The Iranians at Our Table Tennis Club

I spent quite a bit of time tonight talking to Tim and Tina, two Iranian immigrants who came to our table tennis club. I had talked to Tim before; he lives in Defiance, Ohio, about an hour away, and he’s a very good player. Tina, his sister, was visiting from Chicago. She came in her sweats, ready to play–and she wasn’t bad.

Tina came to the States in 1971, Tim in 1976. The Shah was in power; it was a dictatorship. Tina earned an Economics degree, landed a good job, and earned her US citizenship. Then, in 1979, she took a leave of absence from her job and traveled back to her homeland. She found work with a think tank of some kind in Teheran, working alongside eight Americans employed by IBM. 

But she became very worried about what she was sensing. “This is not good, what’s happening,” she decided. She warned her coworkers, said they needed to leave the country. But they weren’t worried. “Nothing’s going to happen. We’re perfectly safe,” they told her.

But Tina didn’t believe it. She could feel something ready to explode, and she didn’t want to be there when it happened. So she packed up and left. Two weeks later, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy.

She had given her card, with her address info, to the IBMers. Said, “When you get to the States, call me.” Some of them did. And I’m sure she told them, “I told you so.”

I asked Tim, “What is something Americans need to understand about Iranians? What don’t we understand correctly?”

He mentioned the culture being different, but then said, “Iranians are a peaceful people.” He paused. “But everybody is like that. Wherever you go in the world, people are mostly peaceful.”

I said, “I’m sure you’re fascinated by what’s happening in Iran now.” 

Tina said, “The people are MAD. It’s not about Ahmadinejad or the other guy. The people are just MAD. They’re tired of the way things are. They want things to change. You can see it in their eyes. They are ANGRY.” 

It was almost amusing how she kept emphasizing that. 

“The Iranian people want the same things we want,” she said. “And they want to vote, and have their vote count. They couldn’t vote under the Shah.”

I said, “Does it bother you when Americans talk about Iranians as being evil?”

She said without hesitation, “Well, Ahmadinejad is evil.” And she put the ruling clerics in the same category. She and Tim talked about how idiotic, incompetent, etc., Ahmadinejad is. They said the Iranian people are tired of his nonsense, of the stupid things he says, of the way he embarrasses the country. 

I mentioned the three Iranians who attended Huntington University in the mid-1970s. I said many of us wonder what happened to them. Did they go back to Iran and get caught up in the revolution? Did they die in the Iran-Iraq War? 

Tina said, “If they were here in 1975 or 1977, they didn’t go back. Why would they? Who would want to go back?” She figured they were still in the States somewhere. Like her. 

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