Months 2 & 3 of 80: IRAN :
Despite many warnings from several sources, Iran proves a great and safe country to visit. SUPERfriendly people, eager to make contact (from a shy hello, to long talks without reference to politics), and more: so far the gifts include fruit, bread, free guides, offers to come and drink tea and /or take the lunch in their house…(1).
Irak may be close by, Afghanistan and Pakistan even closer (in the opinion of Europeans): Iran and its people are very open and really welcome us as friends (remark: I do stress we come from Belgium!). Some ask us to take a picture of them, very rare are those (and then only the lonely local ‘touaregs’) that give a ‘warning’ with voice or eye.
Also: a very cheap country except for dairy products or typical European food; this is however largely compensated for by the extremely cheap diesel at Rial 165/l (or 1,5 eurocent/l).
But also a chaotic country: traffic may have rules but hardly anyone follows them, not even in front of the (very) present police. Soon you adopt this free drivingstyle, pushing your way (and it helps driving a large LandCruiser : hardly anyone risks a contact with our car); but in some cities most drivers (not the taxis however) are somewhat afraid and/or that friendly that we always seem to be ahead of traffic. In smaller villages, and certainly in areas where tourists are hardly encountered, many scooters and cars stop and then come back to visit this strange car risking its way in their streets.
Thanks to the ever present police a safe country: we were stopped once in a while (pure curiosity) by traffic (or) local police, but also on several occasions after dawn had to explain what we were doing there (it must be said, with our 4X4 we liked to stop in nature or desolate streets in cities) : so far we had the pleasure to see from the inside 3 police stations, the last one with free delicious dates from Bam served with tea and sugar by the military on duty within these police stations; and were escorted several kilometers over a desert ‘piste’ (even when we were still +300km west of Afghanistan/Pakistan’s drugs infected mafia base) with 2 soldiers armed with machineguns in the back of the Toyota HiLux pickup.
On another occasion the policeman very carefully approached our car armed with his revolver and torch, and only after I shone my torch in his face he shouted ‘police’. Again two soldiers with machineguns tried to make their point: ‘this is dangerous, very; guns, bandits!’, and passports were requested. English was not his best language so he called in the services of a local teacher English who presented himself as the sheriff, but with continuous smiling and making jokes, the ice was soon melting also thanks to the hot tea served.
At the end of the very friendly Q&A session, the ‘sheriff’ explained there might be dangerous animals (previously called bandits with guns by the policeman), and kindly asked us to stay either in front of the policestation or he’d escort us to a safe spot next to a busy petrolstation.
Talking of which: the petrolstations equipped with diesel are rare, so we tanked every 2 à 300km, inspite of our 2nd tank we didn’t risk it to fall without. Where in the North they always charged more than needed by simply not returning the change (if they wanted to serve us at all, they filled just 40 à 50 liters, then simply stopped the counter), south of Teheran it was back to normal. But always they were really astonished we needed diesel stead of petrol, and so also there we were the ‘talk of the day’.
BTW: if ever you need money in Iran, take a few mountainbikes on the back of your car: we could have sold them easily at least already 15 times by now!
And lastly, a country of contrasts:
- apartheid is in every day use for women. The buses come with separate entrances and seats at the back. Headscarfs are necessary, and the older than 30 really sometimes burry their face. And yet: in a very local desert community a woman of +50 with a sharp and high voice explained us the way, and forgot to use her scarf. Or : 4 teenagers , seldom less than 2 together dare to talk to me, a man. When then they took a picture of the group with me, I in return took the group on my digital camera. Against their old-fashioned Yashica, my digital wondercamera with powerful 420mm zoom lens immediately could show them the result. And at the Teheran airport, a young scarfed woman even spontaneously started to talk to me, beit in Farsi. So we stopped after a few ‘na’ and yes and flight and delay’s talk.
