A Glimpse: Women in Iran (August, 2003)

It was an honor and a task to share as a foreigner, for two weeks, the life of the women of Iran. They are beautiful,friendly, and incredibly patient. The past, tradition, and a difficult code of dress and behaviour is most evident in their lives. In the present, they are active and expressive,and participate in the bustling life of the city fully. They work hard at jobs of all kinds, study at the universities, drive cars, and take on positions of great responsibility. They look to the future, hoping for an easier, more full, and expressive life. Beautiful Mandana Mashayekhi, pictured here, was hired by IPM (Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics) to translate and care for our group, As a woman and friend, she gave our experience a richness and insight that would not have been possible otherwise. We were grateful to IPM for choosing her as our 'caretaker'.

Kathy stepped into another world.

But she was not alone. Rick was sympathetic and encouraging. Pictured here with us, Mandana and student mathematicians from surrounding universities.

Here is Kathy's good companion, Nanaz. Her husband Shahriar Shahriari was a conference organizer and invited speaker. He is a Professor of Mathematics at Pomona College in California. Her family lives in Tehran, so the conference was a chance for their two little boys to be 'spoiled by their grandparents.' Nanaz works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. She and I, while very modest in dress, brought our palette of colors to play, keeping ourselves as happy as possible. She was present for parts of the conference but not all, as her sons told her: 'no more 'office,' Mommy, you are on vacation!'

All of the staff at IPM, and visiting mathematicians were supportive and helpful. Notice the big difference-- the men dress like at home. The only restriction for men was no shorts. The weather was near 100 degrees most of the time!

Here is Tania, a creative, industrious photographer, who took most of the photos for IPM while we were there. Her photographs of the speakers and activities during the conference appeared each day in the 'Daily News' a conference newspaper created by the orgainzers and distributed each morning.

You would never know when she would be looking over her shoulder photographing your journal.! At least she wasn't doing it now, because we were in the late night garden cafe of of beautiful hotel in Isfahan. The night life of Iran is amazing. Crowds of families are out late into the night when it is cooler, relaxing, picnicing and strolling. In parks, under bridges, on any clear or grassy place to be found. We saw this consistently. At 1 am you can still see people getting out their picnic baskets.

You can see there are variations on a theme. Some women wear jeans or trousers and a topcoat. Scarves and coats are mostly dark or neutral colored, especially in formal situations like the conference. All hair, except in front, was covered, and usually feet, although sometimes bare feet and sandles peeked through in the hot weather! Here Willem Haemers, mathematician, invited speaker, from the Netherlands keeps us company, and Rick is hard at work, documenting our wardrobes.

You can see the mix of men and women. Mathematician friend Peter Cameron, invited speaker, Professor of Mathematics in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London smiles at us here. We had many great conversations.

Women here will surprise you. Here's a common sight, yet quite surprising — a cloaked woman riding on back of a motorcycle, in front of our bus!

A woman in Isfahan counsels a boy who is selling packages of sewing needles.

Woman are frequent drivers all over Tehran. Tania took us on a wild ride through the crazy traffic — almost no signals, amidst thousands of cars that do what is most convenient...

The most conservative look. At a rare traffic signal, a woman alone crosses (against the light, we think).

Mandana adjust her scarf, and leads us on, in her favorite park, high above the city. By the way, when we left this park, which had gleaming restaurants going up the side of the mountain, at 12;30 am, there were still families with small children going up those stairs to restaurants and with picnic baskets! Mandana chose a Kurdish one for us (the second highest) because 'it had a woman manager, and the food was best, and the dishes were pretty'. She comes here three or four times a week, at quieter times, she said, for refreshment and to think. She balances, in her gracious way, on the brink of a world full of beauty and contradiction.

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