walking through the streets of cambridge

I spent a week in the UK and returned a few days ago.  I got to travel around a bit and see London, Cambridge, and Oxford.  It was a lovely trip and I had a wonderful time, ignoring the incredibly high cost of everything in Europe.  London is a crowded city which reminded me of some areas of New York City but much older.  It was nice to see so many old structures throughout the country and not fear what would happen to them in the case of an earthquake.  Earthquakes are not a big threat to England and you can see many old (as old as about 600-800 years) structures everywhere. 


The architecture was breathtaking in many areas.  I can say confidently that Cambridge is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.  While walking in narrow streets with old buildings, restaurants, and coffee shops you might see a door open to something that looks like a regular building. But once you look through the opened door, you see a beautiful garden behind the wall and a huge castle-like structure far away, all hidden when you walk through these lovely streets. Another amazing part of this trip was the opportunity to dine at one of the colleges in Cambridge with the department of engineering.  Harry Potter is real in Cambridge and Oxford.  They have kept most of the traditions alive, dining in gowns, a drum to start, words in Latin by the master to start the feast, professors sitting higher than the students, it’s all real.

Cambridge, UK — Photo courtesy of bugbog.com

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i am home


Playing ping-pong in South Tehran. All rights reserved.


“Manata, tell me, where do you like more, Iran or America?”
“I like both the same.”
“Yes, but where would you rather live?”

As an Iranian who has lived the majority of her life in America, I have been asked this question more times than I can recount by family and friends in Iran. It is not a simple question and the answer entails a deeper understanding of the concepts of home, location, and identity. These motifs are interwoven in the daily lives of those Iranian émigrés too assimilated in the host country to return to the land of their birth, too “foreign” to ever feel at “home”. Further embedded in this question are the intricacies associated with a life in exile. Feelings of nostalgia, marginality, and longing for return often characterize such persons who leave their homelands by force, voluntarily, or by necessity of circumstance.

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happy wednesday

Eid ul-Fitr mubarak to those of you who observe Ramadan. Happy Rosh Hashanah to those starting the Jewish New Year today. Happy Navratri to those of you who are Hindu. And a blessed and happy Wednesday to everyone. Please take today to observe the common threads that runs through us all.


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A beautiful song to the end of a beautiful day. I came across this soulful song by the young Iranian artist, Mohsen Namjoo, a few days ago and have not been able to stop listening to it since. In the most humble of settings, Namjoo sings directly to you and although you may not understand his words, you cannot help but feel the depth of the emotion behind each word.

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the good, the bad and the ugly

Mother and daughter preparing tea in Lavasan, Iran. All rights reserved.

He let his mind drift as he stared at the city, half slum, half paradise.  How could a place be so ugly and violent, yet beautiful at the same time?

-Chris Abani, Graceland

I came across this quote tonight while reading a book on poverty and the growth of slums worldwide. The quote really struck me because it reminded me of how much we judge people and places by their external appearances.  It has always been a (optimistic) belief of mine that in order to appreciate the beauty of anything, we have to take time to really see. But it seems that as we mature, it becomes more and more difficult to see the good. We start to lose a little bit of the optimism that we had when we were young when we see that despite our best efforts, we are powerless to bring an end to the bad: poverty, violence, death, cruelty, and struggles for money and power.

But reading this quote has reminded me yet again that the ugliness of life is a part of life itself, and it may even be this very ugliness of life that helps create life’s beauty. I saw a lot of the ugly life during my research this summer. But within the slums and villages that I went to, I also had the blessing to see the simple acts of kindness and love that make it all worthwhile: mothers and daughters preparing afternoon tea together, young cherry pickers laughing and working together, keeping each other company on a hot summer day, and strangers preparing sweet sherbets and desserts for visiting researchers that stumble upon their tiny homes embedded deep within the hillsides of Tehran.


Filed under lessons, life, love

iran’s education race

An interesting article for Asheyan …

Published Aug 9, 2008
Aug. 18-25, 2008 issue


The Star Students of the Islamic Republic
Forget Harvard—one of the world’s best undergraduate colleges is in Iran.



By Afshin Molavi | NEWSWEEK
Stanford University‘s Electrical Engineering Department were startled when a group of foreign students aced the notoriously difficult Ph.D. entrance exam, getting some of the highest scores ever. That the whiz kids weren’t American wasn’t odd; students from Asia and elsewhere excel in U.S. programs. The surprising thing, say Stanford administrators, is that the majority came from one country and one school: Sharif University of Science and Technology in Iran.
Stanford has become a favorite destination of Sharif grads. Bruce A. Wooley, a former chair of the Electrical Engineering Department, has said that’s because Sharif now has one of the best undergraduate electrical-engineering programs in the world. That’s no small praise given its competition: MIT, Caltech and Stanford in the United States, Tsinghua in China and Cambridge in Britain.
Sharif’s reputation highlights how while Iran makes headlines for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s incendiary remarks and its nuclear showdown with the United States, Iranian students are developing an international reputation as science superstars. Stanford’s administrators aren’t the only ones to notice. Universities across Canada and Australia, where visa restrictions are lower, report a big boom in the Iranian recruits; Canada has seen its total number of Iranian students grow 240 percent since 1985, while Australian press reports point to a fivefold increase over the past five years, to nearly 1,500.
Iranian students from Sharif and other top schools, such as the University of Tehran and the Isfahan University of Technology, have also become major players in the international Science Olympics, taking home trophies in physics, mathematics, chemistry and robotics. As a testament to this newfound success, the Iranian city of Isfahan recently hosted the International Physics Olympiad—an honor no other Middle Eastern country has enjoyed. That’s because none of Iran’s neighbors can match the quality of its scholars…


To view the full article: click here

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Washing dishes in the village of Lavason, Iran. All rights reserved.

Let’s not muddy the water.
Imagine that close by a dove
is drinking from it,
or in a distant grove a finch
is washing its wings in it,
or in some village it fills a storage jar.

Let’s not muddy the water.
Perhaps this flowing stream runs
by the foot of a poplar tree
and eases some heart’s grief.
A dervish, perhaps,
has moistened his crust in it.

A young woman stood on its bank—
the water doubled her beauty.
Let’s not muddy the water.

How delicious this water is!
How refreshing this stream!
Those people who live upstream,
how fortunate they are!
May their springs be ever fresh,
their cows always fertile!
I haven’t seen their village,
But surely, God’s foot is on
their threshing floor and
the moonlight there illuminates
the width of their words.
The walls are low in the village upstream.
Blue there is really blue.
When buds blossom, they know, those people.
What a village it must be!
May its streets be filled with music!

Those people by the stream
Have left it clear.
Let’s not muddy the water.

-Sohrab Sepehri

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