- pollution: litter everywhere, especially ‘plastik’ handbags; streams are not for bathing in; hot-springs are spoiled by garbage all over the place; the air in Teheran is smog, hence the occasional mouth mask. The stinking oil refineries next to the seacoast in the Persian Gulf, the thick clouds of smog of any industry in the country. And yet, beautiful nature, +5000m high snow covered mountains… But the desert clearly shows an ever present dust clouds propelled by the wind.
- car mechanics seems to be the profession for the coming years: more and more motorbikes (from Iranian make to freshly imported Yamaha and Honda 125cc) are being sold; the bulk of the car park consists of either local brand SAIPA, else imported or co-manufactured Peugeot. Add to that the ages old R5s, Mercedes 180s and old Chevys and Buicks occasionally able to function (still), it is a pure need that each entrance to a city or town large or (very) small has a line up of small, poorly equipped ‘garages’ for servicing. Lots of goodwill and great improvisation are the best tools here. Taxis of the still produced Sapehs of the early 70models tend to give up once fully loaded, and the poor taximan developing muscles to get his bloody ‘machine’ out of the zooming traffic chaos.
- water is scarce, but well used; famous are the ‘qanats’, a century old system of handdug underwater irrigation channels 5 to 10 meter underground, just wide enough for 1 small (well paid) guy to dig or service the canal. Every 15 à 20 meters the ‘mole’ surfaces to evacuate the ground. Equally famous: the cisterns built in each village, still well maintained even now there is more water via huge dams; the cisterns in the southern part of the country are often cooled by windtowers, also used in larger ancient palaces to cool the air for the inhabitants; and yet, unfortunately, it leaks everywhere. Still, when cleaning the car, a tradesman stopped by and said that ‘ab’ is for drinking, not to clean the car. And yet: 2 meters further local taxis and buses also were cleaning with ‘ab’. In the same context one must see the free water available in the street of (older) villages: old jars with a tap and a mug for those thirsty ‘en route’.
The same ab is essential for the Islamic washing of hands-,feet etc before entering the mosque for praying. In Esfehan you could watch the Islamic school training those who will be unable for a longer period to assist praying: here they learn to perfect all handlings, essential at least once a month for cleaning ritually before praying at the mosque. After all Mohammed had more of these ideas to prevent diseases spreading: hence the ‘no porkmeat’, or else: the hamman for those ages before modern freezers respectably baths invaded the homes.
- Apart from hello and bye, the occasional guy knows also ‘I love you’. Youngsters often approach and want to shake hands, or invite over for a talk ‘sharpening the few words they know, some with more success than others. One soldier doing his service at the park police in Teheran’s ChitigarPark pops in occasionally to talk in real good English. Also the occasional engineer having studied in the USA stops by to chat. Most people seem to recognize not Belgium, but Belgique or Belgiquia.
- Iranians seem to be happy and content with their rapidly developing nation. In smaller villages and in the desert areas or mountains, especially where tourists seem to be rare, and the road indications but in Farsi (read from the right, try to recognize the first letter, and chances are you find it), time stood still. Our LandCruiser alias mobilhome really is rare in the outback, so it IS difficult to get by without gaining the looks of all , kids and women included. In 1 village at the desert, half of the male population was present to show us their ‘BAM’: the old village of Keshit include palaces, fortresses and mosques devastated by earthquakes and time. A very interesting tour, I took some 100 pictures. At the end of the 90+ minutes sightseeing they invited over for dinner; and refused any payment. Better, they all jumped on a motorbike or two-three, halted the available pickup and, escorted by male and females of the entire village we were put in the right direction of the piste. No wonder the police at the next town were really astonished we came their way. It took a half hour or so in the policestation to friendly state we were tourists, not being drugdealers, nor gun-salesmen. But they instead escorted us with machineguns to the next big town, of course ‘for your safety :it is our pleasure.’
- As opposed to some African countries, poor as they are, villagers never seemed hostile, kids never threw stones. On the contrary, young and old waved, smiled, and shouted ‘hello how are you’. Only once a mad guy managed to scare us off at night, and whilst returning on the tarmac, he slung a stone almost right into our sidewindow. This could have ended worse than the 3 scars on the car! But so far, it was the only incident.
