Friday, May 4, 2007

Inflight journal

Throughout all my preparations—all the worry and warnings of friends & family—I had not felt any foreboding about visiting Iran. I had a ready answer to every expression of worry from others, and I felt totally sanguine about my plans.

But once I was actually in the plane, with a boarding pass that said "Amsterdam - Tehran," such rational reasoning started to waver.

In my journal, I wrote:

Different ways of thinking about my destination chase each other across my brain - each a flickering projection on a blank screen. The shadowy sworn enemy... Islam as utterly alien....

Then again, after all my years of experience with Japan and my travels throughout Asia, I felt

the familiarity of a culture where one is supposed to refuse tea three times before accepting it, and where "aunties" can generate hours of humiliating conversation out of the question, "Why aren't you married?"


When they woke us up for "breakfast," I began to worry about a more immediate concern: when am I supposed to cover up?

As discussed below, I had put a great deal of thought into how to cover appropriately, and had my raincoat and al-amira hijab in my flight bag.

But nobody had mentioned exactly when to put all this on.

I had read of a journalist who visited Iran just after the revolution, who had to cover as soon as the plane entered Iranian airspace—the flight attendant even gave her bandaids to cover her pink-polished fingernails.

I wondered if they would stop serving alcohol and all the lovely Dutch flight attendants would put on hijab. I kept glancing surreptitiously at women around me, writing in my journal,

Interesting to be among all these expats and their complicated journeys home. Many seem cosmopolitan, bejeweled, made-up, coiffed. The former king's cronies? How, and to what degree, will they change before we land?

None of them seemed to be covering up, so I waited.


I felt the plane shift and begin its descent into Tehran, and I decided not to wait for others any longer. I pulled my raincoat and al-amira out of my bag. The coat was easy; the hijab was tougher.

Pulling on the hijab, my first concern is - is it supposed to feel so tight under my chin? Damn my gigantic head. I get out the mirror and try to tuck everything in.

I wonder if people think I look silly, and think about whether and how often the men around me have seen an al-amira put on - what is it like to see a stranger do it? Amusing? Alluring? Embarrassing?

What about the moment when, frustrated, I pull it off and start over?

Who knows what anyone is thinking. A mysterious forest of opaque faces. We all keep our thoughts to ourselves.

I was afraid to try to catch anyone's eyes for a smile over my predicament. All my preconceptions had vanished and I felt that I had no idea, at all, what to expect from any Iranian or from the trip itself.

When I finally felt that I couldn't do any better with the hijab (still surprisingly tight under my chin), I took out my journal and wrote:

Landing. Excited. Nervous. This is it. Time for the fabulous intercultural exchange, kidnapping & psychological torture, beautiful historic artifacts, accusations of espionage on all sides, warmhearted welcoming population, and the launch of the American war.

Projections, projections, I have a slide show going.

Then I settled in to wait—there was nothing else I could do.

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About this blog

Although I didn't end up blogging while I was in Iran, I still want to share my experiences and impressions. I'll (hopefully) write each day about one day's experiences (much as if I were writing while on the trip, although inevitably the perspective is different). I'll also write separate posts to collect and summarize my thoughts and impressions on specific topics (i.e., the revolution, the government, women, etc.), based both on observations and on prior reading.

Comments Policy

Comments are welcome; offensive comments will be deleted. It's my blog, so I will be the sole and arbitrary judge of what is offensive. People seeking to insult (or advocate harm to) others can post that crap on their own blogs. Rationale: I have visited too many interesting blogs whose comments are a waste of space, full of ridiculously petty arguments and traded insults. (Boring!) Comments whining about the policy will also be deleted.