Thinking about Tehran

Thinking about Tehran

It’s summertime and alhamdulillah we are able to spend another summer visiting family back in the states. The month of Ramadan started soon after we arrived in New York, and we were busy fasting and trying to keep the kids busy while in vacation mode, when we heard the devastating news out of Tehran.

My husband told me right around the time of Fajr prayers.

“There was a bomb in the parliament building in Tehran.”

And a few minutes later…

“And a bomb blast at Imam Khomeini’s shrine.”

My heart sank. I couldn’t believe my ears. Bombs? Deaths? Injured? During Ramadan? Why? Who?

Slowly as the news reports came filing in, I couldn’t stop thinking about Tehran. First we heard 6 killed, then 12, and finally 17. There were dozens wounded. Closed circuit TV tapes showed Iranians running for cover with an armed man following them at close range with a gun.

Afterwards when I saw coverage of the funeral processions for those killed, my heart bled. I could only think about the families left behind with questions. Those killed who were fasting. They died a senseless death. And all thanks to the powers who only think about themselves, and what can benefit their own countries.

“Millat Iran darad harkat mi konad va peesh mi ravad; een tarqebaazi haaye ham ke imrooz shod, een ha ham dar iraadeye mardom taseeri nakhwahad guzasht.”

“The people of Iran are moving and going forward. These firecrackers that happened today, these also will not have any effect on the will and determination of the people.”

-Rahbar e moazzam, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei 

 

Yes, I am not Iranian. But for the past almost 5 years Iran has been my home. It’s where my kids go to school. It’s where we have made a community of many like us who have traveled from all over the world to study Islam in Qom.

I have to say I never ever thought about this kind of stuff happening in Qom. We live in relative peace in Iran. Sure we heard of the stories of Iranian guards stopping Daesh cells at the border, or potential attacks in the country, but that was all. With all Iran is called these days they do a pretty damn good job protecting their own. We don’t have to worry about a random crazy person shooting up a school, or a grocery store. We don’t have to think about a cop stopping a driver and beating them senseless. We don’t think about kids bringing weapons to school and hurting other kids.

It’s just not a problem we have to worry about.

And it is also one of the issues I have with some Iranians who often wonder with awe why we bothered to leave the “great nation of America” to live in Iran. Well doesn’t every country have their issues? Doesn’t every nation have their strengths and weaknesses? Why is it that Iran must be terrible because of rules of hijab and America is great because there is no hijab? You have Imam don’t you? You have the blood of shaheed that saved your country from being a toy in the hands of imperialists. Doesn’t any of that matter?

Thinking about you Tehran, and having just passed Imam Khomeini’s shrine about a month ago. We were going to visit but didn’t have time….

There will never be a perfect country. There will always be problems and issues that will make the other side look a whole bunch greener. But every country has to strive for a better day. And every country should fight those who try to meddle in their affairs. Every sovereign nation has a right to pick their own leaders, and deal with their own issues their way, without having another country funding dissent, or overthrowing leaders or supporting terror attacks.

I will say this: Sanctions stink, but they have made Iran stronger. They have showed the true resolve of the Iranian people. They have taught them that you might have to struggle but at least you won’t have to succumb to lapdog status.

And that, in itself, is a victory.

“Millat Iran darad harkat mi konad va peesh mi ravad; een tarqebaazi haaye ham ke imrooz shod, een ha ham dar iraadeye mardom taseeri nakhwahad guzasht.”

“The people of Iran are moving and going forward. These firecrackers that happened today, these also will not have any effect on the will and determination of the people.”

-Rahbar e moazzam, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei 

When mom life meets hawza life

When mom life meets hawza life

I apologize for not updating the blog in a long time but I’ve been literally taking exams for the past month. And I still have two more to go.

The one thing you learn pretty quickly as a hawza student is that one must always be ready for anything. Like having midterms a week before finals. (Don’t ask)

In between regular life, cram sessions, midterms, wiladat celebrations, fasting, and finals, I have realized life is really what you make of it. There have been days when I feel like just closing my books and quitting hawza. When I first started hawza with Farsi language classes, it didn’t seem so difficult to manage a home life with school. But now as I finish my first term as an official hawza student I’ve gotten just a glimpse into what it takes to learn about Islam.

