Everyday Iran: A Provincial Portrait of the Islamic Republic 9780755608720, 9781786739483

“Iran is a country which, despite its extensive coverage in the media, is often regarded as ‘mysterious’, ‘exotic’ and ‘

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Table of contents :
Front cover
Author biography
Title page
Copyright
Dedication
Contents
List of Illustrations
Introduction
1. 2007: First Impressions In and Around Shiraz
2. 2008: Exploring Fars Province
3. 2009: Election Week
4. 2011: Political Repercussions
5. 2012: Sanctions and Their Impact
Epilogue
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Figures
Back cover
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Everyday Iran: A Provincial Portrait of the Islamic Republic
 9780755608720, 9781786739483

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Clarissa de Waal is a research associate at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Newnham College. She is the author of Albania: Portrait of a Country in Transition (I.B.Tauris, 2014).

EVERYDAY IRAN A Provincial Portrait of the Islamic Republic

CLARISSA

DE

WAAL

Published in 2015 by I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd London • New York www.ibtauris.com Copyright q 2015 Clarissa de Waal The right of Clarissa de Waal to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by the author in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. References to websites were correct at the time of writing. International Library of Iranian Studies 50 ISBN: 978 1 78076 908 0 eISBN: 978 0 85773 663 5 ePDF: 978 1 78673 948 3 A full CIP record for this book is available from the British Library A full CIP record is available from the Library of Congress Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: available Typeset in Garamond Three by OKS Prepress Services, Chennai, India Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

This book is dedicated to the individuals and families I got to know in Fars province. Their readiness to communicate and their generous friendship made possible this account of everyday life in provincial Iran.

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations

ix

Introduction 1. 2007: First Impressions In and Around Shiraz 2. 2008: Exploring Fars Province 3. 2009: Election Week 4. 2011: Political Repercussions 5. 2012: Sanctions and Their Impact Epilogue

1 17 66 96 114 154 182

Notes Bibliography Index

184 188 190

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS All images are the author’s own

Figure 1. Ashayer tent Figure 2. Inside ashayer tent Figure 3. Ashayer wedding Figure 4. Village houses Figure 5. Village house interior Figure 6. Women with hookah (qaylan) Figure 7. Folded bedding Figure 8. Setar player Figure 9. Village weavers Figure 10. Naan bread making Figure 11. Slaughtering a goat

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Figure 12. Little girls on a doorstep Figure 13. Winnowing Figure 14. Qanat Figure 15. Pomegranate tree Figure 16. Bazaar pomegranates for sale

INTRODUCTION

Why Iran? Perceived as at once exotic and frightening, Iran has never ceased to arouse interest in the West. A theocracy to Western secularised eyes is fascinating in itself. Rule by clerics so powerful that they can impose hejab and hobble women’s rights is all the more striking where such a large proportion of women are educated and in many cases politically active. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index in 2008 placed Iran 145th out of 167 countries, classing it as ‘authoritarian’. The 2011 index saw Iran fall to 159th place.1 Human rights infringements by the Iranian state are chilling and attested. Jailing and flogging peaceful protesters, hangings (including minors) and torture are well documented. Women and men are not equal in the eyes of the law. Religious tolerance even towards non-Shi‘ite Muslims is limited, and certain faiths, most notably Bahai, are brutally put down. Newspapers and television are censored. But despite its repressive character Iran is not a totalitarian state. The system of government maintains aspects of republicanism, and no single institution and no one person holds absolute power. Iranian authoritarianism is fragmented. Authoritarian regimes and how they are sustained have interested me since living in communist Hungary for two years as a small child. The father of my best friend in Budapest was taken from his home in the middle of the night and ‘disappeared’. My mother had to follow

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circuitous routes when visiting Hungarian friends to avoid endangering them. When I began research in Albania in 1991 the effects of isolationist totalitarianism were pervasive. In 2007 I started research in Fars province in south-west Iran with two objectives. Firstly, I wanted to shift the focus away from the supposed nuclear threat and the foreign media’s sometimes voyeuristic preoccupation with black-chadored women and turbaned mullahs. I wanted to focus instead on the everyday lives of ordinary Iranians and the degree to which the theocracy impacts on them socially, ideologically and economically. Secondly, I wanted to identify if possible the factors contributing to the survival of theocratic authoritarianism. Daily life as I experienced it with families in Shiraz, capital city of Fars, and in the provincial towns and villages, revealed inconsistencies and limits to the theocratic embrace. Satellite television was banned by the government, but literally millions of Iranian households, including the rural based Qashqa’i, settled and nomadic, owned visible satellite dishes. American television channels such as Persian Voice of America and CNN were widely watched. The large, educated middle class had access to social media despite official restrictions, and over 42 million citizens were internet users by 2012.2 Opium was smoked with impunity despite being illegal. There were sporadic crackdowns by the authorities but these acted more as irritants than deterrents. Asking in shops for illicit DVDs of films by banned directors did not have to be done in whispered secrecy. In public places there was less looking over the shoulder when airing politically subversive views, little of the fear and paranoia palpable in Stalinist regimes of the past. In 2008 I travelled in a collective taxi from the market town of Marvdasht to Shiraz. One of the passengers started criticising the Iranian government for its lack of democracy, its denial of growing secularism and its pathologising of sexuality. ‘The only democratic country in the Middle East is Israel,’ he declared. The speaker was an Iranian doctor, a lung specialist recently returned from practising in the United States. What did I, an English woman, think of the Iranian government? he demanded. I hedged, unsure as to the affiliations of the others in the taxi and afraid of implicating the friend I was with.

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What if one of those present was a member of the Basij, the staterecruited vigilante guardians of Islamic morality and ideological conformity? They would not have approved of this doctor at all. I was beginning, however, to understand why the theocracy, repressive and brutal in many respects, cannot be totalitarian. Unlike in Stalinist communist states where all the jobs were state jobs and every citizen officially employed, surveillance here cannot be exercised from top to bottom; there is no clear chain of command. Although a large proportion of the economy is still centrally planned and hugely overstaffed, the public sector has been shrinking since the mid 1990s and now employs only about 16 per cent of the country’s workforce. There are twice as many workers in the private sector (31 per cent)3, though much of this sector is now in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard, the Army of the Guardians of the Revolution, commonly referred to as the Sepah. The Sepah, while closely allied to the government, enjoys a substantial degree of autonomy thanks to its vast financial and military clout and its powerful intelligence network. In addition to this non-totalitarian employment structure, unemployment in Iran is notoriously high. According to the Statistical Centre of Iran4 26 million citizens in 2009 were aged 15 to 29. Of these the jobless rate was estimated to be 30 per cent for young men and 50 per cent for young women. The number was actually higher than this, as jobs come and go while the figures change less often. In a word, the government’s pro-natalist policy of the 1980s has led to a catastrophic mismatch between job opportunities and job seekers, with the new entrants outnumbering the retiring by six to one. 800,000 young people were entering the job market each year in competition for 200,000 jobs provided annually by the government.5 The continuing mismatch leaves a lot of the working-age population either working sporadically in the private sector or the informal sector, or out of work. And here lies one possible clue to the state’s low-key presence in certain aspects of everyday life. If repression were directed at the whole population rather than selectively at regime critics and criminals such as robbers, rapists and drug peddlers, such a large number of unemployed potentially disaffected youth could pose a serious threat to the state.

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One might well wonder that social unrest has not been more of a threat. Here an important factor has been the exit strategy open to citizens. In contrast to the shoot-to-kill policies of regimes like that of communist Romania or Albania, Iranians were able to leave the country. Indeed, Ayatollah Khomeini is quoted as saying in 1980: ‘They say there is a brain drain. Let these decayed brains flee.’6 Later, when the numbers leaving had soared, efforts were made to restrict emigration. But it was not long before the exodus was seen as a safety valve despite the brain drain, one of the highest in the world. An estimated 200,000 graduates leave Iran annually to work abroad, and according to the IMF one in four Iranians with college degrees works outside Iran.7 What about the potentially disaffected from lower-income groups who are in danger of becoming restive or worse? Here the huge revenues from oil and gas enabled the government to turn rebels into recruits for state support in the form of the Basij militia, the Revolutionary Guard’s law enforcement body. Joining the Basij brings the promise of perks including access to government jobs, access to social housing and non-competitive entry to university. If government-condoned emigration and Basij recruitment have acted as safety valves reducing social unrest, opium addiction probably acts as another. In 2006, according to a UN assessment Iran had the highest per capita opiate use in the world.8 Iranian official figures indicate about two million opium addicts. According to unofficial estimates the figure may be as high as six million. The number of households (of all classes) I came across where opium is smoked suggests that the numbers are not getting any lower. Government programmes for dealing with drug addiction have varied and are most active in towns.9 The prevailing one in the countryside seems to be laissez-faire: if religion does not work for those who stay, let opium take care of the rest. So the theocracy is not a totalitarian state; there are some limits to its control and some escape routes for citizens. It is nevertheless a brutal dictatorship whose authoritarianism, I would argue, has been sustained to date by means of its policy of selective repression in conjunction with its access to income from oil and gas. It helps that

INTRODUCTION

5

the welfare infrastructure functions to the benefit of most citizens and that there is not a high level of inequality.10 The government is heavy handed where criminals and would-be reformers – critics of the regime – are concerned. Outside the home the hand of the state is highly visible as government rules dictate dress and behaviour in the street, on the bus, in the workplace, the school and university. The morality police are officious if these rules are not observed, rules largely based on the government’s interpretation of Islam with regard to gender behaviour. For example, men sit in the front of a bus separated from the women, who sit at the back. Women must cover their hair, men must keep theirs short. Schools and universities are increasingly gender segregated. Controlling women and women’s dress may well enlist the support of many men as well as of those particularly religious women mockingly referred to by the less religious as ‘hezbollahi’ – Islamic zealots. But while criminals and those who publicly criticise the regime must be punished as severely as possible, as an example and deterrent, keeping repression selective minimises the numbers antagonised and helps to account for the surprisingly laid-back atmosphere of daily life which I found in Fars province between 2007 and the evening of 12 June 2009, election day, and which I found again in 2011 and 2012. Election week itself provided another illustration of this discrepancy between full-blown dictatorship and government with democratic elements. In many respects the run-up to election day was democratic. For the first time in Iran there were live debates on television between the candidates. In a debate between the reformist candidate, Mousavi, and the incumbent Ahmadinejad, Mousavi accused the president of incompetence and corruption in his domestic policies; a hitherto unthinkable type of public confrontation. There were huge opposition rallies and lively public discussion over the widely watched televised debates. True, during the week before election day Green Party supporters received worrying texts warning voters to take their own pens to polling booths and to vote in schools not mosques. But compared with the run-up to the many flawed elections I had observed as an election monitor in places ranging from Kyrgyzstan to Russia to Albania to Azerbaijan, much

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was positive: the campaigning candidates all had access to television; their posters had been equally displayed; rallies had been held by all sides. My feeling was that the incumbent party believed at this point that it would win and that this apparently democratic run-up would serve to underline the democratic nature of the procedures. It was not until the next day when results were announced unfeasibly early that hopes for change were dashed. In Shiraz over the following days government forces killed a number of students in the university dormitories. In 2010 a student taking part in an anniversary protest in Shiraz was thrown over a bridge to his death by the same forces. Amnesty International records 252 acknowledged executions for 2010, with an unacknowledged further 300. For a while after the election the dynamic between citizens and the state changed. With a large and visible number of protesters presenting a challenge to authority, repression became a lot less selective. In response to the massive force brought onto the streets by the government on 11 February 2010, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the opposition’s tactics also altered. The strength and size of the government’s force was easily able to prevent protesters from assembling en masse. Instead citizen behaviour turned to the kind dubbed by the political scientist James Scott ‘weapons of the weak’: marking banknotes with the opposition’s colour green, for example. Although initially the state decreed that these notes would not be acceptable currency, the volume of defaced notes led to the ban on them being suspended. Switching on every available electrical appliance at an arranged time to overload the electricity network and cause a blackout was another instance of silent protest. The theocracy’s record for violating human rights in 2011 was no less grim, with 360 reported juridical executions and more unreported.11 There were well over a thousand arrests for participation in political protests and for publicly expressing antigovernment views12. Journalists, human rights lawyers, bloggers, students, were imprisoned and tortured. Presumably these were signs that the government felt threatened; that the disputed 2009 election and fear of contagion from the Arab Spring had combined to

INTRODUCTION

7

undermine the regime’s faith in its survival. Hangings and imprisonment did not of themselves indicate increased fear, however; they had been very numerous for years. But putting the opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi under house arrest (virtual imprisonment) without trial in February 2011 suggests that human rights abuses were now more defensive; more politically targeted than the earlier exercise of violence intended as a general exemplary deterrent. In 2011 the withdrawal of state subsidies seriously affected the budgets of the large middle class (despite the introduction of a direct cash payment to every household – yaraneh – discussed in Chapter 4), while the rural poor continued to receive some government assistance. Were middle-class citizens in Fars province miserable or resentful enough to become restive? Discussions with people, young and middle-aged, in Shiraz and surrounding towns and villages made clear that rebellion was not in the offing. On the subject of contagion from elsewhere, people pointed to crucial structural differences between Iran and the other countries in question. They continued to believe that the government’s access to revenue from oil and gas could be used indefinitely to recruit the poor and potentially disaffected, thus precluding regime change. Moreover, Iranians’ experience of war, whether of the 1979 Revolution or the eight-year war with Iraq, must act as a strong deterrent to engaging in any kind of conflict. What the 2009 elections and aftermath demonstrated was a desire for greater freedoms, not for a revolution. Moreover, the very fragmented nature of Iran’s authoritarianism, the lack of a single body to target, might be a source of its strength rather than a weakness. Whose jugular do you go for, the President’s, the Supreme Leader’s, or the Sepah’s? The Sepah have a foot in religion, in the military and, most importantly, a huge stake in the economy, formal and informal: construction firms, ports, smuggling, oil fields, and the telecommunications system with all the surveillance opportunities this affords. Interestingly, in the summer of 2011 what most struck me was the laid-back atmosphere. The most immediately striking feature in Shiraz was women’s dress, lightweight smocks in pretty colours worn

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over jeans or trousers, and loose scarves worn half off the head. Two years before, these girls would not have got past the morality police. The other striking difference was the now virtually universal access to satellite television. Satellites had been tolerated for some time with only sporadic cutting down of dishes. But in 2011 more and more households were watching American Persian channels or BBC Persian. Even Qashqa’i nomads had generators and satellites outside their tents giving them access to these channels. Did these increased freedoms indicate that the government was losing its grip? Or were they a laissez-faire safety valve promoted by Ahmadinejad in a bid, as his critics claimed, to extend his political base? Relations between the different power groups that make up the government were notably fractious in 2011, especially between Ahmadinejad and conservative clerics. Khamenei veered between reprimanding the President, dismissing some of his ministers, and urging unity and tolerance. Employment statistics in June 2011 were the subject of a very public argument between the President, who was playing them down, and Parliament. Were these fatal cracks in a wounded government? Would Iran be the next Middle Eastern country to have a revolution? Or did Khamenei’s mooted abolition of the post of president rather suggest a tightening of the Supreme Leader’s control? 2012 saw the imposition of much stiffer sanctions by the United States and the EU as well as the threat of an attack by Israel. During the weeks I spent in Fars province in November 2012 I did detect a change of mood on the part of the people I had got to know. They were angrier and more anxious. They were seriously affected financially by the sanctions as inflation rose and prices doubled, in some cases even tripled. They saw the government as economically incompetent and, increasingly, as un-Islamic. Unemployment was rising, some firms and factories were closing, others were not paying their employees. The wealthy, including those in power, were flourishing despite, and in some cases because of, sanctions. Through their access to foreign currency they were importing luxury goods such as expensive cars while the less well-off were struggling to make ends meet in the face of static wages and rising prices: ‘They pay us in rials but prices are as if in dollars.’

INTRODUCTION

9

Were the sanctions aimed at forcing an agreement from the government on the nuclear question or were they intended to instigate a people’s revolt? Are they likely to succeed on either front? The large middle class might be increasingly angry with the authorities but believes that as long as the Sepah is in control there is no chance for a successful uprising. More importantly, my impression is that a majority of citizens would rather stay in their still comparatively comfortable zones than risk entering into another conflict. I have heard the Iranian diaspora who hope for regime change described disparagingly by some Shirazi as ‘those rich people in the States who think they know what’s best for us’. Admittedly these same Shirazi would be the first to emigrate to the States if they could, but not because they think US foreign policy is good. On the contrary, the US and EU are seen as hypocritical and trouble stirring because they demonise Iran for its putative nuclear plans while turning a blind eye to India, Pakistan and Israel’s actually existing nuclear weapons and non-compliance with the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty. The West labels Iran as human rights abuser number one while cosying up to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and selling them arms. In fact, many Iranians amongst my acquaintances believe that the Western powers are set on instigating war between the Arab states and Iran in order to ensure control over a geopolitically critical area of the world. The reason these Shirazi would emigrate to the States if they could is because they despair of the impasse between Iran and the US ever being overcome. The present level of sanctions is partly a result of the USA’s 2012 pre-electoral fear that Israel would attack Iran without agreement from the US. Israel’s threats are based on political strategising, not on a fear that Iran will attack them. Now that Obama is no longer afraid of losing the election, can he act differently towards Israel and revert to his initial unclenched fist tactics with Iran? Tightening sanctions or threatening attack is more likely to provoke aggressive obduracy on the regime’s part, and increasingly repressive measures against citizens. A dialogue must take place between Iran and the United States. There must be an end to a policy of threats and isolation if a constructive resolution is to be achieved. And it is up to the more

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powerful player to negotiate a resolution, since humiliating the weaker side serves only to antagonise.

The Qashqa’i As a prelude to the narrative proper I start with a background overview of the Qashqa’i nomads, as they play a significant role in my account.13 There are other nomadic groups in Iran such as the Bakhtiari, the Shahsevan, the Lor, the Basseri and the Baluchi, but Fars province is home to the Qashqa’i nomads. Out of an estimated 576,000 Qashqa’i, about 147,000 still migrate between winter and summer pastures, the rest now sedentarised. Traditionally nomadic pastoralists, the Qashqa’i, a Turkic-speaking tribal confederacy, were for centuries a politically significant force in Iran. Before going to Iran I had made up my mind not to include the Qashqa’i in my research. I recalled the irritation of the anthropologist Brian Street when he was working on education and literacy in Iran in the 1970s. Which tribe was he studying, colleagues would enquire, as if any other topic would be lacking in anthropological cachet.14 Street invokes the anthropologist Dale Eickelman: ‘A partial explanation for the disproportionate emphasis upon nomadic pastoralism continues to be the romantic attraction to some anthropologists of nomadic life and virtues.’15 I was determined not to focus on the romantic or the exotic. However, as I got to know urban Qashqa’i, settled village Qashqa’i and nomadic Qashqa’i, I realised that they provided a very pertinent illustration of the discrepancy between the state’s authoritarianism and the freedoms on the ground. The Qashqa’i also illustrated the falseness of the stereotypical archaic/ primitive tribal nomad. Some Qashqa’i held public sector jobs in transport, the police force, the state gas company; practised as lawyers, dentists, doctors, taught in universities in Iran or in the West. Some were sedentary, and farmed, some were nomadic herders at the same time as trading in cars and owning land. The nomads disregarded theocratic conformities such as fasting and prayer. Asked point blank if they were Muslims, some male nomads might say they were and then laugh and say: ‘But we don’t pray; God is for after

INTRODUCTION

11

death’; or, in the case of women, laughingly reject prayer altogether. The settled Qashqa’i, urban and rural, were also non-conformist with respect to religion and state ideology. Some might claim to be Zoroastrian while others said that Islam was only suitable for Third World countries and should not in any case be mixed with politics. Across the board people were fed up with unemployment and high food prices and attributed these troubles to the theocracy. As I spent more time with different Qashqa’i households and tent dwellers my interest in their current practices and survival strategies grew. I also talked to non-Qashqa’i nomads, some Persian-, some Arabic-speaking. The lifestyles of nomads in Iran have been pronounced doomed for decades, yet they persist and are practised still by large numbers. Nomadism continues in many cases for lack of an alternative, but for others I found it was a chosen economic strategy. In particular, families who had been able to establish a house in the lower-altitude winter pastures continued to take their herds to the summer pastures for three or four months of the year. There are some points worth clarifying regarding both vocabulary and the structure of these groups. First the vocabulary: nomads, pastoralists, transhumants, ashayer. Nomads have no fixed home other than a tent, and move seasonally according to their needs – food, grazing and water for their herds. A pastoralist raises and herds livestock. Transhumance is the seasonal movement of people and livestock, typically to higher pastures in summer and lower pastures in winter. Transhumant herders have a permanent home usually at the lower altitude. Ashayer is the word used in Iran for nomadic pastoralists who move seasonally, live in tents for at least part of the year and who may or may not have a permanent home. The Qashqa’i are not culturally homogeneous but rather a conglomeration of clans of different ethnic origins, so that the label ‘Qashqa’i’ or ‘Turk’ has a socio-political meaning rather than an ethnic one. Similarly, the word ‘tribe’ (toyfeh) here is a political not an ethnic concept indicating that the solidarity of a group of families or clans (tireh) arose from their allegiance to a common chief, rather than from genealogical or ethno-linguistic links. Hired shepherds, camel drivers and field labourers who worked for the Qashqa’i became integrated

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into the tribe as members. I was given varying accounts as to how many Qashqa’i tribes there are and what their names are, perhaps due to differing views as to what differentiates a tribe from a sub-tribe. Lois Beck says there are five large tribes and a number of smaller ones.16 The ones I encountered were Amaleh, Darreshuri, Farsi Maidaan, Kashkuli Bozorg, Shesh Boluki and Kashkuli Kuchek. The strength of this confederacy prevented the state from subordinating or assimilating the Qashqa’i, who were able to maintain a high degree of local political, economic and cultural autonomy, governing through indigenous leaders. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries foreign powers such as Britain and Germany had growing interests in Iran. Fars, an area rich in natural resources, straddled the area of communication between the Persian Gulf and major population centres, thus becoming an area of strategic importance to British interests which were expanding via India and the Persian Gulf. The fact that the Qashqa’i migration routes lay through this territory led to their leaders becoming players in international politics as well as in national politics. The tribal leaders became state officials, received land grants, and acted as essential agents of the state, collecting taxes, organising armies, maintaining law and order. However, in the 1930s their power was perceived by Reza Shah as threatening. He began to campaign against the Qashqa’i, exiling, imprisoning or executing the leaders. In order to put an end to nomadism he confiscated their pastures and imposed military rule on them. In response, the lower Qashqa’i leadership became more politically active in defence of their identity and cultural and linguistic traditions. With the Shah’s abdication in 1941 after the Allied occupation of Iran, Qashqa’i leadership succeeded in reviving pastoralism so effectively that by the 1960s the tribal leaders owned much of the agricultural land cultivated by non-Qashqa’i farmers. The Qashqa’i continue today to migrate between winter pastures on the plains near the Persian Gulf north-west and south-east of the town of Kazerun, and the summer mountain pastures over the Zagros Mountains near Shiraz and north and south of Semirom. Each family has a herd of about 70 goats and sheep. In the past the clans had wheat and barley plantations in the low-altitude winter areas (garmsir/

INTRODUCTION

13

qishlaq), and apple trees and vegetables in the higher-altitude summer areas (sardsir/yailaq). Today many have citrus-fruit gardens in the garmsir and wheat in the sardsir (garm is warm and sard is cold in Persian; qishlaq and yailaq are the Turkic terms for the winter and summer pastures).

The Iranian political system – fragmented authoritarianism The easiest initial way to gain some understanding of the Iranian political system is to see it pictured in diagram form. Both the BBC and Al Jazeera websites have helpful interactive diagrams. The political structure consists of nine elements, five of which have names familiar to Westerners: Parliament, President, Cabinet, Judiciary, Armed Forces. The remaining four are: Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, Expediency Council and Supreme Leader. Of these nine elements four are unelected; namely, the Guardian Council, Expediency Council, Judiciary, and Armed Forces. The Assembly of Experts, Supreme Leader, President, Parliament, and Cabinet are elected bodies. The fact that there are elected bodies indicates that the system has democratic elements. Thus the 86-member elected Assembly of Experts has the power to appoint and dismiss the Supreme Leader. However, the candidates for the Assembly of Experts, who must all be clerics, are vetted by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body, six of whom are theologians directly appointed by the Supreme Leader himself, the other six of whom are all jurists who are nominated by the Judiciary and approved by Parliament. The Judiciary is not independent, as its head is appointed by the Supreme Leader and constitutionally controlled by the Supreme Leader. Its job is to enforce the Islamic penal code. The Expediency Council is an advisory body for the Supreme Leader who himself appoints its 34 members, all of whom are prominent religious, social and political figures. The Expediency Council mediates disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council can approve or reject candidates for Parliament, and is not required to give a reason for rejection of individuals. In 2004 and

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2008 it rejected a third of the candidates. Furthermore, it has to approve all bills passed by Parliament, and can veto them if it considers them inconsistent with the constitution and Islamic law. The 22-member Cabinet (or Council of Ministers) is chosen by the President and must be approved by Parliament. There are 290 members of Parliament, who are elected by popular vote every four years, but as we have seen the candidates must first be approved by the Guardian Council and, if seen as a threat to the status quo, can be banned from standing. The President is elected for four years and can only serve two consecutive terms. He represents the republican component of Iran’s political system. While this cannot overrule the Islamic element, the President’s power to influence domestic policy and to be the public face of foreign policy is substantial. He controls economic policy and determines government expenditure. He is second only to the Supreme Leader in the hierarchy. However, his powers are limited constitutionally and circumscribed by the clerics – reforms he may want to implement can be vetoed by the Guardian Council. Moreover, it is the Supreme Leader who controls the armed forces, defence policy, foreign policy and the media (radio and TV). The Armed Forces includes the Revolutionary Guard, a military/industrial conglomeration whose role includes protecting the Islamic order with the help of the paramilitary Basij, which has branches in every town and many villages. One can see from the above that on the face of it the office of the Supreme Leader is an elective office, since the clerics of the Assembly of Experts who elect him are themselves elected. However, as Saı¨d Arjomand points out in his analysis of Iran’s constitution,17 those who make up the Assembly of Experts, the clerics/mullahs, come from a very small social group privileged over the majority of the lay population, which makes this more like rule by clerics than rule by the people. In fact Arjomand calls the Supreme Leader ‘a clerical monarch ruling in the name of God with more extensive powers than any constitutional monarch or elected president in the world’.18 Khamenei has been Supreme Leader since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. This view is slightly modified in Karim Sadjadpour’s analysis. He writes:

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Neither a dictator nor a democrat – but with traits of both – Khamenei (the current Supreme Leader) is the single most powerful individual in a highly factionalised, autocratic regime. Though he does not make national decisions on his own, neither can any major decisions be taken without his consent.19 The authors of Mullahs, Guards and Bonyads describe this network of political power centres, the overlapping powers and hiatuses which make up the Iranian state structure, as ‘strategic incoherence’20 – a revealing phrase that highlights why foreign powers find it difficult to negotiate with the Iranian government. The Revolutionary Guard of the Islamic Revolution (Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Eslami) (IRGC, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) was established following the 1979 revolution. A branch of the military, its purpose was to protect the Islamic order of the new government. It oversees the Basij volunteer militia, which acts as its law-enforcement body. Since 1979 the IRGC or Sepah has become a major political, military and economic force. It controls Iran’s strategic missile and rocket forces, the oil, gas and nuclear industries, the ports and black-market enterprises. It collects intelligence and intimidates dissidents with the help of the Basij. The Basij-e Mostaz’afin (Mobilisation of the Oppressed) is under the command of a senior cleric and reckoned to number at least 90,000 active members with another million or more reserve volunteers. The Basij was established by Khomeini in 1979 as a people’s militia of civilian volunteers. They played a big role in the war against Iraq, where they died in their thousands to be honoured as martyrs. They are used to indoctrinate all sectors of society: university students, tribes, villagers, factory workers. They have branches in almost every mosque, with male and female battalions. They counter political opposition, fight ‘westoxification’, repress student demonstrations, bring dissidents to heel, ‘prohibit vice, promote virtue’, check hejab and raid parties where alcohol drinking is suspected. When it comes to elections they are deployed to mobilise voters. In return for their services Basij members are rewarded with official benefits such as admission to university or access to government jobs.

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Practicalities Thanks to visa constraints this book takes the form of a traveller’s account rather than an ethnography. I could only get a visa for a month at a time so research involved a succession of one-month trips between 2007 and 2012 rather than one extended period. Participant observation and systematic recording of data are common to both forms, as is extensive reading around the subject. In the case of Iran reading is particularly rewarding as large numbers of Iranian academics and commentators live outside Iran and write in English, providing a rich fund of analysis based on insider and outsider knowledge. An anthropologist needs to speak the main language, and travel writing benefits when the traveller can communicate directly with the locals. I spent time learning Persian, albeit inadequately, but regrettably not Turkic, the Qashqa’i mother tongue. Through a Cambridge acquaintance from Fars province I set up an initial stay in Shiraz. Thereafter who I got to know was down to chance and opportunism. Once I had met a number of families I divided my time between different households, urban and rural, devout and nonobservant, returning to get to know them better on each trip. One chance meeting was particularly opportune as it provided an entre´e into Qashqa’i life. The character who made this possible, Mr Bolvardi, enabled me to meet and get to know numerous relations of his and his wife’s family who lived in different parts of the province. This was important given time restrictions on each of my trips. It meant that though I could not spend months living in different locations getting to know people, I could at least renew relations with these families on each return trip. I followed the same practice with the families I had met independently more easily, since they lived in or close to Shiraz. My aim has been to provide a view from the ground of the commonplace and the degree to which everyday life is impacted by the theocrats. Throughout the book I have changed the names of the individuals I met to protect their identity. For the same reason I have changed some of the village names.

CHAPTER 1 2007:FIRST IMPRESSIONS IN AND AROUND SHIRAZ

First impressions On the flight from London to Bahrain I found a cockroach in my otherwise delicious meal. I drew the cabin crew’s attention to it and the Greek catering manager came along to reassure me that eating cockroaches is not bad for the health. A bottle of champagne was offered by way of compensation but this would have been confiscated on arrival in alcohol-free Iran. So with no sense of irony, they presented me with a book on airline cuisine, a heavyish hardback which I abandoned en route. In the evening we arrived in Bahrain to be knocked back by the heat as we walked across the tarmac to the airport building for transit to Shiraz. In the Ladies I swapped my shirt and sweater for a manteau (in my case a long-sleeved below-the-knee black smock) worn over jeans, and got out a headscarf ready for arrival in Iran. Women may not appear in public without head- and body-covering in Iran even if they are foreigners getting off international flights. Swarming onto the small plane for Shiraz, oblivious of seating instructions, were dozens of Iraqi women pilgrims carrying bulky blue plastic bags and dressed in voluminous black chadors. The steward gave up trying to control them, and the few non-pilgrims were guided to the first-class area to avoid the chaos.

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At Shiraz airport there was no waiting young man despite carefully made arrangements. The Iraqi women returning from Mecca sat in rows in the baggage hall waiting for their next flight. They were very cheerful and smiled at me a lot in a friendly rather self-mocking way as if they thought a foreigner might find their black ranks funny. I wandered out of the arrivals hall, which had no barriers, to look for my host. Outside there were little groups of people seated on the ground picnicking in the dark. Eventually Mr Jafari, a short, dapper 35-year-old, turned up, indicating as far as I could understand that the plane had arrived late and he had got bored with waiting. We drove to a suburb of Shiraz and descended into his open-plan basement flat. My bed was in a semi-partitioned area without a door. Segregation of the sexes evidently ended above ground. While he watched a Korean film dubbed at full volume into Persian until two in the morning I wondered how to escape from these less than satisfactory living quarters. The next morning Jafari took me to see various sights in the centre of Shiraz. Our means of communication were extremely limited as I could speak very little Persian despite having worked at it intermittently for several months beforehand. However, outside the gates of the gardens called Bagh Eram he made clear that I was not to speak as we would get in cheaply if he said I was a relation. Foreigners pay more. The same strategy was enacted two years later when I revisited the gardens with an older man who told the ticket man that I was his wife. On that occasion the ticket man said disapprovingly: ‘You shouldn’t have married a foreigner’. The gardens are a delight, full of tall trees, palms and cypresses, flowering shrubs, bougainvillea and plumbago. They are said to have been named after a legendary garden in southern Arabia built under the orders of a King Shaddad to compete with paradise. A few Iranian tourists were photographing each other in these beautiful surroundings. There is a very pretty three-storey palace pavilion in front of which is a long stone pool. Later I learnt that these gardens and the house within them had belonged to the Qashqa’i tribal leaders in the nineteenth century and again, following contentious relations between the tribal leaders and the Shah, in the 1940s and early 1950s. Now they belong to Shiraz University.

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We then drove to the tomb of the fourteenth-century poet Hafez, Iranians’ favourite poet, who lived most of his life in Shiraz. Hafez’s poetry is sensuous, celebrating love, wine, roses and nightingales. But he was more than a romantic. He was a social critic as well, berating the mullahs of his time for their hypocrisy. In a poem (here translated by Elizabeth Gray in a collection of Hafez’s poems called The Green Sea of Heaven) we read: Preachers who display their piety in prayer and pulpit Behave differently when they’re alone. It puzzles me. Ask the learned ones of the assembly: ‘Why do those who demand repentance do so little of it?’ It’s as if they don’t believe in the Day of Judgement With all this fraud and counterfeit they do in his name. As resonant for Iranian society today is another Hafez poem (translated by the Persian scholar Edward Granville Browne) written after a prohibition on alcohol was introduced in fourteenth-century Shiraz: Though wines give delight, and the wind distils the perfume of the rose, Drink not the wine to the strains of the harp, for the constable is alert. Sadly, though there are many beautiful gardens and parks in Shiraz, this city of nearly two million is traversed by major highways filled with continuous streams of cars and almost devoid of traffic lights. The city of poets, wine and love has become a city of menacing traffic and breathtaking pollution. Somewhat mitigating this disappointment are the surrounding Zagros Mountains rising clean above the 1,500-metre plateau on which Shiraz stands. On this first day I saw picnickers on the grass verges beside the main roads, many with tents. Some days later, walking in a wonderful tree-filled, fountained park I saw tents belonging to visitors who were camping to save on hotel bills. Aspects of the nomadic tradition live on even in the city.

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The heat was stifling and I was overdressed, so I reduced the layers to the manteau-like shirt over jeans before going to lunch with the uncle of a Cambridge-based Iranian friend. The uncle was a gentle kind man who lived, as do hundreds of thousands of diaspora Iranians, in California, and only came to visit every three or four years. His siblings and their children, some from Tehran, were enjoying an extended family reunion. The hosts were a well-off middle-class family who had just moved to this newly built suburb of Shiraz. They at once told me to take off my manteau and scarf, a sign of their sophistication as well as care for my comfort. As I was only wearing the shirt, I could not take it off. But they kindly insisted on lending me a too big low-cut top which the hezbollahi would surely have frowned on. We ate at a long table, as opposed to on a cloth spread on the ground, again a sign of cosmopolitanism, and were treated to the usual splendid platters piled high with rice plus dozens of delicious side dishes. With one or two exceptions the people I subsequently came to know well had not embraced this cosmopolitan style in their homes. After lunch, two student nieces (over 60 per cent of all university students in Iran are women) were summoned to come and meet me. They were sophisticated young women, well informed and Western in their manners, who spoke good English. It was suggested that one of them might work for me as interpreter and fieldwork assistant. I wrote down her telephone number, not wanting to seem dismissive, but doubted if she realised what was involved – how many village houses she would have to spend the night in, how many outdoor lavatories she would be exposed to. I really needed someone who would not be perceived as an urban outsider, and this being Iran a man in any case would be more useful. Jafari’s family came from a different social stratum: in oldfashioned Western class terms, small-town petit bourgeois. Most of his relations lived in Marvdasht, a busy market town (pop. 130,000) in the plain, 45 kilometres north-east of Shiraz. Marvdasht has a petrochemical factory but is primarily an agricultural centre, its huge expanse of plain planted with wheat and maize, sugar beet, tomatoes and cucumbers. Nearing the town I was startled by large blood-red

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heaps in the fields beside the roads. These turned out to be cattlefeed, red as a result of mixing the fodder with tomato pulp. The town was teeming with villagers selling their fruit and vegetables beside the main street. Most of the streets behind the main road are so narrow that cars have to be parked elsewhere. I was to spend the day with Jafari’s sister’s family. At a one-storey house in a very narrow lane, we found Jafari’s sister and nieces with a cousin and aunt. Inside, the living area of the house consisted of separate spaces semipartitioned but without doors. There were no chairs or tables. Instead the living rooms were carpeted all over, and against the walls there were bolster-shaped cushions. In this house the kitchen was separate across a hall. Visitors were expected to keep on their hejab. The girls were very friendly and forthcoming and asked lots of questions. The elder daughter, Rokhsaneh, in her twenties, spoke some English. Their first question was: Is Iran Third World? So they were worried about Iran’s image. In Shiraz I had seen none of the chaotic street life or begging associated with so-called Third World countries. The traffic was scary but the roads were good. Literacy and life expectancy were good; a very high percentage of university students were women; the birth rate had reduced drastically over the last decade. No, I said, without knowing what constituted Third World in their minds, but comparing what I had seen in two days of Colombia in the 1980s and Albania in the early 1990s. The girls were pleased. Pleased that they need not feel embarrassed about their country. Next they wanted to compare England and Iran. They asked about married women who work, villagers moving to towns, drug addiction, culture, hair colouring and make-up. ‘We use make-up much more than you English and you drink coffee not tea,’ they asserted. They did not like the fact that Marvdasht had been overrun, as they saw it, by villagers. They were very clear as to villagers’ inferiority, though less clear as to how they were inferior. Ideally, they would have preferred to live in Shiraz, a city. This was exactly in tune with attitudes I had found in 1970s provincial Greece. When I got a turn at asking them questions it led to the older daughter saying she liked drawing and painting. You must come and see her paintings, cried the younger sister and cousin, she is really

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talented. The pictures were on the walls of the room where their father was now praying. But shouldn’t we wait until your father has finished praying? No, and nor was quiet required. Laughing and chatting, they exclaimed loudly over each picture while the father continued imperturbably with his prayers, holding the round clay tablet, the mohr from the holy city of Kerbala, to his forehead. At lunchtime the son together with the eldest daughter and her husband arrived. The son worked in his father’s factory nearby. Here vegetables were pickled and flowers distilled for their scent or to make golab – rose water. The daughter’s husband ran a stationery shop while the daughter did dressmaking, but only, it was stressed, for the family, not for sale. After lunch mattresses were unrolled on the floor and we all had a rest followed by a tea-drinking session. The girls and I went off to see the stationery shop leaving the father still sleeping underneath a beautiful black-and-white patterned sheet, which covered him from head to toe. I hoped to find notebooks with similar typical Persian patterns at the stationers. But the shop was full of school bags and notebooks, American style with Mickey Mouse motifs. The theocracy seems to have no problem with the Great Satan’s aesthetic influence. Eventually from under the counter at the bottom of piles of more saleable articles the proprietors uncovered some pretty patterned notebooks made by Azadehco. State tolerance of Americana struck me again at a confectioner’s in Shiraz where alongside the characteristic national sweetmeats were cakes decorated with ‘Happy Birthday’ messages in English. The municipal van collecting recycling stuff in Shiraz plays the ‘Happy Birthday’ tune to announce itself. Perhaps the politicians and clerics believe aesthetics to be dissociated from dangerous ideological influences, or perhaps these are just examples of strategically turning a blind eye. I recalled the word ‘westoxification’, gharbsadegi. It means cultural pollution through subscribing to Western cultural values, or indiscriminate borrowing from and dependence on the West. I concluded that the clerics must be more worried about Western ideas of democracy and secularism than Western popular art. After visiting the shop, we went with Rokhsaneh’s brother to the family’s factory. Here we peered into dozens of barrels of torshi –

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pickles – some filled with cucumbers or aubergine or cabbage or a mixture, others with flowers whose essence was being extracted. On the way back we bought faloudeh, like ice cream but made of rice flour with rose water, and ended up at the grandfather’s whom we found praying in the yard in front of his house. He stopped to be introduced and embarrassingly I forgot not to shake hands (a woman does not shake hands with a man). He resumed his prayers and we went inside, where we found his son-in-law, Rokhsaneh’s father. On subsequent occasions when visiting other families in Marvdasht I was struck by the village-like closeness of family life, where relations were constantly popping in and out of each other’s houses. The traditional preference for first-cousin marriage is clearly a big factor in this closeness; in-laws are usually cousins with whom one has grown up. Some days later I returned to spend the day again with Rokhsaneh’s family. On this occasion Jafari, whose job was installing lifts, had to repair a lift before driving to Marvdasht. He dropped me off at his office to wait, briefly, he said. This was quite an ordeal for his hospitable colleagues and for me as my Persian was very limited, and Jafari stayed away for three hours. Trying to make conversation, I asked one of the younger colleagues where he lived and was told in an old district in Shiraz called Sang e Siyah (‘black stone’). He looked nonplussed when I asked if it was pretty, until his boss explained that ‘old’ for foreigners is historically interesting and therefore nice. Again, this was reminiscent of 1970s Greece, a period when wooden balconies, stone houses and tiled roofs were replaced with concrete. I asked them to tell me about newspapers in Shiraz – which were government, which independent. There were three government papers and two private ones. I learnt later from Persian VOA television that Iran had seen a huge drop in newspaper readership over the past decade, a drop attributed to state censorship. After this topic both sides had grown so fed up with the tardy Jafari that we gave up conversation and his colleagues returned to what looked like a fairly desultory work schedule. On the drive to Marvdasht we stopped to speak to an acquaintance, introduced as a farmer because Jafari knew that I was interested in village economy. This man owned a lot of arable land

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round Marvdasht but lived in Shiraz. The land was cultivated by Afghan workers. Jafari then took me to see his own piece of land on the outskirts of Marvdasht where he had a hectare of cucumbers, which were being picked by six very thin workers who turned out not to be Afghan as I had assumed, but poor locals. They picked amid raucous shouts and laughter, evidently not awed by their mostly absent employer. The foreman knew much more about the enterprise, its water requirements and income, than Jafari. Afterwards we visited a small factory for oxygen and metal parts belonging to a brother of Jafari’s. The brother said there was big demand for oxygen at local hospitals, and the business was very profitable. The surrounding yards of both brothers’ enterprises had been thoughtfully planted with young trees, but their pleasant aspect was marred by the slummy effect of litter left to lie about, also characteristic of picnic areas in and around Shiraz. Jafari’s sister had been praying before opening the door to us, so she handed us over to her daughters and resumed praying a little way from where we were sitting. Prayers are in Arabic and follow a set routine, like Latin prayers in the Catholic Church or second-century Greek in the Orthodox Church. Later Rokhsaneh asked me if I would excuse her while she went to pray. Her younger sister was instructed to play the setar (a three-stringed instrument) to me in the meantime. The sister, 14, had been learning the setar for a year and must have been a good pupil as her playing was a pleasure to listen to. After lunch, mattresses were unrolled and we all lay down to sleep, the father again completely covered by the beautiful black-and-white printed sheet. Marvdasht is close to Persepolis and we had arranged for Jafari to drive us there that afternoon together with a school friend of Rokhsaneh’s, Farzaneh, who was very eager to meet an English person. She arrived wearing a tight-fitting magh’nai, a wimple-like head-covering, which she had arranged so that it completely hid her hair. Women working in state organisations are required to wear this head-covering, but elsewhere many girls and women allow their hair to show, whether they are wearing a scarf (ru sari) or magh’nai. Those who make a point of hiding their hair, especially if they also wear a

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chador, may be ironically classified by the less religious as ‘hezbollahi’, meaning ultra-orthodox or, depending on the context, ostentatious toers of the government dress policy. Farzaneh spoke some English, rather stilted but with a good accent, each word separated very precisely, and told me: ‘I assure you Rokhsaneh and I are intimate friends.’ Persepolis was founded about 518 BC as the seat of Darius the Great’s Achaemenian Empire and extended over the century by his son Xerxes. In Persian it is called Takht-e Jamshid, meaning Throne of Jamshid (Jamshid was a mythical Persian king). Darius was a relative of Cyrus the Great whose own palace was at Pasargad a few kilometres away. One approaches Persepolis along a wide tree-lined avenue at the end of which, on a raised platform, is the most stunningly beautiful site, dominated by huge, radiantly towering columns. The large complex of palatial architecture is reached by a long double staircase of shallow steps. The site backs on to the flinty honey-coloured mountainside, high up in which are some tombs. The precision of the carvings on the walls beside the staircases, the wonderfully vivid portrayals of visitors from vassal states processing, some with animals, camels, lions, donkeys, are unforgettable. Even the relentless pursuit by Farzaneh with a cine camera, determined to record this meeting with an English person, could not detract from the spellbinding magnificence of the place. I begged Farzaneh to stop and look at the marvels around her, but to no effect. And I myself was doing something I disapproved of. To further exoticise the photographs I was taking of the site, I wanted to capture tourists wearing chadors to give what was ultimately a false idea of Iran to the folks at home. There were no foreign tourists and there were very few chador-wearing Iranians. The majority of women were, as in Shiraz, wearing manteaus and headscarves. That evening at dinner there were at least a dozen of us seated on the floor round the sofreh covered with wonderful dishes. The grandfather whose hand I had regrettably shaken was there with his wife. He sat opposite me across the cloth at quite a distance, but not too far away to miss the half inch of uncovered neck between my manteau and my headscarf. I caught him peremptorily signalling to his wife who was sitting next to me to see that I ended this improper

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exposure at once. I irritatedly consigned him to the ‘hezbollahi’ as I readjusted a safety pin. We talked about Persepolis. Rokhsaneh’s father said that it might seem magnificent to me but in fact it had been robbed and vandalised and was sadly no longer the glorious place it had once been. He clearly was not referring to Alexander the Great’s destruction and looting in 330 BC . But perhaps he was referring to the attempts to wreck Persepolis by post-1979 revolutionary fanatics such as Ayatollah Khalkhali, one of Khomeini’s henchmen and chief justice of the Revolutionary Court. Fortunately in that case local villagers and Qashqa’i herders encamped nearby fought these vandals off. Khalkhali subsequently wrote a book in which he set out to vilify Cyrus the Great, portraying him as a liar, homosexual and tyrant. A bit rich coming from a man known as the ‘hanging judge’ who executed so many people that on suggesting to Khomeini that he would like to become prime minister, Khomeini allegedly said: ‘If I make you prime minister you’ll execute half the country.’ Or, Rokhsaneh’s father may have been indirectly criticising the government for its, some would say wilful, neglect – the lack of maintenance and looting insufficiently checked by the authorities responsible for the site. Wilfully neglected because pre-Islamic Persepolis is viewed ambivalently by the ayatollahs, who fear it as a nationalist distraction from Islam (and further tainted by the Shah’s notorious extravaganza in 1971 to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire).

