Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ohh the SHAH's house

Just about every morning driver makes a note of a long expanse of crumbling white wall on the way from my hotel to work. Today one of them knew enough English to tell me that the wall surrounded the Shah's old palace. Ahhh.

The week has been long. I'm on my fourth straight day of classes, with one more tomorrow and things have caught up to me. The tendency among the students to question and challenge everything has taken a bit of a toll. A lack of sleep, averaging about 5 hours a night and only 4 last night have made me a bit impatient, but one more day and I'll have a break and the rest of the stretches will be no more than three in a row. While I'm confident at this point that I'll look back on it all as a positive experience, I must confess that the last couple of days have tested my resilience. Heading out this evening for a gentle (by my standards) swim and a meal in a restaurant. If someone told me it looked like I'd lost weight I wouldn't argue with them. All I need is one pizza the first night back. Rebooked my ticket for a departure ten hours after I finish classes but I'm on the waiting list at the moment. Hopefully things will shake up a bit in the next three weeks.

For all the wear the last few days have been, the friendliness has been quite comforting. A door is never reached without someone insisting that I go first and whenever I head from my room to the cab in the morning the attendant at the hotel always insists on carrying my bag down and laying it on the back seat for me. There is also a gentleman at the university who brings a bottle of water during the afternoon class and he always greet me with a traditional hand to the chest a slight bow that has humble grace to it. No greeting is complete without a handshake either.

This afternoon in class, one of the women made a point of telling a partner in her small group of five that she was a feminist. It started over a passage that used "them" instead of "he," "he/she," "s/he" or any other combination that I might have left out. The man raised the question and when I did my best to explain how lazy we are and how we don't use he anymore, the woman said that them would do because she was a feminist. It has been quite interesting and refreshing to see how active the women in the class are. I have been hesitant to put them in situations where they might be uncomfortable, but at the same time try to give them their fair say. They have taken full advantage of it and impressed me.

The long dark cloaks seem to be reserved for older or more conservative women. There was one photo opportunity begging for my attention last weekend when a women in the long black chador stood in front of the display window of an appliance shop that was complete with all the modern amenities including, of course, a stainless steel range. The car was too fast...

Younger women get by with just a scarf over their head and in some cases it is barely on. The silk serves more as a frame to their streaked hair and heavily made-up faces. There has been a relaxation of standards in the country and despite the hejab or scarf they are doing their best to play as big a role in society as possible.