From Traditional to Modern, and Then Modern to Traditional: Life in Iran (Blog #9, Iran series)

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Shah Reza Pahlavi, Iran

I was traveling with a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Iran. Only groups were allowed into Iran, and I was one of only 500 American permitted into the country.  Initially, we were to meet with Iranian citizens and nonprofits that were working on various issues but at the last minute the Iranian government intervened and our status was changed to strictly tourism. Disappointingly, all our meetings with nonprofits were abruptly cancelled.

After a fun evening at an Iranian wedding the night before, our group was ready for a day of sightseeing. The day’s itinerary included an excursion to the Mohammad Reza Pahlavi house in Tehran. He was the last Shah (King) of the Imperial State of Iran from September 16, 1941 until his overthrow in the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979. He was usually known as the Shah.

Sadabad Palace, Shah’s Palace in Tehran, Iran, photo Denise Ames

The Shah introduced the White Revolution, a series of economic, social, and political reforms aimed at transforming Iran into a global power and modernizing the nation by nationalizing key industries and land redistribution. The regime implemented many Iranian nationalist policies leading to the establishment of Cyrus the Great, Cyrus Cylinder, and Tomb of Cyrus the Great as popular symbols of Iran.

Palace foyer, photo Denise Ames

These reforms culminated in decades of sustained economic growth that would make Iran one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. During his 37-year rule, Iran spent billions on industry, education, health, and armed forces and enjoyed economic growth rates exceeding the United States, Britain, and France. By 1977, Iran’s armed services spending, which the Shah saw as a means to end foreign intervention in Iran, had made the nation the world’s fifth strongest military.

Palace dining room, photo Denise Ames

But, despite his reforms, by the 1970s, the Shah had become a strongman. The notorious SAVAK national police force was ruthless. Many Iranians resented the heavy-handed tactics of the Shah, his close ties with the US and UK, while also imposing draconian modernization on the country. Women were forbidden to wear the hijab, even headscarves. By 1978, growing political unrest snowballed into a popular revolution leading to the monarchy’s overthrow.

The overthrow of the Shah led to the replacement of the Imperial State of Iran by the present-day Islamic Republic of Iran, as the monarchical government of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was superseded by the theocratic government of Ruhollah Khomeini, a religious cleric who had headed one of the rebel factions. The Islamic Republic continues today.  

An Iranian family invited me to dinner.

I remember many of the events leading up to and the culmination of the Iranian Revolution, also the subsequent capturing by Iranians of American diplomats and holding them as hostages. Iran captured the American imagination for many years in the 1970s and early 1980s. I wondered at the time if the overthrow of the Shah and his replacement with a religious fundamentalist would just replace one problem with another. I was right!

Students I met on the grounds of the Shah’s Palace, Tehran, Iran

Now I was going to visit the palace of the Shah, preserved as it was when he reigned. It seemed odd to me that they would enshrine the palace of such a hated political figure. Was there something I was missing?

We stepped off our bus and were immediately surrounded by Iranians wanting to talk with foreigners. When word spread that we were Americans, we became even more popular. I had several invitations to dinner without walking 50 feet from the bus. It was fun chatting with various people who loved the fact I was an American.

We made our way to the palace, and I was immediately struck by the fact that it wasn’t all that ostentatious. Compared to European palaces or the mansions of the Gilded Age in America, it seemed downright modest. The 70s style was perfectly preserved in the ornate, gold-trimmed furniture and sweeping drapes. It didn’t take me long to tour the house and then I ambled my way outside to the estate grounds.

Palace grounds, photo Denise Ames

Everything was carefully manicured and lovely flowers gave an air of tranquility to the surroundings. I could imagine the Shah, and his wife, Farah, strolling through the gardens deep in contemplation.

Crowds of people were enjoying the day, respectfully admiring the environs. I didn’t see any signs of protest targeting the Shah or his family. Perhaps the fervent hatred of the past had eased, especially in light of their present-day economic downturn and arbitrary, religious laws.  

I enjoyed my visit to the Shah’s palace. It gave me a chance to step back in time to relive the tumultuous events of the late 1970s in Iran. As I strolled through one canopy of trees lining a sidewalk, I thought about the wrenching changes the Iranian people have experienced over the last 100 years.