First acquaintance with Qashqa’i Mr Jafari had told our mutual Iranian friend in England that he had found a village teacher who spoke English. I might be able to stay in the village and start on a pilot study of village life and economy. One day, following a number of increasingly desperate-sounding telephone calls, Jafari drove me about 50 kilometres west of Shiraz to a village called Chero. This region is largely the summer pasture area of the Qashqa’i pastoral nomads who have been migrating here from their winter pastures for several hundred years. In Chero, after more worried enquiries by Jafari, a young man joined us and guided us to a

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nearby village, Aliabad. On the way we passed through Hasanabad, a large village of mud-brick houses. Always on the lookout for a fieldwork village, Hasanabad immediately caught my attention as interesting. It turned out to be an old village, 400 years old. The majority of the inhabitants were said to be Tajik. Surely the inhabitants were not from Tajikistan? It turned out that Persian speakers, in contrast to the Turkic-speaking Qashqa’i, are referred to as Tajik. ‘They work in the fields, unlike us,’ I was told, with a suggestion that not working in agriculture was better – exactly the view pastoralists have traditionally had of tillers of the land. Only in this case, these settled pastoralists themselves had land but employed Afghans to till their now extensive fields and orchards. Fifty or so years ago some Qashqa’i had settled in Hasanabad, Chero and Aliabad at a time when the government was campaigning to end nomadism through sedentarisation. A mile or two through the hills beyond Hasanabad we passed an imamzadeh, a shrine to a saint, on top of a hill just outside Aliabad. Aliabad had originally been the centre of these Qashqa’i summer pastures, but as elsewhere in the area some Qashqa’i had begun to build houses here 40 or 50 years before. They had planted orchards and ceased to migrate to their lower-altitude pastures in winter. Some I came to know later had built houses in the winter pasture area nearer the Persian Gulf. Between the two areas separated by several hundred kilometres there was regular toing and froing, despite some sedentarisation at either end of the route. Weddings were attended from both areas, and a bride might move from low to high or vice versa. In Aliabad, in a huge field next to the village, we found a large number of people including groups of women wearing long fullskirted brightly coloured dresses. We had arrived at a pause in wedding proceedings just after lunch. Our guide took us to a house where we found his parents, aunt, elder brother and newly acquired sister-in-law. The father, Jengis, though he was not a teacher and did not speak English, was the man Jafari had heard about. Apparently he acted as a guide to foreign researchers studying the Qashqa’i. The year before, a Japanese researcher had visited. A researcher would pay

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to spend a few days with Jengis, during which time he would be taken on nomad encampment tours – exactly the sort of thing I was planning not to do. Many years before, Jengis had worked for an English firm that had come to Fars province to install electricity pylons. From this period he had learnt a little English, most of which he had forgotten. But some phrases had stuck, as emerged when he later told me how well he got on with the malek, the local big landowner, Sohrab Khan: ‘Too much like – sime sime brothers.’ Jengis belonged to one of the families who had settled 40 years before, and he now owned orchards and fields and fewer animals. Jengis’s sister hospitably insisted that we have lunch in her house and we were each given a wedding lunch packet. We sat on the carpet to eat while Jengis’s sister and wife, friendly straightforward women, each smoked a qaylan, a hookah. I noticed that the groom, who was smartly dressed, was wearing a tie despite this being un-Islamic. After lunch the new bride, whose own wedding had occurred the week before, took me back to the wedding field, where a huge circle of men and women were now dancing to a drum beat and waving handkerchiefs like little flags. There was a separate tent for the musicians, whose instruments included brass and drums of different sizes. The women when not dancing mostly sat under a canvas cover while the men wandered around. There were quite a lot of diaspora Qashqa’i back for visits: a man who’d studied mechanical engineering in Munich; one with a pizza business in Denmark; a lorry driver for Tesco in the north of England; several men who worked in Sweden, the USA or Canada. The scope for work in these villages was clearly limited, particularly in view of the very large size of the average village family. I was introduced to a lively American Qashqa’i woman, Azadeh, who had gone to Boston 15 years before for medical treatment and settled there. This was a stroke of luck for me as she was a great connector and translator to the women who were very curious about the kha¯reji, the foreigner. Having established that I was married with two boys and three girls (detail as to number and sex required), one woman asked me if my husband beat me. Her husband beat her with wood – ba¯ chub – and she wanted to know how she could stop this. Through Azadeh I asked other women if their husbands beat them.

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Only two said yes. ‘The others are lying,’ said the first woman, which led some to say: ‘Well, they don’t beat us with a stick but they are always right about everything – we can’t argue with them.’ These women looked about 35 – 45. ‘Would it be better if you went out and worked?’ I asked. It might be, they said, but they prefer us to be in the house. At this point there was a stir and all the women started ululating, a wonderfully exotic sound of trilling from the throat and with the tongue, while the men fired guns. The bride had arrived and the dancing started again. Later I walked around the field with Azadeh, and was approached by many men who, like the women, were very eager to talk to the kha¯reji. How was the economy in England, what did I think of Iran? What was my job, what did my husband do? Amongst the crowd was a genial-looking burly man originally from Aliabad, who had studied aeronautics in Germany for eight years and, as I later discovered, had a weakness almost amounting to mania for foreigners. Before returning to Shiraz with Jafari, I arranged to go and stay with Jengis and his family later in the week. Staying with a large village family where no one spoke any English must be a good way to practise Persian, and however little I understood I would still be able to observe how the family lived. After another night of Korean film dubbed into Persian, Jafari went off to his job installing lifts. The German-speaking Qashqa’i, whose name was Bolvardi, telephoned to ask if he could come round and take me to meet his family. Jafari returned with him and kindly made lunch for us – he was a very good cook – and Mr Bolvardi turned out to be an uninhibitedly voracious eater. He and I caught a bus, the first bus I had been on in Iran. Bolvardi explained that I would sit at the back while he would be on the other side of the metal barrier that separates males from females. The system recalled the buses I had ridden in as a child in Atlanta, Georgia, where blacks sat at the back and whites at the front. Subsequently I spent a lot of time in buses, where I learnt some interesting things about hejab and local mores. Sometimes there is a conductor who collects fares from front and back; more usually the female passenger gets off at her stop and runs round to pay at the front. Despite this segregation a nursing

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mother can uninhibitedly breastfeed her baby even if there is a male bus conductor passing through the women’s part of the bus, and even if the mother is sitting in full view of the male passengers on the other side of the bar. Breastfeeding is disassociated from the sexual, a good example of culturally divergent attitudes to the body, especially in view of the imposition here of hejab, which makes so much of hair as a sexual turn-on. When the Italian circus came to Shiraz, the female members of the circus all had to perform in hejab, their hair covered. Golestan, where the Bolvardis lived, is one of several satellite towns built over the last two or three decades round Shiraz. On our way Bolvardi pointed out the road to Sadraa, a newly built satellite town on a hill about 20 kilometres away, where newly married couples gravitate in search of cheaper housing. The Bolvardis lived in a large airy flat with a very big sitting room. Bolvardi’s wife, Sara, whose great-grandparents were tribal leaders from one of the Qashqa’i clans, was very welcoming, and insistent that I should leave Jafari’s basement and come and stay with them. Unusually they only had one child, Davoud, a rake-thin 12-year-old with a nice smile. Bolvardi explained that as the eldest of eight children he had made up his mind to have no more than one child. I was instructed to look at Davoud’s English book from school and told that he was an exceptionally clever boy, and that if I came to stay I could give him English lessons. It was the holidays, and Davoud looked less than enthusiastic. Bolvardi was now off to an agent to finalise his contract on a building plot in Ghalat. This large picturesque village was once a centre for shoe-making and on an important trading route for, amongst other things, opium. It has recently received some money from the Unesco heritage fund to restore some of its buildings and cobbled roads. Thanks to its position at the foot of mountains, its waterfalls and greenery, and its closeness to Shiraz 34 kilometres away, it is becoming a favoured place to live and a centre for land speculation. Acquiring a plot here, Bolvardi explained, was part of his income-generating plan. He would sell in three or four months’ time at a profit, which would enable him to put down a payment on a flat near the best school in Shiraz for his son. Would I like to

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accompany him to Ghalat now? We set off in another segregated bus, followed by an unsegregated collective taxi. The land agent sat in an open-fronted office, tea was drunk, the deal sealed. Would I like to see Ghalat? I had in fact toured it with the family I had had lunch with on the first day. They had grown up here and had been pleased to show it to me and nostalgically relive their childhood. But glad to delay a return to Jafari’s basement, I said yes, and we set off up the hill. This time we took a different route and as we descended on the further side of the hill in the dusk we came to a rather overgrown and wild-looking garden. Would you like to visit a friend of mine here? We called out and a slightly dazed-looking middle-aged man emerged from the house. He welcomed us in and, while he went to make tea, Bolvardi told me that he was an opium addict whose wife had divorced him, taking their two daughters with her. Their photographs were on the wall. He was the first of several divorced opium addicts I met. He was a Qashqa’i and related to Bolvardi’s wife. His family had been prominent landowners. Now the family was dispersed round the world; one brother was a university professor in Paris. Some of the land had also been dispersed through financing family members’ opium habits. Knowing that getting divorced is a man’s prerogative and difficult for women, I wondered whether a spouse’s opium addiction was an acceptable basis for divorce. It seems that there are many delays and obstacles. First, the husband must be given the chance to undergo rehabilitation. The husband may fake a cure, causing the process to drag on. If the wife has the money to bribe the judge divorce can be achieved faster. As we walked down the road out of upper Ghalat a woman leaned over a balcony proffering apples and miniature cucumbers – mourning food. Khoda rahmatesh kone (may God’s blessing be on him), we said, accepting them for the dead man’s soul. Sometimes subsequently I met men in the street offering sweets for the same reason.

Chero: A village Qashqa’i family As arranged I went to stay with Jengis’s family, but I had not grasped that he did not live in Aliabad. So when we stopped in front of six

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semi-built houses standing alone starkly in barren bareness I was disappointed; there would be no village life outside the household to observe. These houses had been built by Jengis and his five brothers, who had decided to move down from their original settlement higher up the hill. The move was partly to be nearer the orchards they had planted 12 years before, partly because the government had promised to bring gas (for cooking and heating) and an asphalt road to this level soon – measures which were part of a belated government plan to create living conditions in rural areas to match those in towns and prevent a further loss of rural population. The rural exodus had belatedly been recognised for the economic and demographic catastrophe it was. Jengis’s family had moved down only the month before, so much remained to be done to their house. But thanks to the recent wedding the existing two rooms had been made as smart as possible with decorations strung across the ceiling to welcome the new bride from Aliabad. There was as yet no inside lavatory but there was an outhouse up the track between the other houses. Previous Qashqa’i researchers who had stayed with Jengis had stayed in the old settlement. To make up for my visible disappointment at the lack of village and local colour, the newly married son urged us to come and see the settlement above, where some family members still lived. And as I was not the first foreigner to stay with his family, he added: ‘There’ll be plenty of scope for taking pictures there.’ Those families who had stayed up above still had sizeable flocks of sheep and goats and needed to be nearer grazing land. Perhaps they could not afford to build new houses anyhow, or perhaps they preferred as they said to be near the spring with plenty of water and better mountain air. Two little girls were standing beside a fruit-laden pomegranate tree on the mountainside behind their houses looking after some sheep and goats. In an outhouse of one family we talked to two young women who were weaving a carpet on a horizontal loom. Unlike the raised Greek looms, these are placed on the ground so that the weavers sit on the ground to weave. This carpet was going to be beautiful, with strong colours in traditional patterns. Some of the carpets I saw subsequently consisted mainly of one large animal

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woven in a lurid ‘modern’ colour. Carpets, which take two or three months to make depending on their size, were an important source of income for these households, all of whom had members weaving for sale as well as for home use. This older settlement did indeed look more appealing, having had time to mature and settle into the countryside, with trees and flowers in the yards. A small one-room house was empty and Jafari, who had by this time picked up on my efforts to live independently, laughingly said: ‘Here you are, a house to yourself.’ I wished I could have stayed in it, combining Korean soap-less privacy at night with a community during the day. The idea of a person living on their own was of course unacceptable. Quite apart from the horrifying idea of loneliness it evoked, it would indicate a lack of hospitality on the part of everybody around. We paid a visit to the teacher’s wife, Mahnaz, who was very bright and lively, and easy to talk to in spite of my broken Persian. She went to make tea and asked which flavour I’d like, clove, cinnamon or ginger. I chose ginger – zanjebil – and watched as she gently rolled the thermos around on its base waiting for the tea to stew, a ritual I became familiar with in every household. She surprised me on a subsequent visit when I asked from what age little girls must wear headscarves, and the question of hejab in general came up. She thought head-covering was unnecessary. I asked one of Jengis’s sons who was present, a man in his twenties, what he thought. Like a teenage brother I asked later he thought hejab was good. Neither of them was at all emphatic in their view, just matter of fact. The little girls evidently see wearing headscarves as fun, something grown-up girls do, like wearing high heels. In fact, the traditional headcovering worn by Qashqa’i defeats the theocrats’ purpose of hejab as it is transparent as well as only partially covering the hair. Moreover, many of the older women tie their plaits together in front below the chin. Village women in Tajik villages as well as Qashqa’i wear brightly coloured dresses and scarves, only putting chadors on if they go to a town. We went back down to Jengis’s house, and Jafari arranged to come and collect me at the end of the week. It was lucky that sharing his basement was so unappealing; I might not have had the courage

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otherwise to impose myself on a household of so many unknown people, neither of whose languages (Turkic and Persian) I had much grip on. Living with Jengis and his wife were two sons, one daughterin-law, two daughters plus a visiting grandson. In and out were members of the surrounding households belonging to the families of the other brothers. Two of Jengis’s five sons were married, as was one of his three daughters. They had all married first cousins. The recently married groom, whose bride was at her parents’ house, left for Shiraz, which meant that the youngest daughter, Gohar, a girl of 20, and I could share the bridal chamber. This tiny room had been festively decorated with brightly coloured pillows and carpets. It had a television and stereo system and a low dressing table and mirror. The bridal couple planned eventually to move to Shiraz, where another married brother, whose job was making window frames, already lived. The house at this stage of construction consisted of one big colourfully carpeted room with large cushions along the walls, and the small bridal chamber. Separated off from the main room by a sort of breakfast bar was the kitchen. I had noticed this kitchen arrangement in Golestan. When I had commented on it to Bolvardi’s wife, Sara, she told me that this had been one of the most emancipating changes affecting women’s lives for the better. The new design had been introduced about 15 years before and meant that women were no longer cut off from the rest of the company and conversation while cooking. To my amazement the first evening on my way with Maryam, the eldest daughter, to the outhouse lavatory, we passed Jengis and his wife on the veranda seated either side of a pail of water, washing clothes; Jengis with his glasses pushed back on his forehead wringing out some garment. He was not there when we came back, so perhaps he did not want this level of emancipation to be advertised. In the evenings more young women, all cousins apart from the married daughter who lived one house up, came over from the adjacent houses and we sat together chatting and trying out different kinds of make-up. They offered to make up my face, but I settled for just having my nails done. The charm and easy friendliness of the girls was very winning. They asked me about my family and told me

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about themselves. The married daughter was worried because she was not yet pregnant after two years of marriage. She was fasting in the hope that this ritual observance would end her childlessness. I asked them if they would like to live in a town, like their sisterin-law. They said they saw no advantage in town life, where there was less freedom of movement and no known neighbours to be comfortable with. They felt freer in the village. As serious contributors to the household income through their weaving, as members of relatively well-off households with a rich communal life, they were undoubtedly better off without the problems of urban unemployment, urban dress constraints and traffic hassle – especially now when living conditions here were about to be improved. Each morning began with a fairly lengthy bedding-folding session since everyone’s mattress, pillows and covers had to be folded and piled up in a corner alcove of the room according to a system presided over by Jengis’s wife. My stay had been planned to follow the arrangement Jengis had had with previous foreign researchers – we would tour the tent camps in the area. He owned an ancient Land Rover which was suffering from some mechanical defects but still functioned spasmodically between overheating episodes. More seriously, petrol rationing had just been introduced and his supply was very limited. There was enough the first day, however, to do some visits. We started at an encampment of about 20 tents pitched near a spring. This was the first camp I had seen close up, and I felt a bit intrusive as a curiosityseeking tourist, but perhaps this group was used to Jengis’s foreigners. When we arrived a number of men and women were sitting around smoking qaylan. This group had their winter quarters near the town of Kazerun, west of Shiraz, where they owned land and cultivated oranges. They would be migrating down in two weeks’ time before the weather became cold. Some of the young men were hoping to enter Kazerun University. One was studying Arabic so as to become a mullah. We went for a tour of the encampment, past other tents, past pens of chickens, past women washing and women spinning. The first women we had met had no objection when Jengis suggested I photograph them smoking qaylan. But when I asked two women who were spinning if I could photograph them they said no.

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This tour was followed by a visit to some friends of Jengis’s whose tents were pitched high up a mountain. This encounter was much more satisfactory because it was personal. Jengis went to talk to his friend Hassan in one tent while his daughter Maryam, who had accompanied us, took me to meet Hassan’s wife, a woman in her forties, and her two daughters. The mother was recovering from some kind of spinal inflammation and was lying on a mattress. However, she was well enough to talk animatedly about her family and nomadic life. The two daughters, wearing helmeted sunbonnets and very pretty, were 15 and 12. They had completed five years of elementary school and were enthusiastic about spending the summers up here. They said they would not like town life: ‘We wouldn’t know it or how to behave there.’ The eldest son was going to be a policeman. The younger, who arrived on a motorbike while we were talking, wanted to be a teacher if he was successful in the coming university exams. Seeing visitors, he quickly exchanged his traditional Qashqa’i baggy trousers for a pair of jeans. I asked the mother how tent life in her childhood compared with today. ‘It’s enormously improved now,’ she said. ‘We have cars, motorbikes, Calor gas to cook with, mobile phones, and a lorry to transport the animals.’ We did not talk about how long her immediate family would continue to be nomadic pastoralists if her sons were not going to be shepherds. Before we left we were offered lumps of kashk – dried curd – whose chewability and curdled milk-muttony taste lasts much longer than chewing gum. One afternoon a party of us, including Jengis’s three daughters together with Babak, the youngest son aged 17, and some small nephews, drove with Jengis higher up the mountain beyond the old settlement to see their orchards. There were walnut trees, almonds, apples and pomegranates, whose produce would all be sold. There were nursery trees waiting to be brought down to be planted in the orchards below the new settlement. These had been planted by refugee Afghan workers who had also laid all the irrigation pipes. Afghan labour for agricultural work was the norm here, in contrast to areas I went to shortly afterwards such as Homeijan. We sampled as much fruit and nuts as we could and, most delicious of all, the tiny

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figs that have a much more concentrated taste than European ones. It suddenly began to thunder, and we dashed downhill as fast as we could to shelter from the heavy rain at Mahnaz’s house. For some reason Jengis found the rainstorm inauspicious, though presumably it was good agriculturally. But perhaps he meant that it was unseasonally early for the tent dwellers, who would not be leaving for another two weeks. We visited some the next day and found their large camp covered in sodden carpets and clothes put out to dry. An unexpected rainstorm for tent dwellers must be dismal. Dotted around the countryside I had noticed walled-off plots every so often. These turned out to belong to Shirazi. One plot contained a chicken farm, another a dairy; some had been planted with fruit trees. One plot had been sold to a Shirazi by one of Jengis’s brothers. These small-scale businesses were seen as promising investments by betteroff Shirazi. Sometimes an ostentatious ugly house perched on top of a barren hill had been built as a weekend holiday retreat. It was not long before Jengis said he had run out of petrol, so our explorations were limited to places we could walk to. Maryam took me to see a qanat, an underground irrigation canal starting from a well or other water source. It channels the water downhill through a series of man-made tunnels; a very ancient system perfect for arid areas. We sat beside the stream emerging from the tunnel while two small nephews bathed. Nearby there was a very large area of walled estate, which turned out to belong to the big landlord, Sohrab Khan, whom Jengis had said he liked so much. I toured the apple orchards below the house with the two younger daughters. Apple-picking appeared to be one agricultural labour not considered unsuitable for Qashqa’i women, though only some girls from this group of families regularly picked each autumn. The best-off women did not pick. I had gathered from Babak, the youngest son, that Jengis’s family was one of the well off. Babak told me that he would shortly start at the Farboud vocational school in Ghalat, where he would be studying electronics. I asked if the course was free and he said no, it is a private school, you have to be well off to go there. I noticed that rather than watching state television (no satellite dishes here as yet), Babak and the other members of the family

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preferred to watch Qashqa’i videos, films showing nomads galloping across the mountainscapes. I wondered if Babak would be homesick when he started boarding at the Farboud school away from his Qashqa’i background and close family. The closeness of these families and their tradition of intermarrying gave added meaning to the answer Maryam gave me one day when I asked who an ungreeted woman walking across the adjacent field was. Gharib e, she said. I did not know the word but it sounded as though it meant ‘she’s not one of us, i.e. not related’. Later I learnt that gharib means outsider, stranger. The advantage of this exclusive relatedness between the households was that the married girls were close to their natal families. It also meant that I could observe neighbours’ activities close up without having to be introduced, whether it was the next-door family slaughtering a goat, or the family behind making naan bread. One afternoon a musician relation from the winter pasture area came to visit and play. He was a professional setarist who played, he said, in films. He told me that CDs of his playing could be bought at the market in Chenar Shahijan, a town on the way to Nurabad. I went to Chenar Shahijan the following year and found that it was an entirely Qashqa’i town created for and by ashayer – nomadic pastoralists – as part of the government’s sedentarisation policy three decades or so before.

Summer pastureland So that I could get to know more about Qashqa’i life, Mr Bolvardi suggested that we go and meet some of his numerous friends and relations. Personal contacts seemed like a better way to meet people than turning up as a curious foreigner to stare. He seemed to have plenty of spare time and the idea of being driven round the countryside by Jafari (Bolvardi was car-less) clearly appealed to him. Since June of that year, 2007, petrol had been rationed so that each trip involved a long wait to fill up. Many cars and more trucks now ran on gas, which would be compulsory for all vehicles in four years’ time. A car driver was entitled to four litres of petrol a day at 100 tomans per litre, and more at the non-subsidised price of 400 tomans

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per litre. This autumn the four litres had been reduced to two. Petrol rationing in a country that at the time was OPEC’s second biggest oil producer was accounted for by Iran’s shortage of petrol refineries such that oil has to be exported to be refined, and re-imported for domestic use. Bolvardi and I both spoke German so that when necessary he could translate. But not being acquainted with a researching anthropologist’s strategies, the common language sometimes proved a snare and delusion. Firstly, because Bolvardi understandably preferred to talk Turkic to the Qashqa’i, and I kept trying to bring them back to Persian. Most frustratingly, if I did ask for a question to be translated, he tended to answer the question himself (often wrongly) when my intention was to trigger a conversation rather than a cut and dried answer. An ebullient entertainer with a guaranteed if modest income, Bolvardi was much more interested in talking to his nomad friends and relations about his past exploits in Germany than in exploring their views on drought, unemployment or religion. At the same time his easy-going hail fellow well met good humour coupled with his very wide acquaintance did enable me to meet far more Qashqa’i, settled and nomad, than I could possibly have met otherwise. We started in Hasanabad at the house of an old school friend of Bolvardi’s where to my surprise we, all but one daughter, sat down to eat watermelon and drink delicious sour-cherry sherbet; this despite the fact that Ramazan had begun. The family explained that they did not fast. The one daughter who was fasting was hoping that this ritual observance would bring her luck in her imminent exams. Jafari, a Tajik, did not fast either, and was often reproached for this by his Marvdasht nieces. They, like the rest of their family, were very strict about fasting and had even started fasting before Ramazan had begun. At the same time, they did not seem seriously upset by their uncle’s laxness, rather teasing him for being a shekamu, a greedy guts. Travellers are exempt from fasting so we were able to have lunch at a locale in Khane Zenyan beside the main Shiraz –Nurabad road before visiting a lakeside encampment in the afternoon. The lake was state owned but the fields where the ashayer were camped belonged to

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them. On the far side of the lake some Shirazi had come for a day’s fishing. They had put up small tents for shelter against the sun. Bolvardi’s ashayer friends, Ferhat and his wife, were very pleased to see him, and very conversable. Frustratingly for a man whose livelihood centres on meat and dairy products, Ferhat had recently had a heart operation and was no longer allowed to eat any meat but chicken. Despite not being able to eat it himself, he insisted on our trying some sheep butter, which, unlike kashk, was delicious. The butter was made in a leather bucket-like container suspended between two sticks. The container was pushed back and forth, and the swinging turned the cream into butter. It looked much less hard work than the plunge churns I knew from Albania. As well as owning a large flock of sheep and goats, Ferhat was involved in buying and selling tractors. Diversification as regards income generation was necessary. We paid brief visits to some other nearby tents where some of the young men, like those I’d met with Jengis, were not planning to be shepherds. Electronics seemed to be the top career choice, though one boy said he was going to be an English-language interpreter. He had a long way to go before his career took off. It was the beginning of the weekend, and relations were arriving from Shiraz to visit their brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins in the camp. While we were on our last visit on a hill above the lake three couples, the hejabed wives smartly dressed and made up, joined us. Leaving our shoes outside, we all sat in a row against the cushions along the back and sides of the tent. It was reminiscent of formal visits in Greece except that to me the relatives’ urban clothes and manners in the nomad tent looked completely incongruous. To the shepherds and their relations there was clearly nothing remarkable in the contrast. For the town Qashqa’i these were not primitive relations condemned to tent life. The more time I spent with nomads, the more I appreciated that quite a lot of them chose their transhumant lifestyle not only for the income from meat or the escape from hotter climes, but for the way of life. This was brought home to me again when visiting some of Sara’s cousins in their summer camp. The head of the family, Khosrow, a man in his seventies, was out with his flocks when we arrived. This same man in his prime had had 20 shepherds

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to look after his huge flocks. Now one of his sons was a doctor in Shiraz, while a daughter was a maths teacher there. This man could have spent his latter years in urban comfort. When Bolvardi mentioned his stomach problems, Khosrow said: ‘I’ve never had such problems, probably because I’m an active chopan [shepherd].’ Someone mentioned that the nights were cold now, which I said might be uncomfortable in a tent. No, said a daughter-in-law who was there with her two-year-old daughter: ‘I love it, it’s so refreshing after the stifling heat of the winter area.’ This was the way of life this family chose to continue. I also met nomads who were very poor indeed, for whom making ends meet was a struggle, who did not have a house at either end of the migration. But being a nomadic herder was not in itself an indicator of either poverty or wealth. On our way home we heard music, and looking down to a lake below we saw people dancing beside it. They were Lor, another group of nomadic herders many of whom, like the Qashqa’i, are now settled. The Lor speak a language close to Persian. They were waiting for the arrival of a bride’s party before going on to Shiraz. I had been to a Qashqa’i wedding in a Shiraz locale the night before and was told that there could be no more weddings until after Ramazan. The Lor, however, seemed outside these conventions. The bride’s group appeared along the road and a hello-boy amongst them came to talk to Bolvardi, thinking he was American. Bolvardi pretended for a bit but his broken English gave him away. He tried talking to some of the women but they were unfriendly, confirming his prejudices against Lor in general. As Bolvardi had grown up in Aliabad, he was able to introduce me to families there, an ideal opportunity to get some idea of villagers’ work and preoccupations at close quarters. He was enthusiastic at first, enjoyed the fact that I liked the village and its landscape so much, though somewhat bemused by my appreciation. He himself had ambivalent feelings about the place for various reasons. He had grown up in the village, attending elementary school in Aliabad and middle school in Hasanabad, walking the eight kilometres over there every day. His final years of schooling were in Shiraz, after which he studied engineering at Tehran University. From there he won a

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scholarship to study aeronautical engineering in Germany, where he lived for eight years. On completing his studies, he had been offered a job as an engineer working in Germany. At this critical juncture his father became ill and begged him to return to Iran to do his duty as the eldest son and help him in his old age with managing their land in Aliabad. Bolvardi saw his return as marking the big lost opportunity of his life, one of the reasons for his ambivalent feeling towards Aliabad. Today this ambivalence was heightened by the current importance of land as a commodity to be sold rather than cultivated for its produce. It offered opportunities to make a quick buck in an economic climate where unemployment was high and agricultural incomes low. There was a chance that Shirazi would be interested in acquiring property in Aliabad for weekend/holiday houses. In 2007, before the impact of the global economic crisis, this was realistic. The village lies on a hill in beautiful undulating countryside with long views and an abundant source of drinking water. It is within easy reach of Shiraz which is about 40 minutes drive away. But most of Bolvardi’s land was oqaf, tied to an endowment to be used for charitable purposes, managed by clerical authorities to whom the seller, he said, must pay a percentage of the sale price, and to whom the buyer must pay an annual tax. (I recognised this as vaqf in Albania where, a leftover from the Ottoman Empire, it was land owned by the church or mosque.) If only my land was melk (privately owned land) instead of oqaf, Bolvardi would lament. So while on the one hand he enjoyed days in the village for the bonhomie with friends and relations and happy childhood memories, the frustrations associated with the land and his loss of a career abroad remained an irritant. Aliabad, as explained, was in the summer pasture area for pastoralists from the lower-altitude Kazerun area, and these nomads had only started to settle about 50 years ago. A few individuals who now had houses in the winter area continued to bring their flocks here in summer. Some of these spent the summers with children who had settled here, some lived in tents. But most families had given up pastoralism several decades ago for agriculture – wheat cultivation and apple orchards. The village had a population of about 300 in

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winter and 500 in summer. This included herders arriving from the winter pastures and villagers who had moved to Shiraz coming back to spend the summer or weekends. A random survey of households in Aliabad in 2007 showed several common trends that suggested that agricultural life is declining. Carpet production (women’s work) continues to be an important source of income but under or unemployment for young men is endemic. There is a tendency for men to become drivers rather than farmers, migration to the city is increasing, and opium addiction is widespread. The box below contains a random sample of nine households. House 1 This house was rented from a villager who lives in Shiraz. The family had about one hectare of land left after selling off half. The inherited land had been divided between five brothers leaving too little per brother to be a viable sole income. This household consisted of father, mother, three daughters and one son. The mother came from near Kazerun, a cousin from winter pasture land. One daughter was studying accountancy at university, the second planned to go to university the following year. The father was trying to raise the money to move to Ghalat, where facilities and opportunities to find work, perhaps in Shiraz, would be better. A first cousin was a migrant in Dubai. Living conditions in the house, which was very small, were of the most basic, with no attempt at making the house comfortable or aesthetic, probably because it was rented and they aimed to leave. House 2 The next-door neighbour, an opium smoker, was incomparably better off. He owned 30 hectares of land and an apple orchard. He worked as a driver in winter and cultivated his land for the rest of the year. He had two wives, one of whom was childless. Both wives wove carpets. His youngest son went to a state boarding school in Marvdasht. Fourteen members of his first cousin’s family lived in Germany. House 3 Of the four sons in this household, one worked as a policeman, one on the family’s land. The two others were opium addicts and did not work. The father asked the police to take the son who was hopelessly addicted to prison. The other addicted son was run over by a bus. As compensation for the bus driver’s negligence, the father received 30 million tomans, c.£17,650. With this money, the father had bought a house in Shiraz which he rented out. His wife wove carpets for sale. House 4 The father in this household was an opium smoker; the family had only one hectare of land. Two of his sons lived in Shiraz. One was an employee in the office of the Shiraz road maintenance department, the other was a student. A third brother had fought for two years in the war against Iraq. Wishing to avoid more fighting without being a deserter he managed,

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thanks to a talent for acting, to get himself classified as permanently mentally deranged as a result of facing rocket fire. The family thereafter lived comfortably off his monthly invalidity pension of 300,000 tomans, c.£176. The mother wove carpets. House 5 The father here worked on his extensive land. He had two wives, the first childless, and two sons and two daughters. Both wives wove carpets for sale. One of his sons worked in Malaysia. The other, driving home on an unlighted tractor, ran over and killed one man and injured another. Because the tractor was without lights, this son had to pay compensation or go to prison. Finding the money to pay was proving difficult. House 6 This man cultivated his three hectares of land as well as working on the land of a Shirazi who had bought land in Aliabad. His wife and daughters made carpets for sale. An extremely hard-working man, he had recently built a new house in the village. This year one of his daughters had married to winter pasture land near Kazerun. A daughter’s marriage is costly, he noted, but nothing like as costly as that of a son who is required to pay the bride’s family a large sum of money. House 7 This man owned three hectares of land and worked as a driver. His eldest son was also a driver; both had Nissans. One daughter was unmarried as she was mentally disabled. Another daughter was married in Chero. The women wove carpets for sale. House 8 This couple had no children. The first wife had died childless. The second wife was a Tajik speaker from Hasanabad who had learnt Turkic. She also remained childless, the problem probably her husband’s sterility. She wove carpets for sale. He had sold all his land except for one hectare. He worked on this as well as working on the land of an absentee landowner. House 9 This man owned 30 hectares and worked hard as a farmer. One of his sons worked in Shiraz after being thrown out of the house for failing to get into university. Another son was a tractor driver working both for his family and for other farmers. The father took a second wife 20 years ago, a young woman, known to be clever, from near Kazerun. The aim of this second marriage was to produce a son who would get into university. The mother left shortly after her son’s birth, unable to settle to life in Aliabad, leaving her son to be brought up by the first wife. The father was an occasional opium smoker.

There is a primary school, dabestan, in Aliabad which I first visited in September 2007, in the first week of the autumn term. There was temporarily only one teacher, as the second one, it had suddenly been decided after the first day, was too old to cope. The head turned out to have been a teacher for ashayer at the beginning of his career. This involved teaching in tent schools at either end of the seasonal

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migrations. Teaching stopped for the transition period when families were on the move. The following year I met the man who had in the 1950s set up this education for nomads programme, a Qashqa’i called Mohammad Bahmanbegi, Director of the Office of Tribal Education, of whom more later. The Aliabad head was doing research on different systems of teaching, he said, and was more than happy to abandon his rather unruly classes in order to talk to us. The five classes of children were separated into two classrooms with the second and fifth years together in one, and the first, third and fourth in the other. Looking at the ‘work’ each class was doing, it was clear that this week at least the 20 or so children were not learning anything. There was no secondary school (rahnamayi) in Aliabad, so at age 11 the children went on to school in Hasanabad. This was a serious, well-ordered establishment in a large two-storey building catering for children from several villages. When we visited, the headmaster was friendly but politely explained that it was against the rules to go into the classrooms. We could talk in his office and he was willing to answer questions but we could not listen to classes or talk to other teachers. This school taught students from 11 to 14 years old, after which schooling ceases to be compulsory. However, many boys would go on to high school (dabirestan) in Shiraz, Marvdasht or another town, either staying with relations or boarding. Not all the teachers come each day, the headmaster explained, because in order to fulfil a certain number of hours a week they have to work in several schools. We learnt that English was taught and he welcomed the idea of my coming back the following year to teach English in the school if I had the required authorisation. I was still fantasising that I might be able to spend an extended period in the province. The secondary-age girls went to school in the afternoons, when they had the use of the primary school, which was in the centre of the village. The boys’ school was at the far end of the village and hence, we were told, was less suitable for girls. Hasanabad had caught my attention as a possible fieldwork base since the first time I had driven through it. The village sits amongst hills in beautiful landscape and, though originally Tajik, a number of Qashqa’i former nomads settled here some 40 years ago. The houses are mostly made out of mud,

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with living quarters usually on the first floor, and animals and barns below. Large double-doored wooden gates close off the yards. The village was big enough, with a population of 1,500, to have both a primary school and a middle school, as well as some shops and a doctor’s surgery. On our way to visit the primary school I was surprised to see a sign saying ‘to the library’. The sign actually led to the clinic that was being held by a trainee doctor. A number of women and children were waiting for advice or prescriptions or referrals to a fully fledged doctor. We said we would come back when the clinic was finished and we had been to the library. But this turned out to be in the primary school, which was now closed. We did a round of visits, some to Tajik, some to Qashqa’i households, before returning to talk to the student doctor. We found him in the process of writing a letter for an illiterate woman and getting her to sign with her fingerprint. Writing letters for the illiterate was one of his regular duties, he told us. This woman had been an ashayer for 20 years before settling permanently in the village. Which way of life did she prefer? I asked her. She seemed surprised that one way might have been better than the other. ‘All the same’ was her reply. The doctor, a Qashqa’i, was now joined by his sister and his fiance´e who was from Jahrom, a town 190 kilometres south-east of Shiraz, a hot region. She was half Tajik, half Qashqa’i. They confirmed that there was no segregation or discrimination in Hasanabad between the two. On this occasion we drove home via Ghalat, and about half way between Hasanabad and Ghalat came to a large collection of tents beside the road, camped either side of a stream. These ashayer regularly spend the summers in this spot thanks to the convenience of the stream’s water and good grazing land. At a little distance beyond the tents were a couple of ramshackle buildings walled in, which turned out to house seven families who had given up seasonal mobility. They were reducing their herd numbers, they said, as animals were no longer economic. Their compound looked like a rural slum. They looked and were much poorer than the tent dwellers next door, all of whom had houses in the winter pastures. Not far off was the summer house of the landowner, the malek, who owned this pasture land. The landowner’s son and two friends were filling sacks

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with straw but stopped to invite us to a cool drink. A table and chairs were fetched from the house and set under a tree. The son smilingly observed that the ashayer regarded his father as a god. The malek himself emerged, very gracious and welcoming, and proceeded to discuss with Bolvardi the changes in land tenure since the Shah’s regime, in response to a question I had put. Alas, they conversed in Turkic, and although the malek told Bolvardi to fill me in later, the vital details had been lost. This whole area is characterised by large expanses of grazing land. It extends over huge distances (thousands of hectares) with hundreds of ashayer encampments scattered across the area in the summer: archetypal summer pasture land. This is not to say that many incursions have not been made onto these grazing lands. Sizeable tracts have been bought up by rich Shirazi, including Qashqa’i families, most of whom now live in America (some owners left Iran when the Shah confiscated their land in the 1950s and 1960s). Looking over a wall near the road we saw that one owner had started breeding ostriches. Sometimes the absent owners have planted orchards on part of their land, and these are looked after by locals. In June two years later we stopped beside the road to pick sour cherries. A caretaker came over to remind us that picking to eat on the spot, not to take away, is permitted but only from the trees right next to the road. For the most part the landscape stretches for miles between the mountain ranges, undulating, empty of woods or buildings, sand-coloured in summer and ravishingly beautiful.

Homeijan By way of contrast I decided to check out life in an area between Shiraz and Ardakan to the north-west, called Homeijan. Homeijan was said to be quite different, green, well watered, fertile and wooded. People described it as if it were thirst quenching. Jafari was very pleased to have a break from Qashqa’i territory and planned a picnic, which included barbecuing a chicken over a fire and lying down in shady woods. Beside the road from Golestan to Ardakan numerous vineyards have been planted, mostly by Shirazi, not of course for alcoholic purposes. We passed a village that had been used

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to test out a new way to pipe gas to houses. The inhabitants got to live there free of fuel costs for the first ten years as guinea pigs who might experience random explosions. The villages we first came to in Homeijan had a lot of newly built, rather ugly houses beside the road. The burgeoning of new houses here was partly because this road links Shiraz with the region of Sepidan, a popular skiing area. A second lane was being built to improve access for Shirazi seeking snow or green, as well as for farmers in this agriculturally fertile area (viniculture and orchards). Many of these villages had been owned by Qashqa’i families. Now many of these families have sold off a lot of their land. The first house we visited was between villages and set back behind a small coppice of thin trees. Here lived a cousin of Sara’s, the widow of a big Qashqa’i landowner. She had inherited the land – women, I learnt, can inherit – though she had subsequently sold a lot of it. Her daughter, Zahra, was a university student in Shiraz. She said she would live here in Homeijan when she had finished her law studies, as she liked it much better than Shiraz. The improved road would certainly make her plan more practicable but it would still be a long commute. We came to a village where another of Sara’s cousins lived, and we stopped to ask the way. The woman we asked invited us in and we found that she was running a dressmaking business. Six or seven unrelated women were crowded into a small room sewing, a new instance in my experience of non-family labour at work. At the further end of the village we asked again at a very dilapidated two-storey house. Some family members emerged in ragged clothes saying, almost before greetings had been exchanged: ‘We are so poor, we are so poor; we have no land, we have no money.’ How do you survive? I asked. By working for other people if and when we can find work, they said miserably. In the Hasanabad region, Afghans were the workers or the locals worked for themselves. In these formerly Qashqa’i-owned villages of fertile Homeijan where there were landed and landless, the inequalities between families were much more obvious. Walking through the middle of this village we suddenly came across a large number of men, women and children pouring into the village mosque, masjed. I had not seen women go into a mosque before,

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and this congregation reminded me more of that of an English village church. Beyond the masjed and up a steep lane we finally found the family we were looking for, and again the widow of a big Qashqa’i landowner. We found her with her daughter’s family sitting in their garden beside the stream that ran through it, shelling walnuts. The house had been designed by the architect daughter, who was here with her family for the holidays. They hospitably pressed us to lunch but, using Jafari’s picnic as an excuse, I declined, because I was more interested in going to some of the villages on the other side of the mountain further away from the road. How the well-off urbanised Qashqa’i lived was predictable. But I wanted to see what the poorer Tajik villages were like. Jafari said he knew a perfect place for picnicking near the top of the mountain. As we neared the top, he stopped and got out to examine a place by a rock on the bank where he claimed his friends sometimes hid bottles of whisky when they thought the police were on their trail. Today there was nothing. The picnic place turned out to be a trout farm in the middle of which stood, surrounded by trees and streams, another ostentatious house built by an absent Shirazi. While Jafari set up his barbecue and extracted the chicken he had brought from a container full of now warm water, once ice, Bolvardi and I went to look at the trout farm. We found two men and a boy from the Bakhtiari tribe in charge. The Bakhtiari are nomadic pastoralists like the Qashqa’i but from an area to the north-west of Ardakan, Chaharmahal. They speak a dialect similar to that of the Lor to whom they are closely related. But Bolvardi had no prejudices against the Bakhtiari, perhaps because the Lor impinge more on the Qashqa’i geographically speaking, whereas there is less contact with the Bakhtiari. He had a long friendly conversation with these, who said that managing the trout farm in summer was more lucrative than staying with their herds in the summer pastures. The older man told us about the famous film which had been made about the Bakhtiari, Grass, which was followed 50 years later by People of the Wind. He suggested I go and stay with them when they returned, to see how they lived now. After lunch, and apple-flavoured-qaylan smoking in Jafari’s case and frog-spotting in my case, I insisted that we continue up to

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the top of the mountain and down into the hills below, which I was convinced was an interesting area, and they were convinced was boring and too far away. It was in fact no distance at all. Once over the mountain and away from the rather littered woods favoured by picnickers, the landscape was stunning, with mountains in the distance and hills and valleys between. We had to choose between going to Delkhan or Heaven (Behesht). Villages called ‘heaven’ or ‘lost paradise’, Behesht e gomshode, are common. We chose Delkhan which was at the bottom of a steep road and nearer. Jafari recalled that there had been a terrible accident here in which a bus full of passengers had careered off this precipitous bend to the village below, killing most or all of the passengers. We took a walk through the village up and down small hills to look at the mosque and the school. The buildings were solider looking than those in the summer pasture villages of the Qashqa’i. We met a group of young women, one of whom in response to Bolvardi’s favourite question, ‘What schooling had they had’, firmly replied that she was illiterate. She could count though, as she told us how many brothers and sisters she had. Several men hospitably asked us to come in and, to Jafari’s disappointment (he had taken against the place), we eventually accepted an invitation. It emerged that the village of Delkhan had been owned by a Qashqa’i. The villagers had to give the malek a third of their produce. ‘We hated him and we hate his sons who still own more than a hundred hectares of land here,’ our host and his brother told us. Some of the land had been sold to the few villagers who could afford to buy. ‘But there is not enough cultivable land in Delkhan for all of us who live here and we have to supplement our income by going to work in Shiraz. And we lose so much of the profit we should be getting from our crops because we have to trade through the itinerant middlemen who pay less than its worth and then sell it in Shiraz.’ Asked if Shirazi had bought land here they said on no account, we never sell our land. I was surprised to learn that in Delkhan there was a literacy class every day for grown-ups. The women went at five o’clock, the men at six. As we drove up the hill on our way back we saw a large group of Delkhan women, tools over their shoulders, followed by a group of

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men coming back from working in the fields. Agriculture was organised quite differently here from in the Hasanabad region; chiefly, I guessed, due to the greater fertility and unequal distribution of the land.