Our classes are not a joke – Sarf (Arabic grammar), aqaid (beliefs), akhlaq (Islamic code of ethics), tareekh (history), ahkam (Islamic laws of practice), khanvadeh dar Islam (family in Islam), and some classes based on Shaheed Mortaza Motahhari’s books.

Attending classes this term felt like I was quenching this inner thirst. Our teachers opened our eyes to different concepts, helped us realize our true identities as Muslims, and what it means to follow the path we are on. Every time I felt like dropping out, I just told myself it’ll get better.

Our akhlaq teacher was one of the best of the bunch. She started every class with a verse from the Quran and encouraged us to read and understand at least one verse a day.

I didn’t just learn religion this term; I learned life. I learned about sisterhood, overcoming obstacles, prioritizing, keeping a schedule, and that going back to school is never a bad thing.

My kids wonder why I’m still in “school” if I’m a mom. They wonder why I get homework, and if my teachers are nice. I don’t dare do homework on my kids’ time – that’s just asking for trouble. I wait until they’re asleep to crack open the books and feel like an adult again.

Once you’re a parent you get really good at making life work and anything that comes in the way – school, work, etc – gets organized accordingly. You have no choice but to make it work, for your sanity.

It’s been a while since I’ve been back in the school grind, but I have to say I’m enjoying every moment. From getting new notebooks to eyeing the clock for the end-of-class dua, school life is truly magnificent.

The Holy Prophet told us to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” and I’m humbled with the opportunity to be here learning, and hopefully pass this valuable information to others.

When it just isn’t meant to be

When it just isn’t meant to be

Disclaimer: This is not a blog post that waxes philosophical on the concept of fate and destiny. It is a simple story about a fan. Please stay with me… 

It is springtime in Iran, but apparently nature didn’t get the notice. It went from winter straight to summer. Where are those beautiful breezy spring days??

The sudden shift into summer weather meant finally packing away winter clothes, getting our cooler (aka air conditioner) running, and plugging in the ol’ pedestal fan.

We thought about getting another pedestal fan to help cool down the house in place of running the cooler on those slightly less warm days. But a new one costs about 250 tomans on average. (That’s about $67, according to today’s conversion rates). Which isn’t a terrible price, but you almost always can find a secondhand one for much cheaper, thanks to Iran’s version of Craigslist.

However, because Qom is a “transit” city there’s always someone moving away. We found one family selling their slightly used fan for 150 tomans. I immediately contacted them, and we were set. Or so we thought.

It just so happened that they were hoping to give it to us around the end of May. The family had guests coming and still needed the fan. Sigh. (But we need the fan now!) Nevertheless, we decided to not buy their fan, as we weren’t going to be in Qom at the end of May anyway.

As luck would have it another family also posted that they were selling a secondhand pedestal fan. And for a great price of 50 tomans! We went over to their house and picked it up. However after plugging it in and having it run for about 30 minutes, I happened to pass by the room and saw the fan wasn’t moving. I thought maybe one of the kids felt cold and turned it off. Upon getting closer I hear a slight whirring sound meaning it was on, just not functioning. And after turning it off I touched the back of the fan motor cover and it was burning hot!

I contacted the seller and she was completely surprised, telling me she had it in storage, and had turned it on before I picked it up to make sure it was working before giving it to me. She apologized profusely and told me to return it and take my money back.

A couple weeks later, after school while walking with the kids toward the local masjid for praying Zohr/Asr, I noticed another secondhand pedestal fan standing outside a small shop selling electronics and kitchen appliances. It was 55 tomans and looked like it was in decent condition. Although the shop was closed, the owner left a small sign with his number on it on the door. We contacted him and found out that there was a buyer who had expressed interest in the fan before us and even left a small deposit with him. However for the past three days the owner hadn’t been able to contact him. He told us that if the buyer still didn’t pick up the phone by the next day, we could get it.

Long story short, we didn’t get that fan either.

Sometimes kismat is a funny thing. There are things that just aren’t meant to come your way… and even when you do get it, thinking that it was meant for you, it goes away. At that moment when the owner told me “I’m sorry, but it’s gone,” I thanked him and had to smile a little. It just wasn’t meant to be. And as I sat watching the kids run and play before prayers, I thought about all the wonderful blessings we do have – a cooler that works, a pedestal fan that works, a home that keeps us safe from the burning sun. Sure, another fan would have been nice, but in retrospect we really didn’t need it.

