Down with the USA? In Iran, not so much.
As our group was walking from our visit to the nearby Armenian Christian Church to catch a cab to Imam Khomeini’s house, I finally saw the infamous building with a mural showing the American flag and dropping bombs that reads “Down with the USA.” I was obviously not surprised to see it, as I and probably many of you have seen photos before and saw the building in Rick Steves’ recent show about Iran. Seeing the building right in front of me after more than a week spent traveling around Iran, it seemed like an interesting artifact and nothing more. Its message is so incongruous with the incredibly warm welcome I have received on my trip. As any of you who have been following my trip on the blog will know, I have never been treated unkindly by an Iranian since I have been here; in fact, they have been more hospitable than in any other place I have traveled. I truly hope my experience, which I will work to share with as many people as possible when I return to the US, can convince people to explore the other side of Iran, and ultimately to come find out the truth for themselves in its beautiful cities.
We moved along to northern Tehran to visit the former residence of Imam Khomeini, a revered figure in Iran who was central to the Iranian revolution in 1979. Like at the airport, the security lines were segregated by gender, only the security was even more stringent. I received a pat down from a very friendly woman who welcomed me to Iran. She went through every single item in my bag, asking me to turn on both my camera and video camera to demonstrate them to her. She squeezed the Cliff Bar I had in my bag and told me she didn’t understand what it was. After I explained it was a kind of snack, she was satisfied and sent me on my way, again welcoming me to her country.
On our walk up to the main house, we were greeted by a flock of young schoolgirls and their teacher, and David quickly pulled out his peace balloons to hand out. The girls giggled and yelled things like “hello!” “what’s your name?” and “goodbye!” and posed for pictures. When we finally approached the house, it was a stark contrast to the lavish palaces we had seen in every city we visited. The only room we could see, through a window, looked like a very simple living room with a couch, a table, some books, and a pair of slippers. The house is connected by a tunnel to a small room where Khomeini would address visitors from a chair on the balcony.
We ended our day with lunch in a beautiful outdoor restaurant in the mountains of Tehran. After walking up through narrow streets full of vendors selling fruit, we climbed three flights of stairs to an open deck where we sat on raised Persian rugs under a tree, with the mountains behind us and a rushing river below us. That area of town is where young couples go to spend time alone, and we saw several young Iranians on dates, eating food and smoking hookah (or “hubble bubble” as they call it in English here). It was a truly beautiful scene. As one of our companions said when taking a photo of us, “in fifty years, you will look at these photos and say ‘those were the days.’”