Ghalat: An urban Qashqa’i family Ghalat was on our way back to Golestan, and Sara had arranged for us to meet up and have supper with her brother and his family. Ahmad, her brother, made a point of shaking hands with me. In Iran, as already noted, men do not shake hands with women and no one else had offered to shake my hand. He wanted to demonstrate that he was above such customs. He then asked me if all English people think Iranians are terrorists. I said I had not heard this allegation. Ahmad, who looked about 22, though the eldest of his four children was 21, had inherited a lot of land from his father. I learnt later that some of this had been sold, possibly to pay for his one-time opium habit. Under the threat of discovery and dismissal from his job at a government institution, Ahmad had managed to give up smoking. He and his family rented this spacious, light two-storey apartment in Ghalat because the air was much better here than in Shiraz. They lived above the owner and shared the garden in which Zaynab, Ahmad’s wife, and Shahrokh, his mother who lived with them, planted vegetables. The two eldest girls, when I got to know them better, revealed that they longed to leave Ghalat and live in the polluted air of the city. The eldest had been at home for two years trying to pass the entrance exam to university, the passport as she saw it to more social freedom. Her younger sister was waiting to know whether she had passed her exams into university. The girls, whose lives once they left school were dismally monotonous, spent hours channel-surfing (satellite television) or replaying mobile phone pictures of all too rare wedding parties they had attended. Muslim mores as imposed by the clerics and reinforced by social opinion/ conformity meant that they could speak to unrelated young men only at weddings or, if they made the entrance requirement grades, at the university. Later in our acquaintance, the girls asked me what

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the English word ‘atonement’ meant. I guessed that they knew the word from the film of that title. It transpired that they had seen on satellite television most of the recent films popular in the West, heightening their consciousness of the difference between their Iranian young-girl lifestyles and those of Western girls. Unsurprising then that after earlier failed tries for university, they tried yet again. One of the subjects they had found difficult at school, which was preventing them passing their exams, was Arabic (compulsory) and they hated this subject as much for ideological reasons as any other. Iranians are at pains to point out that despite being from the Middle East they are not Arabs. The mullahs’ Islamification of Iran at the expense of Iranian national identity is a major source of resentment, as is the clerics’ imposition of Arabic as the language of the mosque and prayer. At the beginning of the post-revolutionary period the clerics even tried to substitute an Arabic festival for the Iranian Nowruz, New Year festival, as being more Islamic than the ancient one. This year rather than trying for the state university, the girls had taken the exams for the so-called ‘Free University’, a network of private-paying universities owned by Rafsanjani, the former president, situated in different towns depending on the faculty. To everyone’s great relief, despite the unwelcome strain on the family’s finances, they both got in, one to study in Yasouj, one in Marvdasht. Discussing marriage on another occasion I asked them what profession their ideal husband would have. Preferably doctor, lawyer or engineer. What about film actor? Oh, that would be best of all! But who they were most likely to marry in practice was a first cousin. First-cousin marriage, as I had already found, is still the most prevalent. Nor is it yet as constraining as Westerners might think. Thanks to the government’s pro-natalist policy between 1980 and the early 1990s there are usually substantial numbers of cousins from which to choose. The very high birth rate (4 per cent) during that period meant that on average a mother would have seven to ten children. At this point, however, the government actively encouraged small families, and contraceptives were freely available. Indeed a couple could not get a marriage licence unless they could show that they had attended

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contraception classes. A mother would lose certain maternity benefits if she had more than three children. Reduced family size will have fundamental implications for Iranian society and social and cultural life, not just because there will be fewer cousins from which to choose a partner. The large family is the centre of social life, economic welfare and emotional support in a country where unemployment is so high (officially about 14.6 per cent in 2010,1 above 20 per cent in 20122), and as we have seen much higher for young people. That evening in Ghalat, my first meeting with the family, Ahmad darted frenetically around amateurishly filming us all, while Zaynab and Shahrokh finished preparing supper. On subsequent occasions when I visited them, hours would be spent watching poorly filmed home-video recordings of someone’s birthday party, no detail edited out; or, just as bad, mobile-phone films of last year’s weddings accompanied by tinny music. Very occasionally some incident would compensate for the tedium. One evening, Bolvardi came with us and after some time disappeared with Ahmad into a room whose door I noticed they quietly locked behind them. We were left with the tawdriest of American satellite shows, vulgar and sexually suggestive, but apparently permissible watching for male and female alike. Several hours of tedium (for us) later, the two men emerged, we called a taxi and went home. Bolvardi, who as a rule never failed to engage every stranger, taxi driver, fellow bus passenger, random person on the street, in conversation, uttered not a word. Once home he immediately fell asleep. The next morning I asked why his brother-in-law had locked the door the night before. Bolvardi looked embarrassed at first but then came clean. They were drinking date schnapps which, like other alcohol, is easy to obtain in Ghalat, and wanted to make sure that if the landlord who lived below came up they would have time to conceal the drink. The police regularly raid wedding parties, and had in fact raided the party Ali, one of Sara’s nephews, had been at two nights before, fining the host. But they do not raid private houses. So was Ahmad afraid that his landlord would report them or that they would have to share the drink with him? Bolvardi ruefully recalled bringing back a lot of whisky from Dubai, where it is very cheap. With characteristic

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ill-founded optimism he had hoped to smuggle it through customs but had had it confiscated.

Komarosorkhe Having visited the Tajik village of Delkhan in the Homeijan area, Jafari suggested going to an area where there were ‘nice’ Tajik villages, i.e. not like Delkhan. He suggested that we go and visit an area closer to Shiraz without Bolvardi, whose tuneless repetition of the only Qashqa’i song he knew was beginning to get to him. So one afternoon we turned off the Shiraz – Nurabad road and drove to a Tajik village with extensive rice fields. The walls beside the fields were beautifully built new drystone walls. I stopped to talk to a woman standing beside her two young cows. She explained how rice cultivation alternates yearly either side of the road. It is planted in individual family’s strips in large fields where the borders between each were invisible to me. She said that here men, women and children work in the fields and look after the animals. The milk from their cows was for family use not for sale. She was an articulate, selfconfident woman whose daughter had won a place at the university in Tehran but had married instead and stayed in the village. I was glad Bolvardi was not there to express disapproval. I asked if Shirazi had bought land here and, as in Delkhan, she said no, there isn’t even enough for us locals. In the past the village had been owned by a Tajik khan but now all the villagers own their own land, though this is too little to make ends meet. There had been a bad earthquake a year or two earlier, which had done a lot of damage. I wanted to see further into this area of Tajik villages, Komarosorkhe, and we went again, this time with Bolvardi. Our first stop was in a village called Cheshmebardi where we spoke to some men who were building part of a house. As in so many other villages we had visited there had been a bad earthquake some years before. In customary style they said ‘befarmayeed’, meaning in this context ‘at your service’, or ‘come in for a visit’. We thanked them and asked what the building across the square was. They said it was

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the primary school but, as it was afternoon, lessons were over. Seeing that the school door was open we went inside and found two teachers playing chess. The head (who was winning) was in his last year, having been there for 30 years, while the other teacher had been there for 15 years. That year there were 30 pupils. At first the head was quite friendly, but suddenly decided that we were asking too many questions and became suspicious and angry. We can’t give you all this information, why do you want it? I was taken aback, having visited countless village schools in Albania and some in Azerbaijan where a visit by a foreigner was a welcome event and often led to learning a lot about the neighbourhood as well as comparing pedagogic methods. Education, I should have realised after our visit to Hasanabad’s secondary school, is an area where the Iranian state kicks in. One of the first steps taken by the new Islamic state in 1979 was to introduce segregated education, to desecularise the curriculum, and to introduce anti-Western material into lessons. Mr Bonyadi, Minister of Education, announced in 2011 that schools are ‘the one place targeted by the enemy to wage its soft war’.3 Even at the lax Aliabad school, where we were allowed to talk to the children in the classrooms and look at their books, the head told us that taking photographs was not allowed. After Cheshmebardi we drove on and saw in a field of tomatoes a large number of men and women picking. Bolvardi, on the lookout for some free produce, insisted that it would be interesting to talk to them. They told us that they were all one family, at least 20 of them, and this was their own land. Having acquired a kilo or two of free tomatoes, Bolvardi remembered that we were not far from an area with hundreds of pomegranate trees. We drove on and came to large pomegranate orchards with quantities of dazzling red fruit for sale beside the road. After Bolvardi had satisfied his passion for driving a hard bargain, we turned back and stopped at the top of a village perched steeply above a river. We walked down to a house in front of which stood a young woman who invited us in. While she was away making tea in the part of the house where her brothers-in-law lived, we noticed hanging on the wall a large photograph of a man. When she came back with the tea, Bolvardi asked who this man was. A

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sad story emerged. Two years before, her husband and elder son, aged eight, had been killed in a lorry accident. While she was telling us the tragic details, a rather unpleasant-mannered brother (the youngest and unmarried) of the dead husband came in and out without joining us. He was slightly undersized and generally poorlooking. By her curled lip and manner towards him it seemed that our hostess did not like him, and by the way he tried to order her about we feared that she might be made to marry him. This arrangement would anyway be customary. We asked if she had considered returning to live in her village; several miles away, but she said the graves were here and she wanted to be near them. Following these Tajik village interludes we went to Gachabad, a settlement not far from Aliabad. This had been a former summer pasture for Qashqa’i pastoralists from the Kazerun area. A few families were here for the three summer months, but without animals, just for the cooler climate. Most of the people we spoke to were friends or relations of Bolvardi’s, and a number of them worked abroad and were just here for the holidays. They were based across a shallow river, which we crossed balancing on logs. Jafari, who had initially stayed with the car, eventually came to look for us. As he was crossing by the logs he was waved back by some men who told him strangers were not allowed. We cleared up the misunderstanding, but it was obvious that this was no normal village; it had been turned into an exclusive summer playground for the holidaying Qashqa’i who owned land here. The families gathered at the top of a cliff on the near side of the river were weekending urban Qashqa’i who now live and work in Shiraz. They were the children and grandchildren of former tent dwellers. They were all staying in their inherited or rebuilt houses. They were obviously enjoying themselves immensely, barbecuing, making bread, and baking it in a traditional oven. One man came and talked to me while I ate the village-style bread made for me by a woman who was relishing doing country things. As it was Ramazan I asked him if he was fasting and he said no, I am not a Muslim, I am a Zoroastrian. When I relayed this to Bolvardi later he said dismissively: ‘I bet he wouldn’t say that to the authorities.’

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Life at the Bolvardis Eventually, after several weeks of basement life, I decided to accept the Bolvardis’ invitation to move to their flat in the 20-year-old satellite town/suburb, Golestan. New towns have been a big feature of government planning over the last two decades, and 67 per cent of Iranians are now urban dwellers. Golestan is a pleasant enough town, much less dominated by fearsome traffic than Shiraz, and close to the mountains. It has a neighbourhood park recently built by Golestan’s town council on the side of a hill and imaginatively designed as a maze, with lots of self-contained play and sitting spaces. We went over there one evening to find the grass slopes covered with picnicking groups sitting on carpets or cloths enjoying the cool of the evening. One man was alone praying on a spread-out cloth, two boys in their twenties were smoking hookahs, two others were playing chess. In the spaces between the green banks mothers sat on benches watching their children play. There were areas for swings, for volleyball and football. There were clean accessible lavatories for males and females. Along the low surrounding walls old and young women sat chatting. There was an intensely friendly local feeling of relaxation and enjoyment. Hearing two young women speaking Turkic, Bolvardi asked if they were Qashqa’i. They were and had come to study in Shiraz, where they were learning to be physiotherapists. On our way home we stopped to visit some relatives who lived in a one-storey house with a small front garden and wide veranda. A daughter, with the customary flowered sheet over her head, was praying on the veranda but got up to greet us. Interrupting someone at prayer, as I had already discovered, is not a problem; they just continue after the interruption. She went indoors and a son came out with slices of melon for us. He had studied engineering and until two months before had been employed building footbridges. Now he was jobless. The need for footbridges to avoid the daily terror of trying to cross four streams of cars hurtling along a wide highway even in the centre of towns (there are almost no traffic lights, as already noted) is all too clear. A cousin joined us who had a job supervising the laying of cables. He was glad to have work (obtained through a brother-in-law),

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but would have preferred to have a job in management, the subject he had studied at university. Back at home there was an electricity cut. Electricity was both subsidised and rationed, with regular unannounced cuts. The fact that every town dwelling has gas lighting as well as electric mitigates the inconvenience when it is dark, though you have to take a candle to the lavatory. But it was frustrating for Davoud, prevented from gunning people down on his PlayStation 2. At the same time it gave his mother the chance to read aloud to us from Hafez: Sweet maid, if thou wouldst charm my sight, And bid these arms my neck infold; That rosy cheek, that lily hand, Would give thy poet more delight Than all Bocara’s vaunted gold, Than all the gems of Samarcand. She also read us poems by the twentieth-century poet Parvin Etesami, one of a number, I was pleased to learn, of distinguished female poets. For a woman who was not very interested in public life, who devoted her life to cooking for Bolvardi and looking after Davoud, Sara’s familiarity and huge enjoyment of Persian poetry was striking. She knew many poems by heart and recited and read inspiringly. I was struck by how much Davoud was enjoying the recital, occasionally reading aloud himself. Love of their poets and reciting poetry really is central to Iranians, relished by young and old. The electricity came back in time for us to watch CNN’s Persian service, which, while having its own bias, is a lot more informative than the censored Iranian state news. Millions of households have the forbidden satellites, and steps are taken only sporadically by the government to chop them down. One evening the family lighted on an American channel showing a spoof boxing match on CNN in which one victim after another was seemingly killed. The family, who believed they were watching real deaths, were appalled but glued to the set. Why after all would they not believe the evidence of their eyes when public hangings were part of their own experience? A man had

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in fact been hanged publicly in Shiraz two months before. When I asked about this it was explained that he had gone around robbing and raping, that this was probably nothing political, simply an example to deter. In such cases people thought the punishment was acceptable. There were plenty of programmes on licit Iranian channels which were watched by choice, such as a daily Korean serial – a mediaeval melodrama dubbed into Persian; or during the Olympics, non-stop jingoistic programmes celebrating Iranian achievements in martial arts or football. Also popular was an Iranian serial of Joseph and his brothers, avidly and sometimes tearfully watched as ham actors milked viewers’ emotions. On one occasion Sara called, ‘Come and look, there’s a programme about those ashayer you like on television’. True to form, it was a romanticised look at nomad life emphasising the old-fashionedness. There were picturesque shots of flocks and old women’s lined faces; nothing of everyday practice. Presumably this view reflects the government’s wish to project ashayer as past history and rustic culture rather than contemporary life. But it was interesting that Sara, descended from a Qashqa’i family, did not relate to the ashayer in the film either. Listening at night to different Iranian radio stations was also quite enlightening culturally. All programmes, TV and radio, are prefaced with the words ‘in the name of God’, ‘be na¯me khoda¯’. There were often recitals of Persian poetry, anomalously, it seemed to me, read to a background of Western classical music. Why was this Western accompaniment acceptable? A young classical guitarist I met on a bus had told me that traditional Iranian instruments and music were promoted by the state at the expense of Western classical music. I had noticed that it was not uncommon for young girls to learn the setar or the santour. So one might wonder why it was acceptable to have Hafez or Saadi recitals accompanied by Western music. There were the expected religious programmes on several channels – sometimes prayers, sometimes sermons. There was Radio Javan (‘youth’) with its bracing nationalist programmes urging young citizens to get up and exercise and be good Muslims, very reminiscent of communist Albania’s Pioneri programmes. Less expected was Radio Farhang (‘culture’) which discussed an odd assortment of foreign culture from the Romantic

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French writers such as Sainte-Beuve, to Wagner, Nietzsche or Tolstoy. Who listened to these programmes and who put them together? One evening Bolvardi came back in a state of high excitement. He and many other Shirazi try to supplement their incomes through property speculation and negotiating property deals. This may involve both buying land to sell and acting as freelance estate agent between property seekers and sellers. Today he believed he was on the verge of striking a deal between the state gas company’s board of directors and a landowning lawyer who, like Bolvardi, was a Qashqa’i. The lawyer hoped to sell a large piece of land on which two years previously he had planted fruit trees and put in an irrigation system. The hope was that at least 70 of the gas company’s employees would sign up to buy weekend plots. The landowner had a cash-flow problem preventing him from investing in another enterprise, so was prepared to sell these initial plots at a reduced rate to gain the necessary capital. He’d been convinced by Bolvardi that he could recoup this loss as soon as there were initial buyers, as the gas company would then install gas in the village, thereby attracting more buyers and higher prices for these plots with all mod cons. As there is a big demand for escape to a place in the country away from urban pollution, there was a chance that a deal might be struck. To add to Bolvardi’s euphoria there was a possibility of another deal, this time with a Kuwaiti who wanted to buy 500 hectares of land within easy reach of Shiraz. Bolvardi, always optimistic, was convinced that he was about to become a rich man. However, the deal between the gas company and the landowning lawyer dragged on for months. The gas company had insisted on lowering the price further. The final deal could not go through at all unless at least ten employees signed up to buy a plot. Days went by and there were no takers. Then it emerged that someone had forgotten to circulate the advertisement round the company. More delay. By now many workers were away on holiday. After three months of anxious waiting, the requisite minimum did sign up, and the deal, regrettably shrunken in terms of middleman profit, went through. The Kuwaiti man had vanished back to Kuwait, but Bolvardi was still looking forward to the profitable sale of his Ghalat plot. He was waiting until the spring to sell when

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suddenly in early 2008 land prices fell sharply. Owners of plots who had waited just too long were gutted. Before dawn one morning Bolvardi got up to go and join the coupon queue for government-subsidised goods. At 6 a.m. he found 94 people already there before him. The coupons entitled one to meat, beans, rice, lentils, sugar and tea at reduced prices. Subsidies and rationing were a significant element in housekeeping, with variations depending on whether pensioners, unemployed or war martyrs were involved. A family irrespective of size was entitled to one litre of milk at the subsidised price (250 tomans) every two days; if they wanted more, they had to pay double. Each person was entitled to 900 grams of sunflower oil and sugar per month, and three kilos of rice. There was a small reduction in the price of chicken, lamb and beef for pensioners. But ‘as long as the mullahs eat for nothing, every day the worse it is for the rest of us’ goes the saying. Electricity, as noted, was also both subsidised and rationed. One curious economic transaction each week was the stale bread collection. Accumulated stale bread had to be left in a bag outside the house or entrance to the block of flats. This was collected by the municipal authority to be recycled as animal fodder, in exchange periodically for a small amount of washing powder or similar household item. Over these days with the Bolvardis I began to meet some of Sara’s relations. An aunt came to visit one morning with her 40-somethingyear-old son. He would have been a handsome man but for the blackened teeth and gradually darkening skin on his face. His mother had repeatedly taken him for opium-addiction treatment but he had always reverted. He was divorced and his wife had re-married. The aunt’s father had been an English lecturer. Although the aunt’s English had been dormant for years, when she tried to recall it to talk to me, it came out in a series of hesitant but perfectly formed phrases pronounced in an upper-class English accent. I heard the same accent when talking to other educated elderly urban Qashqa’i such as the painter Bahadori, and the nomad school founder Bahmanbegi, both of whom I met later. On another occasion one of Sara’s sisters brought a cousin, Hamid, a recent returnee from Germany, to visit. He had just finished a

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degree in architecture and had become engaged to a Japanese fellow student. He said he was hardly able to breathe in the Shiraz summer pollution at first and had felt ill for some time. Nevertheless he planned eventually to settle back here with his Japanese fiance´e. His parents and a brother had come with him and, on discovering that his brother had lived in America, I tried to converse with him in English, which he was said to speak. He did know some colloquial English, was genial-looking and friendly but turned out to be yet another opium addict and unable to sustain a conversation in any language beyond a sentence or two before lapsing into smiling silence. Before they left, Hamid asked for my telephone number in England, which he and his fiance´e might be visiting. As soon as they were out of the door, Sara started hysterically screaming at me: ‘They are bad people, they will rob you, what are you doing inviting them to your house?’ Bewildered I waited for Bolvardi to come back from seeing off the guests to explain this outburst. He calmed Sara down. But the cause of the outburst was outrage at my friendly overture to relations she did not like. ‘They always think they’re socially superior to us and act high and mighty,’ she fumed. Every so often we would visit one of Sara’s sisters who both lived in Golestan. One had just moved from Ghalat to be nearer Shiraz for her student sons. On our way over to her house one afternoon with Davoud, Sara stopped to buy us all cans of juice, one of which she opened, put a straw in and started to drink as we walked down the street. I suddenly remembered that it was Ramazan. ‘Hey, put them away, someone might see us,’ I exclaimed. ‘Gosh, I’d forgotten,’ said Sara, quickly hiding the cans in her bag to avoid ugly confrontations with the morality police. This sister’s house was the lower floor of a small two-storey house with a yard in front of it. The kitchen was two steps up from the sitting room and open to it. There were two other small rooms, in one of which the two brothers in their mid and late twenties slept. One sister was married, the other, Nasrin, was hoping, it was believed, to marry her first cousin, the one who had at one time built footbridges. The cousin was now working part-time for a taxi agency which ferried foreign visitors around. At 28 he was much more concerned

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about getting a proper job than starting a family with a jobless 20-year-old. Marriage, however nice the cousin, was hardly practicable. Nasrin’s older sister had married a man with a large vegetable and fruit garden in Nurabad from which the family received lots of fresh produce. Every meal was accompanied by piles of different green leaves such as coriander, mint, sorrel, basil, dill, tarragon, so that a family source of fresh greenery was much valued. The elder brother, who was 29, was too shy to try to speak English. But he wanted to know how he could be more successful at speaking English, and looked very pleased when I told him to listen to his favourite pop songs. After that each time we met he would try to reproduce the words he had not understood and I would try to guess what they meant.

Appearances Sara and I sometimes took the bus into Shiraz, usually to pay a visit to the Bazaar Vakil, where Sara would linger over the innumerable bolts of material in wonderful colours and patterns, or bargain with trinket sellers. Getting to Shiraz from Golestan involved a long bus ride, a good opportunity for observing fellow passengers and the varied mix of hejab. You can see how widely, given the rules, women’s dress varies and the extent to which the rules can be stretched. Every woman and girl may have a different kind of hejab, from a chador draped from head to ankle with a wimple-type headdress under the chador so that the hair line is hidden (this, as noted, for the Islamic zealots), to the flimsiest of headscarves pulled well back to show as much hair as possible. And if they are bolder, short at the back showing a ponytail. Many women and girls wear a Sloane-type headscarf, while others wear a magh’nai, the wimple-like hood which fits over the head and under the chin with the material opening out to reach the shoulders. The magh’nai can be flatteringly pulled back from the forehead to show the hair. Those who do not wear chadors – the majority – wear a manteau, coloured or black, longer or shorter, looser or tighter depending on age, over trousers. The manteau can be flattering, and uniformed schoolgirls in navy manteaus and magh’nai look charming. Hejab is not in itself such a big deal aesthetically, but politically, as a symbol of

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the government’s imposition of its interpretation of Islam, it is hugely significant and impinges on every aspect of daily life. A woman who goes up to the roof to hang out the washing must cover herself. Before answering the door she must throw a sheet over her head and wrap it round her. If she goes out to her balcony she must be covered lest a male neighbour see her. I was once standing at a bus stop with Sara when the woman next to her indicated that there was something amiss with my magh’nai. Completely misinterpreting her gesture I angrily ripped off the magh’nai and for several rebellious seconds stood exposed. The poor woman had in fact merely observed out of helpfulness that one bit of the material needed adjusting. I was surprised at my reaction and wondered why I minded what I had misunderstood as being told I had ‘bad hejab’. I concluded that a month of sweltering in the heat and conforming had irrationally got to me. Irrational, because I actually enjoyed the fact that one was not recognisably a foreigner thanks to hejab. For the woman who has to live with hejab permanently it doubtless contributes to the effort put into beautifying the face itself. At a friend’s hairdressing salon I had watched customers undergoing beauty procedures: eyebrow plucking and face threading. And having a nose job is as common as the media would have one believe. However, as men also often have nose jobs despite their freedom from hejab, this kind of surgery looked to me more like the fashion, the cool thing to do. This was not the view, however, of two sisters I met, friends of Jafari. Masoumeh, the elder sister, a Persian- (as opposed to Turkic-) speaking girl, spoke good English. She and Jafari had both had surgery, and Rokhsaneh, Jafari’s niece, was just about to have it. Masoumeh asserted that the nose-surgery phenomenon is a symptom of a sense of national inferiority. It must have been the same belief which lay behind her concern with whiteness of skin. She puzzled me at first by saying that Lor and Turkic Iranians were all beautiful. This turned out to mean that they were whiter skinned (in her opinion). This theory was baseless, as both Tajik and non-Tajik varied as regards lightness or darkness of skin. But the preoccupation is widespread. When I sat on the balcony (briefly) in the sun, Sara explained to Davoud that this was to imbibe vitamin D. Sara herself

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was very worried about tanning, and instructed me whenever I came from England to bring anti-tanning cream. Masoumeh, who was 24 and soon to be married, was interesting on the subject of work. She said younger-generation women want to work, and their husbands want them to work to bring in more income. However, preference is given to men where the more desirable jobs are concerned, so women have to put up with less wellpaid, less interesting jobs. She worked for a private import– export firm where she could use her English, while her sister worked for a state firm. Government jobs at this time, 2007, were preferred to jobs with private firms because every three months employees received clothes and food coupons. They also got health insurance and pensions. Masoumeh’s pay was slightly better than her sister’s, but came with no perks and no pension. At the state firm her sister had to wear strict hejab while Masoumeh could show quite a lot of hair and even wear a little make-up. Both girls when I was with them were dressed glamorously with lots of hair showing and fairly tight manteaus. From them I learnt that in their circles at least, an unrelated man, however long you may have known him, is addressed by his surname. They did not call Jafari by his first name, Kourosh, even though they had all known each other for years. While I was with Masoumeh we talked about differences between Persian-speaking Iranians and the Qashqa’i. She said that the Lor and the Qashqa’i had all suffered very difficult childhoods due to poverty. Through hard work and putting all they had into education they were now successful citizens, to be admired for their achievement. She seemed to be leaning over backwards to be tolerant towards their humble origins while at the same time resenting them. Evidently, she knew nothing of the past generations of educated Qashqa’i landowners. We discussed fasting in Ramazan, and she said she did fast except on Fridays when, because she was at home, the fridge contents were too difficult to resist. She asked me what religion I was and I said that my religion was really more about morality than a particular faith. She said: ‘That’s what my father believes.’

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Winter pasture land The neat and clean bus station for the Nurabad region west of Shiraz with its aesthetic yard and fountain was quite unlike the frenetic grotty bus station I had anticipated. Perhaps the order and salubriousness were due to the fact that the second storey of the building housed the city council offices for that part of town. From the bus on the way down to our destination two hours away I caught sight of a dozen camels outlined against the sky along the top of a hill; a bit of luck, as most nomads use trucks in this area nowadays. Shortly before Chenar Shahijan (Qaemiyeh) the narrow road winds for several kilometres between steep mountainsides, leading to lifethreatening attempts to overtake. Chenar Shahijan was founded some 30 years ago as a town for nomads to settle in, part of a government campaign to sedentarise and control nomads – a campaign that showed little awareness of the adverse effects it would have either on meat and dairy production or on pasture lands. Bolvardi’s plan, in as much as he had one, was to travel on to Nurabad, stay in a hotel and talk to random locals scattered round the countryside. I asked him instead to take me to his sister’s house in a village near Chenar Shahijan. Staying with people from the area who were relations and friends would be much more useful than random

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encounters with strangers. Bolvardi could easily have forewarned his sister but had not, so to soften the unexpectedness of our descent we went off to buy a chicken. Having located a butcher’s, Bolvardi demonstratively instructed the employees how the bird should be skinned and quartered. This performance was followed by another of even louder exhibitionism in the middle of the road where Bolvardi accused each taxi driver he asked of daylight robbery. At last an acceptably cheap taxi was found, driven by a poor man whose village water sources had dried up so that he had had to abandon agriculture. At the sister’s house, which was part of a complex of three houses in a yard, the house in the middle unfinished, the shared lavatory building in between, we woke up 24-year-old Reza. He had been partying the night before, sharing his home-made wine with friends down by the river, and was sleeping late. His parents were in Aliabad so he took us to his elder brother’s house at the other end of the yard. His brother Abdollah was married to Zohreh who was the daughter of another of Bolvardi’s sisters, another first-cousin marriage. She taught maths in a secondary school in a nearby town, but as a result of a back injury had had several months off. She would be teaching again as soon as the autumn term started. Inside we found Zohreh with her four-year-old daughter, Maral, who was playing with the daughter of the family’s shepherd, a little girl with strikingly blue eyes. The children were dressing up in Qashqa’i dresses of the sort worn at weddings. Maral’s Turkic name represented a trend for avoiding Arabic names, symptomatic of the Iranian dislike of Arabic culture noted in the previous chapter. The one-storey house followed the modern pattern of the kitchen separated from the living room by no more than a counter, enabling Zohreh to take part in the conversation while she was cooking. Also indicative of less gender division, it was established procedure in all the houses I visited that men, whether husbands, brothers or sons, helped with the setting out and clearing away of meals. The house, like all houses (and nomad tents), was carpeted all the year round. Vacuum cleaners reduced a once much more labour-intensive task. More surprising than the vacuum cleaners was the fact that every village house I saw in this hot region had a ‘kooler’ – air-conditioning. Even though electricity was

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government subsidised (until 2011), as well as rationed, I was surprised to find how widespread koolers were. It was this modern innovation that enabled more inhabitants of this qishlaq/garmsir (winter pasture), i.e. lower-altitude warm region, to remain in the area even in summer, when midday temperatures averaged 45–47 degrees. Reza had been abroad for nearly a year, the result of an attempt to get to England via Turkey. He had paid a specialist group to issue him with a false Israeli passport. Unluckily, he was robbed of all his savings in Turkey, where he had to remain in order to earn enough to continue with his original plan. (As a Turkic speaker, the language at least was not a problem.) Eventually he set off for England via Vienna, but was caught by the Austrian police, who deported him to Iran. On his return Reza resumed his studies at nearby Kazerun University. But not before he was confronted by the local Basij accusing him of being a traitor for having an Israeli passport. It took him some time to convince them that he was harmless but he succeeded in the end by making clear to them, as he put it: ‘I am just a confused young man.’ As noted, the Basij politicisation of religion, merging God, morals and government surveillance, is a source of dislike and fear. Because all the Qashqa’i I had met were indifferent to, or critical of, state religion, I was surprised to learn that there were Qashqa’i Basiji in these villages and a Basij head in the next village. It should have been obvious to me that it would be government policy to recruit from all sections of society, the better to exercise control across the board. By offering certain desirable perks such as easier access to university or entry into state sector jobs, or the right to skip military service, the regime can attract Basij members from a wide range of backgrounds. Abdollah, aged 32, six foot six with an initially rather intimidating serious demeanour, was head of the village shura (village council), a position achieved by popular vote; both males and females vote. There were about 850 inhabitants in this village, Behrouzabad. The other members of the shura, one of whom was a woman, were those who had won the next most votes. As well as dealing with the usual sort of problems, such as disputes over land boundaries or water rights, the shura to my surprise also dealt with disputes between married couples.

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A recent trend, Abdollah said, was daughters’ insistence on claiming their inheritance portions (half that of sons). In the late afternoon when the heat was less fearsome I asked if we could walk over to the next village, where the family had friends, one of whom I had met and liked at the wedding in Aliabad the year before. While Abdollah was busy with his animals and orange grove irrigation, Reza, Bolvardi and I crossed the river. Looking down from the bridge we saw a man from the state water company measuring the strength and speed of the flow – not, as I had thought, fishing. We walked up the steep road that looked across to bare desert mountainscape, while down below beside the river there were lurid green rice fields and clusters of date palms. Entering the next village, Javadgar, the first houses we saw still showed earthquake damage from three years before. The earthquake had struck at 2 a.m. and had caused serious structural damage to the buildings in both villages. Damaged village households had received financial help of $300 each from the government for rebuilding. The Behrouzabad school had been rebuilt with Japanese money. Japan is a major trading partner, and has of course extensive experience of earthquakes. We walked downhill into the village, and then up another hill where a dozen or so women and children were gathered chatting. The women were dressed in the local costume of colourful long dresses. They were very forthcoming, and asked if I would like to go to a wedding in the summer pasture area at the end of the week. Although they were spending more time here in the former winter pasture area they were still closely linked with summer pasture life. I asked them about weaving, and to my surprise they said that they wove much less than formerly because wool had become very expensive, reducing carpet sale profits. Presumably, the women I had seen weaving in the summer pasture villages were using their own flocks’ wool, while women down here with fewer animals had to buy wool. The families here were probably better off anyhow thanks to ample water and fertile fields, so carpet weaving as a source of income may not have been necessary. Reza, perhaps in anticipation of a visit he had in mind, was wearing despite the heat one of a collection of elegant but rather thick

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long-sleeved T-shirts acquired abroad. He suggested we go and see some friends of his (actually the family of the girl he was in love with). This family’s house was very luxurious-looking, with chairs and coffee tables as well as the usual floor-seating arrangements. The father, like the man in the river, worked for the water board, evidently a significant source of local employment in addition to income from orange, date and rice cultivation. One of the little girls from the group we had talked to up the hill came running in. She asked Reza whether I would accept a present from her mother. This turned out to be a charming woven picture of two partridges, a very popular Iranian motif. When we got back to Abdollah’s house he surprised me by asking for an account of what I had seen, and paying careful attention to what I said despite the obscurity of my Persian. Over the next days when he drove us to visit different families in the area, he showed the same attention to detail, pointing out things that he thought would interest me culturally as well as economically, asking the people we visited for the sort of information about their life and work which I was keen to learn. He had become a specialist in ashayer affairs, I later discovered, advising them where possible how to overcome some of the legal and practical problems they encountered. He would prompt me to put questions to them and explain in proper Persian if they did not understand me. He drew my attention to customs and objects to avert the evil eye (such as the burning of certain seeds like esfand, which are also used in bread-making), and would notice that a carpet with an unusual motif was being woven inside a tent. This was a very welcome contrast to Bolvardi who, if I could get a word in edgeways, would answer my questions himself, still failing to understand that I wanted to know how the nomads felt about things and to get a discussion going. For some reason Bolvardi could never remember that we were undertaking these trips for my research and that I could learn almost nothing while he held forth to ashayer in Turkic about his past exploits as a student in Germany. Very much a performer, he loved getting a laugh with some story about his life 25 years before. His exuberance and unfailing good humour were engaging but made him less useful as a trigger of opinion or transmitter of information.

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Since petrol rationing had been introduced in 2007, filling up with petrol involved sitting in long hot queues, even longer this year than the year before. But the following day, finally fuelled, we left Chenar Shahijan with Abdollah as guide. The first village we stopped in was called Barmsiyah where we talked to the head of the shura, whose large family was gathered in the yard in front of their house. He had been the head teacher of the primary school. He said many of the young were leaving the village for the town because there was no work, no water and very little prospect of improvement. His own family consisted of five daughters (all married, his wife proudly emphasised) and three sons, all without work. Opium addiction was a serious problem in the village, he told us. Continuing on our way we stopped to talk to a group of people standing outside a house with a small flock of goats. They had just moved from the only settlement in the area that still had no electricity. A question I asked about their goats led them to think I wanted to buy one, which they were happy about until we explained the misunderstanding. In a village called Yekigan we stopped to have lunch with friends of Bolvardi. We found a large gathering of people with the host, including several of his brothers who had come over for the day. One brother had been a teacher some years before at this village’s school and was bemoaning the fact that there were almost no pupils now. Many of the Qashqa’i winter houses had fallen into ruin as the owners in desperation had moved to towns. A mixture of negligence and obstruction on the government’s part was responsible for this abandonment of pastoralism, he argued. He believed that if water exploration had been systematically undertaken, there would have been adequate resources for agriculture and herding. ‘The mullahs have ruined everything; they didn’t bring water, roads or electricity until five years ago – too late to maintain or re-establish this way of life.’ The government is now aware, albeit very belatedly, that increased incentives to prevent the outflow from rural areas are imperative. Promises to bring gas to every village are repeated, though doubters claim that in reality the government prefers to sell the gas more profitably abroad. Ahmadinejad had promised to reverse the migration from villages to towns, to revive the agricultural

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economy, to bring water to drought areas– but in this area at least it looked as though it was too late. Bolvardi was not helping to promote the village as a worthwhile place to live either. He asked every young person he met if they had higher-education qualifications or at least high-school ones, rebuking them if they had not. Now, once again extolling higher education at the expense of practical skills, he triggered an impassioned argument between some of those present, in particular the school teacher, who felt that precisely this attitude had contributed to the rural exodus, urban unemployment and the further erosion of village and transhumant life. One of those present was a very pleasant quiet man from Bushehr, a Tajik (i.e. Persian speaker), and it was thanks to him that much of the conversation was held in Persian rather than Turkic, enabling me to understand more than usual. Lunch was brought in and the argument fizzled out as Bolvardi, whose weakness for food was phenomenal, incontinently stuffed himself from every dish in sight. After lunch the eldest brother of the host arrived and proceeded to get out his rather sophisticated opiumsmoking equipment. A charcoal-burning contraption was brought to heat the opium in the pipe, and I waited to see what effect it would have. Theoretically it would make him very garrulous, but he was already extremely voluble, and it was hard to detect any difference. Various other relations had arrived with him, including a young woman with a newborn baby, and an older woman who set about smoking a qaylan. None of this smoking seemed to be a source of distress to the mother or the baby though the room was small and by this time rather crowded. The older woman was the second wife of one of the brothers, Armin Beg. She was immensely jolly as well as fat, and her joie de vivre may have been partly due to the fact that she had borne five boys to the first wife’s five girls (the reason for marrying a second wife). Eventually, everyone got up to go, and we drove on to some friends who lived in the agricultural centre for the region, Baba Munir. Given the loss of population from the region this was a surprisingly flourishing small town with some impressive municipal buildings and a smart bank, all recently built. Perhaps these were part of the

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belated attempt by the government to resurrect rural life. We first visited Rahim Kazami and his wife and young daughters. Rahim was deeply miserable because the drought had caused his lemon grove (planted by his father) to dry up and die. His insurance only covered the price of the fruit he would have sold, not the cost of re-planting. Like everyone else he had been very seriously affected by this year’s drought. To make things worse, his system of plastic irrigation pipes had been regularly holed by thirsty hedgehogs. He was so gloomy that I thought he must now be destitute. It later emerged that he had an adequate income as a civil servant in the local agricultural department, and it was more the emotional blow that was depressing him. The other household we visited here belonged to relations of Zaynab, the mother of the Ghalat family. Their house was big, with high ceilings and long pleasant rooms, and an indoor lavatory. While they were regaling us with tea and fruit I was struck by Abdollah trying to catch the attention of the eight- or nine-year-old daughter of the house, addressing her as ‘Xanom’ (Madam); it seems there is no less formal way to address a female child with whom you are not acquainted. The family was preparing for the wedding later that week of a daughter. She had qualified as a dentist in Esfahan, and was therefore older than many brides. Old and ugly, according to Sara, contrary to the evidence of the photographs. The family lived close to the imamzadeh that had given the town its name of Baba Munir. They took us to see the 800-year-old building, which was impressively holy-feeling and full of bat droppings. Many of the lanes we crossed to get to the imamzadeh were dug up in preparation for promised gas pipes to be laid. On our way back to Abdollah’s village we stopped to talk to some nomads whose tent was pitched under a wild pistachio tree. Abdollah noticed that inside the tent a woman was weaving a carpet and we went in to look. The woman said she always wove alone (more often carpets are woven by two women) and that she sold her carpets in the town. These nomads wintered in Fasa, an even hotter area, so that to them the heat here seemed tolerable. However, they had a severe water problem, and Abdollah, having examined their pasture land, said that he could tell that there would be underground water here.

