CNN Islamabad Correspondent
The tears came pouring. They belonged to a 29-year-old Iranian man who drove me to a story shoot. I’ll call him Amir to protect his identity. He started crying next to me in the car, midway through a song about Iran’s soccer team. “I cry every time I hear this,” he said.
Amir tells me Iran’s soccer team represents the freedom he and millions of young Iranians yearn for, a freedom to let loose, celebrate and scream in public, a freedom to dance, a freedom to hold a girlfriend’s hand on a city street, a freedom to follow dreams.
When the Iranian soccer team made it to the world cup in 2006, tens of thousands poured onto the streets of Tehran and danced. “There’s a lot of emotion built up inside,” said Amir, “we need to let it out. Soccer is how we let it out.”
Amir’s tears reminded me how different my life could’ve been. I was born in Iran but left with my family when I was 10. We took a few suitcases and started a new life in Philadelphia. That same year both Amir and Iran’s Islamic Revolution were born. Amir never left. He grew up with the revolution. They’re the same age.
The revolution changed everything in Iran.
An increasingly westernized and modern country suddenly had women wearing hijabs. Men were forbidden from drinking. Violators sometimes paid the price with beatings by police. To many, Iran’s revolution created the perfect model for an Islamic state.
Today millions of visitors a year still visit Imam Khomeini’s shrine just outside Tehran. To them, he was Iran’s savior from the poisons of western culture. To others the Islamic revolution brought a regime that stifled individuality, self-expression and personal freedom.
Thirty years after I left, I’m thrilled to be back in Iran. I love the country I was born in more than ever, but I’m saddened to meet so many young Iranians who tell me they haven’t been able to follow their dreams. Yet they still find ways to express themselves and release pent up feelings. Women do it with designer sunglasses and shoes. Men do it by blasting hip-hop from their car stereos. My new friend Amir does it with tears to a soccer song.
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