Trip Start Nov 05, 2010
136Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Russell and Sadie`s apartment
You are American, I am Iranian.
We don’t know each other, but we talk together
and we understand each other perfectly.
The difference between you and your
is much bigger than the difference
between you and me.
And the difference between me and my government is
much bigger than the difference between me and you.
And our governments
are very much the same."
-- Marjane Satrapi
TEHRAN is the "Los Angeles" of IRAN.
We were really happy to go to Tehran. It was very exciting to see Russell and Sadie again, our friends that we hosted in Toronto two years earlier. As always when writing about Iran, we change people's names to protect their privacy.
Russell picked us up from a nearby metro station. We really liked his neighborhood. He lived in a maze of narrow streets that had street names written in English and Farsi. There were lots of bakeries, fresh fruit shops and convenience stores nearby. It was clean and there were lots of small parks. On the downside, the streets were too busy with cars that were parked on both sides of the lane-ways.
We were Russell and Sadie's first foreign guests in a very long time. They did not want to risk it since they were in the process of moving to Canada. Their apartment had the newest gadgets from North America, IPad, IPod, MacBook you name it. It felt like we were visiting a friends house back in Toronto with all the modern amenities.
Although one daily on-going challenge we had to deal with was filtered Internet. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Western news agencies, sights that had images of women showing too much hair or any references to Israel were blocked without mercy. Even the blog you
are reading right now was blocked. Local geeks have found a way around. First, using a VPN (Virtual private network) to a server outside Iran was an option. Second, a number of utilities such as “Your Freedom“ were freely distributed to Iranians by Western software companies. Those were by no means reliable methods and it took a considerable effort every day just to access forbidden sites. Don't even try to look at your Canadian bank account without risking a suspension of services as an alleged “sponsor of terrorism”. Internet cafes were routinely checked for VPN software installed on their computers to prevent antisocial and anti-Islamic activity such as browsing Facebook or Toronto Star news.
We were very excited to reconnect with our friends and Russell took us to a Jewelry Museum the next day. It was located in the basement of a government bank. After passing through three lines of security we had to surrender everything: bags, phones, keys and put them in a locker. This was one of a few museums in Iran that charged foreigners more than locals. However, the ticket included a free tour in English. The most interesting exhibits were gifts to Iranian Shahs from various monarchs of Europe and Asia as well as Indian diamonds, pearls and sapphires plundered by Nader Shah. No wonder why security was so tight.
We needed to get to a post office at one point. After making our way to the main road we realized that it was too hot. We took a bus for one stop. We could not stay together since the strict segregation of men and women was imposed. Sasha entered through the front of the bus but tried to stand as close to the women's section so he could keep an eye on Dasha. The post office was busy and hectic and the clerks did not speak any English. As usual in Iran, someone who did speak English came along and offered help. Our parcel was sent to Canada successfully.
It was time to take the Metro to the city centre. After strolling along a crowded and dirty main bazaar we took a taxi to the national museum. It was no Louvre but had a collection of exhibits spanning a period of over eight thousands years that included a replica of the Cyrus's cylinder, a first charter of human rights, while the original is in the British Museum. Only one floor was open and a building that housed artifacts from the Islamic period was closed for renovations. An outside garden was a nice place for lunch and water from a fountain was perfectly safe to drink.
Russell promised us a trip to the top of Tehran later that evening. The further north you go, the closer you are to the mountains. Climate in the north of the city was much cooler and streets were not as congested. We left around eight in the evening and the weather was bearable. Sasha played badminton for the first time in over twenty years with Russell and one of his friends named Sherman joined us. It took him sometime to hit a shuttlecock properly but he got a really good workout. His shoulder was sore for a while after the game. Sasha enjoyed the fact that this was a non competitive sport, no losers, no score, only winners. There were lots of lights and we could see a galaxy underneath us – the city of 15 million people.
Thousands of young people were hanging out at the top of the mountain, risking having encounters with “the fashion and the marriage police.“ There were lots of plain clothed police and militia officers looking for women wearing “bad hejabs” - pants that were too tight, exposed cleavages or, Allah forbid, showing too much hair. Additionally, police were spot checking young couples for their identity cards. In Iran, a name of a spouse is written in the bottom of a document and unmarried couples ran a risk of arrest. Thank goodness foreign couples were not subject to the same restrictions. We were safe, despite not having any documents certifying our marriage other than our wedding bands.
On the weekend, Russell and Sadie invited us to come to their cottage. It was an offer we could not refuse. We drove to the mountains for about two hours and the cottage was in a secluded location. Since we were on private property surrounded by a fence we could wear whatever we wanted to. There were eight of us at the country house. After a midnight meal we lied down on the floor and fell asleep. Upon waking up Sasha realized that “mafia” - a card role game from Russia where each player is assigned a role of a criminal, doctor or an ordinary citizen had
made it all the way across the Caspian sea. It was challenging since the narrator only spoke limited English but we made it work. After cards, it was time to take a tour of the garden and pick some cherries. Dasha's favorite were huge dark Mashhadi berries. As we picked, Sasha was telling his new friends about our time WWOOFing in Australia. They wished it would be easier to travel with Iranian passports. We could see Mt. Damavand from the property, the highest mountain in the Middle East, a conical volcano far bigger than Mt. Fuji.
We were invited to a private party for our last day in Tehran. Russell came up with an idea of starting a “shorts revolution”. He realized that it was ridiculous for man to wear long pants in 40 degrees centigrade for short hops across the street to buy some bread. We also noticed that body odor in public places such as the Tehran Metro was unbearable and discouraged people from taking transit. We did not want any trouble for his friends; however, Russell assured his that he will take full responsibility in wearing shorts. Both Sasha and Russell wore shorts to the party and the hosts were a bit surprised. Russell started his campaign on Facebook and other social media to urge Iranian men to wear shorts in public. He thought that victory was possible and we wish him all the success in his endeavor.
The party itself was truly a parallel universe. About ten people at the apartment were listening to pop artists based in Teherangeles (an Iranian name for LA) singing in Farsi and coming to nearby Dubai, Batumi and Yerevan to perform for the Iranian audience. Almost all artists were banned though everybody was listening to them openly. Some girls at the party were wearing mini-skirts and tank tops. Most people spoke English at the party. There was homemade booze served. We did not try it out since we were skeptical about the quality of the alcohol. One of the guys at the party got drunk and offered Sasha a toy typewriter to check his email. Sasha said he would use the toy typewriter to email Ahmadinejad and invite him to drop by that evening for a drink. It was all laughs.
Every day in Iran, we lead a double life. Western values coupled with Islamic laws.
We miss our personal freedom.