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He told them how to find it, and gave them his telephone number so that he could help them to find out more. We drove on, and were just pulling off the road up a dirt track to talk to another nomad family when Abdollah said he thought we were being followed. Sure enough a car pulled off the road behind us and peremptorily signalled to us to stop. The police. Bolvardi went over to them. An armed soldier got out and stood to attention beside their car while the officers cross-questioned Bolvardi before summoning me to hand over my passport. Cold and hostile, they laboriously copied down all the details from my passport before curtly ordering me to return to the car. No apologies for their rude, officious behaviour, unwarranted as my visa was in order. They told Bolvardi they had heard there was a foreigner in the area and claimed they were worried for her safety, as a foreigner had been abducted the year before. Bolvardi had pulled out his Shiraz tour guide licence (completely undeserved as he had no idea about any of Shiraz’s monuments, but clearly a valuable asset under the circumstances) and said that I was being shown some local nomad culture. This proved acceptable and we were dismissed as harmless. They returned our documents and drove off. Bolvardi cursed them as officious Lor who were just trying to make trouble. However, when we passed them on the road later in the day they waved cheerily. At home Zohreh was kindly preparing a speciality from kashk, whey (the liquid left after cheese-making) and aubergines. The taste of kashk, as I have indicated, is an acquired one – it evokes rancid mutton fat – but a lot of trouble had gone into making this treat, so demolishing a large soup plateful was a necessity. Maral was ‘writing’, or rather pretending to write, words, and, oddly, was writing from left to right as if for the Latin alphabet. Her father was very proud of her skills and I got her to teach me how to write her name (the right way round). In the evenings after the men had moved to the other house, mattresses were unrolled and we bedded down with Maral. Zohreh had initially seemed rather reserved but became communicative when we were alone. I sensed that relations between the families were not as close as they might have been and that they saw Sara as the reason for this. They had not seen Davoud since he

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was small. I was glad I had not known the background before insisting that Bolvardi bring me here. I would have missed out on some of the most interesting days I had spent so far. One night, Zohreh brought out an album of her wedding photographs. Looking at the stylised poses, much like those in Albanian wedding pictures, I recalled how shocked northern Albanians were when I told them that in some countries parents prefer first-cousin marriage for their children. In northern Albania marrying a cousin, however distant, is forbidden by the law of the Kanun. One day, a Friday, I asked Zohreh if they would be going to the mosque. No, we never go to the mosque, she said, neither to the one in the village nor in Kazerun. Given the role which the Basij play as vigilantes, and given the fact that they are based in mosques, this was not so surprising. We headed with Abdollah for Kazerun, where we once more sat in a long hot queue for petrol. Much of the time while driving Abdollah would sing Qashqa’i songs, tunefully but unobtrusively. Unlike Bolvardi he knew all the words. On the outskirts of Kazerun were the university buildings and an imamzadeh. Right across the road were some ashayer tents, one pitched just outside a walled date-palm garden. This family had originally spent the summers in Khesht but now lived here all the year round, renting this piece of land for grazing and selling their sheep and goats. The situation, given their poverty, made sense as they had a continuous source of water from the imamzadeh, and construction work for the father across the road as the university expanded. The sons found intermittent casual work in the town and the youngest daughter went to school nearby. The three daughters told me that this life was very difficult. They would much rather live in a house, but the family could not afford one. A family in another tent nearby had decided this year not to go as they usually did to the summer pastures (yaylaq) near Hasanabad as, due to the drought, there would be no water there. Instead they had come here from their winter pasture further south (where they also had no house) because here they had access to tank water and could rent grazing land. These were the first ashayer I had met who lived in tents all the year round. This had been common up until 40 or

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50 years ago, but increasingly ashayer had built houses either in their winter or summer pasture places. The fact that these nomads were now living close to the town and taking advantage of urban employment suggested that their herding survival strategy was unlikely to last much longer. One of the men said that ashayer life in his childhood had been much better, because far less potential grazing land was owned then and nomads were freer to go anywhere where water was available. The nomads I had spoken to the year before in the summer pasture areas above Hasanabad took a quite different view. They had said, as related above, that the life of the pastoralist was much better now that they had motorbikes, mobile phones, and could truck the animals between the winter and summer pastures. Both groups were right: there was less available grazing land and the living conditions were better. Perhaps the divergence in views was down to their current respective income levels, individual luck, skill or initiative. There was mention of a government programme to house nomads, and we found several rows of houses higher up the hillside close to the town. Some were still under construction, a few were already inhabited. The one we went into belonged to an uncle who was away for the summer. We found a large number of people inside: men, women and children, including neighbours. One of the men, who acted as spokesman and was dressed rather smartly, worked for the oil-prospecting company in Kazerun, the only Qashqa’i, he said, who worked there. It transpired that there was a struggle between Kazerun Council and the Qashqa’i nomads who had documents for this piece of land. A complicating factor was that the council had undertaken a tree-planting programme on the side of the mountain where the land is officially recognised as belonging to the Qashqa’i. For the six years needed to establish the trees, the nomads would not be allowed to use this area. It was not clear what compensation they were being offered in the meantime, though theoretically one of these houses would be allocated to each family. However, the position so close to Kazerun meant that non-Qashqa’i locals were lobbying to displace the nomads and lay claim to the houses themselves.

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We had lunch with an ashayer family whose tent was further down the hill. These were old friends of Bolvardi. Mollah Massoud (‘mollah’ indicating in this case a person who could write) and his wife, a lively voluble woman, had 12 children, two of whom were present, as were a couple of brothers-in-law. After a delicious rich barley soup one of the brothers-in-law lit up his opium pipe, a simpler affair than any I had seen before, and proceeded to chain smoke throughout the afternoon. Again, there was no obvious change in his behaviour. The family had known the American anthropologist, Lois Beck, who had lived for some time with their relation, Borzu. Mollah Massoud was keen to move to America and jokingly hoped that I could make this possible. This family was also involved in a legal dispute with Kazerun Council. Writing to the council in Kazerun stating their claim had produced no answer. Abdollah, in his capacity as a specialist for ashayer problems, asked Massoud to show him the land rights documents – the parvanehcheh. Massoud got them from the box where they were kept and, after perusing them, Abdollah told him that he must go to Shiraz and wrote down the address of the right office. As soon as lunch was over, Abdollah, who had been to a wedding party until the small hours the night before, lay down on the ground and fell instantly asleep. Typical Qashqa’i, said Bolvardi, can sleep anywhere. That morning I had asked Abdollah how the party had been and he had replied with one of my favourite Persian expressions: ‘Ja¯ye shoma¯ xa¯li’ – your place was empty (i.e. you were missed). In the evening back in Behrouzabad, Abdollah produced with much pride a World War II Brno gun. It was very heavy, with beautifully polished wood, and complete with large gold-coloured bullets. Abdollah demonstrated how to load and sight it. He uses it for hunting and to kill wolves. But the gun also gave rise to reproaches I had heard before. Only this time they were specific to the Qashqa’i. I had accepted inherited guilt as far as British imperialism and early twentieth-century oil and railroad concessions went; even more so for the disgraceful removal in 1953 of Prime Minister Mossadeq who had had the nerve to fight British colonialism and to nationalise Persian oil, thereby depriving Britain of its favourable

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concession. But now I was being asked why the British had behaved so badly to the Qashqa’i. Clearly, the foreign powers were playing different Iranian factions off against each other and enlisting the support of whichever group or tribe was willing to be co-opted. But I did not know the specific details behind Qashqa’i Anglophobia. Subsequently I learnt that in the early twentieth century Qashqa’i help was enlisted by the Germans, who were intent on ousting the British from the Persian Gulf. Qashqa’i action had been thwarting British attempts at securing access to big oil interests. This led the British to pressurise Reza Pahlavi, recently turned shah, to suppress the Qashqa’i. The Shah at this point had his own reasons for wanting to curb tribal power and in 1926 arrested the leaders, banned Qashqa’i dress, imposed Western clothes, and introduced military conscription and a programme of sedentarisation. The position of tribal chief was abolished, and a military governor was given the job of managing the seasonal migrations and collecting taxes. A revolt in 1929 forced the Shah to release the leaders, but Qashqa’i resentment against the British, who were seen as underlying the Shah’s actions against them, persisted. The day we left we went to visit Armin Beg and his family of ten children and two wives in their spacious house in Chenar Shahijan. The family had just returned from the pilgrimage town of Mashhad and there was a stream of guests coming in and out. There was a lemon grove next to the house in which again, distressingly, half the trees were dead due to the drought. Inside there was a very long L-shaped room, high-ceilinged and airy, for entertaining. At the far end was a fountain and pool (without water) and a big wall painting above the pool of a goddess-like woman. We sat at the end opposite the pool and, to our left, on the short side of the L, sat the quiet Tajik friend from Bushehr, reading a newspaper. Beyond him on a table was a large desktop computer. The room filled up as more visitors dropped by and formed different groups. The older wife sat with some of her grandchildren, talking to a group of women. A very old man who I assumed was the grandfather (but turned out to be a neighbour) sat near the entrance, and from time to time someone would sit down next to him and courteously ask him how he was. The younger wife, she of

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five sons, bounced joyfully in and out of the room seeing to her guests and bringing tea and fruit. Two of the five sons were being naughty, dropping things through the hatch onto each other’s, and sometimes even their father’s, head, while the eldest son, a boy of 18, went round talking nicely to the guests; or restraining his brothers when they started playing too noisily on the computer. It was a wonderfully cheerful scene reminiscent of some Victorian-family festive gathering. The host and Bolvardi talked tirelessly about Qashqa’i history and tribal genealogies, a favourite topic of Bolvardi. When we left, the younger wife presented us each with a bag containing presents from Mashhad; these were the prayer objects: a tasbeh, rosary, and a mohr, the clay tablet. Also in the bag were a pair of stockings for women, socks for men, and qand (rock sugar) for both sexes. Returning to Shiraz, to my regret we took a savari, collective taxi, as the last bus had gone. I knew that the first stretch, the long narrow road twisting through the gorge, would be a series of heart-stopping attempts to overtake round blind bends. But fear was somewhat mitigated by the counter-irritant of a suitcase pressed sharply into my hip by the young man who sat between me and his wife.

Two distinguished Qashqa’i Back in Shiraz, Sara suggested a visit to the famous Qashqa’i painter, Bijan Bahadori, who was a cousin. We walked over to their house, which was also in Golestan, and found Bahadori, his wife and middle-aged children sitting outside on a small terrace. Hamid, the architecture student recently returned from Germany, was also there with his family, but it was not long before Sara froze them out and they left. Bahadori’s daughter, also a painter, brought out some of her father’s pictures to show us. These are large, very pleasing naı¨ve-style paintings in vivid colours, showing in decorative form Qashqa’i gatherings, encampments, weddings and scenes from daily life 50 years ago or more. The pictures are on the internet on Bijan Bahadori’s website. Bahadori had himself been an ashayer and later an ashayer teacher. These paintings and the life and history they portrayed were important to him as much for the record they

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provided of a treasured past life experienced in his youth, as for their artistic value. He was very courteous and welcoming, speaking English in a pleasant aristocratic way, albeit half forgotten. His daughter then fetched some of her paintings and those of the silent brother who was sitting with us. These were accomplished smallerscale pictures, again of ashayer subjects. I assumed the son must be another opium addict since he sat silently looking down throughout our visit, but apparently he had been like this since childhood and was merely painfully shy. Another son, who had emigrated to Europe, had recently held an exhibition of his father’s paintings in Holland for which they showed us the catalogue. The Bahadori house inside was English Edwardian in style with elegant furniture. The only other house I saw reflecting this style was that of another scion of Qashqa’i culture, Bahmanbegi. Mohammad Bahmanbegi, the founder of tent schools for ashayer children, projected the same old-world air of a gentleman, a very forceful one in his case. He was also from a Qashqa’i family, the son of a man who worked in the 1920s for the then Qashqa’i tribal leader, Ismail Khan. The Khan, noticing that Mohammad was an exceptionally bright child, took steps to ensure that he got a good education. Bahmanbegi eventually attended Tehran University where he studied law. On returning to Shiraz, he became concerned that ashayer children were not getting any education. He succeeded in raising enough interest amongst the wealthy Qashqa’i elite and the Iranian government to launch a teacher-training project for tent schools. The first teachers, who by government decision were not nomads, found the conditions involved in living with the nomads intolerably uncomfortable, as well one might. So Bahmanbegi raised funds from the tribal leaders to have a group of ashayer youth trained instead. This project coincided with the beginning of America’s Point Four Program in Iran, a development project with several motives, including an interest in supporting the Shah against the Prime Minister, Mossadeq. Subsequently, Bahmanbegi received some funding from the United States, as well as Peace Corps volunteer teachers to train the tent-school teachers. By 1954, 73 tent schools had opened. The Tribal Teacher Training School opened in Shiraz in

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1957. In 1967 a boarding school, the Tribal High School, was established, which by 1979 had two large campuses with over a thousand pupils. Bahmanbegi went on to establish a Tribal Carpet Weaving School, a Tribal Technical School, and training programmes for midwives and paramedics. Whatever doubts Qashqa’i leaders may have had, whether fear of losing political power or loss of the traditions and values that constituted their identity, the result was literacy for both ashayer girls and boys, and the wider opportunities that education opens up. Bahmanbegi appears to have exercised considerable diplomatic skills, gaining support from several rival players, national and local government, tribal leaders and American development agents, all of whom had conflicting aims and good reason to doubt the others’ motives. For example, Turkic as spoken by the Qashqa’i is not a written language, and tent education was in Persian, using the same books as sedentary school pupils used. Hence one source of Qashqa’i ambivalence towards the tent schools arose from the fear that education would lead to a loss of Qashqa’i identity, a loss of indigenous tradition and values. There was a well-founded suspicion that the Iranian government was supporting the project as a way to integrate the nomads into the national culture and economy so as to undermine Qashqa’i tribal autonomy and power. Certainly the Shah’s men, keen to disempower the tribal leaders, were happy to support the education project. There was also a feeling amongst the Qashqa’i elite that Bahmanbegi was getting above himself at their expense. He was replacing the tribal leaders as intermediaries between the nomad masses and the national government despite having sprung from humbler origins. Paul Barker, an anthropologist working in Iran at the time, writes: ‘Whereas in former years National Geographic writers called at the tent of Naser Khan [tribal leader], in the 1960s and 70s they knocked at the office door of Mohammad Bahmanbegi.’1 Bahmanbegi’s association with the Shah had produced generous government support for the tribal education project. But this same association led to his resignation and downfall as revolutionary anger turned against the Shah in 1978 – 9. In 1979 Naser Khan returned from exile in the United States to an ecstatic

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welcome from the tribes, who attacked Bahmanbegi’s house and forced him to flee to Shiraz. The Bolvardi family and I took a bus to Bahmanbegi’s house, which was surrounded by a large walled garden with a wood next to it. In the garden we found Bahmanbegi’s son, a doctor trained at King’s College Hospital London, over with his family for the holidays. Bahmanbegi’s second wife, originally an ashayer pupil of his, welcomed us. After some time, Bahmanbegi, aged close to 90, emerged from the house, and with the help of a nurse spent some time walking up and down the driveway to exercise a recovering sprained ankle. Eventually he sat down in a large chair and we were introduced. The most initially striking things about him were his enormous curiously shaped ears. We spoke English, and his English was perfect. His son, who was currently working at Luton Hospital near London, said that he could not understand his father’s English, presumably unused to this upperclass accent. Bahmanbegi took me slightly aback by saying that it must be a great honour for me to meet such a distinguished man as himself. But he had been much feted for his achievements, and deservedly so. More awkward to deal with was his misunderstanding, due to deafness, concerning me and Bolvardi. Despite Sara and Bolvardi’s son, Davoud, having been presented, he was convinced that Bolvardi and I were married. That must be a very interesting story, he said. Tell me how you met. Once we had got this confusion out of the way, which took some time, I asked him to tell me about his life, which he did while two retainers in Qashqa’i dress, a man and a woman, brought us delicious pastries and juice. A telephone call came from Bahmanbegi’s daughter, a doctor who lives and practises in the United States. I later learnt that a second son had succumbed to opium and committed suicide. We were taken to see some photographs in the drawing room before we left, a beautiful light room with a grand piano and elegant European furniture, a far cry from tent life.

Nomads from different tribes Having spent so much time with Qashqa’i, I thought it would be interesting to meet some non-Qashqa’i nomads. Dariush, the

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out-of-work footbridge engineer, one of Sara’s nephews, was to drive us to the ancient site of Pasargad. He waited for us downstairs as Sara was not on speaking terms with him this year and would not have him in the house. The cause of the friction lay in that common cause of family quarrels – land. Dariush’s mother, Sara’s sister, thought that their brother, Ahmad, had received more land from their parents than was his due. Dariush shared his mother’s view, Sara supported Ahmad. Pasargad was reached via many stops at ashayer tents. In fact the point of the day was to talk to nomads, with Pasargad thrown in as a bonus. The first tent we stopped at belonged to a widow from the Kortshuli tribe. The Kortshuli tribe, unlike the Qashqa’i, are of Arab origin and bilingual in Arabic and Persian rather than Turkic and Persian. For the last four years a young Hazzara Afghan from Mazaar e Sharif had worked for the family who wintered down in Jahrom. Before his death the husband had bought a house in the nearby town of Saadat Shahr. This house they rented out. The daughter went to a boarding school for nomad children during the winter months when her mother was in Jahrom. Now in summer they rented these recently harvested wheat fields to graze their goats (they had no sheep). The next tent we stopped at was also Arabic-speaking – father, mother and three pretty young daughters. They owned a house down in Darab (c.100 km south-east of Shiraz) where they spent the six winter months. Renting grazing land for their 200 sheep was more and more expensive but the land here was very good and still worth the price. There were large fields of cucumbers nearby filled with women workers from Darab who had come for the harvest. Beyond these fields was another Arab nomad family related to the one with three young daughters. They spent six months here and six months in Darab, living in a tent in both places. The father, a tall handsome man with a cast in one eye, looked grim when asked about the effects of the drought. We had arrived at feeding time and he gestured to the sacks of barley which were being emptied into the mangers near the tent. Grazing was inadequate due to the lack of rain, the price of barley was high as a result of the drought and having to buy so much barley for fodder was very expensive. He did not know how they would make ends meet.

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Nearing Pasargad we passed the famous conserves factory, Yek O Yek, whose sour-cherry jam we had for breakfast, and stopped for a picnic lunch beside a tree-lined stream. The pastoral setting was only slightly marred by the litter which floated down the stream and the length of time we had to wait for Bolvardi to wake up from his postprandial nap. Near Pasargad we found a large number of tents belonging to a group of Qashqa’i. These were not herders but tomato and cucumber pickers from Firuzabad (100 km south of Shiraz) who camp here each year for the picking season. Those of their families who are herders take their animals to summer pastures in Semirom near Esfahan. Pasargad is the site of Cyrus the Great’s tomb and was the first capital of Fars province 2,500 years ago. The site does not compare with Persepolis. There are far fewer buildings remaining and the ruins lie dispersed in the plain at a distance from each other. But recent excavations show that it originally consisted of two magnificent palaces surrounded by a royal park and very extensive gardens watered by a network of irrigation canals. We walked round the scattered remains and reaching the Audience Palace stopped to admire the one tall column still standing, when Bolvardi spotted two foreigners whom he pursued and got into conversation with. They were more receptive than the odd foreigner I had seen him accost in the Bagh Eram or the Bazaar Vakil who gave him short shrift when he tried to engage them in conversation – the eternal ‘hello boy’. These were Frenchmen and as luck would have it they ran into him the next day in Shiraz. They had run out of money and could he lend them some, they asked. He did and never saw it again. On the way back from Pasargad we talked to a Kortshuli woman tending her young goats next to the track a hundred metres or so from her tent. The week before there had been a wedding in the village just over the hill bringing many guests and although the whole family had been in the tent that night, they had failed to wake up when a thief got away with 35 goats. Near to this village, which was beside a river and had fields full of tomatoes and cucumbers, we found a cluster of tents containing former herders. Twelve years ago, they told us, they had sold their

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flocks and settled in a nearby village called Bolwardi to take up farming. Each year some of them came over to camp for three months of harvesting. Inside one tent four women were standing round a gigantic mixing bowl in which was a huge mass of dough being kneaded by one of the women. This group seemed to have found a satisfactory way of combining farming with seasonal tent life. Our last stop was at the tent of a young Basseri tribesman from Darab. His wife and child were away at his mother-in-law’s so he called down the hill to a neighbour’s wife to come up and make us tea. Inside the tent was a swing cradle (gahvare) belonging to the absent baby. This man and his extended family of Basseris had a serious problem with their land in Darab despite having the parvanehcheh – the order/document. The problem according to Bolvardi is rather common and arises from changes in the land laws back in 1942 and 1947. In the 1940s a state cadastre was made recording how much land the khans and the villagers held. Villagers for the first time received documents for their landholdings. Somehow at the point when they were registering, word got round that it would be better to register less land than one actually held so as to reduce any future tax which might be imposed. Now this khan was taking advantage of the fact that the documents stated 1,000 hectares instead of 3,000. This group of Basseris had been fighting a case with the Basseri khan for a year, so far with no result. However, there was a possibility that the mullahs might decide ‘these people are poor so we’ll acquire the land as a bonyad, half for us, half for the herders’, leaving the khan with nothing. Bonyads started as charitable trusts after the 1979 revolution, religious foundations whose wealth came from the Shah’s confiscated assets and public donations, set up theoretically to provide humanitarian aid to the poor. But they have become huge business ventures, monopolies in fact, with investments in textiles, property development, car manufacturing, to name just a few. They publish no accounts, evade taxes and state regulations, and avoid competition. How this group of Basseris would be affected by the devious mullahs versus the khan was anybody’s guess.

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Return to Marvdasht Fereshteh, my Iranian friend from Cambridge, had just arrived in Marvdasht and I was looking forward to meeting her family. I asked Jafari whom I had not seen for some time if he would drive me over one day. I knew he would agree because though his suit had been rejected he was still in love with Fereshteh. She had been married to an Iranian who had successfully claimed asylum in England some ten years earlier. She and their small son had joined him in England but the marriage had broken down partly due to the husband’s opium addiction. Fereshteh had gone through the divorce proceedings at the same time as applying for British citizenship. Both procedures were lengthy and demanding but she had in the end managed both. Jafari and I met up with Fereshteh a little distance from her sister Laleh’s beauty salon, which was in one of those small streets too narrow for cars. I had planned just to meet Laleh and see her workplace but she insisted on cutting my hair. I might not have risked a haircut by an unknown talent if I had not had to spend most of every day with my head covered so that the result did not matter much. The salon was a small room with half a dozen or so clients in different stages of disarray. One was having her eyebrows plucked; another was having her whole face threaded and shaking helplessly with laughter as the threading tickled. One was standing in front of a basin with her head bent over it having her hair washed. There was a busy jolly atmosphere and I decided to hand myself over for eyebrowplucking as well as a haircut. Both procedures turned out well. After being beautified we walked over to Fereshteh’s house, which was round the corner in another narrow street. A wonderful lunch awaited us, which her parents and numerous assembled siblings had had to wait far too long for due to our prolonged visit to Laleh. After lunch the rest of the family went to sleep while Fereshteh and I stayed up to talk. Fereshteh was trying to decide whether or not to return to live in Iran permanently. By training she was a primary-school teacher, a job she had enjoyed in the past but one that was poorly paid. To make ends meet she would have to live at home with her parents and five of her siblings in a house that was already too small.

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Or she would have to marry an Iranian. Throughout her vacation so far she had been overwhelmed by the number of young men wanting to marry her. This was turning out to be less exhilarating than one might have thought; more a problem than a source of pride or gratification – because there was no way, according to her, of gauging whether these suitors just wanted an entry to England through her or if they really liked her. She was certainly desirable both in terms of looks and character. But she feared that most of these men were more bewitched by the prospect of British citizenship than by her charms. It was very hard to advise her. Being together with her family, so warm and devoted, was on the face of it more valuable than returning to England. But in England her son was getting a good education with better prospects for the future than he would likely have here. Before we had had a chance to examine the dilemma from every angle, Tahmineh, a cousin and old school friend of Fereshteh’s, arrived. Tahmineh had married as soon as she left school and once settled with her husband discovered that he was already an opium addict. For many years life was intolerable. Her husband lost his job, they ran out of money and finally had to retreat with their two children to her husband’s village somewhere in the hills between Shiraz and Marvdasht. There her husband completely ignored family life, periodically destroying parts of the already ramshackle house, until three years ago they heard of a programme called NA. This I worked out must be Narcotics Anonymous, the American addictioncuring programme, though no one I spoke to knew what NA stood for or that it originated in the United States. As Tahmineh explained to us, the counsellors are cured addicts who go round teaching victims of addiction how to recover. No drugs are used; the programme works on self-help and psychology. You must write down everything that is happening in your life on a daily basis and wives are strongly encouraged to participate. Extraordinarily, of the many villagers who were addicts, all the ones Tahmineh knew were cured and now involved in teaching the programme in neighbouring villages. Her husband had spent the last year building a new house for them in the village and their family life was completely

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transformed. At first, Tahmineh’s own 40-year-old opium-addicted brother refused to have anything to do with NA, driving his wife and children to despair in Shiraz where they lived off his mother’s pension. However, a year later I learnt that even he had finally submitted to try out NA and was now cured. After meeting Tahmineh I tried to find out more about NA in Iran; did it advertise on television or in newspapers? A few people had heard of it but believed it only functioned in towns. It is not that the government does not have programmes to help addicts, rather that these have limited success. No clandestine missionising or covert motives attach to the NA programme, and there was something heartening in the thought that here was an export of the Great Satan successfully working to help the victims of drug addiction in the Axis of Evil.

Bayza on the Marvdasht plain I had been told that Bayza, a Tajik region across the Marvdasht plain from Marvdasht town, was quite different in terms of produce and people from the herding area between Aliabad and Ghalat. It lies a few kilometres north of Shiraz and comprises a large and fertile area bordered on the west by mountains. Driving towards the village of Lapui, we gave a lift to a widow who on arrival in Lapui invited us to visit her. We left Dariush and the car on the road and accompanied the widow down a narrow dirt track to her house. As we sat drinking tea in her house we were joined by one of her daughters with a charming toddler, Fatimeh, who laughed all the time, and a son’s new bride all of whom were very chatty and told us that here everyone, men and women, regularly go to the mosque. One of her sons had been killed while doing military service, the widow told us. She had received four million tomans (about £2,670) compensation from the government. But this was inadequate for making ends meet and along with 50 other families of the 600 in Lapui she received help from the Komiteh Emdad, a charitable organisation run by the government. (Not to be confused with the Komiteh, a police force dealing both with crime and with infringements of Islamic behaviour or dress.) She owned two hectares of land on which she grew barley

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for sale. Her remaining son worked in construction. The room where we sat was very basic; they were clearly not well off, a point that was brought home to me at the next house we visited. In the next village we came across a large group of men and women celebrating the return of a man from a pilgrimage to Kerbala. They were very jolly and urged us to come and eat at the house where the festivities were. We were about to accept when an officious personage rode up on a motorbike and aggressively asked us what we were doing. Regretfully, we decided we might cause trouble if we went to the festivities. Bolvardi took the man aside and gave some spiel in which he afterwards told me he had indicated that he was deeply religious. The suspicious man watched until we drove on to the next village. Here we visited the wife of a Tajik farmer friend of Bolvardi’s. The family owned a large property but for some reason were still without official landownership documents. All their workers were Afghans, the wife explained, because the locals who might have worked for them were helped by the Komiteh Emdad and had become lazy as a result. This was along the lines of welfare makes the poor lazy, or the poor are poor because they are lazy. The Lapui widow’s house certainly had not suggested a very comfortable standard of living. But the farmer’s family could undoubtedly get Afghan workers for less money than local ones. Further along the road off to the left towards the mountains were a number of ashayer tents. The first lot were an Arab group from Jahrom in the south where they grow dates and oranges. Here in summer the women earned by working in the fields on the plain while the men grazed their flocks. A Qashqa’i clothes peddler was standing in their midst doing business from a pack on the back of his bicycle. Across the stream under the lea of the hill standing alone was another ashayer tent, this time Qashqa’i from the Farsi Maidaan tribe who, the Arabs warned us, had a dog we should be careful of. We found that the dog had made a nest in the earth of the hillside behind the tent where she was suckling half a dozen newborn puppies. The couple who owned the tent had a house near Kazerun where they spent the winters but the husband said that they were very poor and could not make ends meet. He was the only person who ever asked

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me for help. I said he should ask the government for help. ‘I’ve written several times to Ahmadinejad,’ he replied, ‘and got no answer.’ What about the mullahs? I asked. He had written to them too, and again had received no reply. There were three friends also visiting, one from the Darreshuri group of Qashqa’i from Semirom near Esfahan, and a carpet-dealing couple from Khan e Shenyan, the small town on the Shiraz – Nurabad road known for its delicious ice cream. The tent owner’s wife was a very lively woman from Komarosorkhe, the Tajik area we had visited the year before, who had learnt Turkic when she married.

Drought in Aliabad and Hasanabad The first year I went to Aliabad, 2007, every household was actively involved in agricultural work. This year, 2008, following a serious prolonged drought, there was widespread gloom and inertia. Unsurprising when one looked at the fruitless apple trees in the orchards and the parched fields. Some families were hoping to sell land to Shirazi who might be looking for plots on which to build weekend houses. More young men were drifting away from cultivation, aiming to acquire vehicles and become drivers. The eldest son of one of the families in my 2007 sample had decided to give up farming and together with a friend had just bought a lorry. One householder had moved with his family to Shiraz. Not everyone, however, was pessimistic. Fifteen houses were in the process of being built or enlarged. True, this may have been these locals’ only option in a dire situation. It might have been due to the promise of government money for houses built to be more earthquake resistant, though one man claimed not to have received a penny two years after starting to build. But those building were clearly sufficiently optimistic to take steps to improve their futures. Aliabad has a plentiful drinking water source. Gas is soon to be piped to the village. There is scope for storing the winter rain and snow water (in non-drought years) if enough locals agitate for the government to invest in the necessary infrastructure. If the government wants to stop the last third of the population from leaving rural areas

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(bringing gas is part of this new policy to stem the rural– urban flow) here would be an opportunity. We went to Aliabad one August day with Moamet, a nephew of Bolvardi’s (son of one of Bolvardi’s brothers and married to the daughter of one of Bolvardi’s sisters). Moamet had managed to get to England illegally and work there for several years, most recently at an Asda store in the north. He had made enough money to return to Shiraz where he had bought a house and got married. He now worked as a lorry driver. His mother was unhappy with the way the paternal land in Aliabad had been divided, and was not on speaking terms with Bolvardi, but Moamet was not bothered. Recalling Dariush’s mother’s dispute with Sara, it was clear that acrimony over inheritance disputes is common; in particular because land speculation here is a popular strategy to beat poor economic conditions. We stopped at a cousin’s house, the parents of the bride whose wedding I had attended the year before. Here we left the statutory chicken to be prepared for lunch and then went off to see how the drought was affecting the various pieces of land that belonged to the Bolvardi family. Moamet soon got bored and went off to see his many Aliabad cousins. The effects of this year’s drought – khoshk sali – were all too apparent. In this area of orchards the trees, mainly apple, were for the most part fruitless or partially dead. There was no water in the river and the irrigation source had dried up. The drought was the dominant theme wherever we visited. At lunch we were joined by some traders from Bushehr, the port town on the Persian Gulf and home to Iran’s first nuclear reactor. They had become friends with the family as a result of their commercial links. Because Bushehr province is in a very hot, dry area the damage from drought had been less, since cultivation (date palms) is not so reliant on rain as on long-established irrigation systems designed to cope with the dry climate. After lunch we went to see Abdollah’s father, Haji Ali, who was spending the summer here with his flock. He is one of only four transhumant families in Aliabad who still regularly divide their time between qaylak and qishlak, bringing his 80 animals (sheep and goats) to graze in summer and returning with them to his village, Behrouzabad, in winter. During the summers in

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Aliabad he lives with his daughter who is married there and works as the village nurse. We found him in a large barn-like building at the back of which there were sacks full of wheat piled up for autumn sowing. To one side there was a large loom on which Ali’s daughter was weaving. Ali was sitting with an old man called Haji Bey and several teenage grandsons came to join us. Both men had been to Mecca so both had the title Haji; this despite their non-observance of fasting and prayer. They plied us with almonds and raisins while the daughter went to make tea. Haji Ali said that in five years’ time no one will live in Aliabad any more, all will have moved to town. Young people don’t want to do farming and the trend is for them to become lorry or taxi drivers, if they do not move away completely. The drought this year has in any case put farming in jeopardy. However, he admitted that in normal years the winter water from snow and rain is more than adequate and could be stored. Government investment would need concerted lobbying from villagers, but perhaps in view of the government’s new-found interest in halting the rural–urban flow it might be feasible. After all, gas was due to come to the village in two months as part of this incentive to bring urban conditions to villages and there was already an excellent and plentiful drinking-water source. Haji Ali, an intelligent and energetic man like his son Abdollah, visibly perked up at the thought of a campaign. Given the disastrous drought and its effect on income, a depressed atmosphere in many households was to be expected. But as noted, not everyone was gloomy: those building or enlarging houses had a spring in their step. Watching her husband who was single-handedly building the family a bigger house was a woman wearing a beautiful long red dress and colourful headscarf. I asked if she was on her way to a festivity. She laughed: ‘I always wear nice clothes.’ An elderly woman with dashing reddish-orange hair and a curly fringe also seemed very happy with her lot as she surveyed four Afghan workers building her new house. And they were probably happy to have the work, for which they were paid about £6 a day each. The presence of Afghan workers in all less desirable jobs was very common outside areas like Homeijan. In Golestan construction workers invariably turned out to be Afghans. In Jengis’ fields the

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workers were all Afghans. The shoe shiner in the street in Golestan where the Bolvardis lived was an Afghan. In Kazerun we had seen an entire shanty settlement of Afghan refugee families. This influx was unsurprising given the succession of wars next door in Afghanistan. In fact, Afghans have been crossing the border to find work in what has been an economically much more developed country for more than a century. Large numbers of Afghans share a language, Dari, and a religion, Shi‘a, with Iranians. Pashto-speaking Afghans who come to Iran have a much harder time getting work and there are far more Pashtun refugees in Pakistan. Now many of the perhaps three million Afghan refugees in Iran, a large number of whom are illegal, are beginning to be deported. Unemployment here is already very high and Afghans can be paid less so that Iranian workers lose jobs to them. Reminiscent of Greece’s take on migrant workers through the 1990s, however, one commonly hears Iranians saying: ‘The trouble is we don’t like doing those kinds of jobs [construction and agriculture] which Afghans do.’ Before we left Aliabad we went to call on Rahim, the man whose history had made an impression on me the year before. He was the man who took a second wife with the explicit aim of producing a son who would go on to higher education; the father who had thrown an elder son out of the house when he failed the university entrance exam. Bolvardi claimed that he had taught him to read at a time when Rahim wanted to know more about agricultural science. Perhaps this was the beginning of Rahim’s academic aspirations. The year before when we visited, he had been sitting indoors on the point of lighting up his opium pipe. On seeing us he said he was ashamed to be seen smoking and put the pipe away on the window sill next to his chair. We had had a very lively conversation with him, his wife and his several sons and their wives. On our way to the house we had met the promising son who was picking apples from a laden tree, the harvest so different from this year’s. We had gone into the kitchen to see the new washing machine whose instructions and knob markings were in Japanese, in their hopes that we could help decipher them – which we could not. This time we arrived just as Rahim and a group of friends sitting in a circle outside his house were poised to light a large opium-smoking contraption. Our inopportune arrival

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was obviously awkward and frustrating for them and as Moamet, waiting at a cousin’s house, was keen to go home, we said we would not linger. But we did ascertain that the son had passed the university exams and was going to study Persian literature. Later that week we went with Sara’s nephew, Dariush, to revisit ashayer in the Hasanabad area. In Hasanabad we came across a truck carrying water. A group of women and a man were filling up containers from the truck. As a result of the drought there had been no source of drinking water in the village for the last three months. The women were very friendly and animated and called some other sisters and daughters to come and talk to an English person. Every time I had visited Hasanabad I had been struck by how conversable the villagers were. But the village was losing population to the town; the school pupils were fewer and fewer – there would only be 100 this year we were told. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was much more dynamic than in Aliabad, with a stronger feeling of stable organised life. We spent the rest of the day visiting more ashayer tents. A gloomy friend of Bolvardi’s who had a summer house in the midst of his tree plantation did nothing but complain about the hopelessness of farming – no profit. I asked him whose fault it was that farming was unprofitable. He said he mustn’t say, meaning it was the government’s fault. Money brings more money and those without get no help from . . . the government; he now boldly brought out the word. To add to the gloom the head of the next ashayer family we stopped at said that if the drought continued, pastoralism and agriculture were both finished. He was probably right, but he said it in a matter-of-fact way without self-pity and one felt that he would be resilient and find alternative survival strategies. One family, who spent their winters near Kazerun where they had a house, was slightly less gloomy and told us that their sons were keeping bees profitably nearby. Strangely, given the drought, there were vast plantations of trees scattered round the countryside. Where did these landowners get the water to irrigate these trees, I wondered. The last tent we visited was by far the most interesting, partly because they were related and old friends of Bolvardi’s and hence readier to engage in a less superficial exchange. The drought

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disaster was naturally a major preoccupation and the main topic of conversation. I told them about my experience of drought in another country where religion and state are closely interlinked. In the Greek olive-growing village where I had lived there was a prolonged and disastrous drought one year. All the villagers from the district had arranged a mass prayer meeting at which they prayed for rain. As intended this led to a discussion about religion. Nader, the younger of the two men we were talking to, said he saw prayer as an individual affair. He clearly did not relate to the Greek collective scenario. The older man agreed but then added that prayer would probably be useless anyway as what happens is up to God alone. Meanwhile the group of women sitting with their children at the further end of the tent started laughing uproariously at the idea of praying. They said they never prayed, and then the even funnier point occurred to them – how could we pray anyhow, the whole point is we haven’t any water!2 (They evidently did not know that Islam allows you to substitute dust for water if necessary.) Driving home Dariush continued talking about religion. He thought Islam was only suitable for developing countries. Here it was inseparable from politics and as such was unacceptable. The topic came up again the next day when we were with the Ghalat family. One of the girls was fasting in preparation for Ramazan though also with an eye to gaining in grace/luck like the girl in Hasanabad before her exams. Referencing his fairly devout mother, Ahmad said: ‘Well, she’s had a lifetime of indoctrination.’ Apart from his fasting daughter, the rest of the family were indifferent. ‘You see, here at least is democracy,’ he joked. In fact, some Qashqa’i were overtly non-believers while others like Dariush’s sister prayed regularly. Likewise there was variation amongst and within the Tajik families I’d met; some were actively devout while others were nominally believers but negligent as regards ritual. By contrast in areas such as Bayza the population seemed to be closely involved with the religious authorities and regularly attended mosque. Why was there a stronger clericalgovernment presence in these areas? Perhaps because the people here are poorer and hence potentially restive, good candidates for financial support and willingly compliant as regards religious observance.

CHAPTER 3 2009:ELECTION WEEK

Election week in Shiraz In May 2009 the Iranian authorities gave me a visa for seven days only, instead of the requested month. Frustrated, I considered not going at all; a week was much too short to revisit all the families I had got to know. On reflection, however, I realised that if I made that one week election week it would be interesting and informative in itself. So I decided to return to the area in and around Shiraz to experience the run-up and election day at first hand. On past occasions I had arrived on a small plane from Bahrain with dozens of very friendly but rather unruly Iraqi pilgrims returning from Mecca, headed for home via Shiraz. Gasping and praying to Allah at take-off and during turbulence, they would ignore all seating arrangements and safety instructions. As the plane began to descend they would leap to their feet, crowd into the aisle swaying and jolting with their bulging blue plastic bags long before the plane had landed. This year the plane was large, there were no pilgrims, only expat Shirazi. In the past, Shiraz airport had been completely relaxed; officials, if one could find any, were friendly and welcoming. As an arriving foreigner one could wander in and out with no constraints. But on 5 June 2009 there were several officials, male and female, waiting to impose bureaucratic hurdles on the newly landed. I was the only foreigner apart from an Iranian youth with a British passport. It took

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even the Iranians a long time to complete the forms and procedures. Each time I approached the unsmiling female officials they grimly ordered me to stand aside. After an hour of waiting I was conducted through the baggage hall to a room where I was finger-printed (each finger of both hands) and then palm-printed such that I was literally dripping with ink and with no means offered to clean up the mess. Luckily my manteau was black. I laughingly asked what had given rise to this new procedure. Smiling themselves either out of schadenfreude or because the mess was of slapstick proportions, they explained that this was the ordeal they were now exposed to when they entered England. This seemed a reasonable defence, though I am guessing the English are more economical with their ink, or perhaps do it digitally. Anyhow, who was I to complain? The film director, Abbas Kiarostami, encountered so much obstructionism at the British Consulate’s visa section in Tehran that he lost patience, and the ENO’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte in London that he was directing had to take place without him. By this time, after midnight, Bolvardi, large and affable, with little time for protocol, had broken through the new security and I finally escaped from officialdom. A compulsive bargainer, Bolvardi proceeded to haggle with each of the waiting taxi drivers until he found one prepared to drive to Golestan on his terms. This taxi driver explained that where possible he would take the route that followed the roads frequented by Mousavi supporters rather than by Ahmadinejad’s as the latter sometimes threw stones. Along one avenue we heard Ahmadinejadists taunting: ‘Mousavi wears green underpants’, a reference to the opposition’s election colour. The driver thought this was overstepping the bounds of propriety. The next day, Saturday 6 June, I spent a lot of time watching state television with Sara and Davoud, now 14. We watched young people gathering in the streets to listen to the different candidates. We saw students in the religious city of Qom taking it in turns to stand up and express their views. Most were for the incumbent, but surprisingly some opposition supporters were allowed to speak. Davoud told me that reporters in the town of Hamedan had been

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banned from showing opposition speeches. Later there were more scenes of enthusiastic students in crowded squares across Iran being interviewed on the reasons for their choice of candidate. I encountered the same excitement and engagement outside. People who had not felt it was worthwhile voting in the 2005 election were all fired up this time, as was reflected in the high voter turnout (around 80 per cent on election day), about 20 per cent higher than in the first round of 2005.1 Truly revolutionary in this election campaign was the introduction of American-style televised debates between the candidates. On 3 June, Mousavi, a reformist,2 prime minister during the war with Iraq in the 1980s and the leading opposition candidate, had debated with Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad accused Mousavi of financial corruption, referring frequently and contemptuously to his wealthy supporters such as Rafsanjani, whom he said were trying to bring about his (Ahmadinejad’s) fall. But Mousavi gave as good as he got, accusing Ahmadinejad of incompetence and corruption in his domestic policies and adventurism and extremism in his foreign policy. His robust criticisms and direct accusations in this public arena must have made many of the audience (estimated at 15 million) gasp. Reading the transcript of that debate, one cannot say that here is a dictatorship, though interestingly Mousavi says to Ahmadinejad, you are not yet a dictator but you are heading that way. Ahmadinejad often prefaces his remarks with ‘I like you, Mr Mousavi’, which does not prevent much of the debate degenerating into petty mud-slinging. This included aspersions as to who had faked their degrees and who had not. An interior minister, Kordan, had had to resign in 2008 due to having a faked Oxford University degree. Ahmadinejad said that not only had Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, appeared at campaigns together with her husband, which is against the regulations, but she had not got, as she claimed, a PhD, a prerequisite for her job as head of Alzahra University. That evening Bolvardi received a text message inviting him to join a dinner of 1,000 Mousavi supporters in Shiraz. We watched the next televised debate, which this evening was between Ahmadinejad and Karroubi, the other reformist candidate, former speaker of the

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Majlis (the Iranian Parliament) and a cleric. Mud-slinging now established as acceptable, Ahmadinejad told Karroubi that he was corrupt, and Karroubi told Ahmadinejad that he had lied about the state of the economy. It should be stressed that none of the opposition candidates was particularly radical or revolutionary in their proposed policies; all three had been members of the establishment since the 1979 revolution – hardly surprising given that candidates had to be approved by the unelected Guardian Council, the most influential body in Iran, consisting of six clerics selected by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and six jurists. In 2005, over 1,000 presidential candidates had been vetoed by the Council, leaving only six to stand, one reason behind the comparatively low voter turnout. Rezai, the third opposition candidate this year, was a conservative, unlike Mousavi and Karroubi, and a former head of the Revolutionary Guards (Sepah e Pasdaran), the elite militia who control Iran’s strategic missile and rocket forces, the oil, gas and nuclear industries, not to mention black-market enterprises such as alcohol smuggling. The Sepah collect intelligence and intimidate dissidents with the help of the one-million-strong volunteer paramilitary Basij, their lawenforcement militia. The Basij are used to indoctrinate all sectors of society: university students, tribes, villagers, factory workers. They fight ‘westoxification’, check hejab, repress student demonstrations, ‘prohibit vice, promote virtue’ and when it comes to elections are deployed to mobilise voters. On Sunday 7 June I went to see some rural sociologists at the Social Sciences University. They were kind, gentle people and said they looked forward to collaborating with me when they had retired. For now their research topics were determined by the government. When we were saying goodbye, they discreetly alluded to possible change following the election. We had agreed to keep in touch via email, an idea I abandoned after the election as not in their interests. While waiting for the bus to go down the hill back to the campus exit, two girl students, Zahra and Hamide, asked me if I would like to visit them in their dormitory. They had both just completed their final year; Hamide had studied Arabic, Zahra management, and they were waiting for their exam results. On the way Zahra asked me what

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people in England imagined Iran to be like. I said many people imagine that everyday life is much less free than I have so far experienced it. They signed me in to their dormitory house, which men may not enter. We went upstairs to their room, which slept three, and in common with the other rooms had a pleasant balcony at the end overlooking trees. Several friends joined us, excited by the sight of a foreigner. Hamide went to get some juice, and Zahra asked me my opinion of Ahmadinejad. Returning, Hamide exclaimed: ‘What, you’re already on to such questions!’ Zahra was a strong supporter of Ahmadinejad. She said that during her four years at university there had been freedom to criticise the government; Ahmadinejad had no problem with criticism, she emphasised. Hamide said that she knew of a couple of students who had had to leave the university. . . ‘Because,’ Zahra interrupted, ‘they were too idealist; utopia ( fazele madine) is not possible.’ Hamide, a Sunni, said that though she liked Ahmadinejad she would probably vote for Mousavi because he was more tolerant and had said that he would build a Sunni mosque in Tehran where as yet there was none. She was from Larestan, a Sunni and Shi‘ite area in the far south of Fars province. Zahra explained to me: ‘Sunni and Shi‘a is like your Protestant and Catholic. These differences are not significant to us.’ ‘What about political differences?’ I asked. ‘Hamide likes Mousavi, you like Ahmadinejad. Is that a problem?’ I turned to the other girls who’d joined us. Not at all, they said, we watch the discussions and debates on television in the common room and argue, but it doesn’t affect our friendships. What did I think of Ahmadinejad? I said I had heard that he had helped the poor, rural and urban, with money and potatoes; but, I asked, how long can he find the money to give handouts? Plus, now that there’s a new American president, relations abroad could and should be better. I said I thought agricultural and rural policy had been mistaken because it had led to too many people leaving the countryside. It was changing now but too late. They heartily agreed that rural policy had been unsatisfactory. From this it emerged that all these girls were from villages. I asked how they got on with the town students in the dormitory. It quickly became clear that while political and religious

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differences might not be sources of conflict, the rural– urban difference was a source of resentment and divisiveness. ‘The town girls think that they’re better than we are, that we are primitive,’ they told me. ‘And,’ said Hamide, ‘our culture is indeed quite different: we cook and eat different things; we wear different clothes and have different manners and customs.’ Zahra asked me if I minded the ru sari (head-covering) and manteau. I said (carefully): it’s OK in winter, less good in summer. One girl explained that wearing them in the heat of the summer was out of religious respect, like a prayer to God. I wish I had asked why men could be less religiously respectful. The girls begged me to tell them about university education in England. They were immensely interested and curious and (though better off materially I guessed) their eagerness recalled the Albanian students whom I had got to know in 1992. The Albanians had never had the chance to talk to foreigners, and these Iranian girls seemed equally starved of contact with the outside world. I told them about lectures and Cambridge essays and supervisions, about social anthropology and sociology. They had heard (confusing the English and Continental systems) that in England it was easy to enter university but hard to perform well enough to stay. They said here it is very hard to get into the state universities, and they were justly proud as village girls of their achievement. They were fascinated by my account of university life and Zahra, a rather fierce outspoken girl, surprised me by saying she wished she could study with me. But you like management, I said, so different from social anthropology and sociology. ‘Yes, but they sound so interesting.’ Their liveliness and enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity were very winning, and later in the week I went back to spend another session with them. This time I discovered that Hamide could speak English far better than my halting Persian. She had at first said she could only read English, but as my Persian deficiencies became a hindrance, she was emboldened to speak. This enabled me when she accompanied me out of the building to privately ask her about the students who had had to leave. Were they town or village? Town, she thought; ‘villagers are quieter and town students more often troublemakers’. They had gone to prison.

