Every night now, thousands of cars are driving uptown, converging on Vali Asr Street, in a show of support for their favorite candidate.
The Moussavi drivers have green ribbons on their antennas; the Ahmadinejad ones, Iranian flags.
Every hour or so, he emits the kind of deep sigh that isn't really intended for him but is more a signal to the rest of us that he's been on better flights.
As the plane descends, my dad and I begin mapping out all the things we want to see and do in the next few days. " I look out the window, leaning into his space, and see thousands of little lights. Who they are and why they'll be listening is unclear, but apparently government-owned hotels take a profound "interest" in their guests.
There's the bazaar, the Shah's palace, dinner with my relatives, voting in the presidential election (I can do it! ), and then—And just like that, his footrest is forgotten, his too small seat forgiven; he's completely focused on making sure I'm as excited as he is for me. Phones are tapped, and the people at the front desk keep a close eye on who's sipping tea in their lobby.
"I have lived outside of Iran for twenty-seven years," he says. I have traveled all over the world, and Tehran is the only place where my feet feel like they have found the earth." He lifts his window shade and nudges me. To what extent any of this is true I have no way of knowing, but the possibility alone has the effect of making me feel like a paranoid shoplifter every second I'm there.
Why participate in an election for a government they didn't support? No, four years ago, people stayed home, took their veils off, played music, watched banned programs on satellite television, cursed the leadership, cursed the economy, and managed to create lives for themselves away from the government. Lives within lives, that's what you had to do. Now the entire country has watched as opposition candidates levied the same allegations against Ahmadinejad that the people had been uttering to themselves in private—that he's botched the economy, that too many social freedoms have been stripped, that foreign policy has turned self-defeating.
Because for the first time in Iran's history, a sitting president has taken part in televised debates."Did you hear what Karroubi said?
It's where my parents were born, where my Middle Eastern features wouldn't cause confusion ("Are you Indian? He has only been back twice, alone, since leaving thirty years ago. The man sitting in the window seat beside me doesn't say a word for the first seven hours of the flight. Partnership in life, with limitless love and passion. The plan was to spend a week in the motherland, exploring Tehran, meeting long-lost relatives, maybe even debunking some cultural stereotypes (hello, neocons). "), and where my compulsive tendency to knock on wood would be inherently understood (Now, after twenty-seven years of wondering what my motherland is like, I'm sitting in a plane somewhere over Turkey, headed for Tehran.The flowers on our table at breakfast, the smoke detector in our room, the humming A/C vent by the window: all potential locations for bugs and nanny cams.The only time I feel remotely at ease is when I'm watching (state-run) television, because, I assume, the secret agents watching me through the vent would approve.
He's Iranian, in his forties, and round enough to test the limits of his seat belt.