KISH, CHRISTMAS EVE 2015. Thirty or so men and women have gathered in a dimly lit restaurant to celebrate. They sit around large tables, singing freely and loudly along to Tagalog songs playing from a karaoke TV mounted on the wall. They feast on an alcohol-free dinner of fried noodles, sweet-and-sour chicken and salad. They are oblivious to the food and its quality – which though good, might bare only a slight resemblance to the home-cooked meals of the country they have left behind. But this is the best they can get under the circumstances. In this restaurant, the women can even let their scarves fall to their shoulders, and those who hide the taboo of their punishable homosexuality beyond the doors can be open here in the company of their friends and those close to them. A Christmas tree lights up the centre of the restaurant with pink and purple fairy lights.
This is the closest they will get to celebrating Christmas in this country. Two pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei, the nation’s past and present supreme leaders, mounted on the wall near the entrance as part of the permanent (and almost obligatory) fixture of any public space, sternly preside over them. A reminder that they are in the Islamic Republic of Iran – in case anyone forgets.
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