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Leaving the university campus, I met up with Bolvardi and we took a series of collective taxis, the last of which I would have avoided as the driver looked like a speeder, very young and ruffian-looking with a friend likewise a bit dubious in appearance. I was wrong: he did not speed, and was articulate and logical in his views of the candidates. Both young men had watched the debate the night before between Karroubi and Ahmadinejad. They had loved the debate and were enraptured by the whole pre-election proceedings. The driver called out of the window as we passed demonstrating Ahmadinejad supporters: ‘Hooray for Ahmadinejad!’ He thought Ahmadinejad had managed the last four years all right but that over the next four years there was a danger he might cause a war. ‘Mousavi won’t cause a war but it’ll be four years before we discover if he governs better.’ ‘The women,’ he said, ‘like Mousavi better because he says he’ll give them more freedom. But will he in reality be any different in this respect from Ahmadinejad? – unlikely.’ So he would vote for Ahmadinejad. Monday 8 June: On our way to visit some ashayer friends in their camp we saw a Mousavi campaign stall beside the road between Golestan and Ghalat. The stall was manned by a Qashqa’i graduate student studying international law in Tehran. One of his campaign messages was that Mousavi would be a better preserver of Qashqa’i and nomad culture than Ahmadinejad. Fars province, as we have seen, is the centre of Qashqa’i pastoralism. Mousavi, he argued, would also be better for the long-term economy. There were to be two rallies that day in Shiraz, one with Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, one in the evening with Ahmadinejad. He asked me if I had a journalist’s pass to talk to people at the rallies. I said no, and he urged me to watch only. The seriousness of his message to be careful was borne in on me for the first time. A foreigner driving around in a car driven by Sara’s enthusiastic Mousavi-supporting nephew, Mousavi stickers on display, could make for the worst possible diplomatic incident. (In the light of post-election accusations that the British had helped to engineer the opposition support, I would have provided perfect evidence for this theory.) I put this to Bolvardi and Dariush. Dariush eventually saw the point; Bolvardi was less concerned.

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When we arrived at the ashayer camp the first acquaintance we talked to said: ‘Well, we don’t say who we’re going to vote for. But I think I’ll vote for Mousavi.’ Some of the other men said they would vote for Ahmadinejad. No election campaigner had been to talk to them. A source of grievance was that no one from the government ever went to see them to ascertain what their problems were. Since the terrible drought of the previous year, however, there had been enough rain this year to help the grass for pasture, though not enough to fill the wells. ‘But the price of meat is better and we are making profitable sales.’ This group’s winter pastures are near Kazerun, west of Shiraz. They bring the animals by road rather than trucking them as some groups do. It takes ten days. A myth associated with their village centres on a sword said to have belonged to the Prophet’s nephew, Ali, which when kissed works to cure illness. Alas, the sword has been stolen by Arabs. I asked if Islam was important to them and they said yes. So I relayed the conversation I had about prayer the year before with a different group of ashayer. These also fell about laughing and said, no, we do not do prayer. God is for after death. We talked about their winter quarters where they live in houses. The grown-ups said they preferred their winter lives because living in a house was more comfortable. A little boy in the fourth class, aged ten, said he preferred life here because it was much freer. The young do not want to be shepherds, said a young man, but it is impossible to find long-term alternative work. The older men said 50 per cent of the youth are opium addicts. The young one said: ‘And there are some who inject themselves with morphine.’ They pay for the drugs by working for a week, then drugging up the next week. As we drove away, Dariush said: ‘If their meat is getting a better price now they may think Ahmadinejad is a better bet than an unknown opposition.’ We reached Hasanabad where we started by visiting the clinic. The year before, we had found a young trainee doctor there, a Qashqa’i. This year there was a middle-aged Tajik nurse. She told us that since last year the population had shrunk from 1,500 to 1,150. The lack of a local dabirestan, the follow-on from secondary school, rahnamayi, for 15-year-olds was one reason for this

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exodus. Last year’s drought was another. A woman came in to have a contraceptive injection. She had three girls and, last, a boy, probably the reason why she could stop having any more children. Of the half dozen women waiting, all were going to vote for Ahmadinejad. One woman had received potatoes from his campaign but none had received money handouts. That afternoon we went to Shiraz to attend the rally at which Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife, was to speak. It was held in a huge sports hall and attended by over 1,000 men and women. It turned out to be a Qashqa’i affair. Some of the posters even showed Mousavi wearing a Qashqa’i hat. Others had him standing in front of Qashqa’i tents together with some Qashqa’i men. I was particularly keen to see and listen to Zahra Rahnavard because she was the first woman to have actively campaigned together with her husband; a feisty individual who had long advocated greater rights and equality for women. As well as being a distinguished academic, she is a sculptress, has a doctorate in political science, and worked as a political advisor to Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. She was the first woman to be chancellor of a university. She called publicly for Ahmadinejad to retract his slur on her qualifications. Some of Mousavi’s campaign posters showed him on the campaign trail holding hands with her, an unheard of and to many a shocking image. Disappointingly, after several hours of speeches by local Qashqa’i, including a distinguished lawyer I had met the year before, it became clear that Rahnavard was not going to show. The meeting became a celebration of Qashqa’i culture with Qashqa’i musicians and an elderly singer entertaining the audience. Driving away from the venue we were nearly run into by an Ahmadinejad supporter (identifiable by the poster on his car window). He swore at us, Dariush called him a dog’s father, pedar sag, and a fight looked imminent, but Sara managed to calm Dariush and we became separated by traffic. Dariush could not resist returning home via the big avenue, Chamrun, in order to join the massive Mousavi rally with vast numbers of wildly excited supporters all waving green ribbons and posters. When the odd Ahmadinejad supporter unlucky enough to have been caught up in the stream passed, they were accosted with

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cries of ‘Potato government, bye bye Ahmadinejad’ – but without any show of aggression, I was relieved to see. Dariush reckoned that 80 per cent of Shirazi would vote for Mousavi. I learnt the next day that Ahmadinejad had also failed to show up for the scheduled evening rally. Tuesday 9 June: The next day Davoud surprised me at breakfast by telling me that at school the pupils have lessons in defence, and that there are tunnels for shelter under the parks. In the sky above Golestan was an American satellite that could follow local goings on, the family said. We set off for the Haftbarm lakeside encampment of an elderly Qashqa’i couple, Shirzaat and his wife, relatives of Bolvardi. Behind their tent was the lake; further inland was a large field that they owned, now full of wheat thanks to the good rains. They had sold their flocks because their children did not want to be ashayer. Dariush showed the couple a Mousavi poster, which Shirzaat read. I said (though I should not have) that Mousavi was claiming he would take steps to preserve Qashqa’i ashayer culture. ‘Then I’ll vote for him,’ said the wife. I asked Shirzaat about his childhood. He said the summers had been spent in this exact same place. What had changed? He looked thoughtful. ‘The place hasn’t changed at all,’ he said finally, ‘but of course we have; we have been influenced by technological developments in the world.’ Our next visit was to Shahrzad, a woman who had been brought up together with Bolvardi’s siblings. In winter she and her husband lived in Behrouzabad, where I had stayed with Abdollah and Zohreh the year before, and their summer pasture was here on a hill above Haftbarm. Near the family’s capacious traditional tent, two cows, a donkey and some hens, one of Shahrzad’s sons was building a house. This struck me as odd and I asked why. This son’s wife was from Shiraz, Shahrzad said, and refused to live in a tent even though they were only here for the summer months. Shahrzad’s elderly husband appeared and, after shaking hands with Bolvardi and Dariush, held out his hand to me. But I am a woman, I cried, too late. It is alright, he is almost blind, his wife said, after we had shaken hands. He was very courteous and welcoming and we all sat down to drink tea.

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A small grandchild was playing with pink and orange factory-bred dyed chicks, which usually die before growing up, I was told. I told Shahrzad how the year before in August I had stayed in her winter village, Behrouzabad, and been amazed that every house had air-conditioning. She explained that until 15 years ago almost no one stayed in summer; most departed for at least three months to the summer pastures. But since the advent of ‘koolers’ more members of the family could stay and attend to the orange groves and the clover, yonje, while others took the animals to graze at a higher altitude. She said like Shirzaat that none of her children wanted to be ashayer, ‘so we will be the last’. Presumably, the house would become a holiday place rather than a base for herding. On a subsequent visit I gleaned from an overheard conversation that the son was involved in a property dispute with a neighbour. Perhaps this was another reason to stake his claim in cement, a solider claim than a tent. Our last visit that day was to Nader Khan with whom we had discussed religion the year before. He was out with his herd when we arrived at his tent, but came in later. This was a man who in his heyday had employed 20 shepherds and owned thousands of animals. Now in his seventies he was a fine upstanding figure, as fit as a fiddle, which he attributed to his active life as a chopan (shepherd). He said that the price of wheat was good, barley (used for animal fodder) cost less, and all thanks to the rain. Last year he had said that if the drought continued ashayer life would not be tenable any more. I brought up the subject of religion again, reminding him of the Greeks faced by drought gathering for a mass public prayer session; and the laughter with which the idea of prayer had been greeted by the women. He laughed and again said prayer is an individual affair. But did he pray? If I have time, and we all laughed again. His wife was there with a number of other women, some young, some middleaged. They smilingly confirmed once again: ‘We don’t do prayer’. Before we left, Dariush managed to elicit from our host that he would be voting for Mousavi. At home in Golestan I recalled the students’ views on hejab, as I looked at the couple in the house opposite sitting on their terrace, relaxing in deck chairs. Being visible from the apartments across the

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road the woman had to cover her head and body. That evening I listened to a long interview on Radio Javan (Youth Radio) with Ahmadinejad in which the subject of women’s dress came up, and the heaviness of it in the summer heat. Like the student who saw the discomfort as a form of prayer, Ahmadinejad saw no reason for lightening the burden. Radio Javan was also promoting the election in a big way. Interspersed with prayers and pop music, the presenters were urging listeners to vote at the end of the week: ‘your opinion is important to us’. There was a lot of nationalistic triumphant drumbeating music accompanying these rallying calls. I was told that there was far more urging the population to vote this year than four years before. Bolvardi received a text message that evening warning that voters should vote in schools not mosques, because in mosques the Basij might manipulate the votes. In Iran, I was told, one may vote at any polling station regardless of which district you live in, a significant fact when it comes to post-election manipulation. Wednesday 10 June: Bolvardi came in the next morning with the breakfast bread, a pile of long, flat unleavened oblong sheets folded over his arm. ‘The baker says he’s voting for Ahmadinejad, because all the other guys like Rafsanjani are rich and at our expense,’ Bolvardi told us. I suggested we go and visit the Bazaar Vakil so that we could check out the election posters outside each bazaari’s stall. I had heard it said that the bazaaris would most likely support Ahmadinejad. We walked up and down all the alleys in the bazaar counting the posters, and found that contrary to expectations there were slightly more in favour of Mousavi than Ahmadinejad. After lunch Sara and I took the bus to her brother’s family in Ghalat. I took advantage of access to the internet on her nephew’s desktop, which was in a room separate from the main room. Suddenly Sara’s brother, Ahmad, an extremely hospitable if rather gauche man, burst into the room and abruptly summoned me to meet what he described as ‘two of my friends’. Bewildered as to why his friends should give rise to such peremptory summons, I got up, emails unanswered, and went to meet them. The young man who started to address me was dressed from head to foot in black, as a result of which he looked positively sinister. He made no pretence at chit-chat but

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launched into a straight interrogation. It seemed incredible that he should address a friend’s guest so rudely, and equally odd that Ahmad should not soften the approach with some kind of introduction. I was boiling with indignation but conscious that if this really was an interrogation rather than a bad-mannered conversationalist, I must not implicate the two families in any trouble. What is your name, why are you here, are you married, what is your job, why have you learnt Persian, where have you been in Iran, etc? Sara and her brother sat transfixed, looking terrified, and I saw that I must stress my role as a tourist. So I mentioned every place I could remember visiting in Fars province, ending with Bishapur near Kazerun. My interrogator turned out to be from Bishapur and, as I was genuinely able to tell him how striking I had found the ancient site, he did begin to unbend a little. I had answered all his questions laconically at first but now recovering my temper, I saw a chance to turn the tables a bit and cross-question him, politely, in the hopes of getting him to be more civil or even to smile; and more to the point, to relieve Sara and Ahmad’s concerns. I asked him what his job was. ‘I’m a policeman,’ he said, ‘guess what kind.’ I guessed transport police to show that I did not find him in the least frightening. ‘No, my friend here,’ indicating the silent man sitting next to him, ‘is in the transport police. I’m the head of the drug squad.’ I launched enthusiastically into a spiel about drug problems in England, asking how they were managing here, and what did he think of NA? Everyone relaxed at this point, even his friend, and suddenly the two of them got up and left. Ahmad went out onto the terrace to barbecue chicken, which he remembered I had found delicious the year before, and we all sat round eating. No mention was made of the police friends. Later Bolvardi, who had not been present but had had the incident excitedly related to him by Sara, said he believed they had come to smoke opium with Ahmad and been thwarted by my presence. The drug tsar might be a member of the Basij but he didn’t know. His black clothes would probably have been mourning dress. On Thursday 11 June we had been invited to a wedding in Aliabad. Two years before, I had been to a wedding there and I was looking forward to meeting old acquaintances. There would not only

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be people I had met from Aliabad itself and the nearby villages, but also from the winter villages such as Behrouzabad and Yekigan. The scene was identical with that of two years ago. In the large field were tents at either side, one for men and one for women and children. In the middle, village women and girls in their colourful Qashqa’i dresses covered with tulle were dancing in a huge ring while musicians were under a canvas cover to the side. I was taken to sit with Jengis’ family, whom I had stayed with two years before, and was pleased to end up sitting with Maryam, the most intelligent and forthcoming of his daughters. This meant that during the course of the festivities I could ask her about how people were voting in their village, Chero. Soon after I had sat down, a bunch of little girls aged seven to ten heard that an English woman had come and a deputation came to cross-question me. Apart from one spoilt girl, they had enchanting manners and wanted to know all about England, the names of my children, and then for me to speak in English so that they could hear how it sounded. From time to time one would come back for another English recital. I asked Maryam about the absent members of her family; had her married sister had a baby yet? Sadly not, though she had been married now for four years. And you, I asked, where is the right man whom I think you knew and were going to marry? No, she said, there isn’t a right man, and this was a big worry because none of her cousins (the preferred marriage source) were suitable and now she was 28. We talked about the election, and I asked her if people in Chero mistakenly thought that they would lose their right to ration coupons if their identity cards were not stamped in the polling station. She said a lot of people did believe that. She and her immediate family were for Mousavi but she thought many would probably vote for Ahmadinejad. Lunch was brought round on cardboard plates and we all tucked in. Abdollah, Bolvardi’s sister’s son, the tall shura head from Behrouzabad whose family I had stayed with the year before, came over as promised. I had so many questions stored up from the year before. But the awkwardness of his height and our being at ground level, and he being the only man in the middle of so many women,

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made questions too difficult. So I introduced him to Maryam and let them talk instead. He said that the water situation in Behrouzabad this year was not good for the oranges, that the river was very low, but that the other crops were all right. His wife, Zohreh, had taken Maral, their little girl, to spend some days with her parents. When it was time to make a move, Maryam came with me to look for Bolvardi and Dariush on the men’s side. As Bolvardi and I stood in the middle of the field greeting his friends and relations, more and more men came over wanting to talk to the foreigner just as they had two years before. Again it reminded me of similar situations in Albania in the early 1990s, when there was this thirst to talk to a foreigner. Back at home that evening, election eve, text messages were warning voters to take their own pens to mark their voting papers as the ink from the polling stations’ pens might dry up and disappear, thus spoiling the vote. At the time I thought this was no more than conspiracy theory. On television we watched as people in the street were asked if they thought that the run-up to the election had been democratic. Unsurprisingly they all said yes. In many respects it had seemed democratic. Discussion in public and private had been open. I compared it with the run-up to the many elections I had observed as an election monitor in places ranging from Kyrgyzstan to Russia to Albania to Azerbaijan. Here in Iran the campaigning candidates had had access to television, their posters had been equally displayed, rallies had been held by all. How transparent the next step would be was anybody’s guess, though the text messages concerning where to vote and what to take with one suggested that the opposition had doubts.

Friday 12 June: Election day We set off early via Ghalat to see whether there were already voters queuing outside polling stations. In Ghalat and Koudian, small towns on our way, there were just a handful of people in the streets. Bolvardi asked those we met how they would vote. In Ghalat one man said ‘not for the candidate wearing the hat’, a reference to the

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poster of Mousavi pictured in the Qashqa’i hat. In Koudian those we met were Ahmadinejad supporters. The ashayer would be visited by mobile ballot boxes. None had been visited by 11 a.m. when we arrived at Shahrzad’s tent. Some of her family took us to see the spring higher up above their encampment. It had been incorporated into a concreted reservoir, below which other family members were having a picnic. The men were discussing a problem in Turkic and at first I listened frustrated because I understood so little. I asked Bolvardi what the issue was and he briefly explained that it was about a land dispute. One of Shahrzad’s sons indicated that his wife and daughter wanted to talk to me. The wife was very cordial, speaking in Persian and plying me with food. When she heard that I was a teacher, she started extolling her 14-year-old daughter’s brilliance at school. At this, the scarily self-confident daughter launched into a spiel about her future career as a doctor, an aim she had decided on shortly after birth. Later she asked what religion I was. I said: ‘masihi’ (Christian), for the sake of simplicity. Like a speeded-up machine she recited a list of Western religions: there’s Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant . . . I realised when she said this where Zahra’s knowledge came from – the school classroom. Shifting the discussion to Shi‘ism in Iran, I said I believed that the Qashqa’i approach to religion was a bit different from the Tajik. She hit the roof – no one was more religiously observant than the Qashqa’i. If her mother had not been nearby, I would have asked her if she had ever seen her father pray. But it was clear that these pupils are indoctrinated in school and she was a formidable purveyor of the official line. We went back down to Shahrzad’s tent just as her impressivehatted brother arrived on a donkey. Out of misguided scruples (as he would not have noticed) I asked if I could photograph him, and he snapped no. His good-mannered nephew, a young man in his twenties, kindly offered to be photographed instead. After that, not wanting to be present when the mobile ballot box officials arrived, we said goodbye. Our next visit was to a village that turned out not to have its own polling station but was waiting for the mobile contingent. It was already midday but as yet none had come. Here we were visiting

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Nader Khan’s twin brother, with whom he was involved in a land dispute. At first only the wife and disabled daughter were at home. The wife said she couldn’t be bothered to vote. Eventually, her husband, who did not look at all like his twin, arrived accompanied by a large herd of sheep and goats. He said he would be voting for Mousavi, at which his wife declared that she would vote for Ahmadinejad. Before returning to Shiraz we went to the small town of Khaneh Zenyan, part of which lies on the Shiraz – Nurabad highway. We turned off into the middle of the town, where we saw streams of people going to the polling station. Bolvardi got out and started uninhibitedly asking people who they were supporting. Everyone he asked said they were voting for Ahmadinejad. Perhaps this was out of expediency but it seemed genuine. As we left the town we saw a white four-by-four carrying the sandouk, the box for mobile voting, setting off. It occurred to me that the mobile ballot boxes used by a number of villages and encampments must have been extremely vulnerable to manipulation by those in charge, if they even reached these voters. In Shiraz we stopped at as many polling stations as we could find. The queues outside them were very long, which to my election monitor eye suggested poor organisation. Bolvardi got out at each queue to ask queuers who they were voting for. There was a very clear correlation between the district’s level of prosperity and who voters said they supported – the better-off neighbourhoods had far more Mousavi supporters. At home we found that Sara had gone with one of her sisters to vote. Initially she had said she would spoil her vote as all parties were worthless, but I had persuaded her that this was a waste. She had queued for four hours but seemed to have enjoyed herself a lot and especially the exchange she had had with an overweight neighbour. While they were queuing the neighbour asked who Sara would vote for. ‘Mousavi,’ said Sara, ‘who are you voting for?’ ‘Ahmadinejad’ was the reply. ‘Ooh,’ shot back Sara, ‘I wouldn’t do that, you’ll get even fatter under a potato government.’ Meanwhile, Bolvardi was searching all over the apartment for his

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identity card – a requirement for voting; but true to his somewhat chaotic lifestyle, he failed to find it. On our way to the airport it occurred to me that my seven-day visa had technically been exceeded unless you reckoned that I had not been released by the airport authorities until after midnight the day I arrived. I went through the lengthy procedures and segregated baggage searches and proceeded to the last hurdle. The official looked at my passport and then at my visa and hesitated, saying: ‘Wait, you’ve overstayed.’ He called his colleague over. ‘No,’ I said, smiling and hoping that a foreigner speaking Persian would alleviate the situation, ‘Look, Friday to Friday – one week.’ He hesitated again for a moment and then laughing let me through. After spending election week in Fars province, I felt that in this area at least, Mousavi and Ahmadinejad could be neck and neck. Recalling a Kyrgyz election where university staff and students had been forced to vote for the incumbent, there was no way of knowing how much pressure of this kind had been exercised here. But the level of openness in the street rallies suggested more freedom here. There was, on the other hand, no way of knowing how much manipulation might occur during the count. The SMS messages from the opposition urging voters to vote in schools, not in mosques, were disquieting. But flying back to England after the election I still believed that Mousavi had a chance of winning. Only when the results were released the next day, before a real count could feasibly have been achieved, did my hope for a transparent outcome end. Perhaps the two main candidates were much less far apart in the votes they polled than the incumbent party had expected, alarming them and leading to their premature pre-final count declaration of victory.

CHAPTER 4 2011:POLITICAL REPERCUSSIONS

The Yakoubs I was not able to go back to Iran again until June 2011. This time the Bahrain route was closed thanks to the protests and uprising which had started in February. So I went via Turkey instead. On the flight from Istanbul almost all the other passengers were men, Iranians who had been doing business in Turkey. A young man next to me was importing Turkish handicraft to be sold on his brother’s stall at the Bazaar Vakil. When the drinks came round he chose dugh, the yoghurtlike drink served at most meals in Iran. Some young men had a glass of red wine with their meal but there were no signs of Last Chance Saloon behaviour before reaching Iran, where drinking alcohol is illegal. The airport entry to Shiraz had been streamlined, no fingerprinting, no form-filling and, on this occasion, no other foreigners. Three members of a family related to a Cambridge-based Iranian friend nobly met me despite its being three o’clock in the morning. Outside there were the usual picnicking groups. It was the two-year anniversary of the 2009 election and I asked the family if there had been protest marches or any kind of demonstrations. They said no. Later I learnt that the year before on the day of the one-year anniversary police had thrown a student protester over a bridge to his death. Perhaps that had been enough to deter protesters this year.

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Mr Yakoub, the father of this family, was jobless but provided an informal taxi service between Shiraz and Marvdasht, the neighbouring market town where his in-laws lived. He had two daughters, one of eighteen and one of five. They lived on the second floor of a house with a pleasant courtyard in a lane in an area not far from the centre of Shiraz. Their spacious living room had a free-standing fireplace in the centre, and on one side of the chimney wall a popular reproduction of Hossein, the Prophet’s grandson. Opposite the open-plan kitchen was a big flat-screen television. Apart from at meals, which were eaten sitting on the floor round the traditional cloth (sofreh), the family sat on a sofa and chairs – though sometimes Mr Yakoub’s mother would shift to the floor to sit against a bolster in an effort to find a position where her limbs hurt less. She had had a stroke and was often in pain. This week was worse than usual because her doctor was away on holiday and she could not ring him to ask for more painkillers. I tried to distract her and we started talking about pilgrimages. She had been to the famous pilgrimage site Shah e Cheragh in Shiraz and to the pilgrimage city of Mashhad, and proposed that we go together to Kerbala. Presumably she was not serious but her mood lightened – as it did when her daughter-in-law, granddaughter and niece got out the qaylan (hookah) after lunch. She had been told by the doctor to give up smoking, but the temptation was too much and she joined in. Mr Yakoub chain-smoked long, thin cigarettes. To my surprise, I discovered from the internet that since 2010 the law bans smokers from holding senior government posts;1 and that smoking of all kinds in public places including taxis has been forbidden in Iran since 2007. So that when the morality police stopped by some people picnicking on the green verge beside Chamrun Avenue some weeks later and smashed the picnickers’ qaylans, they were legally entitled to do so. (The law fluctuates. This one was revoked in November, 2011 for hookah-smoking in tea houses, but with the proviso that women must not enter these tea houses.) The 18-year-old, Elham, was still doing end-of-year exams but would shortly be preparing for university entrance. She was a nice girl with a sensible, mature manner who had to put up with a lot, as the responsible grown-up sister of a very pretty, very spoilt five-year-old.

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Elham’s cousin, Shirin, had come over for the day, and the girls went off to a bedroom ostensibly to study together. After lunch an expedition was proposed, which involved me and the girls going to a big shopping centre where I could look at lighter-weight manteaus. I suggested going by bus but no, taxi would be better, everyone, parents included, agreed. As soon as we had rounded two corners and reached a main road there was a car waiting thanks to a call from Elham’s mobile phone. Not a taxi, but her boyfriend. Off we drove at increasingly breakneck speed. The faster he drove, darting between cars from one lane to another, the more often he turned flirtatiously to Elham beside him. The girls told me on no account to mention that we had been with him, as Elham’s father had forbidden all meetings with boys. As in fact did the government. You could not go out with a boy unless you were officially engaged to him. A recent case highlighted the lengths to which suspicion rules. The morality police stopped a brother and sister they suspected of being boyfriend and girlfriend. Questioned as to how many uncles they had the boy said three, the girl two. Off to a police cell. Eventually the father came to collect his son and daughter explaining that there had been a third uncle (not known to the daughter) who had died. In fact, I discovered over the next weeks that the morality police were far more likely to arrest a couple where the girl was not wearing ‘good hejab’. ‘Do parents in England put “limitations” on their children?’ asked Shirin who spoke some English. ‘Here they do but never successfully.’ When we reached Alvari, a centre of dozens of small shops selling clothes, I was astonished to see that all the girls shopping were now wearing thin smocks in pretty light colours over jeans. Elbow-length sleeves had replaced the long-sleeved, heavier-weight, dark-coloured manteaus. Since my last visit to Shiraz two years before summer fashion had undergone a revolution. There might have been an increase in arrests and torture of political suspects – executions had reached two a day since January, mass hangings had just been reported by Amnesty International. Journalists, human rights lawyers, students, had been imprisoned without trial. But if these were indications of a government crackdown, none was reflected in female dress. Quite the contrary, and in addition to the flimsier tops, scarves were now

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loosely tied, if tied at all, and worn far back on the head, showing the maximum amount of hair. Two years ago anyone dressed like this would have been hauled off by the morality police. Was the volume of ‘bad hejab’ now too big to control or was this a safety valve to avoid mass antagonism while keeping repression selective? Ahmadinejad’s opponents in government claimed that this kind of lenience was a ploy on his part to win the support of the middle classes and the young. At supper that evening we talked about price rises. The change in economic circumstances since my last visit two years before was hitting urban families badly. Until six months ago basic foods as well as oil, gas and electricity had been heavily subsidised by the government. Now subsidies for rice, flour, cooking oil, milk and sugar as well as for oil and gas had ceased except in rural areas. In their place a household receives the equivalent of about £26 a month for each member including babies. This money, called yaraneh,2 is collected by the (usually) male head of the family from his bank account. Every receiving family (92.3 per cent of the population) has therefore to have a bank account. For large families in rural areas where subsidies continue and outgoings tend to be lower this cash is understandably popular. Village acquaintances I asked saw the cash as a sheer bonus. While there has been a five- to tenfold increase in the price of staples such as flat bread, villagers who make their own bread and continue to get flour subsidies are not affected. Presumably these concessions to the rural population are part of a strategy to keep the agricultural sector on side for the next election. But town dwellers struggle to cope with the huge price increases. For Mr Yakoub working as an unofficial taxi driver, the rise in gas and petrol (some cars still run on both) was a blow. Once a driver has exceeded the monthly fuel allowance paid for with the government-issued electronic card at 400 tomans a litre, fuel goes up to 700 tomans a litre. Of course, as part of the informal economy Mr Yakoub did not pay tax on his takings. The scale of organisation and additional bank infrastructure required to enable these radical financial changes may be imagined. An estimated 16 million new specially created bank accounts had to be opened. To forestall protests there were big publicity campaigns on TV and in mosques showing how such low energy costs led to a

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terrible waste of resources that could have been productively invested in infrastructure and education. The government was having to import petrol to sustain the volume of cars on the roads. Not only did this divert oil resources from more productive ends but the resulting traffic congestion and environmental pollution were creating serious health problems. Every week for months before the cuts, the need for reform and the ultimate benefits were stressed in Friday prayers. In case these arguments failed to convince, threatening warnings against protests were issued. At first the idea had been to limit the cash subsidies to poorer citizens. But denying them to the better off, who were of course the biggest energy users, risked triggering widespread discontent. The Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance nevertheless called on higher-income families not to register for the subsidies. To set an example, cabinet members withdrew their own claims – an example which 92.3 per cent of the population chose to ignore.3 After supper we watched (courtesy of the now ubiquitous satellite) a melodramatic Mexican soap dubbed into Persian. Family members excitedly recounted to each other bits of the drama some had missed the night before. Even the formerly sporadic attacks on satellites by the Iranian authorities seemed to have stopped lately. Was this another case of laissez-faire choose-your-fights or was the access simply too difficult to control? This year instead of staying with the Bolvardis I had opted to stay in a cheap pension in the centre of Shiraz. This gave me a central base from which to visit more families independently and without having to spend every night in a different household. When Mr Yakoub drove me to the pension late that evening I saw that others had found an even cheaper solution to independent living. These had simply put up tents on the pavement beside the road; they had not even bothered to find a park or a grassy verge.

Marvdasht Taking advantage of Mr Yakoub and his taxi service I got him to drive me to Marvdasht, the market town that is home to the two families I had first got to know four years earlier. I spent the day with

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Rokhsaneh’s family, the Moradis. They were the actively religious family whose unselfconscious religious practice had made an impression on me. They prayed and fasted regularly without being sanctimonious or fanatic, but on the contrary carrying out the rituals with a simplicity and sincerity that was very attractive. A lot had happened to the family in the past two years, including two marriages and one birth. I found Rokhsaneh with her mother and Razia, the new bride, in a transformed house. The father had designed and built a second storey with separate staircases converging on the main sitting room. In the past their kitchen had been across a passage; now it was part of the main room separated only by a counter. They had evidently felt they could ignore a recent government statement to the effect that open-plan kitchens were haram, un-Islamic and un-Iranian. Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli declared in Qom: ‘Open kitchens don’t allow homeowners to be protected from the eyes of their guests. They’re un-Islamic. Women should be allowed to do their work while they have guests without being watched by others.’4 So on the one hand, housewives are celebrating the fact that they are not cut off from conversation with friends or family, while on the other the conservative cleric is worried that (and here I am just guessing) being watched may make it difficult for cooks to taste the food, lick spoons or do similarly unseemly things. I congratulated Mr Moradi on the house when he came home at lunchtime and asked him how his torshi – pickling business – was going. Badly, he said, taxes had gone up steeply and profits fallen; higher fuel prices meant that distribution was more expensive. His son, who has now taken over management of the business, added ruefully: ‘Anyhow, more and more people are pickling their own fruit and vegetables as they can no longer afford to buy them.’ ‘But you’ve built this wonderful house,’ I said. ‘That’s with money saved from before, now we’ve nothing to spare,’ said Mr Moradi. At lunch I met Rokhsaneh’s husband, who for the time being was living with his new bride at his parents-in-law’s house. Rents are high and accommodation scarce; finding a flat that they could afford to rent or buy was not going to be easy. We talked a bit about his

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town, Yazd, famous for its Zoroastrian history as well as for its ancient air-conditioning system, the traditional cooling towers, badgirs. There were better work opportunities for him in Marvdasht, and he and Rokhsaneh planned to settle here rather than in Yazd. He looked like a sturdier version of Colin Firth, very pleasant-looking but shy, and he focused on eating rather than conversation. The match had been arranged by the families of the couple and, unusually, they were not related. The son’s new bride, Razia, was from Eqlid, north of Shiraz, and a second cousin. She was tall and graceful and quiet but more at ease than the new groom. For some reason she thought she should lose weight, and kept an exercise bike upstairs in her room. After lunch the men retired to sleep before returning to work at four o’clock. Rokhsaneh’s summer job as a secretary in a music school for children was mornings only. Puran, the youngest Moradi, was studying music. I asked how her setar playing was going. Four years ago she had already been a pleasure to listen to. Since then she had also learnt to play the daf, a kind of tambourine. Now she sat down and gave a beautiful performance on each in turn. Outstandingly talented, she didn’t do bashful, just sat down and put her whole mind to concentrating on her playing. When she had finished she got ready to go back to music school, putting on her manteau and scarf, and before picking up her setar in its case, putting on a rucksack. ‘That looks awful,’ cried her mother. ‘Everyone wears them in England, it’s practical,’ I said, as Puran protested. Peace was restored and Puran went off to her afternoon lessons. I asked Rokhsaneh where her marriage had taken place. The ceremony had taken place at home and unfortunately, she said, they had to have an akhund (mullah) come to the house to perform the ceremony. ‘We don’t like those clerics, they lead the prayers at the mosque and they are hypocrites. That’s why we never go to the mosque.’ I was taken aback by such outspoken censure from this devout family for whom prayer is an integral part of daily life. Although ‘religion and politics shouldn’t be mixed’ is a frequent comment made by young people, most of those who said this to me had ceased to be very devout. If even this devout family is against the theocracy and the clerics, the Islamic state’s longevity must be at risk.

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At the same time, I had often wondered why when people complained about the government they levelled their complaints at Ahmadinejad (who is not a cleric) only. Why did they not complain about Khamenei? Was it because in theory he was speaking for God and hence beyond criticism, or was it because he had so little personality that they forgot that he had power over Ahmadinejad? What did they expect would have happened had they got rid of Ahmadinejad at the 2009 election with Mousavi and the Green Party in his place? That would not have displaced the Supreme Leader. Presumably as the author of unpopular economic measures such as this year’s removal of subsidies, Ahmadinejad was the more obvious target for complaints. In the evening Laleh, the older sister married to the stationery shop owner, brought over her new baby, Donya. The grandparents were enraptured by the baby and Mr Moradi asked me what I thought of the name. I said I liked it, first because it is pretty and second because it means ‘world’. Oh, good, he said, it was my idea to call her that. Donya had a gold object pinned to her clothes, different in form but for the same purpose as Greek village babies have – to avert the evil eye. ‘Do you believe in the evil eye?’ asked Rokhsaneh. ‘No,’ I said firmly. But Rokhsaneh had heard that scientists have evidence that some individuals emit brainwaves through their eyes which can do damage to people. Like the Yakoubs, the Moradis were angry at the price rises and high unemployment. They were fully aware of the revolts in other Middle Eastern countries. But they assured me there was not going to be a revolution here. Here, they explained, the government has the revenue from endless resources of oil and gas. They can pay for support and loyalty. The potentially disaffected can be recruited to the government organisations such as the Sepah (the Revolutionary Guard) or the Basij, the volunteer militia, especially if they are from the needier sections of society. Jobs are few and hard to get without parti (influence) and/or reshve (bribery). I saw what they meant. As we have seen, the Sepah controls a substantial share of the economy. Furthermore, two years before, in 2009, it had taken over much of the telecommunications system, landlines and mobile; their opportunities for surveillance are

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virtually boundless. Indeed, the Moradis emphasised, we don’t know who are spies and who we can trust. Before leaving Marvdasht I went to see Fereshteh’s sister, Nasrin. Fereshteh, my friend from Cambridge, had in the end returned single to England having resisted all her Iranian suitors’ offers of marriage. But Nasrin was here and doing well. Her business, unlike everyone else’s, had not been affected by the economic downturn. Quite the contrary: her hairdressing salon was going so well that she had been able to move to bigger premises and now employed two more fulltime assistants. Visiting salons in Iran has an element of drama for the Westerner caused by the disconnect between the focus on appearance in the salon and the suppression of it outside. The shopfront window of Nasrin’s salon is completely covered on the inside by a white sheet to prevent any man from seeing in. Her younger brother who took me there turned away as soon as I opened the door where I was brought up short by a very heavy thick red plastic curtain, which I had to push aside to get in. Inside the usual procedures were going on: threading, eyebrow-plucking, haircutting and colouring. A woman was undergoing threading while her pretty eight-year-old twins stood one each side of her. When she left she put on her ample black manteau and on top of that a lacy chador of a kind I had not seen before this year. It was not doubling modesty as I at first thought but rather a new fashion to prettify the dour black manteau. The little girls just put on headscarves. Two young women, now beautified, put on their chadors ready to leave. Once past the red curtain they remembered something they had forgotten to say and two charming disembodied faces reappeared round the curtain as if in a play.

Abbas Akbari the builder Back in Shiraz I was supposed to meet up with the Bolvardis, who had moved from Golestan to Maaliabad, another satellite town, partly built in this case by the French 42 years ago. It was less attractive than Golestan because a lot of quick-build apartment blocks had been fitted into spaces between older buildings, unregulated and blocking light. But it was considerably nearer to

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Shiraz and temporarily ideal for the Bolvardis because Davoud’s new school was one minute away. The Bolvardis were meanwhile building a house in a place called Gooyom between Golestan and Ghalat. Or rather, having run out of money they had suspended the Gooyom house-building for now. Sara was ambivalent about this house. Depending on her mood, she would say: ‘Gooyom, who wants to live in Gooyom?’ or full of pride: ‘When the house is finished it will be enormous and you can bring your whole family to stay.’ The morning that we were supposed to meet, however, no Bolvardi turned up. ‘I can’t tell you the reason on the telephone,’ was all he would say when I rang him. Late in the afternoon, waving his finger-printed inky hand, he said the police had taken him for questioning. I was not really surprised. His loud ebullience on the street and in public transport, his mania for chumming up with foreigners, had led the police in the area where his relations still lived to brand him as a spy. That at least was his explanation. I suspected there might be another. Unlike most of those who were still living in his village he was much better off. He still owned some land in the village and had had a pension enabling him to survive without working full time since the age of 45. I reckoned he was envied by his farming friends and relations, most of whom were struggling to make ends meet. He said I could not go back to his area with or without him because I too would run into trouble with the police. I had decided, in any case, to extend my range of acquaintance this time. So I suggested we go and see Gooyom and meet the builder in charge of the house-to-be. This was a good idea, said Bolvardi, because Abbas had recently fallen off a ladder and was still in plaster and unable to move. He was bored to death sitting immobile and would enjoy a distraction. We took the bus the next morning to Gooyom, which had been a guinea pig to test a new system for installing household gas. Abbas’s wife took us into an enormous high-ceilinged room, the living room of their newly built house. It had a bay-shaped alcove with a raised bed for flowers, not, as the shape suggested, for a fountain. At the far end there were French windows onto a terrace and a small walled garden not yet cultivated. The majestic proportions of the house were

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rather spoilt, I felt, by the fact that obstructing the view of the mountains there was another house flush with the garden wall. But views were not a priority. Pinned to the floor with his broken heels stuck out in front of him was Abbas reading a book, which lay on a bolster over his legs. He had a bullet-shaped head, close-cut dark hair, a roundish expressive face and an energetic look about him. I guessed he was in his midthirties. When he heard that I was English he said that some of his relations who had been threatened by the police during the postelection protests had managed to get to England where they had been given asylum. He was very approving of England for this reason, and it was a relief not to be reproached for once for our past. While he and Bolvardi were talking I went and explored the rest of the house with a daughter-in-law I had found in the garden, and her brother-in-law’s son. How could Abbas possibly have a grandchild, I wondered. I discovered later that as well as looking much younger than his age he had married at 17. His daughter-in-law showed me her flat on the floor above, which was not yet finished but along the same design lines with a deep curved counter dividing the kitchen from the living room. She told me she could not have children because of a heart condition. I later learnt that her husband had lost the use of one arm due to getting electrocuted on a building job. It occurred to me that they probably had the same tradition as in Albania and Greece whereby a person with a physical defect would more likely marry if the future spouse also had a defect. In Albania that meant an exact match, for example deaf and dumb with deaf and dumb. When I rejoined Abbas and Bolvardi a son dropped in with his wife to pay their respects to Abbas as it was Father’s Day. In this case Father’s Day was also a holy day, a public holiday when the shops and banks were closed. The couple gracefully presented Abbas with a present, which when unwrapped proved to be a book of Omar Khayya´m’s poems. Then it emerged that he had not, as I had assumed when we came in, been reading the Qur’an perhaps for consolation, but poems by Hafez. It is of course common knowledge that Persians love poetry but I still found it surprising that a builder would while away the hours reading poetry. He read some Hafez aloud to us and

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talked about poems he liked with sparkling eyes. Afterwards I looked at his new book which had pictures with English on one side and Persian on the other. After the couple had gone and Abbas’s wife had joined us with fruit and tea, I asked how the accident had happened. He had fallen off a ladder from a height above the top of the French windows and, as he had hit the ground crying out in pain, his wife (she ruefully admitted) had burst out laughing. The day before his accident Abbas told us he had given 300,000 tomans to the poor. This was the reason that he had not hurt himself more seriously. God had been merciful. I wondered why God had let him fall at all; should he have given more to the poor? I was missing the point. The fall had been caused by the evil eye, Abbas explained, by those around him who were jealous that he had become so rich through his building. But God had minimised the damage. When we left he asked what he could give me; we had already exchanged telephone numbers. I told him truthfully that conversation with him had been the best possible present. He was pleased and instructed his wife to give us some kashk, the hard round balls made of dried whey, which I had not taken to in the past, though these tasted better than the ones I had tried in ashayer tents. In one of the buses we took to get back to Maaliabad, I was pleased to see another breastfeeding mother – pleased, because in a country so obsessed with covering up women, at least this natural function was accepted, unlike until recently, and still with reservations, in England. In the second bus, which was nearly empty, a young man got in at the women’s entrance with his girlfriend and went with her to the back seats of the men’s part where they sat together. This time I was pleased because this is illegal but the couple did it anyway.

