The year is 1977, and the Shah has just arrived in the United States to meet with President Jimmy Carter. Because there were so few Iranians in the U.S. at the time, many of them—including Kazem and his family—are invited to go to the White House to welcome the Shah. Kazem decides to bring his family, minus his two sons, who are concerned about the anti-Shah demonstrators at the White House.
Many working-class Iranians in America went to the White House in 1977 to greet the Shah. At the time, the Shah was a widely despised leader, since he was seen as being corrupt and overly loyal to the U.S. As a result, many people demonstrated outside the White House during his visit.
Firoozeh and her family stay in a hotel with many other Iranian-Americans. At the White House, Firoozeh is delighted to see thousands of tiny Iranian flags planted in the lawn. She asks her parents to help her gather thirty flags to give to her classmates. But soon, Firoozeh and her parents notice the hundreds of masked demonstrators gathered outside the White House, condemning the Shah. Some of the demonstrators become violent after the Shah arrives, and many Iranian guests are injured—however, Kazem and his family “ran and ran and ran.” They approach a police officer and beg him to take them back to their hotel safely, but the officer says, “That’s not my job.” In the end, they buy the first bus tickets they can find. The bus takes them on a tour of D.C. monuments.
Firoozeh contrasts the innocence of her desire to “pick” flags for her classmates with the danger and hostility of the anti-Shah demonstrators. Like many passages in the book that could be interpreted as sad or even frightening, this passage uses humor to lighten the tone. One interesting comedic technique that Firoozeh uses here is bathos, the technique of suddenly switching the mood. Here, the sudden transition from a chase scene to a banal tour bus is strange, surprising, and amusing.
Later, when Kazem and his family return to their hotel, they see other Iranian guests with their arms in slings. Demonstrators have sent threatening notes to the hotel, claiming, “We are going to blow you up.” Kazem realizes he’s dropped the tiny flags, and apologizes to Firoozeh. Firoozeh says, “That’s okay. We can always go back.”
Even after she sees the damage the demonstrators have caused, Firoozeh, who’s still too young to understand why they’re demonstrating, innocently claims that she and her family can just go back to the White House lawn. She seems not to understand the danger they faced (or how rare it is to be invited to the White House). Although Firoozeh doesn’t discuss it, demonstrators continued to protest the Shah for many months, decrying what they saw as a corrupt alliance between American economic interests and the Shah’s political decisions.