Updated: 3 days ago
I never got to see the beautiful Alborz Mountains above Tehran. In June of 1979, our US passports did not allow exiting the airport even for the overnight hotel already paid for by Pan Am. (The airline in New Delhi had kept the news of this stopover to the last minute.) Khomeini posters loomed large on every wall of the airport, the very beginnings of the Islamic Government revolution. Perhaps remaining inside was not such a bad idea, though, since it was not long before the 52 American diplomats were taken hostage in the US Embassy that year.
Still. I wanted to see the mountains. My Aunt D. had lived in Iran in the 1940s while teaching in an international boarding school, well before the militant Imams took over from the westernized Shahs.
Today that same 'revolutionary' government, long metastasized into a cruel dictatorship, is fighting its own people in the streets. After the death of Mahsa Amini, beaten while in the custody of the morality police, the city erupted with the pent-up fury of decades of repression. A beautiful Kurdish girl visiting Tehran, Mahsa Amini was stopped for wearing her head covering "improperly." Within hours of her death, people rushed outside, girls and women tore off their headscarves and chopped off their hair, screaming "Death to the dictator" and "Women, Life, Freedom!" A song with lyrics from protest posts has become the new anthem Baraye. Many others have now been beaten and tortured to death, including teenage girls protesting the tyranny. No matter what happens now, this generation will never forget.
Back in the summer of 1979, we spent the night on plastic airport chairs, confined inside until Iraqi Air flew us out to Damascus the following day. In the morning I was forced into a separate area to join the women's boarding line. It was here I saw that the obligatory black chador was not necessarily a constructed garment but rather like a huge sleeveless sheet. A woman near me was struggling to hold it around herself as her toddler child hung to one arm while she tried to grab her tickets and purse with the other. Suddenly the black cloth fell to the ground. She was wearing a pink mini dress and knee-high white vinyl boots, a perfect Barbie in the middle of a sea of black...and me—in my usual Indian smock, jeans, and hippy braids. We looked at each other for a slow minute, we women so variably covered, residing on this strange planet we call home.
Let us not forget that the Shah's police used to tear off women's chadors...in the streets...back when the coverings were forbidden.
So may we all be blessed today, wherever and however and whoever we are.
Women, Life, Freedom.
7 OCTOBER 2022