Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
Trip End Jul 15, 2012

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Where I stayed
Chez Nazli

Flag of Iran  ,
Friday, August 29, 2008

After 2 nights in a skanky hotel in the middle of the dusty, polluted spare car-parts district of southern Tehran, we seized the opportunity to take Nazli up on her kind offer and gave her a call. Luckily she sounded delighted and two hours later we moved our clobber into her ground floor flat in central Tehran, far away from the gear boxes and spare tyres.

Ramadan started 2 days into our stay with Nazli - we were planning on taking part but Tom whipped up some yummy scrambled eggs and mushrooms that morning, so we didn't get off to a good start! We then spent the next few days getting up stupidly early to run around the city like nutters sorting out our Pakistani and Indian visas. This proved very draining and would not have been possible on empty stomachs (have to justify our hopeless attempts at fasting).

The month of Ramadan is another bizarre paradox in this country - 90% of people I spoke to in Tehran were not fasting. They told me life continued as normal in the privacy of their own homes, offices and shops. Throughout Ramadan it is not permitted to eat, drink or smoke in public during sunlight hours, in order to show respect for the holy lot, who seem to be in the minority here. I saw quite a few rebels breaking the rules by scoffing sandwiches down side streets or munching ice-creams behind newspapers (us included). However the rules are more relaxed for tourists and some hotel restaurants remain open during the day to feed fading foreigners.

Saying that, it was bloody hard finding food in Tehran thanks to the sheer size of the city and the lack of anything decent on offer. It is a vast, incredibly hectic place, and the driving is out of this world. There are never more than 3 inches between the car behind, in front or to the side, and a majority of these are the awful environment-damaging Paykans. Thankfully they have ceased production but there are still several million old models circulating around the city. The pollution levels in Tehran are truly suffocating.

It is amazing how much resentment and bad feeling there is towards the Iranian government. Everyone we have spoken to have said they want change, freedom and a new liberal government. Sky TV is amongst many other things illegal, but a lot of people break the laws. The police sometimes do checks and anyone caught with a satellite dish is sent to jail. Before the 1979 Revolution everything was different, people were much freer and one lady told me she wore a mini skirt into university everyday. Then a tyrant called Khomeini came into power and amongst other things reduced the age a girl could marry to 9... He also encouraged women to have at least 6 or 7 children so combined with few job opportunities, there is now massive unemployment amongst the younger generation.

In 1997 a moderate, reform minded man called Khatemi won the presidency and hopes were high that much of his promised social and economic liberalisation would be carried out. However the very conservative Guardian Council made up of 12 members - 6 Muslim clerics & 6 Islamic jurists appointed by Supreme Leader Khameini - (different former president with similar sounding name to both Khomeini and Khatemi) did their best to stop this reform and vetoed a third of the more daring pieces of legislation, thus preventing change.

Reformist intellectuals were assassinated, liberal minded newspapers closed and students beaten for protesting. Once again the public lost faith and became disillusioned that change would come from Khatemi's reform agenda. Many reformist candidates were barred from running in the 2004 elections, consequently few Iranians voted and the conservatives were swept back into power.

One of the many problems is that the people are too scared to protest publicly for fear of their lives...so they rebel in private amongst their trusted friends. Change will be slow. It is really fascinating learning about the politics, religion and beliefs of the Middle East, especially Iran. A lot of the people are very bright and educated and incredibly hospitable. We have been bought so many meals and taxi rides plus everything is really cheap so we are living on an average of 10 a day, (not bad for the overall budget). A litre of diesel costs just 0.9p (yes, that is less than a penny!!).

Nazli turned out to be a real gem - a 27yr old rebellious, down-to-earth new-age hippy with a very kind heart. Four years ago she spent time in Afghanistan assisting a medical team and is now a self-employed French teacher learning German, Russian and the accordion. One afternoon we accompanied her and boyfriend Nima to a modern art exhibition in an affluent northern part of Tehran. The artists (friends of Nazli), were taking a great risk in displaying their installations as free expression and creativity are forbidden in Iran, so it was a knock and slip through the front door quickly affair.

The exposition was held in an old, dis-used building which would soon be converted into expensive flats and us girls were free to remove our headscarves, (hurray!) It was an enlightening afternoon and we saw some really innovative work, but I felt sad that in the 21st century these intelligent young people are living in a society where they are prohibited from publically expressing themselves...

That evening Nazli held a little soiree at her place and invited 10 friends over. The girls stripped off down to strappy tops and jeans after entering the flat and headscarves were flung to the ground. (Naturally they kitted themselves up when it was time to leave). Her friends spoke good English and they were a bright bunch of teachers plus one political activist who had spent time in prison for revolting during his student years. We all tucked into a delicious dish of chicken and rice with barberries, whilst Tom faced the highly exciting option of ordering a vegetable pizza, (the Iranian cuisine does not cater for vegetarians but he liked the pizza). Nima produced a bottle of whiskey and a merry time was had by all, chatting and drinking until the early hours.

The Pakistani visas took longer than expected so we ended up staying at Nazli's flat for nine nights in total. It was a great experience and a real eye-opener. Thanks Nazli, you rock!

When we weren't running around dodging mullahs, sitting on segregated buses (women at the back) and trying to sort visas, we spent our time with two lovely London lads who we had previously met in Beirut. Alby and Alex left the UK last February, heading for Nepal in Alby's enormous orange Land Rover/tank. They dropped down into north Africa and travelled through the Sahara for 2 months with another Land Rover occupied by 2 mates who are just as barmy. They have kindly said we can hitch a ride with them through the rest of Iran into Pakistan. A fine example of British hospitality!

One evening the four of us were feeling so parched for a cold pint of beer we decided to go to an Armenian restaurant which the guidebook suggested had alcohol. No such luck. The location was peaceful, the food was great but the beer was 0,0%. Godammit. I guess it's harder to smuggle beer across the border because, unlike spirits, it can't be disguised in water bottles.

There is nothing spectacular about Tehran other than the traffic and the smog (and the Anti-American murals on the walls of the former U.S Embassy or 'US Den of Espionage' as it is called in Iran!), so many travellers choose to avoid the capital, but our time there was made enjoyable thanks to Nazli and our new English pals.
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chinadaniel on

What a motor!
Where in Allah's Earth did they get that?

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