My last day in Tehran included sightseeing and an official dinner. I started out after an early breakfast of a feta-type cheese, flat bread, small cucumbers that Iranians eat like fruit, and assorted melons. I try carrot jelly, which is surprisingly good.
My tour guides today are Payam, Elham and Azin. Payam Pardis is in his mid-twenties and graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering. After working at a medical technology firm in Tehran, he joined Reza's dental insurance company. Payam does a wide variety of management tasks and is frequently in India acting for Reza in his BPO—business process organization—where they do support work for the dental insurance company. His English is first rate and he has an easy, charming way about him. Reza would like him to work in the Sacramento office also, but his visa has not come through.
Azin Arya is a quiet young woman just finishing her degree at Sharif. She will be heading to Paris to enter a telecommunications Ph.D. program. Azin is nervous about the language and the cultural change, although she has an uncle there who will provide a temporary home.
Elham Moore—no, she is not Irish, it is pronounced like moor—is finishing her engineering degree also. She will be applying to architecture school because she wants to do interior design. Elham is fashionable and fluent and points out the trends and cool neighborhoods.
These two young women are intellectually gifted, having both finished in the top 40 of the konkours exam taken by more than a million peers. They will be successful wherever they end up.
We take off for northern Tehran which abuts a snow-covered mountain range. It reminds me of Snowmass, Colorado, where the village hugs the base. Only here it is a city of 12 million flowing south from the slopes. The sight is marred only by the substantial smog.
The areas closest to the mountains are most fashionable and have the best air quality. It includes leafy shopping districts with some foreign goods. I am surprised at the strapless gowns and revealing fashions, but Elham says that one can wear what one likes at home or at private parties. Iranians of affluence party well, she assures me.
We head to a bazaar area where I ask for a spice shop. I am able to purchase saffron, a curry blend, a citrusy spice I have just encountered and a few other treats to bring home. I hope that the agricultural inspector at customs will approve. It is a fun experience being crowded into a small, fragrant shop with Iranian housewives.
We take off for the Shah's palace. It occupies several acres of parkland. It is white and simple, but large. I am surprised that it is poorly maintained and I wonder if that is a reflection of the feelings toward his regime, or just a budget decision.
Iran is blessed with mineral resources such as oil and gas, but also with marble. The interior of the palace has beautiful marble floors and steps throughout in many colors and patterns. The most magnificent furnishings are the Persian rugs which are of a size and quality I have never before seen. I see the dining room where President Carter had dinner.
Payam, Aziz, Elham and I have lunch on a terraced restaurant hanging on the mountain. It is a perfect day for eating outdoors and I enjoy their easy companionship and youthful energy. They laugh, overhearing the group of women office workers at the table next to us, who are all poking fun at their in-laws.
We head back to the Azadi Grand Hotel and I wish them well. They have all the tools for happiness and prosperity, and I hope that politics do not get in their way.
My co-traveler Reza and I spend the evening with the president of Sharif University and his top administrative team of deans and vice presidents. The occasion has a ritual air. We agree on the importance of continued contacts and discuss possible future trips. We are all hopeful that the door will open to our proposed student exchange, a small effort but perhaps a doable one given the current political situation.
I am determined to try.