TitleThe reason why I keep loving Tehran

The hope for a better tomorrow

11 Jan 2011

■ Shafagh Ashna
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Finally it rained after one month of waiting, and what rain it was. It was more a shower and unlike what “Sohrab” (1) said, we did not go under the rain as the rain drops were supposed to be acidic because of the air pollution of the previous days. So when we got out, we sheltered under the roofs of the shops, and when we were staying at home, we complained regretfully about what kind of autumn this is, as it rained only once. We were at home, turned on the radio and heard them talking excitedly about the rain of mercy sent down by God, so we thought maybe we made a mistake. Once more we looked outside through the window. It stopped raining and a cool wind was blowing and made the branches of trees hit the window.

It was already two weeks that Tehran was in a critical condition. Everyone was crying for rain drops to make this unbearable situation disappear. One of the grand ayatollahs had claimed that sending Iranian female athletes to the Asian Games in Guangjo, China, was the cause of the drought in Tehran. As we went outside in the streets, we started coughing and our eyes burned. Ministries and schools were closed for a few days. A plan of’odd or even’ was operated for the many cars in the city. They said they had charged the clouds and planes started to spray water in the air, but it did not help: we could not see more than a few streets ahead because of the pollution. People were talking non-stop about it, venting different points of view about the causes. Gradually however, people started whispering about some leaked news, telling that this time the air pollution had another reason than before. Tehran had always had the problem of pollution, especially during the cold months of the year, but this time it seemed the gas processed in domestic refineries could be the cause – the gas which was promised to be produced in only one week after we were faced with gas sanctions and which would makes us self-sufficient in gas production. I thought about Ahmadinejad’s phrase “’the sanctions have no effect’, and then I thought: yes, maybe no effect on him and his ministers and their families, but definitely on us, and I wondered why a whole nation should pay a price for the obstinacy of its leaders.

Why should a whole nation pay a price for the obstinacy of its leaders?

On one of those polluted days, we were talking in the taxi with the passengers: what if instead of all these calls and appointments for demonstrations for human rights and freedom, we could have a demonstration against this terrible air pollution? We are suffocating because of this polluted air – I was even scared to go out for a few days. In newspapers, they report around 4000 annual deaths caused by air pollution, and this is what they announce officially – the real number is probably much higher. 4000 dead people is not a joke. The total number of the martyrs of the Green Movement cited by any source does not exceed the maximum of 300, while 4000 people died from air pollution and nobody cares. Ultimately, they may shut down the city, but what if they keep producing this terrible gas? One passenger said we would have the same disaster as in England, and the other one said: let’s forget about the pollution, each year around 30.000 people die because of car accidents, that has lead to more dead than during the war between Iran and Iraq.

If we really consider Tehran as the symbol of civilization in Iran, then which characteristic about it can make us proud? Its highways and streets that are always blocked because of the heavy traffic? Its cultural centers where they only discuss the matters the regime likes to be discussed? Our cinema with those cheap movies that are being screened? What are the symbols of Tehran? Milad or Azadi Tower that are both lost in the masses of dust and smoke? Should we be proud of the city theater that now looks like a bankrupted commercial agency as its frontage is being violated by the metro and that huge mosque they are building just next to it? Or Café Naderi, about which we hear every day that it is sold out, or those book stores in Karimkhan or Enghelab streets where their showcases are filled with books that had their first editions years ago?

It has been a long time that I don’t like Tehran anymore. Sometimes I feel tempted to go to one of those villages around Tehran where there is even no gas for heating, and start my life there. Maybe I ask someone to make a korsi (2) for me and I get a stack of firewood in the yard, and during long autumns and winters I sit under the korsi and read books and breathe the fresh air and enjoy the blue sky…

There is only one reason keeping me dependent on this city and making me stay here and fill my lungs with the lead in the air, and that is the hope for a better tomorrow. What I saw last year was a demand for a relative improvement of living conditions. It seems that those 300 martyrs decided to improve a little bit their citizen rights, improve a little bit the situation of the media in Iran, improve air pollution, decrease a little bit the number of car accidents. It is right that the main slogan of the Green Movement was ‘where is my vote’ but all these little demands were also hiding behind that slogan. I want to stay in this mesmerized city and see the day in winter when the mountains are covered by snow and the peaks of Tochal and Kolak Chal are again visible, and Evin has become a nice valley where its small river is being fed by the snow, preparing for the roaring spring ahead.

(1) This refers to a poem by Sohrab Sepehri
(2) a type of low table found in Iran, with a heater underneath it, and blankets thrown over it

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