power of colors

29 02 2008

[By Shideh]   On our way to Iran from San Francisco, we stopped in Amsterdam to change planes.  Shawhin and I got our coffee and orange juice (I’m the coffee person and he’s the healthy one) and we were on our way to find the gate for the KLM flight to Tehran.  It turned out finding the gate was much easier than expected.  All we had to do was to follow the large number of familiar eyes who spoke Farsi very loudly.  It’s not common to speak loudly among Iranians, but somehow it seemed like we all wanted to make sure others noticed that we are Iranian, kind of like a signal, a way of communicating, a way to make sure other Iranians see us and can come to us if they are lost or need help of any sort.  

I felt the excitement of going home after 8 years; it was amazing being among all those familiar eyes, familiar accents, familiar smiles, or familiar complaints.  I realized in the middle of my excitement, however, that those eyes and accents were not our only guides to the right gate.  It was something much more visual and obvious: the black clothes!  Sadly I must acknowledge the current trend of fashion among my fellow countrymen.  Black, black, black.  All I could see was black, dark blue, dark gray, dark green, basically all sorts of varieties of black with different shades.  I told Shawhin if he noticed that we were the only ones not wearing black at the gate while we were waiting for our flight.  He laughed and nodded.  I saw that his happy eyes transformed to something more like worried happy eyes.  Well, I did not want to ruin this experience for him so I changed the topic.  I was however deeply concerned about the effects of this color on people’s everyday life back home.  Imagine living in a black city where colors are not widely accepted, are thought to be cheap, or are not even allowed in many public places.  I wonder if anyone in Tehran or other big cities in Iran worries about this, but there I was waiting at the gate deeply struggling with these thoughts and emotions.  I was emotional and excited with the thought of landing at the Mehrabad airport, seeing the Azadi tower when the pilot does a turn around it before landing, kissing the ground of my city, the city that really belonged to me.  My fear of black, on the other hand, was constantly on my mind.  I wanted to get the microphone from the flight attendant and ask all the passengers to change their outfits and wear brighter colors and was frustrated with my lack of power to do so. 


A girl in Sanandaj, Iran, wearing traditional colorful costumes. Photo courtesy of Ddokosic

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geohazards international

26 02 2008

[By Shideh]   A great organization working toward global earthquake safety: http://www.geohaz.org/index.htm

The mission of this Nonprofit Organization is to “reduce death and suffering – particularly among children – due to earthquake and other natural hazards in the world’s most vulnerable communities through advocacy, preparedness, prevention, and mitigation.”  I will write more about this organization in the future posts as we just learned about their activities and are planning to do more research and potentially get involved; so more posts to come.


Photo courtesy of J Rodgers

UN hazard mitigation game

25 02 2008

[By Shawhin]  I just found a very neat website developed by the UN/ISDR (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction).  They have a series of “Stop Disaster” scenario games that you can play.  The game can be run off the internet on almost any machine.  It’s pretty cool.  It is a bit like the simcity game but geared toward disaster management and natural hazards.  Here’s the link:http://www.stopdisastersgame.org/en/home.html

UN-ISDR game

Currently they have five natural hazard games: tsunami, hurricane, wildfire, earthquake, and flood.   And they are looking for support in creating more scenarios and in different languages.  More info at http://www.unisdr.org/.The website also has a lot of information on education, preparedness, and tips on what to do to mitigate damaging effects of natural hazards.  I haven’t been through the whole site, but it looks like a good resource, particularly for younger folks and kids.

nevada quake

21 02 2008

[By Shideh]   This morning, at 6:16am local time, a strong earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the northeast corner of the state of Nevada in the U.S., which damaged buildings in a small town near the epicenter. This earthquake was apparently felt as far away as southern California.  The USGS recorded eight aftershocks between magnitudes 3 and 4 in the hours following the first shake.


There are records of collapsed building fronts and bricks crushing cars (according to CNN), as well as cracked walls. Fortunately, the authorities have confirmed only one minor injury. 