Their traditional way of life was declared “backward” by the Shah, and they were forced to modernize at the point of a gun. Then, just as abruptly, in 1979 they were forced to abandon modernization and return to their traditional ways, again, at the point of the gun. No wonder, Iranians are unsure about the future, it can change on a whim.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in Iran

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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A Glittering Affair: An Iranian Wedding, Female Version (Blog #8, Iran series)

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Tehran, Iran, photo Denise Ames

I was traveling with a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Iran. Only groups were allowed into Iran, and I was one of only 500 American permitted into the country.  Initially, we were to meet with Iranian citizens and nonprofits that were working on various issues but at the last minute the Iranian government intervened and our status was changed to strictly tourism. Disappointingly, all our meetings with nonprofits were abruptly cancelled.

Buffet dinner, photo Denise Ames

We capped off Day 2 with a trip to a restaurant for our dinner. The restaurant had a smorgasbord of Iranian delights. Once again, the food was delicious and varied for a wide range of tastes. I kept going back for seconds.

Tehran Hotel, photo Denise Ames

It was still early in the evening and I and others weren’t tired yet. We sat in the lobby to chat. Then we noticed a commotion going on around the ballroom area of our hotel. A wedding was taking place! Women were scurrying around covered in black hijabs and headdresses but peeking through their attire were an array of high heels and made-up faces that were out of the ordinary. Our guide, Leila, a native of Tehran, went over to inquire about the wedding affair.

We watched her talk with several people and then she motioned for us to come over. She had secured an invitation for our small group to attend the wedding reception in the ballroom. I was ecstatic.

I still had on my hijab that I had worn all day. Plus, the headdress and rain had smashed my hair flat to my head and my worn sandals with socks were rain-soaked. I had slipped my hijab on over a t-shirt and yoga pants, since they wouldn’t be seen. I figured that we would have to wear our hijabs at the wedding so my dress would not stand out as too casual.

Helena and Denise at wedding, Tehran, Iran

Our group hesitantly entered the glittery ballroom and I was shocked by the spectacle. The men and women could not attend the same reception; instead, women had their own separate reception. The men had a similar reception in an adjoining ballroom. The only male in attendance was the groom and he sat on a throne-like chair on a raised platform next to his new wife, who regally sat on an identical throne-like chair. He looked happy to witness such a dazzling array of colors, textures, movement, and glitter. It was a site to behold.

Next, I noticed that all the women had shed their cumbersome hijabs and wore dazzling outfits, fit for a fine wedding. Their make-up was perfect, their jewelry shone, and their hair was styled in the latest fashion.

Our bedraggled-looking group was an instant hit. We were served non-alcoholic juice and cajoled into shedding our hijabs. I felt rather odd taking off my hijab, as if I was breaking an Islamic law or something of the sort. Finally, I flung off my hijab and stood in a white t-shirt and yoga pants. Hardly wedding attire. But no one seemed to mind. Soon, I was out on the dance floor frolicking around without a care in the world. It felt very freeing and relaxing after our tense ordeal prior to our arrival in Iran.  

The wedding was so much fun and an authentic glimpse into Iranian culture, traditions, and segregated sexes. I was very thankful that I and other members of my group were so warmly welcomed by the wedding guests. The night was still young, but our group finely said our good-byes after an hour or so. We had another big day ahead of us in Iran.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in hijab, Iran

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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A Trip to the Top: Mt. Alburz on the Outskirts of Tehran, Iran (Blog #7, Iran series)

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Mt. Alburz in the background of Tehran, Iran, photo Denise Ames

I was traveling with a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Iran. Only groups were allowed into Iran, and I was one of only 500 American permitted into the country.  Initially, we were to meet with Iranian citizens and nonprofits that were working on various issues but at the last minute the Iranian government intervened and our status was changed to strictly tourism. Disappointingly, all our meetings with nonprofits were abruptly cancelled.

Day 2, Friday, I woke up early. Our group arranged to meet for breakfast and discuss our itinerary for the day. I figured that there were lots of negotiations going on as to how to fill our time since all of our meetings were abruptly cancelled. I vowed not to dwell on the disappointment; instead, I swore to make the most of each day wherever we went. I was actually in Iran and there was a lot to uncover in our short two weeks in the country.

