“But Ali, 80 million other Iranians are also living in Iran,” I hear Saeideh say on the telephone. “They go on with their lives. They manage to find happiness.”
“Aha, but those Iranians are already used to living in Iran,” I retort. “I’m just another foreigner again, starting from scratch.”
My wife is responding to my nervousness about returning to our home in Mashhad after a 2-year stay abroad.
I’m talking about again facing the chaos, the lack, the angry people tormented by decades of international isolation, the capricious bureaucracy and worst of all, the bewildering traffic and inescapable pollution.
But wait. Why am I so focused on the shortcomings of life in Iran? I was happy there.
It’s a joy to be just a tourist in Iran. Right now, Iran is like Vietnam or Cuba or the Czech Republic or Barcelona before the 1992 Olympics – back when the locals were eager to interact with tourists and didn’t yet see them as the irritating mobile cash machines.
“What the ef am I going to do for my Zoom meetings?” I ask Saeideh because I already know it might be a week or two just to get the Internet turned on at our apartment, work through the kinks, and figure out the provider’s bizarre billing system for the tiny baskets of data Iranians are forced to buy to get past both Iranian government filtering and the international blocking of Iranian surfers.
Iranians are, of course, used to all this. Lack and pain renders them tough as nails and far more creative at circumventing barriers, which is why so many become immensely rich once they manager to immigrate.
Fear mongering about life in Iran is common among the Iranians living in the West. They are constantly told that once accustomed to life in the West, they cannot find happiness again back home.
For decades, I was no more than an occasional tourist in Iran and never once did I seriously consider moving back to my birthplace. “You wouldn’t last three months here,” my father, who lives in Tehran, often quipped with a smirk.
But I did find happiness in Iran after marrying Saeideh in 2015. We settled in her hometown of Mashhad and traveled the country as I wrote this blog.
But now I get nervous when I remember my flight to Iran is only five days away.
Where I am right this minute has something to do with my point of view.
I’m on the balcony of a tiny break room in a Freiburg, Germany public hospital, where I’m recovering from tinnitus.
It’s on the 6th floor facing the city’s skyline slowly waking up to a purple dawn. The air is cool and crisp. The quiet is rarely broken by the occasional helicopter swooshing down toward a nearby helipad.
I step back into the break room. Plentifulness, cleanliness and organization abound in this one room.
The shelves are stocked neatly with all the bio water you can drink, stacked neatly next to sparklingly clean cups and glasses.
There are two wooden tea boxes, each with four rows of tea bags. Someone used a label printer to identify the type of tea in each row, even though the tea bags are still in their original packaging.
German obsession with organization. This level of thoughtfulness I know I will not find in even the most expensive 5-star hotels of Iran. Perhaps in one of those private hospitals that draw rich Arabs for treatment. But forget about an Iranian public hospital. You’d be lucky to find syringes that aren’t reused as Iranians drop dead under the weight of International sanctions.
(Also I wouldn’t find this much order in any public hospital in the United States, affordable healthcare access decimated by corruption and corporatocracy.)
I step back onto the terrace and watch the dawn. This clean air is impossible to find in Iran’s big cities, blighted by dust and pollution from poisonous lead gas that was banned in the West decades ago.
Then if Iran is so bad, what made me so happy? I ask myself.
There was a time I was immensely grateful for my time in Iran despite the hardships.
I’ve to got to go back to get back my mojo.