Neither East nor West: One Woman's Journey through the Islamic Republic of Iran by Christiane Bird.
I really enjoy looking at myself through someone else's eye specially if that person is coming from another culture with a different background but tries to see everything without prejudice. When I was reading this book sometimes I was annoyed by the question “why doesn't she get to see this aspect of Iran or that person?” But the fact is that she has already done a great job of meeting so many people and places that I, as an Iranian, never got to do or simply ignored. She even goes to a public bath, hamam omoomi, to meet women in Masuleh and also goes to a zourkhaneh (house of strength, traditional wrestling gym for men). I leave you with some quotes from the book.
Page 40, Tehran:
[...] the older one was an actress as well as student, and the girlfriend of the young man. He put his hand around her, and I nearly lurched to a stop.
“aren't you afraid to do that?” I said.
“do what?” He gave me a mocking grin.
“putting your arm around her. The komiteh—”
“Oh the komiteh. we don't care about the komiteh! When we see the guards, we run away.”
The actress looked down her nose at me—she seemed jealous of the attention that her boyfriend was paying to me—while her younger sister took my arm. Both women were wearing far more makeup than was I.
“of course we worry about the komiteh,” the younger sister said. &ldquoAfshin is just a little wild. And we're probably safe here, at this time. The streets are very crowded. Everyone is going home after work.”
“Tell me what you like to drink,” Afshin said abruptly, “whiskey, vodka, bourbon?”
[...] I already knew that although alcohol is forbidden for Muslims in Islamic Republic, it's widely available on the black market and very popular among the middle class.
page 125, Friday prayers at the university of Tehran:
No one else seemed to be listening to the Ayatollah's speech too closely, either, and after about a half an hour, I got up to speak with a trio of young women in white chadors who were staring at me. [...] Seven or eight other women crowded around us. One gave me a commemorative Rial bill, inscribed with the golden outline of a mosque, and another gave me an apple. Everyone wanted my autograph. As I wrote down my name over and over again, feeling both touched and foolish, the women suddenly raised their fists in the air, “Marg bar Amrika, Marg bar Israel” half-heartedly droned in a chant led by Ayatollah—Death to America, Death to Israel. I froze. The women looked at me apologetically.
“We don't mean you! Or the American people!” they said. “We mean the American Government.”
An older woman clasped my arm. “President Khatami says we should stop this ‘Death to America, Death to Israel,’“ she said. “And he is right. It isn't good. It doesn't help anything.“
page 148, Tehran, on the phone to someone in the US:
“In fact, things are more than all right. This is an amazing country.”
“But don’t you have to wear that outfit?”—his word for the hejab. “Isn’t it hot?”
“Yes,” I said. “But ... it’s hard to explain. That doesn't really matter as much as I thought.” I barely even noticed my hejab anymore. “In fact a lot of women here are really strong. They work or they're in school, and they talk back all the time—“
“But you said before that guards can stop women whenever they want—”
“I know, I know,” I said, trying to crystallize my complex thoughts. “And there is a lot of repression here. People are tense—but that's not really what this place is about. There is so much else going on.”
It was as if, I thought later, pondering Americans' view of Iran, all that an outsider knew about the United States was its horrendous racial history, its violence, its drug abuse, its divorce rates, and the obscene wealth of some citizens compared to the dire poverty of others. All those things would be true, but the outsider would still be missing—and by the wide, wide margin—what united states is about. Politics and related issues are only one part of any country.
Page 253, Kordestan:
Rojeen and I sat down on a bench for a moment to take in the view.
“No, I never talk to boys,” she said in answer to my question. “If you talk to boys here, the neghbours think you are bad. I don't want to be friends with boys anyway—I just want to know one, talk to him about a year, get married, and go to west. I hate Iran.”
[...] “I don't want to get fat—I want to be thin like you and all the other American women, Iranian women are fat.”
“lots of American women are fat, too” I said. “fatter than here.”
“no,” she said “not like here”
“you'd be surprise.”
“No! I see the magazines. I know the American women are very thin and the American children are very beautiful.”