Tower over Tehran, Iran, photo Denise Ames

So far, the food was sumptuous. I loved the mix of what I considered exotic fruits, yogurt, and spices. I loved the hint of saffron and mint in many of the dishes.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus for our drive to the outskirts of Iran and our trek to Mt. Alburz, a popular ski destination. We wound our way through various neighborhoods on the way to where we would catch the tram to the top. The neighborhoods looked very middle class. Clean, well-constructed buildings with stunning views of the mountains and the valley below, where Tehran stretched across the vast plain.

Modern looking apartment building, outskirts of Tehran, Iran, photo Denise Ames

We parked the bus and then had to climb upwards several blocks. Living in Albuquerque, NM, where I reside at 5,000+ feet above sea level, I was used to the high altitude in foothills of the mountains. But my fellow travelers were not used to the high altitude, and were short of breath as they trekked uphill. We finally reached the tram and boarded it for a marvelous view of the natural beauty surrounding Tehran.

Iranian skiers, photo Denise Ames

Upon reaching the top of the mountain, we were free to wander about and enjoy the sites. However, a heavy rain drove me in to a cafeteria where I ordered a glass of tea. Iranians are perhaps some of the friendliest people in the world and are always ready for conversation. I had several with the cafeteria customers. One businessman and wife said that China was investing heavily in Iran, a fact they thought was beneficial to the country. The man said he had a lot of business with Germany, and many of the tourists we encountered along the way were from Germany.

Iranian businessman with son, photo Denise Ames

One woman I spoke with launched into a rant about the morality police in Iran. She said she never felt free to speak her mind, since they were everywhere eavesdropping and spying on citizens. In fact, she cut our conversation short because she was afraid she spotted an undercover morality policeman spying on her. I wondered if she was paranoid, or if she had good reason or her concerns.

I was surprised at the number of prosperous looking people who were up on the mountain for a short holiday. They seemed very well-educated (many spoke English) and well dressed. The ones I chatted with were surprised that I was from America, and warmly welcomed me to their country. They were curious about what Americans thought about Iran. They were very well-informed about affairs in the US and inquired about our politics and the economy.   

View from the tram, photo Denise Ames

I was ready to descend the mountain after a couple of hours. The weather worsened, and it turned rather cold. I dashed to the bus where I warmed up and enjoyed my ride back to the hotel. It was a fun day despite the bad weather.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in Iran

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Hijab Shopping in Iran: A Trip to a Dress Shop  (Iranian Blog Series #6)

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Our guide Sayed demonstrating proper Iranian dress, photo Denise Ames

I was traveling with a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Iran. Only groups were allowed into Iran, and I was one of only 500 American permitted into the country.  Initially, we were to meet with Iranian citizens and nonprofits that were working on various issues but at the last minute the Iranian government intervened and our status was changed to strictly tourism. Disappointingly, all our meetings with nonprofits were abruptly cancelled.

After our chaotic meeting with our tour guide, Sayed, (see previous blog) our rooms were ready and I could unpack all my random, Iranian-appropriate outfits. I had purchased several loose-fitting blouses from the thrift store that I had thrown in my suitcase along with my yoga-type pants that were all stretched out. I made sure I packed no form-fitting garments. So, it didn’t take me long to unpack.

A fancy hijab, photo Denise Ames

Our tour guide scheduled a group shopping trip to the nearby hijab store. We were strongly advised to purchase a hijab and headpiece that we would wear most days. I thought this would be a fun outing, finally getting a glimpse of the city of Tehran and the Iranian citizens.

Our group wove our way through throngs of people jostling their way on the busy sidewalks in the old section of the city. We finally reached our destination, a well-appointed store with row after row of smartly designed hijabs. I was actually quite surprised at the variety of garments on display. Some had decorative trim around the sleeves or tassels at the end of ties around the neck or waist. Most were black, but a few other colors, such as gray, dark green, and beige, rounded out the selections.

Browsing the selection, photo Denise Ames

To accompany the hijab were headpieces that fit tightly over the head and neck but left the face exposed. The hair was completely covered, as well as the ears.

