“Please say you got a thesaurus,” I moan to my wife Saeideh.

“What is a thesaurus?” she responds.

I’m searching through a pile of books in the living room for an English dictionary, thesaurus, something. It’s all her Persian poetry stuff. It’s hopeless, I realize.

Never thought someday I’d be jonesing for the printed version of anything that’s already online.

But here in Mashhad, I’m subject to the rulers of Iran. Their preference is forcing me to remember the analog world.

And for that, well, I’m reluctantly thankful.

Six Nights of Withdrawal

Last night was the sixth night in a row that all Internet was shut down nationwide. This happens whenever there’s unrest in the streets. Daylight shutdowns are only occasional, leaving me enough time to squeeze through some work.

Most of the total shutdowns begin at around 6 or 7 pm. I had gotten used to their schedule. Then yesterday, they pulled the plug at around 4 pm.

“Damn. That’s not fair,” I yelled.

And just like that contact with the rest of the planet comes to a stop.

And just like that contact with the rest of the planet comes to a screeching stop. Everything has to wait till tomorrow, as if it’s siesta time in the Spanish countryside.

And then something weird happens. I get up and walk away from the laptop. It’s new behavior that feels odd – like I’m exercising a new muscle – albeit begrudgingly.

Vakilabad garden mashahd ali torkzadeh 1536x1157
I live only two blocks from the amazing Vakilabad garden, Mashhad

I’ve been going on more strolls in the amazing Vakilabad Garden nearby.

I don’t pull out my phone at the dinning table. (What would be the point?)

Last night, eating dinner at a relative’s home – I felt more connected with the conversation, probably because it was impossible to check email and WhatsApp.

Landline, So Quaint

Digital withdrawal didn’t start pleasantly a week ago.

Actually, it began with a near heart attack.

“Fu——-!” I screamed so loud, I’m sure the neighbors heard me. I’m thankful no one around here speaks English. The pigeons on the porch probably flapped away. Saeideh ran into my room thinking I hurt myself.

I had grabbed my cell to make an urgent WhatsApp call. It wasn’t working. I didn’t yet know Iran had begun blocking WhatsApp and Instagram too.

So I grabbed the landline phone that gets attention only when the cleaning lady dusts.

I pickup the receiver and stare at the keypad – until it clicks in that I need to know the phone number. How quaint. You have to actually punch in the numbers into these old things.

So I pickup the cell phone again to find the number in my contacts.

This is the response I got:

no internet in Iran, Google Contacts
Google Contacts with zero internet in Iran. © Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

This is why I screamed. I thought all of my 3,000 or so contacts were gone. I didn’t know that even Google Contacts depends on Internet access.

Out of Internet / Out of touch

Right this moment, I’m probably the least informed man in Iran. Most Iranians I know listen get their news from foreign networks on satellite TV, something I don’t have and never thought I might need.

Forty-three years ago during the unusually cold winter of 1978/79, my family huddled around the shortwave radio in the living room to catch BBC’s Persian broadcast.  The announcer’s voice modulated wildly, like someone pushed him under water occasionally.

That was the only source of relatively objective news on the Islamic Revolution that was about to engulf Iran. The memory feels like of another world, ions ago.

I remember an American friend who drove around endlessly trying to find a hand-cranked coffee grinder. He was preparing for the Y2K. He also bought a horse for post-apocalyptic transportation.

I made fun of him.

But I should take a look in the mirror. I’m dependent on a world that disintegrates at a flip of a switch.

(No, I don’t think living is Iran is bad. Far fewer distractions here. I get more work done here even with the crappy Internet. And, in any case, we’re all only a sun storm away from digital apocalypse anyway.)