We drove four hours from Tehran to Esfahan, past dusty mountains and green farmland (and a nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz) to the city known as nesf-e jahan, or half of the world. A single sight here made me believe that this is true--the beautiful Maydan-e Naqsh-e Jahan, or Naqsh-e Jahan Square (since the Revolution, it's officially Imam Square). I was dumbfounded, amazed, stunned--I really can't explain how beautiful the Naqsh-e Jahan Mosque was. The deep blue tiling, bright yellow accents, graceful domes and minarets all took my breath away. My little brother's favorite part was a small stone in a huge domed room, which sent seven echoes into space when stood on and shouted from.
(Maydan-e Naqsh-e Jahan, facing the mosque)
It just had to happen, of course, that the respectful silence would be broken, by several rowdy boys playing in the fountain to be exact. They were shouting at me, "Khareji! Very much! Khareji! Very much!" Had they noticed my Lonely Planet Guide to Iran from so far away, the same book two blonde female travellers had been holding while roaming the square? Had they heard my little brother or sister speaking English? And why was I so bothered by the fact that they could tell I was in fact a khareji, a foreigner, with so many other tourists around?
Even at the Abbassi, a renowned Qajar caravanserai-turned-top-end-hotel, the waiters in the beautiful garden restaurant and concierge at the front desk immediately spoke to me in English. This is a hot-spot for world travellers, and in the evenings we spotted several German tourists (all of whom my cousin Arash gleefully pointed out to me as fellow kharejis)--once even an Iranian teenage girl strolling around with a tall blonde American boy. I was suprised that comparatively I was still so easily perceived as a foreigner.
(Me and my little brother in the lobby of the Abbasi Hotel. The pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei above the front desk are also on display in just about every ticket booth, store, and otherwise publicly accessed building.)
It's very easy to feel foreign in such an exotic place, when midday azan wails over loudspeakers in dusty, trash-strewn streets. I admittedly felt like Jackie O. turned archaeologist when climbing over hills to look at ruins and Cyrus the Great's grave just outside of Shiraz in white linen pants, a khaki manteau, colorful scarf and big bug-eye sunglasses--like a strange pairing concocted for the silver screen.
I've puzzled over the question of my national identity for a while (see Poetry: on being who i am posted two months ago), and was hoping to claim more of my Iranian heritage by seeing more of my motherland. I've come to the conclusion, though, that it doesn't much matter. In Iran, I'm seen as an American. In America, I'm seen as an Iranian. Seeing more of Iran has given me a better perspective to accept that I'll probably be a little bit khareji wherever I go.