Monday, June 29, 2009

Personal Dateline: Tehran, Iran 1966

Iran has been in the news a lot lately. It means more to me than some, as I have friends with family connections there AND I lived there for 3 years or so in late 1960s. My father was a radar tech in the Air Force. We lived in the Tehran Hilton for months and then lived in several houses. This wasn't base housing, but large, mud & camel-hair walled houses with large yards protected by high walls and dry moats (ditches along outside of wall). Each house sat seperately sorrounded by its own walls. I don't know if the houses were loaned or given to use by USAF or what. 

The Shah was in power and Iran was a US Ally, more or less. As a young boy, most of my impressions are of places and experiences, not politics. I remember hot, dry summers, the noise camels make when they don't want to move (one day we heard a god-awful noise and we finally had to go up on the roof and peek over the wall to see - it came from a kneeling camel being prodded by a frustrated camel driver), an Irianian merchant hawking "strawberries - strawberries" outside the wall, the baji who used to help around the house, the un-americanized bathroom that was just a hole in the floor (fortunately "real" toilets had been installeed), a dead mule left to lie where it fell, fly-covered meat hanging in stalls, unleavened bread stacked and tied to the rear fender of the delivery boy's bicycle, roadside ditches in Tehran that ran like open sewers (saw someone brushing his teeth crouched at the ditch while nearby another man was taking a  leak), the taste of chlorine on any fresh produce (mom would soak veg & fruit in bleach solution), the taste of long-frozen hamburger patties from the BX, Easter parties at the officer's club (?), image of giant scorpion in tile on the bottom of the club swimming pool, swimming in a small, rectangular goldfish pond in our first home, riding into Tehran with my Dad when he had to go meet with locals (and being left to wait inside locked brown stationwagon - and how scared I was when two uniformed Iranians asked me to open the door so I could move the car from blocking a driveway), learning farsi from our schoolbus driver (some of which I can still speak today, enough to say "hi, how are you" anyway), throwing cookies off the 28th (or was it 38th) floor balcony of the Tehran Hilton, lots of three-wheeled vehicles on the road, seeing snow on the mountain peaks while we roasted down below, a HUGE HUGE wolf that got  into our compound (what the walled-in yards were called) when the solid metal gate was accidently left open, occassional sightings of hyenas and wild boar and things that came down out of the mountains in winter, large vultures sitting by the side of the road, giant spiders, TAS - Tehran Amerian School - with all grades from K - 12 plus more - a long bus ride.

These are the impressions of a young boy uncluttered by the facts or politics and why Americans were there. I have loads more of these little snapshot impressions that seem to have been indelibly imprinted in my memory banks. There is also much richer detail than I've gone into here, where I've just used the memory montage as my tool of expression. I only have to pause and picture one thing and it all comes flooding back. It was a truly fascinating experience.

We never learned what my father was really doing in Iran. The cover story was working on (secret?) radar installations, and maybe that is all it was. Later in life, he wouldn't say. It was either a real secret or he just wanted to portray a little drama in our lives. We left in 1968 or 1969, when internal unrest made being an American in Iran an unwise arrangement. I believe the Shaw was overthrown or exhiled or something. I do remember the grownups talking about how American families were being asked to leave. My father stayed on longer. 

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