Important observation for everyone, especially Iran’s northern cities where some houses are built out of wood and there are large forests: the main water line shut down because of leaks caused by the temblor during the earthquake this morning, in the city of Wells, Nevada.  The breakage of water lines was what ruined the city of San Francisco in 1906 after the earthquake as the fire started while major water lines were shut down and fire fighters couldn’t effectively control the fire.  When I talk to older people in San Francisco about the 1906 earthquake, they mostly remember it as the 1906 fire and not the earthquake, even though the fire was caused by the earthquake.

tehran dance

20 02 2008

[By Shideh]   The art of dancing is truly a gift. It is an amazing feeling – the power in group dances – especially the ones with lots of energy, movement, singing, colors, and joy. I only saw these dances in Indian movies when I was a kid – we never had that experience growing up in Tehran. It seems as if Tehran is the America of Iran, where many people from different villages, cities, and provinces migrate to in order to provide better opportunities for their next generation. It is a busy city with lots of people, high rises, and traffic jams. Tehran has become the melting pot for the country, a city where people from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures, languages, and costumes from around the country migrate to and learn to live next to each other. But in many cases, these individuals sadly forget their own backgrounds and costumes. As a result Tehran may have lost its own unique identity. Perhaps it’s hard to define it or perhaps this is what Tehran’s identity is: a melting pot. But why didn’t I, as a Tehrani girl, ever experience a Tehrani group dance like kids who lived in Gilan, Mashhad, south Bandars, or the nomads of Qashghai experienced?


photo courtesy of Ballet Afsaneh

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denial, escapism, scapegoating, and cynicism

6 02 2008

[By Shawhin]  Yesterday I heard a great lecture from UCBerkeley on iTunes.  It was a guest lecture by Professor of Public Policy, Robert Reich in a political science class.  In one part he talks about the importance of overcoming four things (“the four horseman of the apocalypse”) that keep the public from taking action on things which should be done:

+        Denial: saying that problems don’t exist, e.g. saying there is no global warming, there is no poverty, etc

+        Escapism: “there may be problems, but where I am, it’s not an issue: in my home, job, and my community, I am fine and there is no need to worry”

+        Scapegoating: “we may have problems, but they are all because of a certain group or concept”.  Scapegoating is a substitute for thought and genuine reform in social change.

+        Cynicism: the belief that nothing will change or nothing can be changed.  People use cynicism to hide from the burden of responsibility and disillusionment

Prof. Reich sees these each as a “burden to overcome to mobilize people to face the facts and to change the direction society is going in.”

I think cynicism is a big issue in Tehran, but at the same time, I think we have recent examples of when one leader can reverse a good amount of it and bring hope in its place.  Many people, especially youth, seem to go with the flow on cynicism… I think.

super tuesday

5 02 2008

[By Shideh]   Today is voting day (Super Tuesday), when nearly half of the states in the U.S. pick their republican and democratic candidates for the November Presidential elections.  The race has basically narrowed down to five candidates: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for democrats, and Mike Huckabee, John Mccain, and Mitt Romney for Republicans.

It is definitely an exciting day here in Berkeley, a wave of enthusiasm for voting is felt as you walk through the south gate of the campus.  Mostly I hear Obama’s name on the student’s flyers and yes, they are hopeful for the future of their country.  It seems many older people see something nobel in Obama, something that reminds them of America’s older heroes, like Martin Luther King, or John F. Kennedy.  I like this feeling and atmosphere, and can’t get enough of it.  It reminds me of the presidential elections in Iran, for Khatami’s first campain.  I was a high school student then and one of his huge supporters at that time.   


Photograph courtesy of New York News and Features

As an Iranian living in America, I naturally care a lot about the outcome of today’s elections and of course the November elections.  If I could vote, I would vote for a leader who would concentrate on improving this country (in terms of education, health care, infrastructure, research,…) more than focusing on offense and war, a leader who would advocate tolerance and deep respect for all.  I specifically want a leader who would unconditionally support direct dialogue (political, scientific, etc.) with Iran and many other countries that have found their way to the U.S. black list for one reason or another.  I want change, a deep change in current U.S. foreign policies and in the budget spent on propaganda, racism, hatred, and offense.  I want this all to end, yet is a president alone able to make all these changes?  Is this country ready for change?  Is the president really the one in power or is he really only a puppet in the hands of lobbyists, investors, bankers,…, you know those quiet powers that are behind the scene?  Is this a game or does it somewhat matter who’s the president? If so, to what extent?