- 6.800kms on Irans good roads (except local roads in mountains) led us from Zorroastrian and Firetemples; Rocky village and Abeyabad ‘s mud village and beautiful desert dunes to ancient Unesco-sponsored Persepolis (destroyed by/during Alexander the Great’s visit), and Darius’ basreliefs. Plenty of splendid mosques, palaces, mausoleums and bazaars, fortresses and caravanserails invite for great pictures…
- Everything for everyones taste: from any exotic fruit you can imagine to sweet biscuits and specialities at Qom, else Isfehan or more sweets at Shiraz; abundant history, culture, nature, people, and most of all: colors. From fantastic blue or turquoise tiles and all kind of mosaic covering mosques, to dresses of local villagers such as in Abeyabad or desertvillages; spices or silk scarfs in the many authentic bazaars; the fascinating green/blue boiling water around, in and under the old watermills at Shustar, or the green/yellow/brown fine green dust that greets you in the Dickinsonian work conditions at the henna-mills in Yazd; the dark-brown camels in the light-beige desert against the green of palm tree covered oasis, against the light or darker or more reddish brown mud-bricks of the old villages; the harsh grey sculpted griffins and beautiful statues and sculptures at Persepolis; the finest carpets in silk with age old patterns and motives, or the simple yet bright warm colored coats made for imams from sheep or camel/sheep hair and which only a handful of craftsmen can weave in Nain; and rock coloured bas-reliefs or Kings’s tombs of the time of Xerxes; the orange sunset in the Lut-desert against the fading greencoloured tamaris; the bronze sculptured doors when you enter the cave of the Zorroastrian Fire Temple at ChekChek; the fresh white of the sugar cones that are showpieces in simplicity, and the colorful sweet (honey) desserts; bright panels and fascinating paintings, and warm colored glass windows of old palaces; the glowing red yellow white black orange ‘rocky’ mountains, the illuminated caves at Ali Sadr or the blue sea of the Persian Gulf against the dunes and palm trees or the autumn leaves against snow; the all-reflecting 1001 mirrors in ceiling, walls, floor at Daniel’s and others’ tombs; and (most of the time) this warm bright sun creating deep shadows (we’re in November with temperatures ranging from 12 to 29°C) and happy faces allover.
- Wat voelt/ziet de toerist niet :een volk en land gedomineerd door olie, arabieren, geloof, vrouwen of …? nomaden vinden het beschamend dat ze nooit naar school kunnen, met de vinger worden gewezen, niet met vrouwen mogen spreken op straat, achtervolgd worden door milities en in elkaar worden geslagen of in de gevangenis belanden; de Armeense minderheid in de Jolfa-wijk in Esfehan krijgt daarentegen privileges die de gewone man vrouw afgunstig zouden moeten stemmen: zij mogen dansen, in het openbaar kussen, Kerstdag vieren, maar hun prachtige, met fresco’s overladen Vank kathedraal moet het zonder subsidies stellen; volgens de ene is de huidige regering volledig arabisch getint, en enkel belust op macht en geld (een der ayatollahs zou het met maar liefst tien vrouwen stellen), en hun voorzitter enkel met de mond spreken over vooruitgang maar weinig concreets (kunnen) doen; volgens anderen zijn het de vrouwen die de broek aanhebben, en onmisbaar zijn, en die weinigen die de lange studies aankunnen, op behoorlijke posities geraken en allicht iets kunnen doen voor de vrouw; anderzijds, in de steden rijden veel jonge vrouwen met de auto of volgen rijles, terwijl op het platteland de vrouw overal meehelpt, in de bouw van het huis, op het veld, …; ondertussen worden af en toe jongelui van school gehaald of van het werk, al dan niet met betaling, om het televisienieuws te stofferen voor een Hitelerjugendachtige mars met opruiende donderpreken: met vaandels, haarbanden en vlaggen met leuzen domineren ze het straatbeeld, om de wereld kond te doen dat het hele volk hen graag als martelaar/krijgsvlees zou offeren mocht het nodig zijn; terwijl aan de andere kant van de stad, enkele uren vroeger of later, een amateur-artist in het rijke artiestenteahouse (met grootbeeld HIFI DVD uitgerust, smaakvolle decoratie en design-meubels) enthousiast live pianomuziek speelt, van Chopin tot eigen composities. De toerist met artistieke interesse kan hier terecht voor heerlijke chocoladecake en koffie of tee, of heerlijke fruitmilkshakes en andere rozenwater’likeur’: de jonge initiatiefnemers hopen dat ze het mogen kunnen volhouden. De leerkracht die voor zijn 30-urige week amper 200$ per maand opstrijkt, waarvan minstens de helft naar huishuur van een 50m²-flatje, laat het niet aan zijn hart komen: een paar maal per week komen ze samen na de lesuren om met een groepje van tien te gaan joggen, of voor een heerlijke barbq in een park. Na 30 jaar werk krijgen ze , net als andere gepensioneerden – hun zelfde salaris uitbetaald tot de laatste dag. Andere sociale voorzieningen zijn er echter nauwelijks.
