This year’s holiday started with an unexpected stop in Köln, Germany, as it is one of a few airports that refuel Iranian planes in Europe. Other countries (except for Austria perhaps) don’t deliver fuel anymore because of the sanctions. I noticed that for all the passengers it was an unexpected surprise, Iran Air hadn’t let anyone know about this in advance.
Entering Iran was (as usual) a quite relaxed experience. I was quite surprised that nothing was checked, even though it didn’t happen in earlier years, but I was expecting more security this time. After we got our luggage, we were watched by some “guards” who told us to declare our luggage (we had a TV for my mother in law) but when we gave the cart to a cousin and left without passing the “goods to declare”, it wasn’t even noticed. I had, as a precaution chosen to not take any political motivated pictures / films to Iran, but I could have easily done that, as nobody ever asked a thing (on the way INTO the country. The way out was quite a different experience, but I will get to that. Though even then no-one asked for our photos or films.)
What I always notice in Iran, are the people (and children) working on the streets. Selling flowers at traffic-stops, selling fliers with verses from Hafiz (also many children), handing out fliers with commercials for businesses on shopping malls and streets. The working kids (and adults) can’t be missed; at every large intersection they are selling flowers and other stuff. Also you can see women with babies on their arms begging for money or food. Some kids sell small “prints” with pieces of poems of Hafiz, some will sit somewhere in a street, put a scale before them and passers-by can weigh themselves and give some money to the kid.
I keep noticing how few people even seem to notice these kids and adult beggars anymore.
One day, we had been to a cemetery in Tehran (Ghale Hassan Khan), where we had a ceremony. (Explanation for non-Persians: During such a ceremony friends and family come to the cemetery, there will be prayers, and fruits and halwa are given away to people that are in the area, usually there are some old men on the cemetery that will come to graves that are being visited, and they will say some prayers and are being paid some money for that as well)
After the ceremony we left the cemetery, on the parking lot was a young boy (about 9) and he only had one arm and one stump. All the women started saying out loud how sad it was, and how terrible, but no one actually gave him anything. I think people are getting numb, as they see these things every day again and again. It desensitizes. Especially as there are so many kids like this.
For the people that do have jobs, life isn’t necessarily easy as well. The wages are usually low and they work many hours (depending on the work they do). Many shops open at 8 or 9 AM and close around 9 or 10 PM. Often it is the same person working all day. Prices keep going up and even though many things are VERY cheap, it is exactly the things needed to provide in day to day life that keep getting more expensive, such as food. For example, a kilo meat (sheep) costs about 17 Euros. I don’t actually remember the price of eggs, but I remember they went up twice when we were there (3 weeks). Cigarettes went up 37% on our last day. Also gasoline is going to be more expensive. These are just a few examples!
Also people can expect to be surprised by a day of wages being taken off their pay check. Asked why, they will be told that the money will be sent to (in this case) Pakistan, for relief. Another month it was for Palestine.
As we were driving through the streets, we wondered aloud how come, that so much money is being sent to Muslim brothers in other countries, when at the same time our own brothers and their kids are trying to survive in the streets of Tehran. Aren’t they Muslim brothers? Apparently not!
One thing I was very surprised about is that on-line I keep reading about the tightened rules regarding clothes and make up. The last decade though, with every visit to Iran I have seen the manteaus getting shorter, the head-scarves gone further back and way more make up in public.
However, I don’t want to make the mistake to judge the freedom in Iran only by the way people look in the streets. This might seem to implicate more freedom, yet it’s only superficial freedom, as I call it. So, maybe you can go out looking like that, it surely can have influence on your life. You might for example not be able to get the job you want, like my cousin. She applied for a job as a teacher and they sent her letter, stating that they had seen her outside and she had been wearing “too much make up and too tight and short a manteau”. If this is true is a second, but as you see, it is being used as an excuse to not hire females or decide to take on other females. So much for freedom.
So, this shows that, even if you can walk around like that, there may always be consequences later on.
And off course, if you do have the “bad luck” to walk into a “chastity patrol”, you will be warned or taken to the police station. Unfortunately you never know when and where they will “strike”.
I also noticed that, in spite of a ban on satellite-receivers and dishes, there are many throughout the country. They are usually on the rooftops and to be honest, reception of Iranian state-TV is for some reason a lot better via satellite than we could get it with antenna, so it is also in their own favor, as many people watch Iranian state – TV also via satellite. To counter this, they will change the frequencies every once in a while. But I had expected all the dishes to be gone between now and two years ago (my last visit) but that wasn’t the case. People hide them and take them out again when the periodical checks are done with.
We also visited a few Internet cafes (coffee-net) and I noticed we weren’t obliged to identify ourselves anywhere. We could just tell them we wanted a PC and they’d show us one. They even brought us a drink, which is more than you can expect at the Internet café’s in my area, lol. And much cheaper.
Another thing I did for the first time this year, was buying a dog with my sister in law. She is the only one in the family to have a dog and not everyone is happy about that. Most people find dogs (and cats) “dirty” “zeshte” (bad) and “haram”. Though I should say that on the street many (young) people reacted quite well. The way it went, how we happened to buy the dog, was that one day we were at Ekbatan (shopping mall) and we walked by some kids who were working for a shop that sold animals. They were out, showing a dog, kind of walking it and in the meanwhile they’d refer everyone who liked the dog, to the shop.
My sister in law had had a dog before but it had been stolen (that appears to happen quite often in Tehran) and she had been without dog for many years. Now she decided she wanted another one.
