I lay in my sleeping bag, the cold from the floor rising up into my back and making it ache. It had taken four days of hitchhiking to get to Tehran, the capital of Iran and I was still getting used to a country where I had yet to see another backpacker. I pulled out my phone and tried to jump on Facebook.
Still, Azadi had to balance independence with caution. And I managed to live there for two years without anyone harassing me. Their numbers are increasing as divorce becomes more common and more women attend universities, exposing them to careers and incomes independent of men who, by law and custom, are supposed to be their guardians.
The careers of hundreds of actors and directors ended overnight. Unlike the Hollywood blacklisting of the McCarthy era, there was not even the opportunity for a mock hearing. So marked the end of one of the most thriving film industries in the Middle East, a cinema of song and dance, sex and seduction, violence and vengeance, which combined the western genres with local flavour — although always with an eye on Shia Islam, as the ultimate code to put everything in its right order.
All American travelers to Iran must be accompanied by tour guides who double as informants to the Ministry of Information, and ours never strayed far. Now, in the crowded prayer hall, I was free to wander. It was fully covered in mosaics fashioned from small mirror fragments — a style called ayeneh kari that became popular in the 17th century, when many of the mirrors being carted to Iran from Europe would shatter during the journey.
I had just arrived back in Tehran and I was excited. Having escaped Iran as a child in when war broke out with Iraq, this was the first time I had set foot in my homeland for 24 years. I wanted to taste the Persian food and see all the familiar faces, but on the street I found that Iran in wasn't much more relaxed than it had been when I'd fled almost a quarter of a century earlier.
The Islamic Republic of Iran stumbled into making headlines around the world. Inthe government brutally repressed demonstrators who took to the streets to dispute the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The demonstrators were mostly young people, many from the educated middle class.
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