Ghalat We spent the weekend in Ghalat with Sara’s brother and family, where segregation of the sexes was no less an issue even though two of the girls were now studying. In the past they had anticipated more mixing once at university. They were both at branches of the Azad

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University, the Free University founded by former president Rafsanjani, for which students must pay. ‘Free’ here denotes free from state ownership. It is easier to enter the Free University but academically it is less prestigious. The younger siblings were about to sit the state university entrance exams on the understanding that if they got in they could start this year. But if they only passed into the Free University they would have to wait until their sisters had finished in a year’s time as their father could not afford the additional fees. I asked Pari and Mina, who had had high hopes of meeting boys at university, about gender arrangements. For lectures, they explained, boys sit on one side of the lecture hall and girls on the other. Can you mix after lectures? No, not for eating, not for mingling. Can you flirt across the lecture hall? Not really. In fact, the whole question regarding segregation has become a contentious issue between the conservative clerics who want it and Ahmadinejad, who claims to be against gender segregation at university. His enemies contend that this is just a ploy to increase his political base. At the same time both sides agree that the university years coincide with the optimal age to marry and that early marriage is the best way to channel sexual needs. Premarital sex is regarded as a threat to Islamic core values. According to the head of Iran’s National Youth Organization: ‘The sexual bomb we face is more dangerous than the bombs and missiles of the enemy.’5 Early marriage ‘in the interests of morality’ is promoted on state TV, in ads and films. The clerics say they’ll counter the separation of the sexes by introducing measures and programmes to encourage matrimony. Will this be online matchmaking or speed dating? Probably not, but it would be interesting to know what measures and programmes they have in mind.6 A related argument also divides Ahmadinejad and the conservative clerics. Population size in view of high youth unemployment has been a critical issue since the beginning of the 2000s. Therefore, the Expediency Council’s model was ‘two babies are enough’ (until it changed in 2012).7 Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, wants to increase family size, arguing that small families are an unattractive Western model to be avoided. In practice, most newly marrieds want

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to have no more than one or two children irrespective of government campaigns. It is economic circumstances – dearth of jobs and affordable accommodation – that dictate later marriage, and marriage age has risen significantly over the past decade. Many of the girls I knew had not married until they were 30. The average age for marriage for men is now 29.7 and for women 27.9.8 Neither Mina nor Pari seemed in any hurry to marry either. Since I had been with the family two years before, they had moved up the road from their flat to a very nice and simple one-storey house with an orchard back and front. The front orchard was mainly pomegranate trees with some vegetables, while the back was a mixture of fruit trees and chickens. Ahmad, always a rather eccentric character, loves the chickens. He has named them all, has favourites, and can detect the moment, by her cackling, when his favourite is about to lay an egg. He brings her indoors at this point as she is prone to hiding her eggs, and walks round the house cradling her and talking to her. I took her on my lap for a bit out of politeness and found that with her soft warm feathers she was a lot more appealing than any cat. In the afternoon, when it was still too hot to go out, Ahmad recited from some of his favourite poets followed by poems he had written himself. Every so often a revising girl – they were in the middle of end-of-year university exams – would emerge from her room for a break. I asked Pari what subject she was revising. Islam in the 20 years before the revolution, she said. Oh, history, I said. No, not history, religion – Khomeini’s thoughts on Islam. Do you have to answer in the words of the book or can you give the sense in your own words? I asked. Has to be exactly as written in the book, said Pari gloomily. In the late afternoon we walked up to the old centre of Ghalat, which was thronged with Shirazi escaping from the traffic-ridden capital to create traffic gridlock in Ghalat instead. At the top of the village a number of rustic traditional-style restaurants have recently opened. On the hill paths above, enthusiastic Shirazi in sensible shoes were enjoying the green and the waterfalls. Iranians really do adore outdoor spaces even if crowded and a bit litter strewn.

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Sociology at the state university Shortly after arriving in Shiraz I went to make an appointment to talk to the sociologist at the state university whom I had talked to in election week. He seemed less gentle this time and asked rather tersely: ‘How long do you want, a day, an hour?’ I opted for an hour and we agreed to meet a few days later. Outside his office I bumped into a group of linguistics MA students, girls, and we stood chatting for a bit. They were all Shirazi, so I asked them if they mixed much with girls from the rest of the province. They did not. I mentioned my provincial girls who had told me about the divide two years before. These Shirazi without embarrassment freely acknowledged this prejudice. They drifted off leaving one girl behind called Zahra who spoke good English. I waited for her to ask if I could help her to get to an English university. Instead she asked me if I thought it was problematic to marry a foreigner. I assumed she had one in mind but it turned out to be a hypothetical question. After extensive research on the internet she had identified the department and supervisor in a German university where she could fulfil her ambition to do a PhD in sociolinguistics. She had just finished her MA dissertation. Was I familiar with Bernstein? I said I knew him from the social anthropologist Mary Douglas, who had used his speech codes theory in a book called Natural Symbols. Ah, symbols. Had I studied the reliefs at Persepolis in the light of their symbolic content? No; then she would be my guide. She asked me if I thought she would succeed in getting to Germany and I said, as focused and determined and ambitious as she seemed, she might well. Did I mean ambitious in the positive or the negative sense? I reassured her, but where did marriage come into it, I asked. Since early childhood she had wanted to marry a foreigner. Was this a bad idea? I thought that leaving aside the differences in cultural background and expectations, distance from home might be a source of regret. She agreed, and this was one reason for not studying in America – too far. But would the cultural difference be fatal? Obviously, I could not tell. We exchanged telephone numbers and she went off. Later I ran into her again in Maaliabad. This time she asked if she could

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send me her thesis, which she was translating into English preparatory to sending it to the German professor. I agreed but never heard from her. Not, that is, until late 2012 when, in answer to my email, she told me that she had achieved her goal and was now happily studying in Germany. Some days later as arranged, I went to meet the professor of rural sociology. I sat down and he proceeded to write a notice on an A4 sheet saying ‘Do not disturb’ which he stuck on his office door. Bolvardi had come too, despite not understanding English; perhaps it would not have been possible for me to be closeted alone with the professor. I could never gauge how private our talks were (were the walls bugged?) or for that matter, where the professor stood politically. And even if I could have guessed, I could not gauge the extent he might choose to stick to the party line given that nonacceptance would risk losing job and pension. So my questions were always careful. In 2009 after the disputed election, Khamenei assigned part of the blame for the protests on the millions of students enrolled in humanities departments across Iran. Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, the largest and most distinguished state university specialising in humanities and social sciences, was now (2011) eliminating 13 humanities subjects including sociology, journalism, economics, psychology and special needs pedagogy. Law, Arabic language and literature, Persian language and literature, theology and Islamic studies and tourism administration would continue. So humanities teaching across the country would be reduced, and in particular there would be less sociology. Moreover, it was decided that humanities courses must only be taught by professors committed to Islam. The aim was to make humanities subjects more compatible with Islamic mores. The ultra-conservative cleric Mesbah Yazdi had declared in 2010 that social sciences are not just un-Islamic, they are against Islam.9 Graduates in social sciences who deal with matters such as freedom and human rights cannot be expected to have a deep belief in Islamic principles, he declared – an astonishing assertion, and extremely significant in light of his government’s policies.

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Was this new policy towards sociology impacting on this department? The professor’s answer was oblique. There is no sociology based on knowledge and expertise of Islamic texts. Students are no longer allowed to study abroad for their PhDs, as had been the norm in his time, when he and his colleagues had mostly gone to the States. As a result, he said, students today learn Western sociology but haven’t the theoretical competence to critique it. He seemed to assume that his department would continue, asserting that as the head of the department he and only he was in charge of the course content. No one can interfere with this, he stressed, rather optimistically I thought. He himself is working on a study of 500 internal migrants dispersed all over Iran. He sends about 12 students a year into the field to look at social and economic changes since the Revolution. He showed me his collection of their bound books, which he keeps, and drew attention to a photograph in one book of a satellite in a rustic setting. ‘What trends do their studies indicate?’ I asked. ‘That villagers are urbanised by TV, by advertisements. We train our pupils and students for town life, we don’t teach them anything to fit them for village life. There is no support for local industry and far too little productivity as a result. We are importing beef from Brazil and Argentina, cheap goods from China. Generally, our wealth and resources are very badly managed due to the managers being recruited for their partisanship within each power group rather than for their competence.’ I guessed the room was not bugged. Opium addiction was constantly increasing but he did not think this was due to a laissez-faire policy or a failure on the government’s part to try to address the problem. It was simply very difficult to control the borders and the huge volume of drugs coming into and through the country. Unemployment emerged as the country’s central problem and major contributor to addiction. The professor drew my attention to the heated debate between the Majlis (Parliament) and the President, reported over the past few days in the newspapers. Ahmadinejad claimed that unemployment was 11 per cent; Parliament countered that this figure did not tally with the low industry-productivity figures (across the generations

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it was probably 20 per cent). I asked if he thought cheap Afghan labour contributed to unemployment. He did not think Afghans were paid less. I did not tell him that everyone I knew who employed Afghan labour did so because they cost less. But I wondered if he really thought all labourers were paid the same. Our hour was up. Some of the subjects I had brought up, such as TV romanticisation of nomads, did not resonate with him or evoke any response. On the other hand, regarding the government promotion of earlier marriage, he emphasised that the young are not stupid; without a house or a job they know better than to get married. I asked him what he thought about the end of subsidies. He felt, as did the recent IMF report, that this was a sensible move economically and environmentally. I mentioned that I had been struck by the lack of religious practice and belief amongst those ashayer I had got to know. If this was the case, and he seemed sceptical, it was because their lives are so hard (an odd explanation from a sociologist). Interestingly, he thought that religion for the urban population was more about superstition than it is in rural areas. I should like to have pursued this but was unsure as to how openly we could discuss religion. I wondered later why I had not drawn him out or even challenged some of his views. I knew that students know better than to challenge their teachers and that teachers are strongly discouraged from getting into discussions with students. Did his manner convey that challenge would not be welcome, at least within the university precincts? Or was I simply avoiding discussion so as to maximise use of the allotted time for more questions?

Azad University, Ardakan Ferhat, a friend of Abdollah’s, the headman nephew of Bolvardi in Behrouzgar, was working this year in the Free University in Ardakan, 88 kilometres north-east of Shiraz. Ardakan, county town of Sepidan, was supposed to be beautiful, so a visit to Ferhat seemed a good opportunity to see an aesthetic place as well as an Azad University close up. The Azad University group had been at the centre of a

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struggle for control since 2009. Azad’s founder and chairman of the board was Rafsanjani, a former president, cleric and one of the richest men in Iran. He ran for a third term in the 2005 presidential election but lost in the run-off to Ahmadinejad. In 2009 a large number of students from the Azad universities had participated in election rallies and political meetings in support of the opposition Green Party. For Ahmadinejad this was reason enough to try to change the status of these universities and place them under government control. The size and wealth of the foundation was another very good reason for wresting them from Rafsanjani. So to ensure immunity from government interference Rafsanjani converted Azad into a private endowment funded by public donations given for religious purposes. The legality of this move then became an issue for the courts, decisions were taken and countermanded, different power groups gained and lost the upper hand. As the battle lines changed, however, and Ahmadinejad became less popular with the clerics and Rafsanjani altered his allegiances, Khamenei, Supreme Leader, intervened. He was sick of all the bickering, he said, ‘it was time to show a united front’. The university was converted back from an endowment to a for-profit institution. On the face of it this looked like backing for Ahmadinejad, but Khamenei simultaneously made clear that there was to be no more talk of government intervention. In this way he kept his options open, committed neither to Rafsanjani nor to Ahmadinejad. Getting off the bus I saw a town that looked derelict and depressed, full of buildings covered in rusting scaffolding. The university, built in 1995 at the top of the hill immediately above the town centre, was smarter though the buildings were utilitarian rather than aesthetic, despite the newly planted gardens. Ferhat took us into an administrator’s office where we were hospitably treated to an array of cold juices. But conversation with the five men present did not really take off. In answer to a question, I said I had been in Iran at the time of the 2009 election, a subject I would have better avoided. There were not very many questions I could ask that they could answer uninhibitedly, so I asked if I could walk round the buildings, some of which were brand new. We reached the office of a man responsible for amniat, which I translated to myself as ‘safety’, as in

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‘health and safety’. Was it dangerous round here, I asked jokingly. The head of security, a Lor, burst out laughing and said I must have inherited my sense of humour from a Lor grandfather. I realised that we were talking about screening people not trip hazards. Looking round for a diversion from this dodgy topic I saw some pictures on the wall probably by students, one of which I said was very nice. When we got up to leave, the head of security suddenly grabbed this picture off the wall and thrust it into my arms. It was about a metre square and, grateful as I was, I resolved to be careful what I admired next. We were then invited to lunch and taken to the lecturers’ canteen where, unlike in the student canteen, men and women could eat together. The food was very good, ghormeh sabzi, herb and meat stew, and the cook very pleased to see us so appreciative; Bolvardi in particular since, true to form, he asked for a second helping. The cook’s welcome was reminiscent of early post-communist Albanians, thrilled to meet foreigners and forthcoming. But the lecturers seated in a row opposite us were a lot more circumspect than the cook. They asked me in Persian what I was doing here and I tried to combine discretion with truth: I was interested in everyday life and economy. One man in a smart striped shirt interpolated a discreet warning in English: ‘You should be careful.’ Economy was not a good topic to bring up, it seemed. We got a lift back to Golestan with two well-off Qashqa’i students in their smart car. A couple of kilometres out of Ardakan to the right on a hill a huge new town was being built. The Mehr housing foundation (a Sepah institution) was enabling people to be first-time buyers. Subscribers to the project must be married, have never owned a house, and pay a small down payment towards the building of the house. We passed a bad accident on the other side of the road, and one of the students went to find out what had happened – one killed, two injured. No surprise there: the statistics show that there are 25,000 – 30,000 deaths on the road each year, or 63 people a day, or one every 19 minutes, with 300,000 injured annually; one of the highest road accident rates in the world.10 In Golestan, while we sat in the bus waiting for it to leave the terminal for Shiraz, I watched some men doing exercises on the bars in the park right next to the bus stop. Most parks have various kinds

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of gymnastic apparatus, usually painted in bright red and yellow. On several occasions I had watched middle-aged men doing early morning gym in the park in Maaliabad. One of the men in this park eventually stopped exercising and got into the driver’s seat of our bus, fit and ready to go.

Komarosorkhe revisited Ever since we had met the tragically widowed young woman in Komarosorkhe, whose husband and older son had been killed in a lorry accident four years ago, I had wondered about her fate. Had she been made to marry the unattractive younger brother whom she had seemed to dislike when he came into her house during our visit? We set off one morning intending to drive straight to the village, but our attention was caught by a new settlement on a small hill next to the turning off for Komarosorkhe. The houses here were semi-finished, part of a government project to settle ashayer. The project raised a crucial economic question concerning sedentarisation versus continuing pastoralism. The government gave each household 500 metres of land, the settler bought the building materials subsidised by a state credit of 10 million rials (£2,500). He then built (or hired professional builders) to a design of his own choice. We went up the hill to have a closer look and were told that these six householders were closely related and belonged to the Farsi Maidaan clan. One relation, they said, had worked in England for four years but had come back to be with his wife and children and was now jobless. The father of the family whose house we visited was holding a piece of cotton wool soaked in witch hazel against his eye from which a splinter of concrete had been removed by the doctor. I learnt that ashayer have an identity card which entitles them to pay 50 per cent less for doctor’s visits than town dwellers. However, the cost of transport from this settlement to a doctor in Shiraz 50 kilometres away probably cancels the reduction. The family had had to sell nearly all their animals to pay for the house, which was going to be rather large and included some expensive-looking picture tiles on the walls. ‘I made a mistake,’ said the father, ‘because with no animals

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I have hardly any income.’ His 20-year-old son was jobless, though two young women of the family were carpet weavers. They were just finishing a carpet in attractive traditional colours and design. The carpets would be collected by the middleman who sells them in Shiraz, the women told us. While the father was explaining why he now felt he had made a bad decision, we were joined by another man from the clan. He was still an ashayer, so we embarked on a debate as to the pros and cons. The ashayer said that our host was better off because he did not have to stay up at nights with his animals and had a clean house. He was probably saying this more as consolation than out of conviction, as he himself had a house near Kazerun with an orange grove and date garden where he spent the winters. While he clearly had to work very hard and long hours winter and summer, barring persistent drought he had a relatively reliable source of income. I wondered why the government had chosen this area to settle the nomads, far from the shops, doctors and schools. I asked the sociology professor, as a specialist in rural development, about this. He believed it was a deliberate government calculation. By settling the former nomads next to a main road with access to Shiraz, the government would not have to provide them with any services such as a school or clinic.11 We left the Farsi Maidaan settlement and took the Komarosorkhe road to the village where the widow’s house was perched high above the river. The sister-in-law saw us walking down the steep path and came to meet us. She remembered us, she said, though we had not talked to her on our first visit. Her mother-in-law asked us in, and while her daughter-in-law went to make tea, brought us up to date. Her youngest son had married the widow and they had moved with the wife’s surviving son to an area near Shiraz airport. They did not have any more children. A granddaughter brought in a qaylan and, while the old woman smoked, her daughter-in-law told us a little about this village. Her husband grew rice on their small plot of land. Near the house they grew a few vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines. The village school that the children attended was good and the teachers were from the village. She took me over to her side of the house, which had previously been her sister-in-law’s. She and her

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husband had made some improvements, but she said life had become much more expensive now. We said goodbye and Bolvardi tried to look on the bright side, which was difficult because the widow’s look of contempt when her brother-in-law had tried to order her around in front of us had stuck in our minds. ‘And he was undersized and somehow defective-looking,’ Bolvardi recalled. But on the positive side, if she had gone back to her parents she would probably have had to give up her son. On the way back we visited a group of Farsi Maidaan ashayer whose tents were pitched in fields some way from the road. Ranged against the steep hillside above the tents were enormous numbers of sheep and goats, black, brown and white, with children running amongst them, the effect like a Brueghel picture. In the largest tent, which was very spacious, an old man was half lying propped against bolsters. Three very large elderly women visitors were sitting along one side of the tent dressed in magnificent peacock blue and purple costumes with headdresses of lime green, purple and blue. Next to them were some younger women, ashayer, very thin, with a couple of children. They shifted the old man round so that we could converse better. His authoritative wife and one of her sons told us about the group. They were six related families here on their summer pasture ground. They all had houses in the winter pasture area near Kazerun. The visiting women were relations who had settled in the district beyond Shiraz airport. The old man had had a stroke but was recovering now. The finely dressed women and the animals against the hillside would have made beautiful photographs. But I had stopped taking a camera along. I had decided that unless I already knew the subjects I would not take pictures – too objectifying. So here without my camera I could not even photograph the animals. In retrospect I think this was probably a misguided policy. If I had said to the three women: ‘Your clothes are so beautiful, can I photograph you?’ they might have been pleased.

Firuzabad This no-camera policy was still in place when I went to Firuzabad (an hour’s drive south of Shiraz), where Bolvardi had arranged to meet a

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relation who wanted to sell some land. We took a collective taxi having just missed the bus. Buses were my preferred method of travel because one saw more people and they seemed to have fewer crashes. The taxi was the yellow registered kind, so probably safer than a random driver, because yellow taxi drivers have to have a licence. From the moment we drove off until shortly before our destination I was struck by how many firms and factories there were all along the road. It looked as though at least in this region there were some pockets of productivity. I sat between two friendly women, one a comfortable fat one who fell asleep early on and acted as a cushion. The other, pleased to talk to an English person, shyly asked me if I had been to Firuzabad before. She pointed out the Maiden’s Castle high up on the mountainside above us as we neared Firuzabad. This castle was built in AD 209 by King Ardeshir, the first of the Sassanian kings, devout Zoroastrians who ruled the Sassanid Empire for four centuries; the last empire before the arrival of the Arabs in Iran. The maiden in question is thought to be the goddess Anahita, usually associated with water, and an important element of Zoroastrianism. We left the taxi some way before the town, and walked to a village where an acquaintance of Bolvardi’s lived. The village was called Atash (fire) Kadeh in reference to the palace of King Ardeshir, a Zoroastrian sacred building enclosing the Holy Fire, a mile or so from the road. Bolvardi had not mentioned any site and I had no idea that I was about to see this most spectacular of ancient places. Ardeshir’s palace is stunning. The site dates back to around 1,800 years ago, when it was in the middle of a perfect circle comprising the City of Gur. The main remaining buildings are two vast domes like Mycenean beehive domes but open at the top. The domes are the most amazing engineering feat, based on square foundations turning circular half way up. Or to put it more technically they are an early, perhaps the first, example of a squinch. That is, by dint of building a simple arch across the right angle where two walls meet, a dome can be placed on a square base. Every brick is visible as the construction soars upwards. There were no tourists, just a few guards and workmen outside. At one side of the original palace grounds was

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a deep pool said to be fed by a spring and fathomless. This would have been the source of water for the gardens of the circular city. After touring the site we went back to the village to visit Bolvardi’s friend who lived in a small one-storey house. The friend was away but his wife and daughter-in-law welcomed us in. A son of the family, who was wearing drainpipe jeans and a long black cross on a chain, sat with us for a bit. Are you Christian, I asked him jokingly. He laughed and said no, it is just for fashion. Crawling around the floor beside us was a baby with a charm pinned to its back, different from the gold one pinned to Laleh’s baby, more like the charms Greek babies have pinned to their underclothes. I asked about it and learnt that inside the cloth there is some writing from the Qur’an. From averting the evil eye we moved on to the yaraneh, the new cash subsidies. What did they think of the new system? They were very happy to have the cash and, given that they still had subsidised food and utilities, this was no surprise. We returned to the main road and got a lift into Firuzabad with a man who stopped on the way to drop his daughter off at the university; she was about to sit an end-of-year exam. The would-be land seller was rung but was not picking up. As it was lunchtime we went to eat in a hotel whose restaurant had been recommended by our lift. The restaurant was huge and reminded me of a communist hotel or a Greek locale for holding wedding parties. After lunch, still without news of the seller, Bolvardi was desperate to have a nap. In any case, at 42 degrees it was too hot to do anything else. It turned out that not far away there was another huge hotel run by the state for visiting teachers who could stay there at reduced rates. This was exactly like a communist institution, with a large dormitory full of bunk beds that visitors could rent out for a couple of hours. The sheets on all the beds looked as though they had been used often but were not too dirty. On the sill of the long windows at the end of the room was an array of clay tablets, mohr, ready for anyone wanting to pray. Post-nap, when the seller was still uncontactable, we set out to find a place to drink tea and wait until such time as the town centre and shops opened. We had tea in yet another large state hotel. The town was more and more reminiscent of communist towns, with

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fully staffed hotels empty of customers. Finally it was late enough and cool enough to go to the market area, which was in its different way as stunning as Ardeshir’s palace. It was thronged with Qashqa’i women in dazzling costumes the like of which I had never seen, much more originally beautiful than the costumes worn at weddings. Some of the women wore overskirts and underskirts, which contrasted non-matching designs that would have left Matisse gasping with admiration. And I had no camera. Bolvardi was meanwhile lamenting that he did not have the telephone number of his sister-in-law’s Firuzabad cousin. Ring Sara and get it, I said, fed up that we were meeting no indigenous Firuzabadians. This led to us being picked up by the cousin, an extremely nice, conversable man who works in Firuzabad’s agricultural department. The family’s house was in a long, narrow road with a pleasant country-town feeling about it. In front of each house was a hayaat, a yard with trees and flowers. At home we found his equally nice daughters, relaxed and friendly like their father. There were five children altogether. One son was working in a plastic tubes factory in Ardekan, one in a south Persia gas station, one selling mobile phones in Firuzabad. The two daughters (unmarried) were charming and talkative, and ready to discuss everything from cash subsidies to marriage prospects to university life. One had just finished studying urban planning at Esfahan University, but was not very optimistic about finding a job. The older one hoped to marry but had not yet found a husband. While we were being plied with juice and tea and fruit by the daughters, their mother returned. She, unlike her husband, was not Qashqa’i but the daughter of Seyed ancestors from Khesht, where her father was a famous imam. Her ancestors were originally from Bahrain. Later a boy of about ten came in, followed some time after by two younger sisters, the children of the mobile-selling brother. They each ran to kiss their aunts before shyly greeting us. Life in this country town did seem appealing with its gardens and small distances and absence of heavy traffic, not to mention the stunningly costumed inhabitants. But economically it suffered from the same problems of unemployment, especially for the young, as every other town. The following year I learnt that the

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family had moved to Shiraz, except for the elder daughter who had married a rich older man.

The partridge breeder I was particularly interested in meeting people who had their own small businesses. I could not understand why the government of such a rich country with such high unemployment and such low productivity was not encouraging entrepreneurs with affordable credit. So when Bolvardi said that he had a friend who bred partridges for export, I was keen to meet him. The business was near the new town of Sadraa, across a new railway line which is part of a project to link Shiraz with Esfahan and eventually Tehran. We got off the bus next to some scrubland and stumbled over bumpy, thistly, sandy land and across the railway to a path on a hill where Bolvardi thought the partridge farm was. Eventually we reached a padlocked gate where by good fortune and without planning (because Bolvardi had lost his telephone number) we found the very nice partridge farmer with his wife and young son accompanied by a baby gazelle. Mr Foroud only goes to inspect the farm once every few days so we were really in luck. He was a Qashqa’i from Firuzabad who had grown up on a farm and since the age of four had wanted to work with animals. First we visited the birds, who lived and bred in a large light barn with two levels. There were pheasants as well as partridges, but not so many partridges as sometimes, since 8,000 of them had recently been sold. Their meat goes to Dubai, the Emirates and a few rich Iranians. It is very expensive partly because hatching time is twice as long as for hens. Mr Foroud had started the business ten years ago and until this year had been the only breeder and exporter of partridge meat in the area. This year two competitors had started up business. Ten years ago he had been able to get a very large loan at a reasonable rate of interest. This last year had not been quite as profitable as before thanks to the economic changes which had caused the costs of feed and transport to rise. I said I supposed Mr Foroud employed Afghans to look after the birds. He looked surprised for some reason, but said yes, he had two living on the premises.

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They invited us to join them for breakfast, and his wife set the table with cucumbers, tomatoes, flatbread and tea. She was originally from Tabriz, the daughter and granddaughter of poets who wrote in Azeri Turkish rather than Persian, but had grown up in Tehran. We sat round eating while the son fed the gazelle from a baby’s bottle. The baby had been deprived of its six-member family including its mother, all stolen a few days before. Mr Foroud had rung a friend in the port town of Bushehr where he guessed the thieves would have taken the animals to export them. Watch out for anyone trying to sell gazelles, he told the friend. In fact, the friend had just been approached and immediately alerted the police who caught the thieves. Alas, the gazelles had already been killed, presumably with an eye to selling their meat. Mr Foroud offered to drive us back to the road as it was so hot, but we said we were happy to walk. Having kindly established that my shoes were suitable for walking over scrubland he let us go. During breakfast he had given me his card, at the same time as warning me to be careful who I talked to about my interests here. We walked back to the road and got a lift to Sadraa, the town built from scratch 15 years ago. Most of the town has been built on a hill amongst the sandy desert mountains. As we approached we saw the usual rusting skeletons of apartment blocks under construction. We took a bus up to the market centre where, more numerous than the vegetable and fruit sellers, were the estate agents offices. The house and apartment prices are far lower than in Shiraz, Maaliabad or Golestan and interest on a loan a mere 5 per cent. This is a serious draw in particular for young couples or poorer families from villages. I knew of several young couples who had moved here. But to date, Sadraa’s aesthetic appeal is minimal; it looks depressingly unfinished, but not as though it has a future, rather stuck in stagnation.

A day on a landowner’s estate I had been struck in the past by the number of Qashqa’i who had once been landowners, often owning whole villages. One Friday, the weekend, and therefore Dariush’s day off from his agency job, we all

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piled into his car to spend the day with just such a landowner. The estate was in the Komarosorkhe area. We drove through the village that had once belonged to the estate and across some fields with many stands of trees: sour cherry, apricot, apple and walnut. A young son of the family came to meet us on his bike to guide us the last part of the way. Mr Qasemli was a vet by profession. He worked for a bank, where his job was to assess whether applicants wishing to start smallscale stockbreeding should be given loans or not. He had a jolly round face and made us all feel comfortable with his hospitable easy manners. His wife and sister-in-law greeted us with tea while he showed me some of his books on farming, which were in English. Very few households I knew apart from Ahmad’s had books, so it was pleasant to see a bookcase full, including a first edition of a Qashqa’i history with photographs of some of Sara’s forefathers. A neighbouring family had been invited to meet us, and a wonderful buffet lunch was set out on a table in the sitting room. (I noticed that there was help in the kitchen and I found out later that this was an Afghan woman whose family lived on the estate.) The guests were not Qashqa’i, though most of the surrounding landowners were. The guests were the first intellectuals I had met, and only the day before I had been bemoaning the lack of intellectuals amongst my Shiraz acquaintances. The Mohsen family had lived and worked for many years in the States, where two of their sons had married and settled. Dr Mohsen was a neurologist who, as he put it, embraced cultural anthropology as an important contributor to understanding the workings of a patient’s brain. His wife, a lively strong-minded woman, was a paediatrician from a long line of female doctors. With them came their eldest son, Davoud, an architect, who was not a fan of the United States, and his wife, a communications engineer. They were all extremely lively conversationalists and the fact that two of them were fluent English speakers meant that for once I could communicate without the obstruction and strains of struggling Persian. True to form, it was not long before the disgraceful treatment of Iran by the British came up for which, as usual, I expressed sincere regret; while wishing that they would leave

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our past, however reprehensible, alone. Even the nice partridge breeder had brought up the subject, albeit, as in this case, jokingly. Dr Mohsen was amusing and cultivated. He obviously relished debate, but more unusually seemed equally content to sit back and listen while others engaged in discussion. Shortly before we met there had been some articles in the international press about bilingualism – specifically, suggesting that people growing up speaking two languages from their earliest childhood would be less likely to suffer from Alzheimers in their old age. A large proportion of Iranians grow up speaking both Turkic and Persian so I asked him if as a neurologist he subscribed to this theory. He did, and in the same context had also studied bridge players in the United States and the effect of the game’s skills on memory in old age. His research indicated that playing bridge was a significant contributor to maintaining players’ mental faculties in superb order throughout their lives. As he had explained in relation to cultural anthropology, he needed to know more about his patients than their physiological symptoms. Their social and cultural environment was an influence to be taken into consideration. He believed that post-revolution Iran is made up of anarchic groups of disunited citizens confused as to their identity. He contended that government injunctions relating to religion made Iranians feel guilty if they did not follow the rules, and guilty if they did, because people were never quite sure what they should be doing. Unlike the Moradis, he did not think that people generally feared each other as potential spies. And his view was borne out by the freedom with which people even this year had aired their anti-Ahmadinejad views to me on buses without taking too much trouble to avoid others overhearing. However, when I gave the concrete example of a colleague within an institution being dismissed after expressing indiscreet views to another, he agreed that in state or Sepah offices this could be a hazard. His daughter-in-law, Samira, who worked for the Sepah-controlled telecom, said that discretion was essential if one were to keep one’s job or even to keep out of prison. With many identity-less now, what had been or what might constitute Iranian identity, I asked. The prominence of poetry and

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literary tradition are an integral part of the Persian sense of self, he said, as is the cherishing of traditions like Nowruz. Iranians, he believed, are intrinsically religious. But Khomeini’s aim to forge a new system based on Islamic precepts with the clergy as power holders had certainly not been the aim of those who wanted rid of the Shah. (I discovered much later that Dr Mohsen had been tortured under the previous regime.) In fact, Dr Mohsen foresaw that this very system would be the undoing of the clergy. I was still trying to find out how citizens differentiated Khamenei, Supreme Leader, and Ahmadinejad. This family saw Ahmadinejad as no more than a puppet of Khamenei. In the light of recent disagreements between the President and Khamenei I was not sure how right they were about this. But clearly Ahmadinejad was becoming increasingly vulnerable and in any case could not be president after his term was up in 2013. Davoud and Samira were just as curious about England’s governing arrangements. They wanted to know why so many English people had been to watch Prince William’s wedding. What did I think of the monarchy? I understood why these things seemed ridiculous to them but pointed out that a lot of Iranians had watched the wedding too and had loved it. The kind Mr Qasemli had promised to show me his 200 Holstein cows before we left. Sara was hoping I would not want to, but I insisted that it would be fun. Luckily the allure of a basket of fruit from the orchard next to the farm resigned her to the cows, fresh free produce always a draw. We drove over to the farm, stopping on the way to greet Mr Qasemli’s father who lived half way between his son’s house and the farm. At the farm gate we walked through a disinfectant bath and into the first yard. Here was the stabling for the cows who had recently calved. We saw more cows beyond and the stud bull. We finished at the milking machines and met some of the Afghans who work the farm. Milk is sold at a very low price to the factory (about ten kilometres away) and from there it is sold on to the shops in the form of yoghurt, dugh and butter as well as milk. Do you make a profit? I asked. No, said Mr Qasemli, to a disbelieving grin from Bolvardi. Sara thought everything was unappealing and the smell disgusting, so I was surprised when she happily accepted a large

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bottle of fresh milk. We left the cows, who were handsome and impressive-looking, and went into an orchard where we met the Afghan foreman. His family, a wife and four young children, lived in a village near Jalalabad. His first language was Pashai (not to be confused with Pashto) but he was bilingual in Dari, the language used in Afghan schools and apart from some variations in vocabulary the same as Persian. He was interested to speak to an English person and even knew some English words. He seemed intelligent and articulate, and Mr Qasemli was lucky to have him, though no doubt the choice of employees is vast given the number of Afghans desperate for work.

Dinner with an anthropologist Some days later I was invited to dinner by the Mohsens to meet a well-known anthropologist whose speciality was Iran’s nomadic tribes. The dinner was held in the flat of the Mohsens’ son, Davoud. This was on the ground floor of an elegant three-storey recently built block, with a pretty communal garden in front where residents could sit in the cool of the evenings. Davoud’s parents lived in the same building on a higher floor. Samira’s sister Amina, a girl of 24, had also come. She had just finished a degree in English literature. Her thesis, she told me, had been on existentialism in King Lear. She hoped to go on to study abroad, perhaps in Canada. But in the meantime to earn money she had just finished a tourist guide course in Shiraz. I asked her what kind of leisure activities young people could enjoy here. ‘Oh, it is miserable, miserable,’ she said. ‘There is almost nothing we can do without being accosted by the morality police. There are coffee shops but one can’t be comfortable in those because of the restrictions on mixed behaviour and on dress.’ The week before a friend of hers had been fined 300,000 tomans (about £160) for ‘bad’ hejab. ‘As a group of mixed young people we can only get together comfortably in a friend’s garden.’ I asked her and her sister and brother-in-law if they felt that the government had been wounded since the 2009 election. And if so, was there an increased crackdown as, so to speak, the wounded animal defended itself more savagely? They did feel this to be the case. It had

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been a friend of Amina’s who had been killed by the police the year before in the bridge incident. Amina’s and Samira’s brother had been grabbed out of a protest march by the police and told ‘keep out of politics or else’. So even if there was freer dress for women, and the satellite dishes were tolerated, anyone publicly airing controversial views was at risk. The number of journalists and human rights activists in jail testified to this. The famous anthropologist arrived. Dr Mohsen had told me that despite him often rebelling against the regime openly, the government had never taken steps against Professor Ali, so powerful was this man. I wondered if the fact that the professor’s studies centred on nomadic tribes lay behind his immunity. Nomadic culture away from the practicalities of actual herding is romanticised in the media as part of Iran’s diverse heritage, nostalgically primitive, and a tourist attraction. I was worried that the professor was coming to meet me because he believed nomads and their survival were the main area of my research. ‘Isn’t that your main interest?’ asked the doctor. I explained that I was interested in the theocracy’s impact on citizens’ lives, nomadic and non-nomadic. Dr Mohsen only laughed and said he looked forward to hearing our conversation. I need not have worried, as the anthropologist was keen to recount some interesting stories about his career under a dictatorship. He began with a story from 1982, early post-revolution. The powerful conservative cleric Ayatollah Yazdi had come to Shiraz University to give a talk announcing changes to the sociology programme. According to Professor Ali, Yazdi had announced with a clenched fist gesture of defiance that the first change would be the exclusion of anthropology. Professor Ali had raised his hand at the end of the talk to ask a question, addressing the cleric as Mr Yazdi, deliberately omitting his title ‘ayatollah’. ‘What kind of anthropology are you planning to exclude, Mr Yazdi?’ he asked. ‘There are at least 30 kinds of anthropology.’ ‘All,’ replied Yazdi. Professor Ali motioned to the other academics in the audience who, he told us, all got up with him and walked out. ‘And to this day,’ Professor Ali concluded, pointing to himself, ‘there’s an anthropologist teaching here at the university.’ He told us that the government had done a great deal to help ashayer

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to settle, asphalting roads to their settlements, for example. This was not the view of the sociology professor. And again I wondered whether the nature of Professor Ali’s research might have contributed to his acceptance by the authorities. Professor Ali told another story later about a conference he had attended in the 1990s in Tehran. The topic was how to save Iranian culture from Western influence. Professor Ali got up and said if you want to get rid of Western influence, get rid of the electricity, the aeroplanes and the cars, and ride camels. He did not tell us how this was received by the conference leaders. On developments leading to the post-revolution order, Professor Ali argued that, thanks to the Shah’s abolition of any power groups, the only existing group left was the clergy. Due to their geographical universality, these formed a potential network to replace the Shah at the same time as appealing to a population for whom religion was a fundamental element of life and tradition. This tallied with Dr Mohsen’s point that Iranians are intrinsically religious. I wondered what the young educated felt about religion, and asked Amina how she and her fellow students felt about Islam. ‘Do you know,’ she said, ‘me and my friends have been so repelled by the pushing of so-called Islamic morality and religious injunctions that we have become agnostic. We don’t know what we believe; in fact some of us feel . . .’ she paused with shocked dismay at what she was about to confess, ‘atheist.’ She said: ‘Religion should be about humanism, about individuals treating others considerately, not about how or whether you prayed.’

Tribulations of the young Samira and Amina suggested that we meet another day so they could tell me more about what everyday life was like for young women in a theocracy. Samira’s flat was just down the road from the Bolvardis, so I had envisaged a cosy evening chatting at home with no constraints. But when I got there I found that they had very kindly arranged to take me to a ‘coffee shop’. With Amina and Samira was Zahra, who had a car. We drove to Chamrun Avenue, which starts in the centre of Shiraz but runs out of town for several kilometres. We stopped beside

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a small building where exhibitions of contemporary paintings were held. It was next to the spot where the hookah smokers had had their qaylans smashed by the morality police a few weeks before. We looked at the paintings, which were crude and ‘sunsetty’, and then went to the ‘coffee shop’, which was more like a restaurant. It was on the ground floor of a luxury hotel, air-conditioned, spacious and characterless. A family birthday party was being held in a corner behind us. Small groups of girls sat at tables; at one table a couple of men were sitting. Even when someone started playing the piano later there was no atmosphere. I had already established that Shiraz had no European-style cafes with tables near the street, but I wondered if there were any less luxurious coffee houses. The girls said there were very few places, and these were standing up only and no good for conversation. Zahra, like Samira, worked for the Sepah-controlled telecom. They said one of the most frustrating aspects of their lives and those of friends working in state institutions was the absence of meritocracy. You could not work your way up on the basis of your competence and conscientiousness. You must visibly indicate willingness to toe the theocratic line. Similarly, Amina said that at the university you mustn’t air contrary or original views amongst fellow students as you could be asked to leave. One fellow student had been taken aside and told not to talk politics if she wanted to stay on the course. During seminars with one of their literature professors, a cleaner would regularly wander in and out. It was said that this cleaner was there to report on any potentially questionable comments from students or professor that might be construed as subversive. Whether or not this was really the case, it indicates the level of paranoia. Working for the Sepah-controlled telecom, however, was not all bad. There was an in-house gym, and Samira was a member of the mountaineering club organised by telecom. She was a keen alpinist and very much looking forward to an expedition planned later in the month. The perks and underemployment in the state- and the Sepahcontrolled institutions did remind me, like the hotels I had seen in Firuzabad, of the Albanian state-owned companies pre-privatisation. Samira had spent the night before on night-shift work. Is night-shift

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work tiring? Oh, not at all. We just chat or play games or sleep as there are no bosses in charge at night. The girls were very keen to tell me about the tribulations young people experience, in particular young women. The problems are not just theocracy-generated, they also relate to aberu: face, reputation. Aberu is always presented as a Persian phenomenon, but it is not so different from Albanian ‘opinion’, which dictates one’s course of action for fear of loss of face. In Greece behaviour is often determined by ‘ti tha pi o kosmos’: ‘what will people say’ or ‘kathosprepismos’: ‘doing things as they should be done’ in the eyes of society. In other words, in a socially conservative conformist society where a daughter’s reputation must be guarded regardless of the rights or wrongs of her behaviour, parents will place constraints on it. At the same time, as with 18-year-old Elham Yakoub, the mobile phone makes oversight impossible. Zahra, Samira’s 29-year-old friend, had a car giving her complete freedom from her parents, though not from the state. I imagine that parents’ feelings towards the theocracy, which extends care for a girl’s morality outside the home, are ambivalent at best – not least because it is aberu which suffers when a parent is summoned to the police station where their daughter is being held for infringing Islamic morality rules. In a recent case a girl admitted to the morality police that the boy she was with was not her fiance´, which resulted in her arrest. The father later reprimanded his daughter for her stupidity which had simply damaged the family’s reputation. ‘If you’d said you were engaged and they had summoned me,’ he scolded, ‘I would have kept up the lie until we got home and dealt with you then.’ The same prioritising of appearance means that the police will arrest a couple in a park where the girl is wearing ‘bad’ hejab, but are less likely to arrest the couple who are ‘properly’ dressed according to their reading of Islamic writ. We talked about university life in England and its rather different demands on students. Then the girls told me of their difficulties with men. Men can never be trusted, they said, and cheat on girls all the time. Is this the same in England? I said women were likely to be more independent both economically and from opinion in England. But that men and women cheat. However, the greater equality legally

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and socially means that probably there is more openness between men and women. We returned to the religious issue in Iran. The theocracy’s take on Islamic morality was perceived by these girls and all the other young girls I knew as hypocritical. As a determinant of young people’s behaviour it was political, not religious, and had the direct result of turning many of them away from religion. I tried to find out about the world of arts, music, literature in Shiraz. Were there theatres and concert halls? They seemed uncertain. Did they read newspapers? Only for advertisements and job opportunities. Did they read novels? Only foreign ones. Zahra, who had studied Spanish at university, loved Garcı´a Ma´rquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. She was excited that one of my sons lived in Colombia, and hoped herself to go and live in Mexico. Coincidentally, some weeks later Khamenei was lamenting Iran’s low per capita book reading. A network was launched by the Organisation of Public Libraries at the end of July 2011 to promote book reading amongst Iranian families.12 It may be that there is not a widespread reading culture but Islamic censorship probably plays a role. A case in August 2011 illustrates the absurd lengths to which the censors can go. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance decided that some parts of the epic poem ‘Khosrow and Shirin’ needed ‘reworking’, i.e. bowdlerising.13 The poem is over 800 years old and an Iranian classic. Past cases of absurdity include the replacement in a novel by Hermann Hesse of the word ‘wine’ with the word ‘coffee’. This makes a nonsense of the following comments about the drink’s high alcohol content causing a headache. My favourite is where characters are in love; the censor inserts a paragraph marrying them, so as to legalise their situation. Authors themselves sometimes resort to coded language to beat the censor so that the phrase ‘had some more time’ has become established code for ‘made love’.