One might say, well, just go buy a new one. And yes, we could have done that, and we are grateful that we are able to do that without any hardship. But knowing when to accept what comes your way is part of this faith. Personally, I take these small instances as signs that I should take a step back and reflect. About what I have, what I need, etc.

Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) for giving these beautiful moments where we can reflect on the things that matter and be thankful for all the blessings we have.

Making the most out of less space

Making the most out of less space

I compare my living arrangement to a grown-up living in a dorm. Since settling into Qom, we found ourselves obviously not focused on a permanent housing solution, but rather just finding a simple, comfortable space.

When you move to Qom to study, your housing goal is find a good decent place, where you can live comfortably. That being said, push all those Western “needs” to the back burner. 

2 baths? An island in the kitchen? Crown molding? 

Let’s not bother with those at the moment. 

Since we moved with two kids, our biggest priority was a 2-bedroom place. We’ve lived in places with Western toilets and Eastern squatters. We’ve had a bathtub at one point. And in one place our kitchen was so small that there was no room for the fridge! 

But you try to see the positives in every situation. It actually helps you find peace in your life when you aren’t constantly trying to keep uncovering the next best thing. 

I think for me, the biggest point is that I’m trying to improve my outlook on life. I’m trying to live simply, and still be happy. My goal is not to replicate the life I had in America in Qom. 

Yes, I have less counter space and no dishwasher, but, hey, I actually don’t need those things to survive either. If I have them, Alhamdulillah, and if I don’t, Alhamdulillah. 

It’s definitely easier said than done. But I’ve found that being creative in how one manages their situation really helps. We have become really good at living with less and also decluttering. 

Silver lining: Less living space also means less space where you can hoard stuff!

If we find something is not getting used, we get rid of it. 

We have also gotten really organized in how we manage our grocery and household purchases. We take monthly shopping trips to get those essentials like toilet paper, detergent, etc. We don’t have room to just overstock, so we plan accordingly. Same with meat and food shopping.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I do swoon for that huge kitchen, or that walk-in closet. But I remind myself of the wonderful things I do have, and what really matters. 

Missing Qom life

Missing Qom life

It’s summertime and that means a break in the life of a seminary student. 

We have been fortunate enough Alhamdulillah to be able to travel back home to the states every summer since we moved to Qom.

It’s a nice chance to catch up with family and meet new nieces/nephews! 

But I’ll tell you, a small part of me misses Qom life. There’s something about the rat race-life of America that will have you longing for those quiet afternoons and relaxed atmosphere of Qom.

I think my kids’ moods also take a hit whenever we travel back home. All of a sudden they are thrown out of their routines and everything is upside down, from the environment to their bedtimes.

Is it good? Bad? How do we adjust? While I want them to be with their families and learn to live with extended family, I fear the constant bombardment of images/attitudes/thinking that don’t match the lifestyle we have adopted and wish to live by.

At any rate, I believe this is a work in progress. We live and learn, and I pray these life changes make us stronger, with Allah’s guidance and help.

Moving to Qom? Part 2

Moving to Qom? Part 2

So the decision has been made. Do you feel butterflies in your stomach? 

I don’t know how one can explain the feeling – to be honest, I was quite apprehensive. We had 2 little girls and nothing felt sure except this decision. But it’s been a beautiful journey so far, I’ll tell you that. Details of that story will come another day! 

Besides gearing up for this new chapter of talabeh life, one can’t avoid dealing with the mundane materialistic issues of this world. Hey, it’s normal.

So what do you bring? What do you leave? 

First things first, if you can, it’s nice to be able to come to Qom for ziyarat and get a feel for the environment and culture. I know that helped us a lot. 

Now for the lists:

(3,500 tomans equals $1; 3.5 tomans means 3,500, 600 tomans means 600,000, etc.

Please note prices/conversions are in USD and up to date as of this post. Check the conversion rate for any updated change as it tends to fluctuate.)