After much deliberation, I decided on a beige hijab that fit like a long suitcoat. It was loose fitting and lightweight. Although it was made of polyester fabric, which ended up to be hot in the June sun, it was light weight and seemed easy to clean. I decided on a beige headpiece that matched the hijab. Although most of the other women in my group decided on a black hijab, one woman purchased a striking dark green color with matching headpiece. The hijabs were not expensive, about $20. US total cost.

Clerk at the hijab store, photo Denise Ames

I noticed one young clerk at the store sported rolled-up blue jeans under her form fitting hijab that came to just below her knees. Her black converse tennis shoes without socks made a loud fashion statement, and I am sure edged along the boundaries of correct Islamic dress.

With purchases tightly gripped in our hands, our tired group of travelers trudged back to the hotel. We had a long day after a long flight. We had a delightful buffet dinner at the hotel and retired early. Tomorrow would be our first day of touring the city, I was looking forward to it.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in her hijab.

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Communication Styles in Iran: A Crisis Narrowly Avoided, pt. 2 (Iranian Blog Series #5)

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Iranian Guide, Sayed, demonstrating proper dress for women. Photo Denise Ames

I was traveling with a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Iran in June 2007. Only groups were allowed into Iran, and I was one of only 500 American permitted into the country.  Initially, we were to meet with Iranian citizens and nonprofits that were working on various issues but at the last minute the Iranian government intervened and our status was changed to strictly tourism. Disappointingly, all our meetings with nonprofits were abruptly cancelled.

We had just landed in Iran and we were meeting with our guide about the rules and regulations we needed to follow. The meeting was getting out of hand. Americans, including myself, favor a direct style of communication, we like to get to the point and make a quick decision. Iranians, as exemplified by our tour guide, communicate in an indirect, circular style where getting to the point is not the goal but instead they wind the conversation around as in a story or long epic poem. Our tour guide was answering our questions in a way that was familiar to him but in a way that we were unaccustomed to.

Iranian men in casual dress and smoking, forbidden by women, photo Denise Ames

Finally, it dawned on me what was going on. Through my foggy, sleep-deprived brain, I realized that we were communicating according to different styles of communication. I said something to the group about different styles of communication. The group leaders seemed to be unaware of what was going on and ignored my initial remarks. But I persisted in trying to explain the situation and they gradually came around to agreeing. Neither side was wrong in their style of communication, only different.

A hijab shop for women in Tehran, photo Denise Ames

Either my explanations or sheer exhaustion on both sides helped to ease the situation a bit. We were not going to get a direct answer from our guide to the questions we asked. He was incapable of making the cultural leap to a more direct style of communication. We would have to live through this uncertainty for the rest of the tour.

Although our group was still uncertain about the rules, I realized that Americans are more at ease with uncertainty than Iranians. So our group would have to live with uncertainty and vague rules throughout the trip to Iran. We found that if we were unsure about many of the arbitrary Iranian rules that we were supposed to follow, we would either ask our guide about a specific situation or just do what we thought was right and risk being corrected at some point.

I and the rest of the delegation lived with uncertainty for two weeks. My encounter with Iranian styles of communication was a valuable lesson that has stayed with me over the years. 

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise drinking tea in Tehran, Iran, I had too much neck showing, a no-no.

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Communication Styles in Iran: A Crisis Narrowly Avoided, pt. 1 (Iranian Blog Series #4)

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Fellowship of Reconciliation Delegation to Iran

I was traveling with a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Iran in June 2007. Only groups were allowed into Iran, and I was one of only 500 American permitted into the country.  Initially, we were to meet with Iranian citizens and nonprofits that were working on various issues but at the last minute the Iranian government intervened and our status was changed to strictly tourism. Disappointingly, all our meetings with nonprofits were abruptly cancelled.

Sayed, our Iranian Guide, photo Denise Ames

After a smooth flight, our plane touched down on Iranian soil. I donned my headscarf and put on my long blouse/jacket over my shorter blouse. I was actually now in the forbidden country. Our guide met us at the Tehran airport and helped us through customs. We were scrutinized by unsmiling customs officials but ushered in without a hitch. Our delegation was elated to have passed through the first hurdle.