The last outing I asked Bolvardi whether he could avoid arrest if we went to visit the ashayer who camped between Koudian and Hematabad. I also wanted to revisit the courteous old malek on whose land the ashayer camped

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each year; the malek whose son had said he was like a god to the ashayer. Bolvardi thought he could go that far without getting into trouble. So one Friday when Dariush was free again, Sara packed a delicious picnic of rissoles and rolls and peppers and tomatoes and we drove via Ghalat through the mountains to the summer camp of this group, who were Kashkuli Bozorg. Bolvardi and I went off to see the malek. He was sitting outside his house, and Bolvardi murmured: ‘Ah, he’s aged a lot’, but the malek rose to greet us very warmly, looking only a little less upright and strong. There were some retainers standing around including some women spinning. One of the men went to get tea. Abbas, the malek’s son, whom we had met before, and who manages the estate, came to join us. He was followed by his mother, a jolly, lively ( jumbojush) woman, mother of 11 children, brimming with energy and fond of joking. We asked why there were fewer ashayer in the camp. The malek said the main reason is because most groups wait until the wheat has been harvested when the fields are free for grazing. But across the province there are fewer ashayer now because government policy discourages their way of life and young men tend to leave pastoralism if they can study. The recent discovery of oil in the south, where these ashayer winter, might have created a few more jobs down there. Now that many of the hillsides have been stripped of their woods there has been much less rain over the last ten years, and this had also played a role in reducing their numbers. In the yard where we were sitting there was a great cauldron full of boiling yoghurt, which was being stirred. We asked what it was, and the malek sent someone to bring the product of this process. It was karagoruch, black kashk, white with a brown rind. He gave us some to try with the warning as we started to bite into it: ‘It’s torsh’ (which he pronounced torosh) meaning sour. It was, as far as I could make out, distilled calcium and hence good for bones. The malek said it was good for lowering blood pressure, and presented us with some when we left. Abbas came with us to the camp where we found Sara enjoying herself immensely; not as I had feared bored at all, but chatting to one of the older women from a tent next to the stream. This woman was also standing over a cauldron of boiling yoghurt stirring. Next to her family’s tent were a generator and a satellite

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dish. Look, said Abbas, taking me into the tent, where some men were watching television. He asked leave to switch over to BBC Persian and there it was, perfect reception and world news uncensored. Who knows if they ever watched BBC Persian; perhaps they did not. But they had access to a lot of American channels in Persian, one of which they were watching. They might well watch the satirical ‘Rangarang’ programme produced in the States for Iranian viewers. It consists of skits with Khamenei locked in the arms of a blonde and Ahmadinejad mocked as a monkey lookalike riding a donkey. On our way home we stopped by Hamid, the cousin who had lived in Germany and been engaged to a Japanese girl. Sara had got over her antipathy to him, though she spent the visit talking to her aunt, Hamid’s mother. It turned out that the Japanese girlfriend after visiting Shiraz had said there was no question of her living here. Meantime Hamid’s father had died and Hamid had had to leave his job in Germany to look after his mother, who was unwell. He also had to help his eldest brother, who was disabled by opium addiction, to manage the family estate. This was in Homeijan, and mainly consisted of fruit trees. The trees were looked after by Afghan workers who are cheaper than locals, which matters, said Hamid, because this year living has become so expensive. He disappeared into the kitchen to get tea. I realised what a big sacrifice he was making in leaving Germany to attend to family duties in Shiraz. It was not surprising if he came across as rather gloomy. When he emerged from the kitchen I asked him about the protests which had taken place the year before on the anniversary of the election. He said what had really struck him was how few people had protested. He thought people had become like sheep or slaves. He did not think that Syria or anywhere else from Egypt to Tunisia would inspire greater boldness. He said he had difficulty understanding why people living under these pressures did not act more rebelliously. ‘They just go on selling off a little bit of land here and a little bit there and keep going.’ It struck me as significant that he was emphasising the economic rather than the political. I had also noticed that many of the families I had met, whatever their class or education

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level, did exactly this. Perhaps Westerners overestimate the effects political pressures have on the majority of Iranians. Most of the countries of the Middle East do not suffer from the extremes of inequality that characterise, for example, the countries of Latin America. The largest class in Iran is the middle class, most of whom have been able until now to stay in their comfort zone provided they remain discreet politically. And perhaps with respect to the political, Hamid underestimated the efficacy of selective repression – the fear of violence, given the state’s readiness to imprison or kill those actively criticising the status quo.

CHAPTER 5 2012:SANCTIONS AND THEIR IMPACT

Sanctions and inflation – tahrim and tavarom In November 2012 I returned to Iran to see how the daily lives of friends and acquaintances were being affected by Western sanctions and rising inflation. In October there had been a big fall in the value of the rial1 in relation to the dollar. Inflation, already high at 25 per cent, was still rising. Prices went up while salaries remained at the same level. As is well known, one object of this sanctions regime is to pressurise Iran into cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over its nuclear programme. The IAEA fears Iran may be enriching uranium for nuclear weapons capability. Iran refuses to halt uranium enrichment, which it says it needs for purely peaceful purposes such as electricity generation.2 The sanctions imposed by the US and the EU have become progressively more stringent. They include a ban on the import, purchase and transport of crude oil from Iran, a ban on providing insurance for oil shipments, and a ban on the import, purchase and transport of natural gas. All assets belonging to the Central Bank of Iran have been frozen. Transactions with Iranian banks and financial institutions are banned, together with all trade in gold and other precious metals. Those countries that do not adhere to these rules face being cut off from the US market. Such heavy-handed measures are not, one assumes, solely

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motivated by a fear that if Iran has nuclear weapons its neighbours, those, that is, who do not already have nuclear capability, will follow suit. The disproportionate focus on Iran must spring in part from that old humiliation, the 1979 hostage disaster. The fact that since that date the US has had no direct line of communication with Iran is testament to how much that piece of history still rankles. In the runup to the 2012 US elections the Jewish lobby was an important contributor to the increasing severity of the sanctions, though Israel’s threats were based on its own political agenda rather than fear that Iran would attack them. Discussing the motives underlying the sanctions with my Iranian acquaintance, one explanation that frequently came up went like this: ‘America wants to engineer enmity between Iran and the Arab states so as to weaken Iran. They want to sell weapons to the Middle East. They are afraid of our geopolitical position, of our control over the Hormuz Straits, of our alliances with Russia and China.’ Only the day before I left for Iran, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had gone to the UAE and Saudi Arabia to promote UK arms sales – safeguarding access to their oil reserves, ignoring their human rights records. I left London the morning after the US election hoping that with Obama for the next four years we might see a rapprochement between the US and Iran. ‘We hope you don’t run into trouble given the sanctions and your being English,’ warned my Iranian friends in Cambridge. At Shiraz airport the young man at the entry desk looked at my Ireland-issued passport3 and beamingly asked if I was Irish. More or less, I said wanting to minimise the English, but I live in England. Oh, where? My brother lives in London and two of my cousins in the north. He was joined by a colleague. And where will you be visiting? they asked smilingly, not challengingly. Well, I’ve got friends in Marvdasht and Firuzabad as well as in Shiraz. Ah, that is why you can speak Persian, you’ve got friends here, they said approvingly. They both warmly wished that I would enjoy my stay. In Maaliabad two days later Sara, Bolvardi and I went for an evening stroll to see the nearby shopping centre, Aftab. There are no department stores in Shiraz; instead centres consist of numerous

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individually owned small boutiques, often shiny and expensivelooking. In the corner of one such centre I was surprised to see cosily tucked away in a corner a ‘bar’ with low lighting but without, of course, alcohol. Most of the shops were clothes shops, each specialising in something different – scarves or tracksuits or manteaus. There was a shop with so-called traditional handcrafts including pottery, woven cloth and relief paintings of breathtaking ugliness, all at high prices. All over Maaliabad there are new buildings built by rich investors from Tehran, Shiraz and the Persian Gulf. There are huge new apartment blocks and banks – private banks, state banks and Sepah banks. There are some expensive foreign cars on the streets. ‘Can you believe it, we are suffering from sanctions and inflation, unable to pay our bills but I’ve seen two Lamborghinis on the streets of Shiraz,’ a friend told me angrily. Shiraz, with a population now of around two million, is said to be the fastest expanding city in Iran. A metro is under construction linking the centre to the suburbs and satellite towns. For the rich who have made good in the Gulf, Shiraz is the ideal place to invest. Unlike the intolerably hot Gulf towns the city has a temperate climate and excellent health facilities. There are a large number of high-quality specialist hospitals, and more being built. Two new specialist hospitals are near completion in the new satellite town of Sadraa, one for burns and one for transplants. Shiraz hospitals draw many of their patients from the neighbouring Gulf states. I accompanied a friend to the Kowsar Heart Hospital, an impressive modern building, very clean and light with a large pink stone heart outside it. We took the lift up to the eighth floor, where there were plenty of seats in a large, light, airy space with windows all along one side overlooking the grounds. These seats were not gender segregated; men and women could sit next to each other. I had to wait a long time for my friend, and saw people from all walks of life come in, men and women young and old, nomads, villagers, smartly dressed city girls. I had been told that health service provision is good. All employees are insured; the self-employed can buy insurance at affordable prices. The unemployed, if they have no other insurance, can get private coverage cheaply if they use government facilities.4

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Nomads’ and villagers’ health costs are subsidised by the state. There is no bribing of doctors as in Greece or Albania. A woman sat down next to me and eventually asked me if I was ill. I said no, I was just waiting for someone. Was she ill? Yes. She pointed to her head saying something I did not understand. Realising I was a foreigner she asked about my family and why I was here. ‘Baraye gardesh,’ I said, ‘for a pleasure trip’. At the pension I had been asked why I was back again. I had hesitated and the manager had helpfully suggested ‘baraye gardesh’. Last time I had said that I was writing about everyday life, even then not a very good idea. Now that the Foreign Office guidelines advised on no account to go to Iran because the British are persona non grata, being a tourist rather than a writer seemed like a better plan. My real reason for being in Iran was my conviction that the sanctions were wrong-headed and hypocritical. I wanted to write about their effects on the ground to illuminate the situation to people at home. But explaining this might have been misconstrued as spying; especially in a climate where conspiracy theories are common. Even my sober sociology professor acquaintance recommended that I be Spanish or Greek. As shortages of some vital medicines are one result of the sanctions, and to be British or American might invite angry reproaches in a hospital, I had decided to invoke my Greek antecedents if asked where I was from. A country known to be kharaab (broken), bankrupt, would not be held responsible for inflicting pain on Iran. Several days of talking to friends and their families made their assessment clear – the rich are getting richer, the middle classes are getting poorer, and the poor are getting poorer but they are better protected by government subsidies. The rich included the government, and the Sepah and successful businessmen. One effect of escalating inflation according to my friends was that those with money could import luxury items such as cars and later sell them at a profit. How did they find buyers, I wondered. I had heard that businesses were laying off many of their staff or simply not paying their employees for months at a time. Samira, the telecommunications engineer, told me that she had been paid the same salary for the last five years despite inflation and the rising cost of living. Would

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there continue to be people rich enough to enable importers of luxuries to profit, I wondered. A couple I knew had bought a Peugeot for 20 million tomans a year ago. It was now worth 40 million, they said, and only the month before had been worth 32 million. But as they needed their car and were not about to sell it, knowing its vastly increased value was of purely academic interest. Doubtless, however, there were some producers who despite or because of sanctions were getting richer. This was certainly not the case for those I knew who had been producing for export. They had been badly hit by sanctions. For instance, some apple orchard owners in this area, whose apples pre-sanctions had been exported to neighbouring Arab countries, told me that now they were having to sell at a lower price within Iran.5 The breeder of partridges, Mr Foroud, was similarly affected. Qatar, Dubai and the Emirates were no longer available outlets for his partridge meat. I asked if Bolvardi and I could come to see him one day at his partridge farm. He said if we did not mind the fact that he had some guests he would be there this week. We first went to Sadraa, just beyond his property, to see how the new town was developing after a year, and to admire the two new hospitals under construction. The town itself is still expanding enormously, particularly to the west where Ahmadinejad is behind a huge housing development. Dominated by bleak concrete apartment blocks, the town is reminiscent of 1970s communist Europe. The new railway linking Shiraz with Esfahan and Tehran, scheduled to finish the year before, was suffering some setbacks, and when it ran was said to take longer than the bus. We crossed over the line to go to Mr Foroud’s, and found that a number of villas had been built at the foot of the hill. The place had become a weekend escape for Shirazi. At Mr Foroud’s there were already a lot of people assembled, and we realised that the family was giving a party. The young son of the family (he who had been bottle-feeding the orphaned gazelle) was having a riding lesson on a beautiful Qashqa’i horse, which was accompanied by its enchanting foal. I sat down on a wall with some other guests, one of whom kindly took me under her wing. Like several other women she was not wearing anything on her head. She normally lived in Dubai

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(which I like much better than here, she said), but was in Shiraz while her husband was undergoing medical treatment. Mr Foroud’s elderly mother, dressed in Qashqa’i costume, arrived and sat down with us; all the elderly Qashqa’i women I had met continued to wear traditional dress. I admired her dress and she said she knew it was heavy to wear but she was used to it. Eventually when we had been brought fruit and juice by Mr Foroud’s Tabriz-born wife the sun went down and a beautiful new moon came up. Mr Foroud’s mother went indoors as it was chilly now. Mr Foroud explained to me that he could not make enough money breeding partridges now that their export was sanctioned. He was selling this business and would concentrate on his date gardens in the south. By this time a barbecue had been set up, meat was being roasted, and it was time for our host to bring people together to eat. Shortly after, we had to leave for a meeting with a friend in the centre of Shiraz. As we walked down the hill Bolvardi told me that the Foroud family had been estate managers for the Qashqa’i khans. During the period of the khans’ exile the family had been able to accumulate a certain amount of the land in their care. So Mr Fouroud would probably not become destitute without his partridge business. We walked past the new cluster of villas at the bottom of the hill towards the road, where there was now a gate and a watchman. Just as we got to the gate a smart four-by-four drew up and offered us a lift. Unusually, no one spoke for a long time perhaps because neither party knew anything about the other. Eventually the wife asked me if we had been visiting friends. Bolvardi explained that we had been at the partridge breeder’s and that the partridge farm was up for sale. The driver, who turned out to be a urologist and a distant cousin of Sara’s, sounded interested and wrote down Mr Foroud’s telephone number. Perhaps the doctor came from that group which was thriving despite sanctions. Perhaps he had Arab patients who paid in dollars. His wife asked me if I liked Iran, and I said yes. ‘Really’? she said, laughing disbelievingly. I went to talk to another producer, Mr Qasemli, the owner of the Holstein cows. His perspective took me aback. Sanctions are good and bad. Good? I exclaimed, surprised after ten days of hearing nothing but complaints about them. ‘Well,’ he smiled, ‘I am getting

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richer as a result of sanctions; my milk sells at twice the price now. Certain things that can no longer be imported such as powdered milk and soya are being produced in alternative forms here; a substitute for soya, for example, is meat powder. Although my costs are higher due to the increased price of fodder and transport, my sales are bringing in more than my outgoings.’ But the higher cost of milk is hitting the consumer badly. The Qasemli family was not callously ignoring the welfare of the less well off. They were good to their workers and at this very moment were looking after an Afghan boy with an eye disfigurement. He was staying with them in their Shiraz flat while waiting for treatment. Having talked to a number of people about the effects of the sanctions, I made an appointment to see my sociologist acquaintance at the university. Most of all he was shocked that Western sanctions were preventing many essential medicines from entering the country. He himself was unable to get hold of the annual injection he needed for a medical condition. That sanctions should give rise to lack of medicines was completely contrary to human rights and to be condemned. If the West wanted to take measures to prevent nuclear developments so be it, but not at the expense of the sick. He too saw the sanctions as hurting the middle classes while benefiting the authorities and the rich. But, he said, before we leap to conclusions as to their possible effects on the regime we must not forget how adaptable people are; they get used to things, they adjust. He dwelt on this idea of ‘adaptability’ – it is such a strong human characteristic, he stressed. I detected a message here – one should not assume that sanctions that cause suffering will be a catalyst for change. Will those in power continue to enrich themselves and blame Western sanctions for other groups’ economic distress, I wondered aloud. Would worsening conditions for the middle class – much the biggest class in Iran, as he himself had often pointed out – direct that group’s anger towards the Western powers rather than the government? What did he think the aim of the US was? To prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or to engineer regime change? Could the sanctions have positive effects such as an increase in productivity within the country? The government was now claiming that self-sufficiency is to be applauded and striven for. In the past, the

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professor had been critical of Iran’s low agricultural productivity and dependency on imports such as meat from Brazil. Despite the visible expansion of Shiraz and satellite towns like Sadraa, wasn’t Iran’s economy in the long term rather unstable? Many firms including those that some of my friends worked for were dismissing large numbers of workers. Factories were closing. Unemployment was already notoriously high. How long could this potentially explosive situation be sustained? Did he believe like some of my friends that the authorities know they cannnot maintain the status quo forever, but will hold on as long as they can with a concomitant rise in violence and killing – witness Assad’s example? ‘The economic system is indeed under strain,’ the professor agreed. ‘There are constant strikes and factory closures. The official rate of inflation is 25 per cent, and in reality much higher, and has been so for some time. Notwithstanding the huge amount of building in Shiraz, the construction industry is very badly affected by sanctions. Since October there has been a ban on the import of steel. Now steel is scarce and more expensive. It must either be imported from countries who are not supporting sanctions, such as China, or produced inside Iran. The finished buildings have cost much more, but Shiraz is a profitable centre for investment and buyers are prepared to pay more. There are still a lot of people rich enough to be undeterred by present difficulties.’ Clearly as yet the country was not on its knees economically. Did the professor think therefore that there was little hope of Western sanctions achieving their aim of engaging the government in dialogue? ‘The two sides must have dialogue,’ he said. What about those two notorious obstacles to dialogue, I asked. The Americans can never forget the 1979 hostage disaster. The Iranians can never forgive the removal of Mossadeq. ‘Each side must discuss these obstacles and admit responsibility if we are to move beyond them,’ he replied. Changing subject, I asked the professor about the government’s latest project for segregating men and women students in the universities. He thought that practical obstacles would make it hard

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to implement these measures. There are not enough teaching staff to cover two sets of student lectures, for example. However, he added, segregation in science laboratories has already begun. I had also heard from Shahrzod (the youngest of the Ghalat family) that the computer labs at the state university in Bushehr where she was studying computer science were now segregated. And the government’s measures restricting one gender or the other from enrolling for certain degrees and designating some universities as either for males or females would help in the long run to achieve segregation.6 Shortly after this I spent the day with the Ghalat family, two of whom were in their second year at university, two of whom had now completed their studies. Mina had studied nutrition, and Pari computer science. But nowhere could they find work. After four years of university life away from home with all the companionship and work communal living offered, to stay at home with no reason to leave the house, no chance, as Pari put it, for pishraft (development), was frustrating. They had repeatedly applied for jobs for months, but unless you had parti (influence), they lamented, there was no chance of getting work. University life had led to several marriage offers from teachers and graduate students. Two proposals had been rejected because they involved a move abroad. To my surprise both girls had been readier to marry their first cousins when marriage with these had been mooted, though for various reasons neither of these cousin marriages had in the end taken place. Neither cousin had been able to find work in the field in which they had been trained. One, trained as a civil engineer, was working as a school bus driver. The other, after a prolonged period unemployed, was working in an unskilled job in a milk factory. I was surprised that either of these proposals had been considered by girls not madly in love and still in their early twenties, given the minimal change to their lives and prospects these alliances would have brought. But perhaps it is precisely the familiarity and security that comes from the close family circle that makes life in a potentially unstable or threatening situation manageable. There is no doubt that the supportive role, emotional and economic, of the family is central to Iranian life and has helped Iranians deal in these difficult times with very high youth unemployment.

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This year high unemployment, the doubling or more of prices for everyday food items, and the threat of an Israeli attack had generated more overt discontent and worry about the future. A year and a half earlier I had heard many complaints about the increased cost of living after the withdrawal of government subsidies, but I had not sensed this year’s anxiety. Now crime was on the rise. A man armed with a gun had boarded the 151 bus that runs between Shiraz and Golestan and threatened to kill the passengers unless they handed over their gold jewellery and money. One day it rained, a delight to Shirazi, and referred to throughout the day on the radio as a source of joy. Sara’s niece, Shahla, who lives in the new town of Sadraa, set out with her three-year-old to visit her mother in Golestan. She had been going to go by taxi but because a rainy day is such a pleasure she decided to walk down to the bus instead. At the bus stop two young men on a motorbike suddenly swooped by, grabbed her bag off her shoulder and disappeared into the distance with a small amount of money and, more seriously for Shahla, her identity documents, which would take months of bureaucratic hassle to get replaced. The same week several Shiraz banks were robbed. The Ghalat family’s son while walking through a park with a group of friends had his mobile telephone stolen at knife point. ‘We are becoming Third World,’ commented his father. I wondered to what extent there was a serious breakdown of law and order. To date my impression had been that the citizen is safe on the streets of Shiraz. Do the police not act? I asked, and was told ‘What can they do?’ Two months later came the government’s answer to street crime. ‘We must prevent the rising crime rate by setting harsh examples.’ Two men whose robbery and stabbing of a man in a Tehran street had been caught on a security camera were publicly hanged in a central Tehran park. Even though the victim did not die, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary, said the death sentence would be justified as: ‘We need to act assertively and increase the costs for those committing street crimes.’ The judge, Abdolghassem Salavati, said the men had threatened public security and caused fear and intimidation. For this they were convicted as ‘mohareb’ – waging war against God – a crime that carries the death sentence. A sociologist, Amanollah Qaraei

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Moghadam, commented on an internet news site (Mellat Online): ‘It is 100 per cent clear the situation will not change unless the economy improves.’7 If law and order were less in evidence in Shiraz, so were the Basij. People were being slightly less careful about their clothes and hair. As well as seeing women showing more of their hair, I had seen some young men with long hair (which is illegal) and a young man openly taking a small dog for a walk in the central street of Shiraz. Dogs as pets are not allowed because they reflect decadent Western attitudes. (Though it seems there is not as yet an actual legal ban on dog ownership.) Are the Basij behaving less officiously now? I asked. ‘We think there is more leniency at the moment as the authorities hesitate to provoke us now that we are under extreme economic stress,’ my friends said. So the authorities were worried. This worry was highlighted the week before I arrived by the arrest and torture of a blogger, Sattar Beheshti,8 who had criticised the government on a website. He died after four days in custody – killed by torture, shekanjeh, as one of my friends noted bitterly. The case came to the notice of the human rights bodies, local and international. Amnesty stated that Iran imprisons more journalists and bloggers than any other country. It also noted that in the first eight months of 2012 there had been at least 300 executions.9 I had been shocked on my arrival to learn that the German-speaking Hamid, whom I quoted at the end of the last chapter, was now in prison. His criticisms may be recalled: he thought people here had become like sheep or slaves; he could not understand why people living under these pressures did not act more rebelliously. Ultimately he did not think that Syria or anywhere else from Egypt to Tunisia would inspire greater boldness amongst people here. After the last time I met him he had gone back to Germany, returning to Shiraz when his mother died. Now that he was in prison his relations avoided talking about him or his relations abroad. Mention of diaspora relatives or connections might be construed by the authorities as cause for suspicion. As well as the gradual deterioration of the economy,10 the Islamic principles on which the theocracy depends for its credibility were

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increasingly being questioned by my acquaintances. In the past I had asked myself why the religious families I knew criticised Ahmadinejad rather than Khamenei. Perhaps this was because they saw Ahmadinejad as the author of their economic hardships. But Khamenei after all is the one with the greatest power, with the Sepah and the hardline mullahs behind him. This time when I met up with Rokhsaneh, the daughter of my Marvdasht friends the Moradis, I asked her point blank what she and her family thought of the Supreme Leader. ‘We don’t respect him because we don’t believe he adheres to Islamic morality, to Islamic justice.’ How do you know, in what way doesn’t he? ‘He kills people,’ was her simple answer. Like many others over the last two or three years these religious families had become much more vociferous about their grievances. Rokhsaneh mentioned some neighbours who until recently had been pro-regime but were now disillusioned. However, while she believed the great majority of Iranians were now very critical of the regime, she said: ‘We don’t unite, each family looks rather to its own welfare within the country or abroad. If you criticise the government openly they kill you. So we prolong the situation by trying to keep going as quietly and comfortably as possible.’ While she thought that resentment against the regime was ultimately greater than against the West, she did ask: ‘But why does America not want us to have nuclear weapons when India, Pakistan and Israel have them?’ I unexpectedly found the long-lost telephone number of someone I had not seen for five years. This was Masoumeh, the girl who had helped me buy a manteau on my first trip to Shiraz in 2007. She was now married to a teacher of sports and body-building. Body-building is big at the moment in Iran, as I kept finding when re-visiting boys I had not seen for a year and a half. I congratulated the parents of one 19-year-old who had grown a lot since last seen. Mashallah! I said (as one does from Albania through Turkey to Iran, referring to someone’s fine appearance while deflecting the evil eye). ‘It’s all down to body building,’ said the proud parents. When a third family produced a transformed body-building son I realised that Masoumeh’s husband was on to something. He also had a business importing clothes from Turkey. The import –export firm that

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Masoumeh had previously worked for had folded as a result of sanctions, as its business was with Europe. But she had just found a new job in a smaller firm. She drove round one afternoon with a friend, Lela, whose blonde hair was flamboyantly in evidence, not hidden by the small scarf perched far back on her head. We went first to a museum full of Madame Tussaud-type figures from Iran’s history. Given enough time to explore it, the exhibition would be a very good aid to getting a grip on the main players and the trajectory right up to contemporary times. We also looked in on the Narenjestan Hotel next door, with its beautiful garden full of orange trees giving the garden its name, and its pretty ornate house and mirrored halls. It belongs to the architecture department of Shiraz University and was full of laughing students, boys and girls, sketching. At the top of some scaffolding a boy and a girl were restoring part of the wall, clearly enjoying unsegregated restoration work. We dropped Lela off before driving out to Golestan to meet Masoumeh’s family. Masoumeh had studied English at university and spoke English fluently. She told me that Lela was ‘nutty’, had married unwisely at 18, had a daughter and then divorced. She had married again and now had a four-year-old son by her second husband. Her mother-in-law dislikes the presence of the 12-year-old daughter, and Lela is desperate to move into a place of her own. Meanwhile what had helped make her turbulent life bearable was meeting a Christian group which she had secretly joined and met with regularly. If she were discovered to have converted to Christianity she would be guilty of apostasy which can incur the death penalty. Christians (by birth) are tolerated by the regime but, as a friend had told me when discussing religious tolerance in Iran, if you fill in a job application form and put religion ‘Christian’, you do not get the job. As we drove to Golestan I mentioned that I had been at a barbecue near Sadraa the evening before. ‘I was at a party near Sadraa last year,’ said Masoumeh, ‘which was raided by the Basij.’ Was there alcohol at the party? ‘Yes, I didn’t drink but there was. We were arrested and taken to prison where we had to stay for three days without being able to communicate with anyone outside or with our husbands who were separated from us.’ Were you beaten? I asked. ‘No, there was no

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physical abuse. But prison was awful, the worst thing about it was talking to those wretched women who had been there for several years.’ Masoumeh and her husband still have a court case pending. Her husband, she said, sometimes held forth against the regime much too indiscreetly, and she would urge him to be more careful. We found the whole family at home, two sisters and the parents. One sister came in looking ill and Masoumeh told me she had a balloon in her stomach. I thought this was a jokey way of saying that she had indigestion. It turned out that instead of going on a diet to lose weight this poor girl had opted for surgical intervention. The balloon would have to stay in for six months and meanwhile the girl was in constant pain. The youngest sister had married a man who had turned out to be an opium addict, like so many I had heard of in Shiraz. The divorce, as always in these cases, had been a difficult process, but now she was free and living at home. A large television was on an American channel and I asked if they had ever had their satellite dishes destroyed. ‘Oh yes, more than once, but we just buy new ones. If one is caught a third time with a dish one is fined about £50. We’ve got six dishes because we all like to watch quite different things.’ They were clearly a well-off family so not too inconvenienced. Sara and Bolvardi had had their dish destroyed the year before but were not well enough off to replace it with one of the same size and quality, so could no longer watch the BBC. ‘It’s the same with the internet,’ Masoumeh continued, ‘the government filters it. We just buy the VPN [virtual private network] programme and unblock it’. Meanwhile they were taking advantage of a traditional comfort, a hookah, around which Masoumeh, her mother and youngest sister sat and took it in turns to inhale while the father smoked a cigarette. I left Golestan, declining an invitation to supper because surprisingly all Shiraz buses stop running after 9 p.m. and I still have not mastered taxi travel, the constant shifting from one car to the next, how much to pay depending on distance and the reasonableness of the driver. I took the 151 bus, which was full of young girls going into the centre of Shiraz, and wondered how we would react if the gun-toting gold-seeker returned.

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At this time of year the ashayer, the tent-dwelling nomadic breeders of sheep and goats, have left for their winter pastures, qishlaq, near the Gulf where many have orange groves and often houses. I had hoped to visit some of them but rain prevented the trip. Instead we went to Firuzabad. This time I made sure I had a camera. But now though it was still warm all the women out shopping were wearing chadors, which hid their dresses. About 50 kilometres beyond the town we saw some ashayer families camped half way up a hill. Each tent had about 100 sheep and goats herded together in stone-walled pens. The animals were giving birth or about to, and we found twin kids sitting in a pool of their placenta just below the lower tent. We sat down in the tent to drink tea with the camp’s head who sat stroking a kid as it nestled in the crook of his arm. From time to time it jumped away bleating and played with the shepherd’s five-year-old granddaughter. She was staying with her grandparents while her mother, a primary-school teacher, gave birth to a new sibling. None of the couple’s five children had opted for sheep and goat breeding. Outside I had seen a huge pile of large branches of wood. There were no trees in the area and I asked where the wood had come from. It is delivered, we buy it. My eye was caught by several large water tanks. They had to buy water too; it was delivered by an organisation set up to help ashayer. What about grazing, I asked, seeing that the mountain side was grassless. We buy fodder. And what about the future? We will be the last ashayer in our family, the shepherd smiled ruefully. The next day we went back to visit the newly settled ashayer on the corner of the Komarosorkhe road. We stopped by the post office on our way to meet the driver. I wanted to post two envelopes containing postcards to Europe. The address was written on the wrong part of the envelope and we had to buy new envelopes. When we went to the final desk for dispatch Bolvardi was told that he must give his identity card number for the post office records. Contact with Europeans needs to be tracked. I later discovered that there was a separate post office for Europe but that sending letters was even more expensive there.

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Arriving at the now sedentarised nomads’ settlement I saw that it had grown much larger over the last year and a half, had become in fact a village. No one was in at the house we had initially visited but we were invited in next door. I commented on the size of the settlement and learnt that there was now a primary school attended by 25 pupils. We returned to the last visit’s discussion – the pros and cons of becoming sedentary. The eldest man present said, ‘It has been a mistake because without animals we are insecure, work is very scarce, we are virtually without income, and this year meat has sold for a very good price. Take my cousins who are still ashayer: they have earned well this year.’ Even though fodder is more expensive? I asked. ‘Yes, even if their income and expenditure have simply balanced out, their work gives them security.’ The youngest man there said: ‘The only work I have is being a telephone taxi, no steady income.’ But you bring in a steady income with your carpet-making, don’t you? I asked the two women sitting with us. I remembered their kilim and qaliche (different-sized rugs) from my last visit to next door. I went to look at some of their carpets in another room. ‘Weaving is for summer, now we spin,’ they said, showing me their wool. I asked about the dyes. ‘We buy them.’ The young man had joined us and, with an eye to the foreigner, started to say that they made the dyes themselves but was too late. ‘The big carpets,’ the women told me, ‘are much more profitable than the others. Everyone needs to cover their floors with big carpets whether in tents or houses, whereas the others are more for decoration.’ The house was rather ornately decorated and looked as though it might have cost a lot to build. But they said it hadn’t, and as rural dwellers they would have received a bank credit worth about £2,500 from the government (those in towns get £5,000). On the wall of the room where we were sitting were two photographs, one of Bahmanbegi who had set up the tent schools, and one of Khosrow Khan, tribal leader and incidentally a great uncle of Sara’s. Khosrow Khan, one of the four brothers who led the Qashqa’i, had been the tribal war commander, while the eldest, Naser, was paramount tribal chief. The brothers had been exiled by the Shah for supporting Mossadeq, returning to Iran in Khosrow’s case when Khomeini took

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power. However, Khosrow rapidly became persona non grata with the new establishment as well, and was hanged in 1982 in Shiraz for alleged collusion with the CIA. They did so much for us ashayer, the men explained when I asked why they had chosen pictures of these two. Khosrow as an inspiring leader, Bahmanbegi for having brought us education. As the men talked about their past ashayer lives they sounded as if they were mourning a loss of identity. By this time two other men had joined us, one of whom had been a tent teacher and now played the role of dispute settler for the growing community. The second man was a one-man town hall. His role was to help people get the documents they needed and to resolve bureaucratic problems. Do you get paid by the state? I asked. No, but the people I help pay me. As I recalled in the previous chapter, I had asked the sociology professor why the government had chosen this area for the project, far from the shops, doctors and schools. He believed it was a deliberate calculation. By settling them next to a main road with access to Shiraz, the government would not have to provide them with any services such as a school or clinic. Whatever the government’s rationale may have been, the men explained that they had settled here because these were their summer grazing pastures, their yaylaq, where they had rights over the land. I told them about the ashayer near Firuzabad, and asked what prospects there might be for the ashayer way of life. A major reason why it is threatened, they said, is the diminishing grazing – grass, alaf, chaman. Why is it diminishing? Has it been taken over by farmers? No, there’s has been too little rain. Because God doesn’t send it; because maybe we’re not good enough. No, they pulled themselves together. We have cut down the trees, and without trees there is much less rain and hence less and less grazing. However, all was not lost. The government, they had heard, will be giving us land, about five hectares per family, stretching to the river over there and that way we will be able to farm. They were still having to buy water but had been told they would get water and gas in the future. Which way of life do you prefer, I asked the women. This one is more comfortable, they said.

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From these ashayer we drove over to Mr Qasemli’s parents’ house. Jehangir Khan had been the owner of some villages round here as well as in the warm winter pasture area, garmsir/qishlaq. Now Mr Qasemli’s brother stays permanently in the garmsir area where they have date plantations. Mr Qasimli’s mother, Zolaika Bibi, a woman with a lively face and round black button eyes, oversees the farm and orchards here, much preferring the countryside to Shiraz. Like Mr Foroud’s mother she wore the traditional long full Qashqa’i dress. The nine-year-old headscarfed daughter of an opium-addicted local worker helped to bring in the lunch dishes and later cleared away. She seemed very competent and self-assured. Zolaika Bibi said she was in the fourth class at school. To make up for the rudeness of arriving uninvited we had brought the rain with us, and Jehangir Khan told me that I would be welcome every month if I brought rain with me. There were already guests for lunch, a couple and an elderly man. They talked about the rise in labour costs now that so many Afghan workers had been sent back to Afghanistan. I asked if they could explain to me the connection between sanctions and inflation. They said that sanctions had caused inflation, and denied quite wrongly that there had been inflation before. This visit occurred before I had been to see Jehangir Khan’s son in Shiraz. The family’s manners are so hospitable that perhaps it would not have made a discernible difference. But after I had visited Mr Qasemli to elicit his views on sanctions, I learnt that he had rung some mutual friends, evidently uneasy as to my motives for being in Iran. At his house we had discussed the effects of sanctions on his business and talked about sanctions more generally as a Western strategy. Of course, he said, everyone knows that it is Britain that calls the shots; America is simply a puppet of Britain and both want Jews to be in charge of world affairs. I said that the power relations are the other way round and in most respects Britain follows the US. Mr Qasemli smiled because he knew better. Nothing I could have said even if my Persian had been less inadequate would have had the slightest effect. As I had already noted, for historical reasons the Qashqa’i prejudice against British governments is even more entrenched than amongst the Iranian public at large. When

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Mr Bolvardi said Mr Qasemli was quite right, exasperation made me overly vehement, probably frightening the very nice 14-year-old son who was listening earnestly to our discussion. Realising I was not going to dissuade Mr Qasemli, I changed the subject, so as to leave on a calmer, more civilised note. Mrs Qasemli, who had been plying us with delicious fruit, presented us each with a big bag of dates from the brother’s date gardens. On several occasions I had interesting, less heated, discussions with Sadegh and Pardis, two professionals in their early thirties who speak some English, are about to emigrate to the United States, and have very strong views about current goings on. Sadegh combines insights into current goings on with off-the-wall conspiracy theories; for example, that Ahmadinejad is in cahoots with Netanyahu. I have often been told that it is the West who brought Khomeini to power, and I suppose that one could argue that indirectly Western machinations had facilitated the theocracy by creating a power vacuum. It is harder to see where Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu might be going with their secret bond. Sadegh said that Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba, was involved in a big corruption scandal. Some Majlis members had been more than usually at daggers drawn with Ahmadinejad. Khamenei had intervened to say ‘enough quarrelling, we must present a united front or we will be weakened’. According to Sadegh, this was because there was a fear that Ahmadinejad would spill the beans about Khamenei’s son, believed by many to be the likely heir to the leadership. If that were to happen the theocracy would be discredited along with Islamic rule. I pointed out that Khamenei has often had occasion over the last four years to exhort both sides to desist from quarrelling. And this would not be the first time that Mojtaba was known to have been involved in a corruption scandal. It would surely lead to nothing more than the usual cover-up by the Sepah who, together with some of the hardline mullahs, are the actual power holders. But Sadegh had an idea that this scandal would be far more damaging to Khamenei, and that Ahmadinejad was storing it up to use as a mortal blow against the Supreme Leader at some point in the future. Were that to happen, Sadegh believes that the Sepah would govern secularly. He also

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believes that if the Sepah were in charge they would aim to make Iran a nuclear power. It is an interesting scenario. Could the Sepah succeed without Islamic law as a basis for controlling the population? One day a young woman called Salbeh joined us. She teaches philosophy at a school where she is deputy head. Like Pardis’ relations on her mother’s side she also comes from ashayer Turkic stock. On hearing that I was interested in ashayer she stood up excitedly and said: ‘You must see my mother’s village in Sepidan, it is beautiful, the tree colours are wonderful at this time of year; we can go there now.’ Her enthusiasm was winning but she admitted that very few people still lived in what had chiefly become a ski resort. As it would be dark before we got there it was easy to decline gracefully without having to admit to a minimal interest in beauty spots. Instead I asked Salbeh about the philosophy curriculum, and she explained that it is Islamic: ‘We know about Marx and Hegel but there are limits on what we can teach’. She had wanted to do postgraduate work, but any area of philosophy outside the Islamic is not allowed. ‘We are not free in our choice of academic topics, we are not free to speak or write openly, we are not free to wear what we like. Imposition of religion has made us anti-religious.’ Despite these causes for bitterness, she was pleased with her pupils’ lively interest in the philosophy course, and also gratified that many of them came to consult her about their problems, academic and personal. I arranged to go to Marvdasht, where my friends are from backgrounds different to those of the Shirazi I know. The families I know in Marvdasht are actively religious, and more provincial, as they live in a small town. They had never liked the akhund, the clerics, it will be recalled, but this time what struck me was how much more overtly angry they were with Khamenei himself. They were certainly not going to be voting in the coming election, and Mr Moradi, Rokhsana’s father, had not voted last time either. ‘Because firstly, the candidates are not chosen by us and secondly, whatever we vote the results are manipulated. If we are legally obliged to vote we will spoil our ballot papers,’ said Rokhsana. When Rokhsana and I walked to her house from the bus stop she pointed out that the small streets in Marvdasht were potholed and

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muddy. ‘The town council takes our taxes and puts them in their pockets leaving the streets to fall apart.’ On the other hand we had passed through a covered centre of shops that looked to me much better designed and more aesthetic than anything I had seen in Shiraz. Rokhsana dismissed it out of hand as inferior. She was due to go to her husband’s home town of Yazd the following week, and I asked if she or he preferred it to Marvdasht. ‘No, we both hate these towns. We want to live in Shiraz or Tehran.’ The sentiment was reminiscent of how provincial Greeks had felt back in the 1970s. Various changes had occurred in the Moradi household over the last year and a half. The youngest sister had married one of her music teachers, Reza, an extrovert, big-limbed, very lively tambak player. By current marriage-age standards both had been very young and the parents had initially been reluctant to agree to them marrying. But Puran, always strong minded, had won the argument. The couple certainly conveyed mutual happiness. Mr Moradi, however, took a shorter lunch break than usual and spoke less, perhaps finding the addition of a drummer to the large family party too noisy for conversation. There were ten people sitting round the sofreh, and Reza, whose fingers itched to play one of several instruments he had brought to show me, gave in to temptation every now and then. I was disappointed not to be able to talk more to Mr Moradi and Hassan, his son. They said they were suffering because everything costs more now that inflation is so high. I should have liked to ask to what extent their sales were affected given that they were producing locally grown goods for an internal market. Hassan had said the year before that people were producing their own pickles at home. But now I wondered if perhaps the scale of factory production brings the price of goods down so that they are cheaper for buyers than home made. I had worried that Mr Moradi would be cooler towards me, a representative of the West, but to my surprise for the first time he made a point of shaking hands with me. Perhaps because earlier in the week I had sent a message of ‘apology’ for England’s role in imposing sanctions. Or perhaps because shaking hands with women is a form of rebellion against the authorities’ version of Islam. I had noticed that Masoumeh’s father had shaken hands with me, and in

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many stricter households hejab-wearing indoors was hardly observed at all now. Both Puran and Rokhsana had now moved out of their parents’ house, Rokhsana into a flat owned by her father nearby and Puran to a flat owned by her father-in-law just down the road. Meanwhile Hassan and Razia, his extremely nice, quiet wife who lived on the second floor of the house, were expecting a baby in a couple of months. This was a very good thing, as Donya, the only grandchild at the moment, was set to become horribly spoilt as the centre of everyone’s non-stop undivided attention. The other Marvdasht household I visited was Farzaneh’s. Farzaneh teaches English at a local school. Until then we had only met at the Moradis’, but I had promised to visit her family next time I was in Iran. A year and a half earlier her family were distraught because her mother’s brother had just been taken to a detention centre in England. Could I help them? He had secured a Schengen visa but had foolishly decided to join his friends in England, where he had been arrested. His family implored me to ring the detention centre, which I did, despite knowing that I could do nothing. Eventually the young man was deported. According to Farzaneh’s mother he had suffered acute depression for a year and had only now stopped needing psychiatric help. He was jobless. Farzaneh’s father had worked all his life in the Marvdasht sugar factory in whose precincts they had lived until his retirement earlier in the year. They had bought this house from a man who had emigrated to Norway with his family. Wasn’t it difficult to move lock stock and barrel to Norway, I wondered. Apparently it just takes money. Masoumeh had commented that ever greater numbers were moving abroad. In Marvdasht I was told: ‘All of us young people want to move abroad but we will have to save for years before we can afford to.’ While Farzaneh and I were sitting talking to her father who was watching television, the twelve o’clock azaan sounded and I noticed Farzaneh murmuring a prayer. Do feel free to go and pray, I said to her as her father left the room to pray somewhere else. She said it was OK, she didn’t need to. Her mother and younger brother continued preparing lunch in the kitchen annexe. When her father

