PART IV: Lie if you want to survive

Two months later, when we were sent back to Tehran, I had become a First Lieutenant Doctor with three stars on my shoulder.

I was appointed as the doctor at the Corps 10 clinic in the Army of Revolutionary Guards. However, before I could begin, I was sent to set up the clinic in a desert outside Tehran where a huge military manoeuvre was about to take place. I was settled in the clinic, a military tent, with an assistant called Goudarz from Lorestan who barely spoke Persian. For 10 days, I saw no one other than Goudarz. I had no news from the outside world, no books to read and absolutely nothing to do. I was bored stiff by the end of the third day, reduced to counting the minutes and hours, willing time to pass. Slowly I got used to it and began to take notice of the world around me. I had never had a chance to get to know the world of nature; now I spent my time walking in the desert or lying on the ground, looking up at the stars, trying to make out the constellations. I tried to observe the smallest living creatures and soon I realized that, despite the lifeless appearance of the desert, it was teeming with life.

This solitude gave me an opportunity to distil my life’s experiences, make sense of all my thoughts. I had seen a lot, much more than I was supposed to have seen by the age of 25. I had too many scars on my soul, which I had spent most of my time trying to ignore. Now was my chance to stop escaping and began to embrace who I really was. We made tea and drank it together, my assistant and I, and we improvised different types of food while we counted the number of scorpions that constantly crawled past our tent.

Before the launch of the manoeuvres, the scorpions didn’t bother us. My assistant used to catch them, kill them and dry their poisonous tails under the burning desert sun. Then he would crush them and turn them into a powder, which he smoked with great pleasure. He said scorpions’ tails had a more powerful hallucinogenic effect than hashish and far greater sedative powers than opium. He strongly recommended I try some. Despite my curiosity and keenness to try something new in those days when nothing changed and nothing happened, I refused. I was happy with my cigarettes and determined not to get addicted to the pleasures of drugs. By the time they finished their military service, half the conscripts ended up with some sort of drug addiction that would accompany them for life.

However, no sooner had the manoeuvres begun than the scorpions grew aggressive; my solitude and longing for adventure was overwhelmed by the number of soldiers I had to treat for scorpion bites. I was out of corticosteroids in a day. Had the scorpions been of a lethal variety, we would have been left with a lot of dead bodies on our hands. Instead of thinking of their military duties, the soldiers were hunting scorpions! And the scorpions decided to resist rather than surrender their euphoria-inducing tails without a fight.

On the last day of the manoeuvres, Ayatollah Khamenei came to the camp and visited the clinic. He greeted the men kindly and praised their courage in the course of these manoeuvres. I tried hard not to smile as I imagined his reaction when he came to know that these ‘brave’ soldiers were suffering not from war injuries but from scorpion bites!

I was introduced to the Supreme Leader as a ‘brilliant doctor’ working hard to help the injured soldiers. He greeted me and held out his cheek. In the anxiety of being kissed by the Supreme Leader, I put my hand on his right shoulder. Suddenly, an electric shock ran through my body and I was thrown back. It took me a few seconds before I realized what had happened. Then I saw the face of his bodyguard who was wagging his finger at me, motioning ‘No, no, no.’

That was my one and only encounter with Ayatollah Khamenei and it ended in my being almost electrocuted. I didn’t know then what kind of device his bodyguard had used on me; later, I discovered it had been a powerful taser.

A quite different meeting from my mystical encounter with his predecessor, Imam Khomeini.