson Copyright © 2004 by John F. Simpson. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Once in a great while I come across a work that illuminates history, explains many things that I only partially understood, provides insight into an opaque culture, and shines a light into the real nature of the "peaceful" Islamic religion. TEN MONTHS IN IRAN is such a work. That it is also captivating read is a delightful bonus. John Simpson, the author, is a widely traveled man with an unbelievable breath of experience. He arrived in Isfahan, Iran as a test pilot for Bell Helicopter in 1978. Isfahan was the center of Islamic studies, and today contains major portions of Iran's nuclear and conventional weapons industry. Simpson's story is confine to the area around Isfahan, and begins in the last year of the Shah. Simpson begins his narrative of events with his arrival at the Isfahan airport, where he first encounters Iranian "efficiency." Passengers, men women and crying children, were held in the aircraft for almost an hour with no air conditioning or toilets. The outside temperature was over one hundred degrees. As he describes the event, "It was the most miserable experience I have ever had on a commercial plane, and what I didn't know was that the situation was only going to get worse . . . As I stepped off the plane, I knew I was someplace unlike any place I'd ever been before." Simpson's comments match those of others who have recounted similar Iranian experiences to me. The book consists of the author's personal experiences with other Americans, Iranians, and other nationalities; and his observations on the culture and Islamic religion are enlightening. Above all, TEN MONTHS IN IRAN is a cameo of the Iranian revolution. A revolution that set lose the dogs of Islamic terrorism which we are fighting today. There is a love story, and I will leave it at that. Highly recommended. It helps us understand how we arrived at the place in history we find ourselves. Another novel that deals with the Iranian revolution is WHIRLWIND by James Clavell. The books complement each other.
This is a well written story, and the statements and philosophy on both government and religion are outstanding although no exactly politically correct positions. The author's point that all religions are man made and devised to control the populous are not too popular but true nun the less. His observation that freedom must be measured out in increments otherwise it is overwhelming for the average, previously repressed, person is insightful. Dumping sudden freedom on a society without the necessary learning and comprehension can be disastrous to a new or existing government and to the supporting clergy.
To bad the author was not one of Bush's confidants before he made his decision to go into Iraq.