November 1, 2013
While we were traveling between cities on Iran’s highways, we kept seeing signs which read “Reduce Speed.” In Abyaneh, when our van broke down, we walked from the highway into the very small village we had intended to visit, rather than driving into it. Even as small as it was, and seemingly slow-paced, some town officials had installed speed bumps in the roadways. I wondered why they had done that, and still wonder.
As I consider all that I have learned about teaching at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania over the past fifteen years, Quaker pedagogy and my own inclinations regarding student growth and achievement confirms the Reduce Speed approach. Slowdown. At least sometimes. Part of the challenge may lay in determining when to install the speed bump, and where.
Walking into Abyaneh, rather than driving, allowed us to see an elderly couple shaking tree branches with a very long stick to release fruit which they then gathered into buckets. We met another couple who had just completed construction of a new hotel — the welcome sign stood across the road. Further on, I stopped to listen to water rushing through an underground channel which, pretty literally, is the town’s life source. I get it. By slowing down, I know that I was prompted to ask questions that I certainly might not have occurred to me otherwise. Was the fruit for the couple themselves? How did it fit into what else they ate? What did they do the rest of the day after completing this task? What had they done before? How about the hotel? Who would come to stay at this lovely cliff side building now that it was done? Who would begin his or her first job there? Who would cook in the new kitchen, and who would decide which recipes to fix for guests? What would the food smell like? Will the new charm offensive currently under way between Iran and the US bring tourists to stay there? Will townspeople need to modernize the ancient water channel to provide more water? Who will do this work? Will it do what it needs to do?
On our last day, once more back in Tehran, we toured several buildings at the Sa’adabad Palace Complex, located in the northern part of the city, where the Iranian government had renovated different buildings and created different museums. All together, the set of palaces had belonged to the shah of Iran in the 1970s. Staff had installed several planes and one helicopter on permanent display outside the military museum. Iranian soldiers had captured the helicopter from the Iraqis during the war that occurred between 1980 and 1988. A solitary soldier raked leaves nearby. I can still hear him at work. Inside this museum were soldiers’ uniforms and military weaponry dating back many generations. Even the machine guns that Sadaam Hussein gave a member of the Iranian government were there. A few displays got my attention in particular — weapons designed by the Shirley Brothers for the Persian government in the 16th century (Safavid era), flint muzzle pistols imported from France in the 18th century, and 19th century pistols made in England. Robert and Anthony Shirley were delegates from England who also helped Abbas I to reorganize his cavalry into a more efficient fighting force. So, I had filled my head with thoughts about Persian-European relationships from earlier generations. Of course the setting was extremely important also, as the palace complex had belonged to the era before the Islamic Revolution.
A bit later in the morning, a short walk from the military museum, we encountered a group of boys who sang to us and otherwise greeted us as only children can do. Their laughter provided me with the chance to consider international relations in very different ways.
I tried to set all that I saw and the children and adults whom I met into an historical context. While I remembered mention of the Tehran conference, held at the Soviet Embassy in 1943 with President Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin in attendance, in textbooks, I certainly had not dwelled on its importance until I learned about the drastic impact of the war on Iran with terrible food shortages and other difficulties. And, while I vaguely knew that Tehran had been the capital of Persia since the 1790s, I had not considered the city as a diplomatic site. Fully recognizing Persepolis as a global ceremonial site, and seeing this location, show how world-wise Persia and Iran have been for thousands of years.