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came back he showed me the vast array of channels they could watch on television, including an Afghan channel in Dari. I asked him if they had ever had their satellite dish destroyed. He laughed and explained that within the grounds of the sugar factory they could do what they liked. Odd, I thought later when I learnt that the sugar factory is state-owned; satellite dishes are banned by the state but tolerated on its own premises. A brother who lives on the ground floor of the house came in. He was unemployed but runs a taxi service between Marvdasht and Shiraz. As noted before, a large number of Iranians seem to be taxi drivers. We talked about unemployment in Europe and I said in Spain and Greece it is over 25 per cent and for young workers 50 per cent. ‘I’d say here it was 80 per cent,’ he countered dryly. His wife came in and we sat down to eat round the sofreh cloth for lunch. Farzaneh’s mother asked me what the value of a gold coin (sekke) was in London but I could not tell her. She also asked me to find a husband for her daughter in England. An Iranian husband. After visiting these Marvdasht households, I noticed two superficial changes that year. One, that it was now customary to serve jelly (children’s party jelly) of two different colours at a meal. It reminded me of the year in a provincial town in Albania when it was suddenly de rigueur to serve Russian salad when one had guests. ‘Do try the other coloured jelly,’ Rokhsana urged Farzaneh some days later – this at a spread where alongside every kind of delicious salad and rice dish there was a choice between proper food in the form of ghormeh sabzi and fesenjun (cooked with pomegranate juice), two delicious Iranian specialities. The other change was the replacement of bolsters and floor cushions by sofas and armchairs placed at great distances from each other, making conversation more difficult. The more significant changes were the overtly expressed anger at the government, and the subtler but equally significant change, the taking of Islamic practice into their own hands away from government diktat. This meant relaxing of hejab in mixed company, praying when you wanted to, judging what was moral and Islamic independently of the clerics’ edicts. One promoter of change in addition to economic and political discontent may be the fact that so

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many young people are on Facebook. A Basij official recently claimed that there are at least 17 million users in Iran.11 It is censored, of course, but people find ways to get round this. Even given language barriers, they can be in touch with many lives and views of people from all over the world, and that is in addition to having access to foreign television and websites. Some days later I went to spend the day with the Ghalat family. To get there, Sara and I drove by way of a recently made link road where we saw the charming effect of municipal imagination. The flowerbeds alongside the new road had not as yet been planted, but ranged all along the back of the empty beds large, colourful, flat metal flowers had been stuck in. At Ghalat we walked through the pomegranate trees in the yard, where Ahmad’s beloved chickens were pecking around, and up the steps onto the terrace, where Zaynab was sorting greenery for lunch. Amir, now in his second year at university, was one of the boys who had been transformed by body-building, and was just leaving for a session. Pari had had her nose reshaped and looked very pretty though she had looked nice before. Did it hurt, I asked. It hurt terribly, she admitted. While we were eating lunch there was more cosmetic surgery, this time a programme on television about eyebrow tattooing. Apparently the procedure is quite common. Ahmad, to my surprise, was fascinated. After lunch he brought in a huge camping gas stove and boiled water for his Nescafe´ while the rest of us drank tea. He could of course have boiled some water in the kitchen, but he likes to do things with aplomb. We settled down to talk about whether things could ever change. Everyone present was clear that they would not be voting in the next election. We talked about the rise in street crime and the growing number of bankrupt or insolvent companies who cannot pay their employees. Could growing discontent endanger the government? As long as the regime has power and the money to enforce it their response will be like in Syria – to kill any opposition. How likely was war now, Pari wondered worriedly. Trying to be optimistic, I said Obama’s re-election probably lessened the likelihood. We talked about the theocracy, and Ahmad said: ‘I am Zartosht – Zoroastrian.’ Asked to explain what that involved he spelled out the three maxims (good

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thoughts, good words, good actions) and talked about the death rites, which Mina and Pari thought ludicrous. I asked him to recite some poetry. He knows reams of poetry by heart and recites it beautifully. He started with Hafez. I asked him to recite a poem of his own composition (he is an acclaimed poet), specifically the one he had recited when I visited a year and a half before. I reminded him of the last line of each verse ‘diger hich’ (nothing else). He was thrilled that I remembered it, and recited it once again before writing it down for me. Suddenly he recalled something funny. ‘Do you remember my policeman friend, the chief of the drug squad?’ I refrained from saying do you mean that horrible man dressed in black, but this was the one he meant. A man had been caught selling four kilos of opium and imprisoned for a year. His wife went to the drug squad chief and said if I give you 20 million (£5,000) will you get my husband out of jail? The chief agreed, pocketing the money but doing nothing. A year later the imprisoned man was released. He went straight to the police headquarters and said: ‘Your drug squad chief has taken my money but done nothing to help me.’ The drug squad chief is now himself in prison. I could not have asked for a happier ending. I asked if the police tended to be corrupt. Ahmad said they generally come from poor backgrounds and often from difficult family situations. Bolvardi had previously estimated that perhaps 20 per cent were honest but that most are likely to accept bribes. On my way back to the centre of Shiraz the bus was held up in Zand Avenue by a procession of men in black, wearing Viking-like hats and beating drums. They were accompanied by horses and a couple of camels. This was part of the Moharram festival, which had recently begun. In the Bazaar Vakil, near where the carpet sellers have their shops, one area had been partitioned off with green curtains. Inside men and women were chanting, mourning the dead Hossein, grandson of Mohammed. As I walked along the wide cathedral-like area where the carpet sellers sit, the mournful chanting drifted through the aromatic smells of spices and carpets, a delight for the senses. By contrast the television programmes during Moharram were thoroughly unappealing. They showed near-hysterical scenes in

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crowded mosques, with the camera zooming sentimentally in on the tears running down men’s cheeks. I spent the last afternoon with the Bolvardis, part of the time learning how to make rissoles Sara-style, part of the time reflecting on my findings with respect to sanctions. Most striking on this fifth sojourn in Shiraz was the rate at which the town and its satellites are expanding. Construction has become more expensive under sanctions but is continuing apace. The authorities and the rich can cushion themselves against sanctions while the middle class is suffering from huge increases in food prices: ‘They pay us in rials but prices in the shops are as if in dollars.’ Greater leniency on the part of the normally officious Basij is attributed to a calculation that this is not the time to provoke an already discontented population. Unemployment is rising. Some firms and factories have closed, others are not paying their employees. And while the healthcare system continues to function, essential medicines that have to be imported from abroad are unobtainable as a direct result of Western sanctions. The situation is fuelling resentment both against the West and against the regime, which is criticised for being economically incompetent and, increasingly, for being unIslamic. The US and EU are seen as hypocritical and trouble-stirring. They rail against Iran’s putative nuclear plans while turning a blind eye to India, Pakistan and Israel’s actually existing nuclear weapons and non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They label Iran as human rights abuser number one, while cosying up to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and selling them arms – a sign, according to many Iranians I met, that the Western powers are set on instigating war between the Arab states and Iran in order to ensure control over this geopolitically critical area of the world. So what might be the effect of the present sanctions? The economy, which has been mismanaged for years, will continue to deteriorate12 unless strenuous efforts are made to increase productivity. This would necessitate replacing incompetent managers chosen for their loyalty to the regime with experts in the relevant fields. Khamenei is quite right to say that this is a good opportunity to become self-sufficient and wean the country off dependency on

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foreign imports. But economic development would require greater freedoms, freedom to open positions up to people on the basis of their qualifications and skills. It would require freedom of speech, as is being advocated by former leaders such as Khatami and Rafsanjani. A potential presidential candidate and member of the Expediency Council, Mohammad Reza Aref, declared recently that the country is in need of moderates: ‘Reformists should be given a chance to participate in the 2013 election. As it is, people do not have the necessary enthusiasm to go to the polls.’13 A conservative MP, Ali Motahari, has spoken out against the head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who wishes to disqualify all those who protested against the 2009 election results from running for president. In an open letter Motahari has written that the opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi have never been tried in court, never been given a chance to defend themselves. There is therefore no legal basis for their disqualification from running for president. Another prominent conservative politician, Habibollah Asgaroladi, has also spoken out in support of Mousavi and Karroubi.14 There are clearly rifts not just between reformists and conservatives but within the conservative ranks. Could this outspokenness be the beginning of a liberalising movement?15 As long as citizens believe that their views and votes are either ignored or punished, the majority will either keep quiet – adapt, as the sociology professor put it – or try to emigrate. What the 2009 elections and aftermath demonstrated was a desire for greater freedoms, not a revolution. The middle class may be increasingly angry with the authorities but as friends pointed out: ‘We don’t have the means to revolt, the army is small and the serious weapons are in the hands of the Sepah who have no incentive to alter the status quo.’ Moreover, my impression is that most citizens would rather stay in their still comparatively comfortable zones than risk losing everything. Too many people remember the war with Iraq to seek out another conflict. Older Iranians who went through the revolution are not looking to go through another; until, as someone said to me, enough of us from the middle- and lower-income groups are united by an intolerable level of economic discontent. This may take some

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time as popular antagonism is mitigated by the regime’s economic support of lower-income groups and by the exodus of so many citizens abroad. After the 2012 US election there was a hope that President Obama would revert to his initial unclenched fist tactics. But in February 2013 the US stepped up the level of sanctions yet again. It is hard to see any way out of the present impasse given the nature of the sanctions, which leaves no room for face-saving options for the Iranian government. Sanctions are likely to stoke aggressive nationalism on the part of the leaders, who will adopt increasingly repressive measures against citizens. The professor is right – dialogue must take place between Iran and the United States. Strikingly, two former hostages held in the US embassy in Tehran during the 1979– 80 crisis echo his view. They are retired ambassadors John Limbert and Bruce Laingen. They stress the importance of currently proposed legislation to lift the State Department’s ‘no contact’ policy; to establish instead a channel of communication between the US and Iran with a focus on developing a mutual understanding of the other’s world view to break down ‘the wall of mistrust’.16 There must indeed be an end to a policy of threats and isolation if a constructive resolution is to be achieved.

EPILOGUE

Following Iran’s presidential election in 2013 and the surprise win of Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric, there has at last been an end to the ‘no contact’ policy. In his inaugural address to the United Nations in September 2013 Rouhani declared Iran’s readiness to engage immediately in negotiations aimed at removing concerns over its nuclear programme. Much was made in the Western media of the telephone conversation which took place afterwards between Obama and Rouhani, and much was made of the absence of a handshake. In fact Rouhani’s tactical avoidance of this handshake perfectly exemplifies the tricky game each of the protagonists has to play. Both must maintain a balance between domestic and international opinion; both must avoid fatally antagonising the hardliners at home. Breaking down ‘the wall of mistrust’ will take much longer than these initial steps of first contact. Indeed some of the hardliners on both sides have strategic reasons for maintaining mistrust. Nevertheless, important progress towards a lasting nuclear deal has already been made and this has led to a modest easing of sanctions. The initial euphoria that many felt in Iran and in the West on learning of Rouhani’s win has given way to a more realistic view – a changed relationship does not equate to a changed regime. Rouhani in his speeches before and after the election promised to oversee a number of significant legal reforms relating to minorities and to women. He pledged greater social and cultural freedoms and a radical

EPILOGUE

183

overhaul of the economy. Minor changes have occurred, some prisoners have been released. But Human Rights Watch reports show that a large number of executions have taken place since January 2014. Several newspapers have been closed down. The judiciary is in the hands of the hardline conservatives so these measures are unlikely to reflect Rouhani’s wishes. Rather they reflect the struggle between reformists and conservatives, now sharpened by recent developments. Fortunately Rouhani does have the Supreme Leader’s support with regard at least to the nuclear negotiations. Khamenei has recognised that an end to isolationism is imperative if sanctions are to be lifted and the economy rescued from further deterioration. Here we see the advantages of Iranian authoritarianism’s fragmented nature. How are the daily lives of ordinary Iranians affected by the election of a moderate reformist president? I had planned to go and see for myself, to talk to friends and acquaintance. On applying for a visa I was told that British citizens could no longer visit unless accompanied by a guide. I agreed to a guide as the only means to see life at first hand and my application was processed. But for reasons undisclosed, with or without a guide, I was refused a visa. Iranians who had hoped for better things following the election may be disappointed that the anticipated economic and political changes are slow in coming. Though the pace of reforms will inevitably be slow and the setbacks many, optimism should be encouraged. Hardliners on both sides may try to obstruct the process but the positive gains of rapprochement – economic, political and cultural – for Iran and for the West are too important to put in jeopardy. We must hope that the chief protagonists will be steadfast in sticking to the path of constructive resolution.

NOTES

Introduction 1. http://pages.eiu.com/rs/eiu2/images/EIU_Democracy_Index_Dec2011.pdf. 2. Internetworldstats.com/middle.htm. In 2011 the number of users was 36,500,000. 3. Katouzian Homa and Shahidi Hossein, Iran in the 21st Century: politics, economics & conflict (New York: Routledge, 2008). 4. irannews.wordpress.com (2009): 0 – 14 (24%) 18m; 15– 29 (35%) 26m; 30 –44 (23%) 17m; 45 –59 (12%) 9m; 60– 74 (5%) 4m; 75þ (1%) 1m. 5. Iran-bulletin.org/economics/youth_employment.html. 6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_drain_in_Iran. 7. http://www.payvand.com/news/12/may/1297.html; http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Brain_drain_in_Iran. 8. http://www.payvand.com/news/13/jan/1223.html (sourced from the Tehran Times). 9. Amir Arsalan Afkhami has an interesting chapter ‘From Punishment to Harm Reduction’ in Ali Gheissari (ed.), Contemporary Iran (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). 10. See for example ‘Oil Wealth and Economic Growth in Iran’ in Gheissari, Contemporary Iran, pp. 3 – 37. 11. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/studiesdownload.html? languageDocument¼EN&file¼79 350. 12. http://www.rferl.org/content/more_than_1000_political_arrests_iran/ 2347174.html. 13. See Lois Beck, ‘Economic Transformations Among Qashqai Nomads 1962– 1978’ in Michael E. Bonine and Nikki Keddie (eds), Continuity and Change in Modern Iran (Albany, NJ: State University of New York Press, 1981). 14. In Richard Fardon, Localizing Strategies (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1981), p. 64

NOTES

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10 –126

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15. 1981:64 16. 1981:100 17. Saı¨d Amir Arjomand, After Khomeini (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 42 18. Arjomand, After Khomeini, p. 42 19. Karim Sadjadpour, Reading Khamenei (Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for Peace, 2008), p. 1 20. David Thaler et al., Mullahs, Guards & Bonyads (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2010), p. 119

Chapter 1: 2007 1. http://www.indexmundi.com/iran/unemployment_rate.html. 2. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/19/us-iran-unemployment-idUSBRE 88I0TA20120919. 3. http://www.radiozamaneh.com/english/content/role-clergy-expand-iranianschools?page¼1.

Chapter 2: 2008 1. In Bonine & Keddie, Continuity and Change 1981, p. 81 2. Before prayer the body must be cleansed with water or sand.

Chapter 3: 2009 1. http://www.chathamhouse.org. 2. Reformists believe that there is no contradiction between the Islamic nature of the regime and the principles of democracy.

Chapter 4: 2011 Iran Daily No 3732 (1389/4/30). http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/03/03-iran-salehi-isfahani. IMF Working Paper WP/11/167. Radio Free Europe RFE/RL by Golnaz Esfandiari 28 May 2011. Cited by Azadeh Moaveni in Time Magazine 9 June 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/iran-blog/2012/sep/19/iran-spouse-findingwebsites. Dismayed by the falling marriage rate, the Iranian authorities are now (2012) preparing to introduce a spouse-finding website. 7. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-07-29/iran-babyboom/56576830/1. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-moni tor/iran-population-control.html. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

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8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

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126 – 64

Oddly enough this too has changed. On 10 October 2012, Khamenei made a speech in which he said ‘we made a mistake 20 years ago in introducing population control. May God and history forgive us.’ There had been a pronatalist policy during the war with Iraq which was then reversed with the 1990s ‘two children is enough’ post-war campaign. So successful has this campaign been that the current fertility rate is 1.7, i.e. below replacement level. The family planning programme is to be abolished and the budget used instead to fund a ‘fertility programme’. www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/.../2011_11%20IRAN-AFSppt. Radio Free Europe RFE/RL by Golnaz Esfandiari 28 May 2011. www.unicef.org/iran/media_4783.html. The following year I learnt that this land was where the nomads had grazing rights. blog.foreignpolicy.com; IBN TV 23 July 2011. rferl.org/content/iranian_censors 17 August 2011.

Chapter 5: 2012 1. Iranian currency is officially in rials but the units are very high; every ten rials equals one toman the word commonly used when quoting a price in a shop. 2. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under article 4 it has the ‘inalienable right’ to develop nuclear energy. 3. There is no longer an Iranian representation in the UK. 4. http://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/MILo-DB/EN/Rueckkehrfoerderung/ Laenderinformationen/Informationsblaetter/cfs-iran-download-englisch.pdf? __blob¼ publicationFile. 5. There are unofficial ways to export albeit less profitably than before. Perhaps these owners did not have access to middlemen who could get round restrictions, using barter for example. 6. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9487761/Angeras-Iran-bans-women-from-universities.html. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/09/leaveno-iranian-child-behind-part-1-from-gender-gap-to-gender-panic.html# ixzz28u5I3o1t. 7. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/world/middleeast/iran-resorts-to-hangi ngs-in-public-to-cut-crime.html?nl¼ todaysheadlines&emc¼ edit_th_ 20130121&_r¼ 0. 8. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/world/middleeast/after-death-of-sattarbeheshti-iranian-blogger-head-of-tehrans-cybercrimes-unit-is-fired.html? nl¼todaysheadlines&emc¼edit_th_20121202&_r¼0. 9. http://news.yahoo.com/blogger-death-sparks-national-outrage-iran-000000774. html. http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/iran/report-2012 executions.

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10. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/19/us-iran-unemployment-idUSBRE 88I0TA20120919. 11. Radio Free Europe http://en.irangreenvoice.com/article/2011/oct/06/3294. 12. http://www.payvand.com/news/12/dec/1232.html. 13. Tehran Times. 14. http://www.radiozamaneh.com/english/content/senior-conservative-figurebacks-opposition-leaders, http://www.radiozamaneh.com/english/content/ defence-opposition-leaders-stirs-controversy. 15. http://www.payvand.com/news/13/jan/1207.html. 16. http://www.payvand.com/news/13/mar/1001.html http://www.niacouncil.org/ site/News2?page¼NewsArticle&id¼ 9015.

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Esfandiari, Golnaz, ‘Average Iranians Struggling To Make Ends Meet Amid Currency Crisis’ (6 October 2012) ,http://www.payvand.com/news/12/oct/ 1049.html. accessed October 2012. Fardon, Richard (ed.), Localising Strategies (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1990). Friedl, Erika, Women of Deh Koh (London: Penguin, 1991). ——— Children of Deh Koh (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997). Gheissari, Ali (ed.), Contemporary Iran (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Hafez/Hafiz, Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz, trans. Elizabeth Gray (Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1995). Hashemi, Nader and Postel, Danny, The People Reloaded (New York: Melville House, 2010). Hiro, Dilip, Iran Today (London: Politico’s, 2006). Hooglund, Eric, Land and Revolution in Iran (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982). Huang, Julia, Tribeswomen of Iran (London: I.B.Tauris, 2009). Kader, Abdolah, The House of the Mosque (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2010). Koutlaki, Sofia, Among the Iranians (Boston: Intercultural Press, 2010). Lambton, Ann, Landlord and Peasant in Persia (London: I.B.Tauris, 1991). Majd, Hoomad, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ (New York: Doubleday, 2008). ——— The Ayatollah’s Democracy (London: Allen Lane, 2011). Malm, Andreas and Esmailian, Shora, Iran on the Brink (London: Pluto Press, 2007). Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Marriage on Trial (London: I.B.Tauris, 1993). ——— Islam and Gender (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999). Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985). Nadjmabadi, Shahnaz (ed.), Conceptualising Iranian Anthropology (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009). Nafisi, Azar, Reading Lolita in Tehran (New York: Random House, 2003). Naji, Kasra, Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran’s Radical Leader (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008). Oberling, Pierre, Qashqa’i Nomads of Fars (The Hague: Mouton, 1974). Poya, Mariam, Women, Work and Islamism (London: Zed Press, 1999). Salehi-Isfahani, Djavad, ‘Iranian Youth in Times of Economic Crisis’, Iranian Studies 44/6 (2011), pp. 789– 806. ——— ‘Understanding the Rial’s Freefall’ ,http://www.lobelog.com/unders tanding-the-rials-freefall/. accessed October 2012. Sciolino, Elaine, Persian Mirrors (New York: Free Press, 2005). Scott, James, Weapons of the Weak (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). Shaidsaless, Shahir, ‘Iran: Is Ahmadinejad Facing a Final Showdown with Rafsanjani?’ (3 October 2012) ,http://www.payvand.com/news/12/oct/1017. html. accessed October 2012. Street, Brian, in Fardon, Richard (ed.), Localising Strategies (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1990). Takeyh, Ray, Hidden Iran (New York: Holt, 2006). ——— Guardians of the Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Thaler, David et al., Mullahs, Guards, and Bonyads (Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2010). Zanganeh Azam, Lila (ed.), My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother Guard Your Eyes (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006).

INDEX

aberu, 149 address, forms of, 65, 73 Afghans: labourers, 24, 27, 36, 48, 83, 92 – 3, 140, 160 languages, 145 low wages, 89, 93, 131, 152 return to Afghanistan, 171 agriculture, 94 Aliabad area, 42, 43, 90– 1 Chero area, 32, 36– 7 Haftbarm, 106 Homeijan, 51 Komarosorkhe area, 54, 144–5 Marvdasht area, 20– 1, 23– 4 Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud Azad universities, 132 complaints, subject of, 121 conservative clerics, relations with, 8, 126 – 7 conspiracy theories about, 172– 3 general election (2009), 5, 98– 9 Khamenei and, 144, 165, 172 rural exodus, 71 – 2 US satire, 152 views on family size, 126– 7 views on gender segregation, 126 views on hejab, 107, 117 views on unemployment, 130– 1

air conditioning, 67 –8, 106, 119 – 20 alcohol, 53– 4, 166 Aliabad, 26– 7, 27 – 9, 41 – 5, 90 – 4, 108–10 Allameh Tabatabai University, Tehran, 129 Alzheimer’s disease, 143 American aesthetics, tolerance of, 22 anthropology: Shiraz University, 146 apples: export: impact of sanctions, 158 Arabic culture, resistance to, 67 Arabic language, imposition of, 52 Ardakan: Azad University, 131 – 3 Ardeshir, King, 137 Arif, Mohammad Reza, 180 Arjomand, Saı¨d, 14 armed forces, 13, 14 arms sales, Western, 155, 179 Asgaroladi, Habibollah, 180 ashayer, 11, 39 – 40, 46 – 7, 75 – 7, 83, 89– 90, 94 – 5, 105 – 6, 135, 136, 168–71, Figures 1, 2 and 3 Bijan Bahadori, 79 – 80 Chenar Shahijan, 38, 66, 78 –9 education, 44 – 5, 80 – 2 future for way of life, 151, 170; see also sedentarisation general election (2009), 103, 105, 111

INDEX government assistance, 146– 7 identity cards, 134 religion, 10 –11, 95, 103, 106, 131 satellite television, 151– 2 television portrayal, 59 Assembly of Experts, 13, 14 Atash Kadeh, 137– 8 atheism, 147 authoritarianism, 1 – 2, 4 –5, 7 Azad University, 125–6, 131– 3 Baba Munir, 72 – 3 Bagh Eram gardens, 18 Bahadori Kashkuli, Bijan, 79 – 80 Bahmanbegi, Mohammad, 45, 80– 2, 169, 170 Bakhtiari, 49 bank accounts, 117 banks, 154 Barker, Paul, 81 Basij, 3, 15, 99, 166; see also morality police in mosques, 75, 107 politicisation of religion, 68 recruitment to, 4, 68, 121 Revolutionary Guard and, 14, 15, 99 sanctions and increased leniency, 164, 179 Basseri, 85 Bayza, 88 – 90, 95 Bazaar Vakil, 63, 107, 178 beauty treatment, 64, 86, 122, 177 Beheshti, Sattar, 164 Behrouzabad, 68 – 9, 106 bilingualism, 83, 143, 145 body-building, 165 bonyads, 85 books, 142, 150 border controls: Shiraz airport, 96 – 7, 113, 114, 155 breastfeeding: in public, 29 –30, 125 bribes: police, 178 bridges: footbridges, 57

191

Britain imperialism, 77 – 8, 142– 3 Qashqa’i and, 78 not persona grata, 157 United States and, 171– 2 Browne, Edward Granville, 18 buses, 29 – 30, 50, 63, 125, 137 crime on, 163 gender segregation, 5, 29 – 30, 125 Bushehr, 91 business, small, 140 butter production, 40 Cabinet, 13, 14 Cameron, David, 155 carpet weaving, 32 – 3, 43, 44, 69, 73, 135, 169 cars: import by wealthy, 157–8 cattle, 144– 5 censorship, 150, 177 chadors, 17, 24 – 5, 33, 63, 122, 168 charity, 42, 85, 88, 89 Chenar Shahijan, 38, 66, 78 – 9 Chero, 26, 27, 32 – 5, 109 Cheshmebardi, 54 – 5 chickens, 127 Christianity, 111, 166 clerics, 1, 144, 147 Ahmadinejad and conservative, 8, 126– 7, 132 Assembly of Experts, 13, 14 Guardian Council, 13, 99 ignored, 176 imposition of Arabic, 52 imposition of mores, 51 – 2 perceived as hypocrites, 120 views on marriage, 126 views on Western art, 22 clinics: Hasanabad, 46, 103– 4 CNN, 58 coffee shops, 148 conspiracy theories, 172 construction industry: impact of sanctions, 161, 179

192

EVERYDAY IRAN

contraception, 52 – 3, 104 corruption: police, 178 cosmopolitanism, 20 crime, rise in, 163– 4 cultural anthropology, 142, 143– 4 currency, 186n5.1 Cyrus the Great, 25, 26, 84 Darab, 83, 85 Dari, 93, 145 Darius the Great, 25 death sentence, 163 defence lessons, 105 Delkhan, 50 – 1, 54 democracy: general election (2009), 5–6 divorce: opium addiction, 31 doctors: access: ashayer, 134 dog ownership, 164 domestic violence: husbands, 28 – 9 dress Persepolis, 25 Shiraz, 7– 8 women, 24 – 5, 25 – 6, 63 – 4, 101, 136, 159 Aliabad, 27, 92 Firuzabad, 139 Javadgar, 69 Shiraz, 116– 17 dress requirements, 5, 164, 173 women, 17, 33, 63 –4, 145 state organisations, 24 drought Bushehr, 91 Fars, 71 – 2, 73, 75, 78, 83, 90, 94 –5, 106 exodus, 104 earthquakes, 54, 69 economic situation: emphasised over politics, 152– 3 education; see also schools; university ashayer, 44 – 5, 80 – 2 state intervention, 55

Eickelman, Dale, 10 election (2009), 5 – 6, 96 – 107, 109, 110–13 mobile ballot boxes, 111, 112 post-election protests, 6, 114, 129, 145– 6, 152 election (2013), 182 elections reformists, 180 refusal to vote, 173, 177 electricity rationing, 58, 61 emigration, 4, 175 employment; see also unemployment gender discrimination, 65 Golestan, 57 – 8 state employment, 65 employment structure, 3 entrepreneurship, 140 Etesami, Parvin, 58 European Union, views on, 9 evil eye, 121, 125, 138, 165 executions, 6, 116, 164, 183; see also hangings, public Expediency Council, 13 exports: impact of sanctions, 158, 159, 165–6, 186n5.5 Facebook, 176– 7 factory closures, 161 families, closeness of, 23, 162 family size, 52 – 3, 126– 7, 186n4.7 Fars: British interests, 12 fasting, 39, 65, 95, 118 films, Western, 52 first-cousin marriage, 23, 52, 62 – 3, 67, 75, 109, 162 Firuzabad, 138– 40, 168 freedom, desire for, 180 freedom of speech, 180 furniture: sofas and armchairs, 176 Gachabad, 56 gas: supply to rural areas, 32, 47 –8, 60, 71, 73, 90 – 1, 92

INDEX gender behaviour, rules of, 5, 116, 126, 150, 174 gender discrimination employment, 65 reductions in, 34, 67 gender segregation buses, 5, 29 – 30, 125 university students, 125– 6, 161– 2 Ghalat, 30, 51 – 4, 107 – 8, 110– 11, 125 – 7, 177 – 8 gharbsadegi, 22 girls banned from going out with boys, 116 monotonous lives: Ghalat, 51– 2 goats, 12, 32, 71, 75, 83, 91, 136, 168 slaughter, Figure 11 theft, 84 Golestan, 30, 57 – 63, 79– 80, 82, 92 – 3, 106 – 7, 133– 4, 167 Gooyom, 123 – 5 government disunity (2011), 8 graduates: lack of work, 162 Gray, Elizabeth, 18 Guardian Council, 13 – 14, 99 guests, presents for, 70, 79 guns, 77 Hafez, 18, 58, 124 –5, 178 Haftbarm, 105 – 6 hairdressers, 86, 122 handshaking, 23, 51, 105, 174– 5, 182 hangings, public, 58 – 9, 163 Hasanabad, 27, 39, 45 – 6, 48, 94, 103 – 4 headscarves, 33, 63, 101, 116– 17, 136, 166 health service, 156 – 7, 179 heaven: village name, 50 hejab attitudes to, 33, 106 – 7 benefit of, 64 imposition of, 63– 4, 145, 176 Basij, 15, 99, 116, 117, 149

193

contrast with breastfeeding, 30 indoors, 21, 174 – 5 state employees, 65 hezbollahi, 5, 20, 24 – 5, 26 Homeijan, 47– 51 hookahs (qaylans), 28, 35, 49 – 50, 72, 115, 135, Figure 6 hospitals: Sadraa, 156 hostage disaster (1979), 155, 161, 180 hotels, 148 Firuzabad, 138 – 9 housebuilding, 134 – 5, 169 Aliabad, 27, 90, 92 Ghalat, 30 Gooyom: accident, 125 Haftbarm, 105 Mehr housing foundation, 133 post-earthquake, 54, 69 Sadraa, 141, 158 houses: interiors, Figure 5 Chenar Shahijan, 78 Golestan, 80 Gooyom, 123– 4 kitchens, 34, 67, 119 Marvdasht, 21, 119 Shiraz, 115 human rights violations, 6 – 7 Western hypocrisy, perceived, 179 humanities: universities, 129 identity, Iranian, 52, 143 – 4 image, national, concerns about, 21 imamzadehs, 27, 73, 75 imports: impact of sanctions, 161, 165–6, 179– 80 industry: Marvdasht, 22 – 3 inflation, sanctions and, 8, 154, 157 – 8, 159–60, 161, 171, 174 inheritance: women, 48, 69 inheritance disputes, 69, 91 insurance, health, 156 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 154

194

EVERYDAY IRAN

internet, 2, 167; see also social media spouse-finding website, 185n4.6 irrigation: qanats, 37, Figure 14 Islam 95, 119, 147, 173; see also religion ashayer attitudes, 95, 103 disbelief in Supreme Leader’s adherence, 165 government interpretation of, 52, 147, 176 democracy, 185n3.2 gender behaviour, 5, 126, 150, 174 hejab, 63 – 4, 176 kitchens, 119 social sciences, 129 politicisation of, 68 Qashqa’i attitudes, 10 non-conformism, 11, 68, 95, 103, 106, 111, 131 social sciences and, 129– 30 study of, 127 young people’s attitudes, 147, 150 Israel, threats by, 9, 155, 163 Jannati, Ayatollah Ahmad, 180 Javadgar, 69 – 70 Javadi-Amoli, Ayatollah, 119 jelly, 176 journalists, repression of, 6, 116, 146, 164 judiciary, 13, 183 karagoruch, 151 Karroubi, Mehdi general election (2009), 98– 9 general election (2013), 180 house arrest, 7 kashk, 36, 74, 125, 151 Kashkuli Bozorg, 151– 2 Kazerun, 35, 42, 75– 7 Khalkhali, Ayatollah, 26 Khamenei, Ayatollah, 14– 15 Ahmadinejad, relations with, 8, 144, 172, 173

Azad University dispute, 132 Council of Guardians: selection of members, 99 people’s opinions of, 121, 144, 165 post-election protests (2009), 129 US satire, 152 views on national self-sufficiency, 179– 80 views on population control, 186n4.7 views on sanctions, 179 – 80, 183 Khamenei, Mojtaba, 172 Khan, Ismail, 80 Khan, Khosrow, 169 – 70 Khan, Naser, 81 – 2 Khaneh Zenyan, 112 Khatami, Mohammad, 180 Khomeini, Ayatollah, 26, 144, 172 Kiarostami, Abbas, 97 Komarosorkhe, 54 – 6, 135 – 6 Komiteh Emdad, 88, 89 Kortshuli, 83, 84 Kowsar heart hospital, 156 – 7 Laingen, Bruce, 181 land disputes, 68, 76, 77, 83, 85, 91, 101 female inheritance of, 48 government grants, 134, 170 grazing, 47, 75, 76, 83, 170 ownership Qashqa’i, 12, 48, 50, 141, 159 Tajik, 27, 54 saleable commodity, 42, 90 speculation, 30 – 1, 60 – 1, 91 landless labourers: Homeijan, 48 Lapui, 88–9 Larijani, Ayatollah Sadegh, 163 Limbert, John, 181 literacy classes, 50 – 1 litter, 24, 84, 127 Lor, 41, 49, 65, 133 Maaliabad, 122 –3, 134, 155 – 6 magh’nai, 24, 63, 64

INDEX Maidaan, 134 – 5, 136 Maiden’s Castle, 137 manteaus, 17, 25, 63, 101, 116, 122 marriage, 109, 120, 126, 131, 162, 174, 185n4.6; see also weddings British citizenship and, 86– 7 family size, 52 – 3, 126– 7, 186n4.7 foreigners, 128 intermarriage, 23, 38, 52, 56 first-cousin, 23, 52, 62–3, 67, 75, 109, 162 people with physical defects, 124 Marvdasht, 20 – 4, 25 – 6, 29, 86– 8, 118 – 22, 173 – 6 meals, 20, 39, 63, 77, 115, 176 medicine, availability of: impact of sanctions, 160, 179 Mehr housing foundation, 133 men, girls’ views on, 149– 50 meritocracy, absence of, 148, 179– 80 methodology, 16 middle class political discretion, 9, 153 sanctions, impact of, 157, 160, 179 withdrawal of state subsidies, 7 milk, 144 – 5, 159 – 60 Moghadam, Amanollah Qaraei, 163 – 4 Moharram, 178 – 9 monarchy, English, 144 morality police, 5, 8, 62, 115, 116, 117, 145, 148; see also Basij morphine, 103 mosque attendance, 95 non-attendance, 75, 120 women attendees, 48 – 9 Mossadeq, Mohammad, 77– 8, 80, 161 Motahari, Ali, 180 mourning food, 31 Mousavi, Mir-Hossein general election (2009), 5, 98, 102 general election (2013), 180 house arrest, 5, 7

195

music, 28, 107, 120, 174, Figure 8 Western classical, 59 Narcotics Anonymous (NA), 87 – 8 Narenjestan garden, 166 Netanyahu, Benjamin, conspiracy theories about, 172 new towns, 57 newspapers, 23 nomadism, 10– 11, 12 – 13, 27, 35 – 7, 39– 41, 42– 3, 146; see also ashayer; Bakhtiari; Basseri; Lor; Qashqa’i; sedentarisation government activity against, 27, 66, 76, 78 Kazerun, 75– 6 Shiraz, 19 nose surgery, 64, 177 Nowruz, 52, 143 –4 nuclear programme, 154 – 5, 160, 165, 172–3, 179, 182, 186n5.2 Obama, Barack, 9, 155, 177, 181 opium use, 2, 43, 72, 77, 103, 130, 178 avoidance of social unrest, 4 divorce, 31, 86, 167 police corruption, 182 treatment and cessation, 51, 61, 87– 8 oqaf, 42 orchards: Chero, 36 –7 Pahlavi, Reza, 78 parks: gymnastic equipment, 133 – 4 Parliament, 13– 14 partridge breeding, 140 – 1, 158, 159 Pasargad, 84 Pashai, 145 Pashtun, 93 pastoralism, abandonment of, see rural areas, emigration from; sedentarisation Persepolis, 25, 26 Persian language: education, 81

196

EVERYDAY IRAN

petrol import, 118 rationing, 38 – 9, 71, 117 philosophy teaching, 173 photography: Qashqa’i willingness to be photographed, 35, 136 pilgrims, 17, 18, 96, 115 poetry, 19, 58, 59, 124– 5, 143– 4, 178 censorship, 150 Point Four Program, 80 police, 74, 107 – 8, 114, 123, 145–6, 178 morality police, 5, 8, 62, 115, 116, 117, 145, 149; see also Basij political structure, 13 poor: impact of sanctions, 157 population, urban, 57 post offices: for Europe, 168 prayers, 24, 118, 175, 176, 185n2.2 Arabic, 52 interruptions, 22, 23, 57 nomads, 10 – 11, 95, 103, 106 pre-marital sex, 126 presents for guests, 70, 79 President (post of), 13, 14 prices, 8, 11, 61, 117, 119, 121, 163, 174 cereals, 83, 115 land, 42, 60 – 1, 83 meat, 103, 169 milk, 144, 159 – 60 petrol, 38 – 9 sanctions and, 8, 154, 157– 8, 159 – 60, 161, 179 prison, 166 – 7 private sector, 3 pro-natalist policies, 3, 52, 186n4.7 productivity: impact of sanctions, 160 – 1, 179 property market, 60– 1 protests, post-election (2009), 6, 114 qanats, 37, Figure 14 Qashqa’i; see also ashayer

background overview, 10 – 13 Britain and, 78, 171 – 2 general election (2009), 102, 104, 105 holidays, 56 landownership, 12, 48, 50, 141, 159 religious attitudes, 10 –11, 68, 95, 103, 106, 111, 131 weddings, 27, 28 – 9, 41, 108 – 9 qaylans, 28, 35, 49 – 50, 72, 115, 135, Figure 6 radio, 59– 60, 107 Rafsanjani, Akbar Hashemi, 52, 98, 107, 125 – 6, 132, 180 Rahnavard, Zahra, 98, 102, 104 railways, 140, 158 Ramazan, 39, 41, 62, 65 rationing, 61 electricity, 58, 61 petrol, 38– 9, 71 reading, 150 religion, see Christianity; Islam religious intolerance, 1 repression, 2 – 3, 4 – 5, 6, 116, 153, 173, 183; see also Basij response to sanctions, 9 reputation, fears for: young women, 149 revolution, lack of support for, 180 – 1 Revolutionary Guard (Sepah), 3, 7, 9, 14, 15, 99, 121 – 2, 172 – 3 increased wealth, 157 Mehr housing foundation, 133 telecom, 143, 148 – 9, 157 Reza Shah, 12 Rezai, Mohsen, 99 road accidents, 133 Rouhani, Hassan, 182 rural areas emigration from, 32, 71 – 2, 90 – 1, 92, 100 subsidies, 117 rural – urban divide: university students, 100 – 1, 128

INDEX Sadjadpour, Karim, 14– 15 Sadraa, 140, 141, 158 hospitals, 156 Salavati, Abdolghassem, 163 sanctions, US and EU, 8 – 9, 154– 5, 157– 61, 171, 179– 81, 182, 183 satellite television, 2, 8, 53, 58, 59, 118, 167 ashayer, 151– 2 news, 58, 152 in state-owned factory, 176 urbanising effect, 130 Western films, 52 schools Aliabad, 44 – 5, 55 Bahmanbegi’s programme, 80 – 2 Cheshmebardi, 54 – 5 Hasanabad, 45, 46, 103– 4 Komarosorkhe, 135 philosophy, study of, 173 tent schools, 80 – 2 secularism: theories about Ahmadinejad, 172– 3 sedentarisation, 10, 27, 38, 66, 78, 134, 169, 170 self-sufficiency, national: government aspiration, 160, 179– 80 Sepah, the, see Revolutionary Guard sex, pre-marital, 126 sheep, 12, 32, 75, 83, 91, 136, 168 Shi‘a, 93, 100, 111 Shiraz, 18 – 20, 23, 115– 18 airport, 18, 106– 7, 113, 114, 155 Bagh Eram gardens, 18 Bazaar Vakil, 63, 107, 178 crime, 163 election, general (2009), 96 – 102, 104– 5, 106–7, 112–13 expansion, 179 hospitals, 156 post-election protests, 6 shopping centres, 155– 6 Tribal Teacher Training School, 80 –1

197

University, 99 – 101, 128– 31, 146 Narenjestan, 166 wealth, 156 young people, 148– 50 shopping centres Marvdasht, 174 Shiraz, 155– 6 shura, 68 skin colour, concerns over, 64 – 5 smoking ban, 115 social media, 2, 164, 176– 7 social sciences: universities, 129– 30, 146 sociology: Shiraz University, 129–31, 146 speech, freedom of, 180 state factories: satellite television, 176 state institutions, work in, 24, 148–9 steel imports: impact of sanctions, 161 Street, Brian, 10 students, university gender segregation, 125– 6, 161– 2, 166 graduates, lack of work, 162 repression of opinions, 148 women, 20, 52 Shiraz University, 99 – 101, 128 subsidies, 61, 117– 18, 121, 131, 138, 157 electricity, 58, 61 Sunni, 100 superstition, 131; see also evil eye Supreme Leader, 13, 14 – 15 surnames, use of, 65 surveillance, 3, 68, 121– 2 Tajik (Qashqa’i), 27, 46; see also Delkhan; Komarosorkhe taxis, 79, 102, 115, 117, 137, 167, 176 tea making, 33 Tehran: Allameh Tabatabai University, 129

198

EVERYDAY IRAN

telecom organisation, work in, 143, 148 – 9, 157 television Moharram, 178 – 9 satellite, see satellite television state: general election (2009), 97– 9, 110 tent schools, 80 – 2 tents: Shiraz, 118 theft: gazelles, 141 theocracy, nature of, 1 – 5; see also clerics torture, 1, 6, 116, 144, 164 totalitarianism, 3 traffic: Shiraz, 19 transhumance, 11, 12– 13, 91; see also nomadism tribe: political concept, 11– 12 unemployment, 3, 8, 126, 130– 1, 161, 162 – 3, 179 Afghan labour, impact of, 93 Aliabad, 43 Barmsiyah, 71 Firuzabad, 139 Marvdasht, 176 United States Britain’s puppet, perceived as, 171 – 2 Iran’s relations with, 9– 10, 155, 181, 182 university aspiration for girls, 51– 2 social sciences, 129– 30, 146 students, see students, university urban life, village women and girls’ views on, 35, 36 urban population, 57 urban– rural divide: university students, 100 – 1, 128

village councils, 68 village names, 50 villagers: perceived inferiority, 21 voting: refusal, 173, 177 war: deterrent to conflict, 7 water supply, 75, 90, 91, 92, 94, 106, 168; see also drought qanats, 37, Figure 14 wealth: Shiraz, 156, 179 wealthy: impact of sanctions, 157 – 8, 160, 179 weather: rainstorms: tent dwellers, 37 weaving, 32– 3, 43, 44, 69, 73, 135, 169, Figure 9 weddings, 27, 28 – 9, 41, 108 – 9, Figure 3 West, the, hypocrisy, perceived, 179 influence, 147 Iran’s relations with, 9 – 10, 155, 182, 183 ‘westoxification’, 15, 22, 99 women dress, see dress: women emancipation: progress, 34, 67 inheritance, 48, 68 –9 students, see students, university: women women, young: tribulations, 149 – 50 yaraneh, 7, 117, 138 Yazd, 119– 20 Yazdi, Ayatollah, 129, 146 Yekigan, 71– 2 young women: tribulations, 149 – 50 Zagros Mountains, 19 Zoroastrianism, 56, 137, 177 – 8

Figure 1

Ashayer tent

Figure 2

Inside ashayer tent

Figure 3

Ashayer wedding

Figure 4

Village houses

Figure 5

Village house interior

Figure 6

Women with hookah (qaylan)

Figure 7

Folded bedding

Figure 8

Setar player

Figure 9

Figure 10

Village weavers

Naan bread making

Figure 11

Slaughtering a goat

Figure 12

Little girls on a doorstep

Figure 13

Winnowing

Figure 14

Qanat

Figure 15

Pomegranate tree

Figure 16

Bazaar pomegranates for sale