April 26, 2000
Sure, I've done things wrong in my life, but for the most part I've tried to live my life in a positive way, hoping to help rather than harm whenever I could. So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived here in Iran and found out that I was a part of the Great Satan. I never thought that I would be associated with something so dreaded, something believed to be so evil. But I guess that is how some people here in Iran perceive me....at least that's what I'm told. Let me explain.
Wow, I guess I can't blame Iranians for seeing the U.S. as the "Great Satan," but I had nothing to do with any of that. I was too young to even know about most of those events.
In my country too, Iran has quite a negative image. All I knew about Iran was that they had attacked the American Embassy and kept lots of innocent people hostage for over a year! I had seen many images of their Supreme Ruler, the Ayatollah, on the news--that fierce looking, bearded man in the turban. He always seemed so stern and scary looking on TV and always spoke out against the U.S. He was always surrounded by throngs of supporters holding signs saying "Down with the US" and "Death to America," so all Iranians must be anti-American fanatics right?
Wrong. Just like I had nothing to do with bombing that civilian plane in 1988, most Iranians had nothing to do with holding the Americans hostage back in 1979. It's been over 20 years since the revolution and yet, the governments still haven't figured out a way to come to a mutual understanding and peace. But governments don't make a country. The people do. And from what I've seen over the past five weeks here in Iran, Iranians are far from the hateful, fanatical people I so wrongly imagined long ago. And I'll let you in on a little secret too: They don't all hate Americans either! Far from it. In fact we've found quite the contrary. It is so rare for Americans to come visit Iran that when people find out we're from America, usually they are incredibly pleased to meet us and curious about us. We've been invited to stay in people's homes, to join complete strangers for picnics, and have even had parties thrown merely so friends and relatives could meet the Americans that were visiting! It's been wonderful. Persians are among the sweetest and most hospitable people I have ever met.
First, the guard at the Department of Foreign Affairs didn't want to let us in to get our visas extended when he saw Brian's American Passport. Then a man drove by the window of our tourist bus and made a very rude gesture at Monica. Hmmmmm....Those are strange things to come across in Iran, where people are usually so overly nice, but we still didn't think much of it. Then we drove by the old American Embassy, and that's when it really sunk in. The old American Embassy, or The Den of Spies as it has come to be known in Iran, has been closed since the hostage crisis over 20 years ago.
But these were only three minor instances during our five week stay here. Every Persian that we've actually met face to face and spoken with has been extremely kind and interested in knowing more about America. Even the government is changing. The recent elections brought in a majority for the Reform Party, which has spoken about trying to establish better relations with the United States and about making the country more liberal in general. Both the Iranian President Khatami, and America's own President Clinton have called for cultural exchanges aimed at bringing down the "wall of mistrust" between the two nations.
I'm very grateful that I have had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country, and now more than ever before realize the importance of cultural exchanges. Too often all we know about another country comes from TV and magazines and is only about the governments. You can learn so much more about a culture from the daily life of the people, than you ever could from the actions of presidents. (The people that make up a nation have many more riches to share than a president or his or her parliament.) I truly hope for those of you that have been reading our dispatches throughout our stay in Iran that your "walls of mistrust" have been broken forever, opening the way to true communication and understanding.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Kavitha - The Jesus of Iran
Monica - Failure, and What We Can Learn from It
Team - Punishing Iran: 20 Years and Counting
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