I liked our guide, Sayed, immediately. His English was excellent and his demeanor warm and approachable. He even had a hint of a sense of humor. We boarded a small bus to our hotel and wove our way through snarling traffic to our downtown hotel. Our able bus driver unloaded our luggage.

Entrance to our hotel, Welcome in English, photo Denise Ames

We were told to pack light, so our luggage could fit into medium sized buses. I passed the test with a medium sized bag that was easy to maneuver and a light-weight carry-on. It was still early and our rooms were not ready yet so Sayed suggested a meeting to get acquainted with each other and talk about all the rules we had to follow.

Denise having her first tea in Iran, a bit of my neck is showing, a no-no.

As customary in Iran, tea was served to all of us in the meeting room in small clear glasses on a saucer with a small spoon and a lump of sugar. How elegant! Sayed started the meeting with a recitation of convoluted rules and procedures that we were told we had to follow.

The conversation danced around and around without clear and direct guidance. Our group was very tired and frustrated, and getting angry. Should we wear sandals with socks or not? Could we freely take pictures or not? Was it ok to talk with Iranian strangers in public? Could we take pictures of army installations? We got a clear NO on that one. We wanted clear and concise answers, not a winding trail of sing-songy words and stories.

This was a cultural clash of epic proportions. No wonder our two national leaders at the time—George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—could not get along, our supposedly peaceful peace delegation was ready to explode! It took me a while to figure out what was going on: We were communicating in two different ways.

See part 2 of this blog on Friday, January 20, 2023

Denise in Iran in Hijab

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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A Flight to Remember: Traveling to Iran

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

I was traveling to Iran with an educational and ecumenical delegation. What would await us?

I was on the flight (see previous blog) to Iran from Frankfurt, Germany. Well into the flight, the droning background noise of the jet engines was pierced by an earsplitting scream. Startled, everyone sat to attention.

A small infant let loose a torrent of high-pitched wails that were both annoying and heart-wrenching. What seemed like hours, the mother tried to comfort her distressed infant. She walked the aisles, to no avail. The flight attendant also tried to pacify her to no avail. By now the mother was in tears, her mascara dripping ribbons of black down her defeated face.

A swaddled baby.

Soon a plea for a doctor was sounded. Iranians adore their doctors, and one came to the rescue. He tightly wrapped the baby’s blanket around the distraught infant. She was swaddled into a tightly bound cocoon, smothered into stillness. I never swaddled my children, thinking it restricted their freedom. But this child did not seem to want freedom, she wanted security, safety, and restriction. The infant settled down immediately. No more wails. The mother gave an adoring thank-you to the doctor and collapsed into her seat.

Without further incidences, the jet crossed into Iranian air space. An announcement stating this fact sparked a flurry of activity. The here-to-fore Western-dressed Iranian women were in the throes of a transformation. Scarves and hijabs were snatched out of sacks and women deftly covered their forbidden wardrobes. Billows of black fabric obliterated their Western fashions and toe-pinching heels, while scarves masked their hair. I couldn’t even see a wrist or a neck, not even an ear. After the redressing was complete, I realized why their make-up was so important to them. Their face was the only part of their body that was exposed.

Current Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

As we descended into Tehran I reflected on the insights I learned from my anything but boring flight. The swaddled infant ended up as a metaphor for the trip. The Iranian Shi’ite theocracy treated their citizens, especially women, as infants, tightly monitoring their dress and restricting their freedoms. Yet, as I found, the security of their religion seemed to give them a certain comfort and predictableness.

Today, I can’t tell if the Iranian people are willing to shed their religious swaddling for a freer way of life. In light of the recent protests among many of the ordinary people, especially they young people, they appear resolute in freeing themselves from the draconian dictates and regulations imposed by the religious fundamentalists. But are they willing to overthrow the theocracy that has been in place since 1979. I don’t know.  

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise hiking the 4th of July Canyon Trail near Albuquerque, NM

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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My Flight to Tehran: Are Iranians Breaking Free from their Swaddling

By Denise R. Ames

Iranian Air logo

I scanned the jumbo jet moored at the airport gate in Frankfurt, Germany. It seemed like others I flew on to destinations around the world, but then again, it was different. This jet was going to Tehran, Iran, a supposedly enemy country that allowed only 500 carefully-screened Americans visitors in 2007. My throat tightened as I thought about the trip.