Waterpipes and tea; girls and boys:
- in particular in the first half of our time, due to Ramazan (Ramadan in Persian) we were limited to our own cooking and tea-making ceremony. After the last prayers occasionally we ate in Iranian restaurants, sitting on wooden banks with thick carpets and cushions. Later on we made up for this feastingperiod at the picturesque teahouses in the old hammams of Kashan, where the apple or orange taste of waterpipes creates pictures you can keep dreaming of.
- Some remarks we noted from Iranian: ‘in ChitgarPark, (only) there it is allowed for girls to bike’(a young computerfreak); ‘at home, we can forget about the scarf’(a young female teacher English); ‘it is a shame that young men of 30+ or women of same agegroup are still not able to marry’ (a 32 year old nomad); ‘european women think of love completely differently than Iranian young men’ (a young nomad in Isfahan);
Time is needed to visit it all. We also included a quick tour to the Persian Gulf where the old aged wooden ships are still handmade; the picturesque markets, the coastline spoiled by either military bases or petrol refineries that occupy the beaches and dunes). And on the way the very old bridges, and the scenic watermills in the mountains.
(1) imagine 1 wheel risking to come off the car at 120km/h: you really stop and try to find asap any garage for help. At last it was on the evening of the ‘free’ Friday, the garage of the brothers Moshen and Nasser at the very heart of Teheran offered spontaneously free assistance and tea; on top, even the parts were NOT to be paid for: “Jean, when I invite you for dinner, will you accept? you are our friends and we are really happy to invite for dinner at our home”. When Jean insisted he should ask me, he then businesslike matter: and when I ask Lucas and he accepts, you will accept, too? Please?”
But this turned out not to be all: after a delicious meal with their sisters, mother, mother in law…and after more tea and nice ‘golmura-fruits’ we were invited to stay the night in their (big) house as well. “Use the showerroom; please stay overnight and then we’ll have breakfast together”.
Despite their well meant “Don’t you dare to refuse: this is bad behaviour and in our culture not done.” ; of course we had to refuse, our own ‘kunei’ (house) was waiting for us. But top of the bill: presents were handed out to us : some jewelry (ring, arm and handmade artificial flowers). That much that we were ashamed to have to accept all of these gifts.
But worse was to come: unfortunately the repairs to the wheelbolts had but a very short effect, and luckily for us it was at a very quiet place at 5km/h all bolts decided to leave us at the same time, crippling the car. Next morning at a decent time we decided to call for assistance on this free day off to the same brothers. We managed to phone the personal mobile, and got help and assistance ‘sur place’ again repairing the all broken bolts by new ones. With the promise we should pass by next morning again to check all.
Payment of any kind was pertinently refused: our meager bottle of wine w s not up to their gifts, but as Nasser put it: ‘ when helping out someone, a friend, later Allah will repay hundredfold’
12-06-2005 om 17:54
geschreven door lucas