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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

Sweet Home Iran
April 05, 2000

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Hadi and Eva always enjoy each other's company
Welcome to an Iranian home. Take your shoes off at the door, sit down for a cup of chay (tea), some fruit, and some tasty sweets. Ladies, you can remove the scarves from your heads as well. You're in a private home now.

This is our host, Hadi, and his lovely wife Faribo. Watch out for their precious seven-year-old daughter Eva, or she'll run off with your heart! But wait, there's more, here's the newest addition to the household, baby boy Hotan, who was born just a few days ago. He's so tiny.

Oh, there goes the doorbell again. It's probably more family. Faribo's sisters and brother come over all the time to say "hi", lend a hand, and of course, drink some chay. It's still the holiday of No Ruz, so family visits are even more common than usual, and there are special No Ruz cookies to be eaten!

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Faribo sits next to her mother, holding baby Hotan, with her sisters and me in attendance
Here in Iran, the family is very important, and No Ruz is all about family. The roads are filled with families packed in cars, busses, and even piled onto motorcycles. Like Christmas time in America, everyone goes to visit extended family. All along the roadside, families are picnicking, while the kids are playing ball or frisbee.

Oh, great! It's Faribo's sister Miriam! She promised that she'd read my fortune in the sludge at the bottom of a cup of Turkish coffee. She's a really great dancer, too. She tried to teach us how to do all those fancy Persian gyrations, but we weren't very successful.

Ever since our first night here in Iran, we've felt so welcome. The families of Hadi and Amir Reza, our friends and guides here, have opened their homes and lives to us in typical, generous Iranian style. Getting a first hand glimpse into Iranian family life is extremely interesting and, at the same time, gives me a different perspective on my own culture.

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Miriam can tell I'm going to lead a good life, just from my coffee dregs!
For example, Hadi and Faribo's marriage is what some people would call an "arranged marriage." Hadi explained to me that his parents "found" Faribo, and then called him to come and meet her. They met several times and, after about a year, decided that it was right. "Your family knows you and loves you, so they are going to pick someone who is good for you," someone once explained to me. They did have a choice and had obviously met many times before, but their parents had a big hand in the arrangement.

I, on the other hand, cannot imagine my parents trying to find me someone to marry! That's not something that is done in my culture, because marriage is a very personal thing. Here, a marriage isn't just between two people, it's between two families. Faribo still sees her parents and sisters almost every day, and Hadi's family is close, too. The rate of divorce here is very low, and Hadi and Faribo really do seem happy. Is that just because the culture doesn't permit divorce, and people are just resigned to their fate, or do families really do a good job choosing their children's mates? Maybe it helps that the couples' ties are still so close to their extended family, so they always feel like they have support.

What do you think? Are you close to your family?

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Families fill this park with happiness and laughter
Yesterday, Faribo's two sisters and their mother took Kavitha, Eva, and me to an amusement park set up in a big park in the center of town. Hurray! Girls night out! There was a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, popcorn and cotton candy: all in a joyful family atmosphere. Iranian families, like the families in all the Muslim countries I've visited, tend to be large. Children are welcomed and loved, and the extended family helps in raising them.

Because of this love for children, the population of Iran is growing dangerously fast. In 1956, the population was only 19 million people. By the next census in 1996, it had risen to almost 70 million people. Today, almost half the population of Iran is under the age of 15. You can see this on the busses and in the streets. Kids are everywhere.


gyrations - circular or spiral motion
demographics - vital social statistics of a population
inflation - a large rise in prices

This young generation will start reproducing in the next ten years, and they will probably all want to have big families, as is their tradition. Then what will happen? People who study these things say that the population could top 110 million by the year 2015. Where will they all live? What will they all eat? Is there enough tea production in the world to satisfy 110 million Iranians?

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Eva and Kavitha look out over the miles of apartment buildings that are springing up to house the population explosion
Faribo's brother Karoosh, or Louie, as we call him, told me that the demographics are changing these days. "People used to get married very young. But now, because of inflation, it is very expensive to support a household. Now most people don't get married until they are 25 or older," he explained. Well, that should slow the population explosion down a little bit, anyway.

Oh, hurray, it's time to eat! We'll have to continue this little chat later, okay. In the meantime, check out what's for dinner!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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