YEARS ago, I lived in a small Midwestern town in the United States, where I had to explain to the few who asked me where I was from that Iran is a country, not a religious group, and that it is far away, yes, even farther away than New York.
I feel so blessed today to be living in a country with such a politically aware population. Not a day passes without me running into a new acquaintance recalling the defeat of the Persians at Marathon, or their own version of Alexander's invasion of the Persian Empire. Omar Khayam's poetry, our music, Persian carpets and even the beauty of Iranian women are the subjects of numerous other conversations.
It is fun having these chats and, at times, I even learn new things about my own country. But I must admit that it is getting a bit irksome to hear the petrol station guy telling me, tha mas skotosete (you will kill us), suggesting jokingly that I am somehow personally responsible for the rise of oil prices worldwide. This week I finally had enough, so I went to another petrol station, only to be told by the owner, Mas ehete skotosei (you have killed us)!
Recently, my brief conversations with people are getting a bit more intense.
There is an evident sense of alarm and genuine concern in the voice of my regular interlocutors. Jokes are being put aside in light of reports on uranium enrichment in Iran and concerns over an attack on the country.
Last week, I was having my hair cut when the barber asked me, "With so much oil, why do you need nuclear energy?" Another customer in the shop got off his seat and announced, "Because they want to, it is their country." The conversation got more heated and the barber, armed with a pare of scissors, started furiously waving his hands about and shouting.
The other day on the way out of the town I was stuck in traffic and happened to stop by a traffic cop who knows me and as a joke always calls me Khomeini. But this time he told me that if we start a war he will give me a ticket and he looked serious.
Minutes later I had a phone call from an old Greek college friend from Athens. We both studied political science. I remember how in numerous political discussions during our schoolyears we had unsuccessfully tried to put the world right. I hadn't heard from him for months. He first explained proudly that some 75 percent of Greeks are against any military action on Tehran. Then he said: "I finally found out how to solve the world's political crisis."
After a little pause he continued: "All we have to do is to kill hundred thousand Muslims and one dentist."
"Why the dentist?" I asked innocently.
He began laughing and replied: "You see, not even you care about the Muslims, why should the Americans!"
On my way out of town I stopped to pick up my son from school. His teacher came up and said: "You know it is actually not a bad thing for every one to have the bomb. India and Pakistan both have it, that is perhaps why they don't dare to fight any more. Israel has it, no one is telling them anything." And farther down the road, where tens of sheep were blocking the rural road to my house, a shepherd suddenly appeared and said: "This Bush guy is really crazy, he won't think of anything, he might attack and screw up the world."
Later I had a neighbour over for a drink and offered him a cup of Greek coffee. He asked for an Iranian cup of tea instead. The conversation started with the dreadful rise of oil prices and its consequences on countries that do not produce oil. We talked about the situation in Palestine. Then he said that at least no one seems to be bothering the Kurds that much any more. We ended the evening with my neighbour telling me all about how Alexander the Great chose to marry a Persian bride after conquering the empire.
After he left I stood on the balcony overlooking the mountains and thought about how in the past great leaders were better in touch with the consequence of their decisions. At least they used to get their own hands muddy or bloody or even chopped off. Now they have meetings in their suits and just push a button or ask someone else to push it for them, oblivious of the effect that their words and actions have on ordinary people all around the globe