If you’re like me and bringing children with you to Qom, a few key points: 

  • Kids clothes – are not so great. And if you want good quality, you’re going to pay for it. You’ll find good stuff but mostly in boutique-type stores. (Ex: 13-15 tomans, or around $5 for one pair of cotton infant pants) Pack up to a year’s worth of clothes, and take growth spurts into consideration.
  • Kids toys/books – you aren’t going to find lots of English children’s books. Bring them with you. Good quality toys aren’t cheap. I wouldn’t bring everything, but pack those favorite toys, sets of blocks, stuffed animals, etc. It helps kids feel a bit at home seeing their things.
  • Infant gear – don’t bring it all. Space is usually limited, so if you’re going to use something for only 2-3 months and then be forced to store it, don’t bring it. Usually there’s someone who has what you need that you can borrow from, or maybe a relative can take something back with them. 
  • A good stroller – is essential. Often you’re not going over paved roads, but instead rocks, pebbles and gravel. Get one that is strong and can withstand the bang-ups of travel.
  • Kids essentials – like cups, plates, feeding chairs, etc. Don’t bring a suitcase full, but if they work and you know your kid will use them, bring them. You don’t want to be looking around Qom for a replacement sippy cup.

Now for the list of things not to forget: 

  • Medicines – while you can find pretty much everything you need, pack those specific medications that you are used to, and have tried 
  • Lotions/creams 
  • Vitamins 
  • Special spice mixes (ethnic)
  • Chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, cinnamon chips – if you’re a baker, stock up on these because you can’t find them here.
  • Special baking pans/dishes 
  • Knives
  • Utensils that have served you well and are good quality
  • Silicone baking mats 
  • Maple syrup (it’s not found here, although a few sisters have been successful in mixing up a very delicious substitute)
  • Special drink mixes/fruit snacks/ cereal powders that you and your family prefer

I asked a few friends who recently moved, and they helped me gather some recent costs of general household items –

  • Vacuum (Samsung brand, 300 tomans, or $88) Prices ranged from 250-600 tomans
  • Fridge (Samsung brand, 2.6 million tomans, or around $700) Iranian brands also ranged from 1.6 million tomans and up 
  • Oven (Iranian Snowa brand, 1.3 million tomans or around $380)
  • Washing machine (front loader, a little over 1.3 million tomans or around $400)

So the other common things you’ll be looking for are: 

  • Rugs
  • Sofas/cushions
  • Armoires/dressers/chest of drawers
  • TV
  • Study table
  • Dining table
  • Dishes, pots, pans 
  • Small kitchen appliances 

Since many of us are only living here temporarily, you, or someone you know, will often run into a fellow talabeh who is moving back home and needs to sell their things. 

Divar.ir is also a Craigslist-type site of locals selling their things. It’s in Farsi, though.

Speaking from experience, I wouldn’t dwell too much on making the perfect house. As long as it works, inshallah it will serve your needs. 

You can find almost everything here that you need for your everyday life – from cereal to cocoa powder, sandwich bread to chicken nuggets, frozen veggies to frozen French fries. You can also find foreign brands here but naturally, you will pay the price. 

Cost of common grocery/household items: 

(3,500 tomans equals $1; 3.5 means 3,500)

  • Loaf of bread – 3.5 t 
  • Cheese slices (pack of 8) – 4.5 t
  • 1 liter of milk – 2.5 t
  • Jar of jelly – 5 t 
  • Cream of cheese – 4.4 t
  • 250 g of butter – 5 t
  • Kilo of eggs – 4-5 t
  • Kilo of cut chicken – 5 t
  • Kilo of ground meat – 20-24 t
  • Laundry detergent – (small) 5 t
  • Toilet paper (4 rolls) – 3.5 – 4 t
  • Paper towels (2 rolls) – 4 t

A good rule of thumb is to pack those things that are important/special (i.e. a quilt made by your mom), and those things you can’t find here. Don’t pack your whole house. It’s wise to fill your precious luggage space with those things you won’t find readily here, or that cost significantly more. 

Once you finally come and start settling down, you’ll get a feel for what you don’t need to worry about, and those essentials you’ll be telling your mom to bring when she visits.

The winding road of Chalus

The winding road of Chalus


Took a nice road trip with a few families to the north, or shomal, of Iran this past weekend. We visited the Roudkhan Castle in Fouman and stayed in Chamkhaleh.

The kids especially enjoyed their dip in the Caspian Sea, and making sand castles with friends. 

But perhaps one of the best parts of the trip was driving back home through the Alborz mountain range in Chalus. The Chalus River goes through the range and ends at the Caspian Sea. 

The winding road gave way to scenic views of the rushing river, snow capped mountains, and lush greenery. 

All along the road, there were chai stops, fruit sellers, restaurants, hotels, etc. We were supposed to stop for famous shomali ice cream, but it was too crowded.

But we did make a stop at the aash kadeh for a warm and yummy bowl of aash. 

Aash in the mountains, anyone?