I was traveling with a group, individual travelers were not allowed in the country, organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We were to meet with Iranian citizens and nonprofits that were working on various issues such as sustainability, peace, and better relations between our countries, a tall task by any measure.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012

At the last minute, however, a flurry of insults flew back and forth between then President Bush from the US and President Ahmadinejad from Iran, our travel plans were in doubt. Just a few days before takeoff our itinerary changed to strictly tourism, no conversations of a political nature could be carried out. Our group on a conference call all reluctantly agreed to the constraints.

This recent unsettling bout of events gave me an uneasy feeling as I boarded the plane. But this foreboding gave way as flight attendants welcomed me on board and Iranian families scuttled about storing their copious carry-ons and settling into their seats. Some smiled and asked me where I was from. I replied, “the United States,” expecting a lecture on the bad manners of my president, but they were surprised and graciously welcomed me to Iran. Perhaps, I told myself, this trip would be ok.

Iranian woman with full make-up.

The jet took off without delay and I took time to scan the crowded coach accommodations. I was surprised to see that Iranian women wore no head scarves or face coverings but were dressed to the nine’s in the latest Western fashions and teetered around on 3” heels. Their make-up was perfectly applied, their eyes bright with thick black eyeliner and mascara. Ruby-red lipstick painted their lips.

I felt so frumpy in my make-up less face, battered walking scandals, with socks, hair pinned back, and a huge over-blouse two sizes too big. We were instructed to not bring attention to ourselves, especially the women, and dress in non-provocative clothing. The purpose of this was to make sure American women, no matter how old, would not send Iranian men into a wild and uncontrollable sexual frenzy. I made sure that in my case this would not happen.

Well into the flight, the droning background noise of the jet engines was pierced by an earsplitting scream. Startled, everyone sat to attention.

continued Friday, January 13, 2023

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Iran: A Traveler’s Perspective, part 1

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Welcome 2023! I wish all of you a Happy New Year. I hope the year turns out well for my fellow travelers, who have been set back by a number of unfortunate events: Covid, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, instability in China and Iran, and economic uncertainty to name just a few.

I am eager to take an international trip this year! Covid has thwarted my plans in the past and I also have wanted to spend most of my spare travel time visiting my young grandchildren in New York. This year I hope to squeeze in an international adventure.

Flag of Iran

In the meantime, I have been following current events in Iran and China, two countries that I have visited in the past. Thus, I have decided to start a blog series on my travels to Iran (I’ll leave China for another day) to highlight what I learned about the country and offer commentary on the recent protests and developments. I hope you will decide to follow my multipart blog series about this fascinating and contradictory country.

Let’s start at the beginning. It was 2007 and I was eager to travel to Iran. I have always had a fascination with the southwestern Asia part of the world, often referred to as the Middle East. Technically, Iran is not considered part of the Middle East but it borders Middle Eastern countries and has relationships with many of them.

I had signed up for a trip to Iran in 2005 only to have it cancelled shortly before our departure date. Instead, I went on a fascinating trip to Lebanon and Syria. But I still longed to go to Iran. In 2007, I signed up with the Fellowship for Reconciliation for their delegation to Iran. The purpose of the travel was to connect with engaged citizens in Iran to foster better relations between the two countries. There would be about 20 people in our group ranging from educators to those in faith organizations.

Young Iranian women in hijabs.

I carefully read the packet of information sent to all participants and also read many of the books on the reading list. I was also diligent about taking the right clothing for wearing in the country. We were to wear headscarves, baggy pants, oversized, long-sleeved blouses, and socks with our scandals. We would be able to buy a hijab and head covering upon arrival. At least we didn’t have to wear the sweltering burka and cover all of our faces, so I was at least relieved about that.

I felt odd packing my suitcase, as I packed my most odious garments. I even went to the thrift store to get more odious billowing blouses and stretchy pants. No one could accuse me of being a smartly-dressed Western women bent on attracting Iranian men.