As we entered the shop, we saw many fish, rabbits etc., and four dogs, kept in small benches. We chose one and decided to come back the next day. The price was 300.000 Tuman. The next day when we came back, suddenly the price was 400.000 Tuman, lol. We didn’t go for that and eventually we took it for a good price.
What really surprised me however, was to see the reaction of people on the dog. People that had visited us in Europe, who had no problem whatsoever with our dog, were now `deadly scared` of this little puppy (12 weeks old), in my opinion only because they were “supposed to be scared”. I had the feeling that it was really a matter of people disliking the dog, because they feel that they should, in order to be a good (Iranian) Muslim.
Or maybe they really are scared, which I find really hard to believe. Anyway, even the people that I had perceived as “tolerant” all of a sudden talked of dogs being “haram” or “zeshte” according to Qu’ran etc… Remarkable.
Off course, we have had many meetings with family members and friends, and the questions people asked us, were most of the kind as to why the world is not stepping in to help the Iranian people. Some even went so far as to say that they wouldn’t even mind military intervention. Anything to get rid of this regime. It’s very obvious that many people are getting more and more fed up with this regime, but many have been successfully scared by the regime’s crackdown.
Isfahan: Si-o-Seh Pol
So, during our stay we had a nice time, we encountered absolutely no problems whatsoever, we drank tequila and whiskey, we danced, we laughed, we visited a wedding, did some tourist stuff (mainly in Isfahan) and we had a great time. Due to lack of time we were not able to do any of the things we had planned, as we couldn’t find a way to do that, without putting our family at risk.
Unfortunately, the time to leave always comes way to fast, so after going through the ordeal of packing our bags, we had a goodbye-party and left for the Airport. Off course you can’t go to the airport without passing by the strategically placed burial place of Khomeini. It’s unbelievable and I think even HARAM, his shrine is as big as, or maybe even bigger than the one for Imam Reza in Mashhad.
I have to say that this shrine is also the one thing I REFUSE to visit whenever I visit my family, but you have to pass it on the way to the airport.
Anyway, from the moment we entered the airport, there was more police than during my three weeks stay in Iran. When you enter the departures hall, you have to go through a body-check, one for the women and one for the men (they didn’t check me) and the bags go through the scan. Behind this, you take your bags back, and go to the check-in.
After the check-in, you get your boarding card and you have to get in line for the check to get into transit.
Behind the counter was the prototype of a Basiji, you could just see it. At this moment we knew we were going to be mangled, but we couldn’t change lines, as it was the only line for “foreigners”. We could have gone to the Iranian line, but when you only have an Iranian passport, you have to pay some tax, which is 50.000 Tuman per person. We didn’t want to pay this, so we went with “foreigners”.
So we were waiting in line and he was taking his time with everyone, really looking to find a problem. There were three people in line before us, a Chinese-looking guy at the counter and an Iranian woman with her little girl, also double nationality, so you would expect to be helped rather fast… NOT! He walked away with the guy’s passport and stayed away for 15 minutes. When he finally came back, he asked some more things and then let the guy finally go.
Next in line was the Iranian woman with her girl. He really checked her passport thoroughly and made her lift the child, instead of getting up to look at her. It was very obvious that he was feeling very superior. Anyway, he let her go too, after about 10 minutes.
Then we were up.
We neared the counter and he said to my husband: “Who’s that?” My husband said, “My wife”.
Then he started asking about when my husband had left Iran, and how… Where had he gotten his passport, and after naming the city, he said “Where in that city?” (As if we could get it anywhere else than in the embassy.) And back to when my husband left Iran and why and how and where and when (again)…. He kept asking the same things in different ways. He was really disrespectful. When he saw my Iranian passport and found out we were married he said: “bah bah, che aali….”
But in a tone of voice that I am certain all Iranians will know what I mean. Really disrespectful and sarcastic.
Tehran: Imam Khomeini Airport
He was giving us a hard time about our passports and tried to get his superior to agree to the fact that there was something wrong with my husbands passport (which is untrue). At that moment we really thought it was done. He looked really hard every page and every line of text, checking the watermarks, looking at the numbers etc. Then he turned to his superior and said: “There is surely something wrong with this passport, isn’t it?!” With a wink, that nasty kind of wink…
Thank God, his superior was not in the mood, or maybe he was just a “normal” person as opposed to this `über/basij`, so after studying the passport for another 20 minutes, he let us go.
When you are in transit, and you go to boarding, there’s another check. Here they checked me too and the bags went trough the scan again. After passing this check (this was the third time you show your passport, you go to your “exit” (plane) and you have to show your passport for the fourth time. Here we were asked some questions again, but not very thoroughly. Then you walk to the bus to drive you to the plane, and right in front of the bus there are two big cars with blinded windows from Sepah. Just a reminder to let you know that you’re not safe until take off, when they are looking for you.
Anyway, that’s in a nutshell what really stuck in mind. And off course our “luck” of going to Isfahan, wanting to visit the bazaar and find out they are on a strike and after returning to Tehran, wanting to exchange and sell some gold and finding the gold-sellers to be on strike. They didn’t stop striking until we left, so we’ll do that next time.
I want to thank anyone reading this for reading. If you have any questions, please ask. I will answer them as good as I can. I know I have forgotten things or left them out, to not make a too long story.
Also I want to ask your (continued) support for Iran.
The political prisoners, Human Right Lawyers and Activists and Labor Activists all need our support in their struggle for a free and democratic Iran.
Note: Most of the photos above are by the author, published here with her permission.