This I Believe

Cyrus - Orinda, California
Entered on December 27, 2007

It’s 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. A group of giggling girls try on skimpy outfits, alternating between applying makeup and brushing hair. A group of tough talking boys brag about their plans for the night and place bets on how many girls they can get. The occasion for all this preparation is a party that the teens have been eagerly anticipating for days. This may seem like a typical Saturday night in the teenage American life, but the setting of this story is Iran.

Much of the coverage that Iran receives is negative. The media’s main focus is on President Ahmadinejad’s remarks about Israel and the nuclear program that has remained controversial for several years. But what most people do not see is the life of average Iranians: young men and women who attempt to make the most of their lives.

This past summer, I took a trip to the nation labeled as part of the “Axis of Evil”. For the first time I saw the lives of a misunderstood culture fighting for freedom. Men wear designer jeans and tight shirts; most gel their hair in a spiky form. Women have taken great lengths to try to obtain freedom: the required veil that has stereotyped most Iranian women is slowly being pulled lower and lower to reveal more hair. Women cake themselves in make-up skin-tight jeans are prevalent in today’s Iranian society. Much of this, however, is to the dismay of Iran’s hard-line conservative government.

In recent months President Ahmadinejad has led a surge to crack down on “immoral” behavior. Many young men and woman have received citations from the religious police. Many others, who have had prior offenses, were fined or imprisoned as well. As I walked down the streets of Isfahan, a bustling tourist attraction, I was pulled aside by a policeman and a woman who covered her body with a thick black blanket. I pretended like I did not know Farsi, but they harassed my cousin. They claimed that men could see the back of her neck, visible through her veil. They also believed my cousin was not following proper conduct by not wearing socks. After receiving a thorough lecture, my cousin received a citation that she tore up immediately and threw into the street.

As I walked down the streets, I noticed everyone staring at me as if “American” was stamped on my forehead. They seemed to be very interested in why an American would be in Iran. I asked many people what their opinion of America was. The answer was not one that I expected. Every person displayed admiration for American people and culture.

Improvement is noticeable throughout Iran. Today 65% of Iranian university students are women, a growing sign that women are fighting their way to gain high-profile careers. Women are also slowly discarding the veil that has been a requirement since 1979. Although Iran has ways to go, it seems as though improvements are on the way.