Our group was to meet at JFK airport in New York City for some lectures and orientation. I decided to fly in a few days early from my home-town of Albuquerque, New Mexico to stay with my daughter who lived in Brooklyn. Once I arrived, I was stunned to find out that our trip was on the verge of being cancelled. Without any forewarning the Iranian government announced that our itinerary to meet with different Iranian organizations was off the table. During a conference call with all the travel group members we voiced our disappointment and frustration.

JFK Airport, New York City, NY

Apparently, some high stakes negotiations took place and we were offered the alternative plan of traveling to the country, but only as tourists. Although, this was a disappointment to me I agreed to the limitations. The others did as well. Our travel plans were shuffled around but our departure date stayed the same.

I arranged a cab to JFK Airport to meet with the group. We all breathed a sigh of relief as we boarded the jumbo jet bound for Paris and then onto a smaller plane destined for Tehran, the capital city. What awaited me in this country that was so different from my own? I was about to find out.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise hiking 4th of July Canyon near Albuquerque, NM

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates eight pathways into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Chicago from the Water: An Architectural Boat Tour on the Chicago River

Into the “canyon” on an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River,
photo Denise Ames

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

I was in Chicago for a reunion with assorted female relatives. My niece graciously hosted all of us in her home on the northside of Chicago. We had already taken in the Willis/Sears Tower observation deck, a stroll through Millennium Park, and dining in the Fulton Market District. Next up for our group was an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River.

On a boat tour, heading west on the Chicago River, photo Denise Ames

Our group was ready to go. It was a perfect day to be out on the water: sunny, slightly breezy, and the perfect temperature. Chicago weather does not get any better. Our boat slid into the Chicago River channel and chugged our way west into the heart of the city.

Forming a length of 156 miles when combined, the Chicago River is a system of rivers and canals that runs through the city. Though not especially long, the river is notable because it is one of the reasons for Chicago’s geographic importance: the Chicago Portage is a link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the Chicago River, an architectural boat tour,
photo Denise Ames

Chicago is said to be home of the skyscraper. World-renowned architects designed the skyscrapers that adds to Chicago’s world prestige. Chicago’s architects had artistic freedom because they were literally starting from ground zero. The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 jumped the Chicago River from its south side origination and swept through the city, destroying almost everything in its wake.

From the scorched earth, architectural visionaries of structural steel and plate glass, such as John Wellborn Root, William Le Baron Jenney, Louis Sullivan (Wright’s mentor) and Daniel Burnham, lifted Chicago from the ashes of the fire to new heights in less than ten years.

Chicago’s ascent continued into the 20th century with titanic figures such as Bertrand Goldberg, Fazlur Khan and Mies van der Rohe, building, higher, taller, and sleeker structures. This architectural trend has continued in the 21st century, with acclaimed architects such as Jeanne Gang.

Chicago Merchandise Mart, photo Denise Ames

Our tour took us deep into the building “canyon,” as I felt surrounded by glass and steel. I can’t recall the names of the over 50 skyscrapers, bridges, and historic sites that our guide pointed out to us, but I was familiar with a few, namely the Chicago Mercantile Building.

When I owned my own retail business in Bloomington Illinois, I spent many hours and walked many miles visiting showrooms in the vast, block-long structure. It is the world’s largest commercial building and design center. When it was opened in 1930, it was the largest building in the world, with 4 million square feet (372,000 m2) of floor space. Built by Marshall Field & Co. it was owned by the Kennedy family for over 50 years. The Merchandise Mart is so large that it once had its own ZIP Code (60654), until 2008,

Ferris wheel ride I missed, photo Denise Ames

At the end of the tour, our boat swung into Lake Michigan and I got a glimpse of the Ferris wheel along Navy Pier. One of my requests was to take a ride on the Ferris wheel, but I was about the only one who wanted to do so, and it was a long walk, so I went along with the group. 

Our boat docked and our group unloaded. We were all a bit dazed by the intensity of the tour and remarked on how much we enjoyed it. It was time for a breather so we headed up North Michigan Avenue in search of a street café for a needed pick-me-up. We found one and settled in for a break.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise hiking the 4th of July Canyon Trail near Albuquerque, NM

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates six pathways—time-honored insights, a holistic world history, cross-cultural awareness, multiple worldviews, significant global issues, and personal and global well-being—into her unique approach to glean all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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