Young Iranians find their thrills up in the hills

August 10, 1994|By New York Times News Service

DARAKEH, Iran -- It was not yet 9 in the morning and Mehdi Nazemi, with a full day's work in front of him, had broken into a heavy sweat.

"It has been bad all morning," he said. "Girls in baseball caps, covered with makeup, coming up here without proper head scarves.

"And the boys use words I can't repeat and strip off their shirts. It is a dirty, lonely job. But we must be ready to die for God."

Each weekend, several thousand young Iranian men and women take off for the small village of Darakeh, at the northwest corner of Tehran, to climb the sharp, rocky peaks that surround the city and to escape the rigorous restrictions imposed by the Islamic state.

And each weekend the members of the government-backed Islamic popular militias, like the Bassij, send their fittest followers to make sure that Iranian youths enjoy the fresh air and the hike, but not each other.

Militia members hide in bushes along the sides of the trail and pounce on groups of teen-agers.

Boys dive from rocks into the pools bare chested and scamper up the rocky slopes as panting militiamen try to catch them.

Girls tuck baseball caps under their head scarves and apply makeup and fingernail polish once they have passed checkpoints.

And on the tops of some jagged peaks, girls brazenly strip off their required baggy cloaks and black head scarves to have picnics with their boyfriends.

Facing defiance by the young men and women, many of whom come from Westernized middle- or upper-class families, the militias have set up "detention houses" in the mountains where they try to teach proper Islamic behavior to smirking teen-agers caught defying the rules.

And for repeat offenders, the militias keep buses at the base of the park to ferry young men and women to detention houses that hold them overnight.

But despite the best efforts of the volunteers like Mr. Nazemi, the park has become the biggest pickup spot in Tehran.

Some boys spend the evening before they go there copying their phone numbers on dozens of slips of paper so they can hand them out to prospective girlfriends the next day.

A few said they had forged identification documents to make it look as if their girlfriends were their sisters.

In desperation, the militias began recently to use megaphones at the base of the park to warn young Iranians that if they did not stop misbehaving, access to the park could be restricted to allow girls and boys to visit only on alternate weeks.

But few of the youth there appear ready to redirect their interests to the slopes and streams.

"This is the only fun left to us in this country," said Nahid Azaripour, who was being sent home for wearing a forbidden white head scarf.

"And if women aren't allowed up here, the boys won't come either. This is the last place boys and girls can go out and be together."

Romances are, not surprisingly, made in these hills. Edris Shafeyian, like many young men, met his girlfriend, Nargees Taktherani, on the mountain path. "She kept falling down," he said. "And I had to help her."

The winding trail leads past nine open-air restaurants. The small restaurants, supplied by pack mules, sell soft drinks, kebabs, buckets of fresh raspberries, walnuts, sour cherries, and dried fruit rolls.

On the mountain tops, just about every activity seems designed to flout the conventions of the Islamic state.

"We have learned how to keep away from them and live a normal life in secret," said Amir Parviz Khorsandi, an 18-year-old student who sometimes sleeps overnight in the mountains. "It requires a bit of walking, but it's worth it."

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