Translated by: Alexandra Kiss
I was really looking forward to write this part of the blog. If Iran did not exist, it would have to be invented. But it is impossible to invent such a thing, so it is good it exists. I have never seen such a colorful country with so many contrasts.
Entering Iran was like travelling back in time. In the streets, there are swept-back haired men in slacks and checked shirts, on a motorbike or in old-fashioned jalopies. It feels like being in the USA of the 60’s, however, with an eastern decoration. The faces are also different from what we are used to: darker skin, black hair, women in hijab, men in long trousers, regardless of the extreme heat. Iran is the melting pot of cultures. Persian heritage filled with Arabic traditions, a pinch of Turkish, and recently elements of the American culture are added to these.
In Iran, there is no freedom. Most of us could not imagine that everything is controlled by religion and politics. Your practice of religion, your habits, morality, career, child raising, what to wear in the streets, your sexuality (as you can end up at the police station after a romantic walk in the park). It is controlled what you can drink and eat (however, not all of the Iranians are religious, even if officially they have to be), and once you are an Iranian, it is not easy to travel and to get a visa. The saddest thing of all is that you don’t have free will, the right to choose. We asked our friends to what extent the system affects their lives. Can they exclude it from their everyday life? According to the answer, it is not possible. It feels as if their heads were constantly pushed under water. It might be more difficult for them as they are not religious, they do not believe all the humbug they are given (many other people either), they have travelled to many other places, so they have seen people who were allowed to live their lives as they wanted to. For them, the way to survive is to travel abroad for some months by bicycle. They breathe in deep, and when their lungs are filled with air, they dive again. Maybe a day when they are drowning, they will not return, they will swim away with the dolphins. We recommend this piece of writing to them, to Mina and Habib.
Adults are treated as children in Iran. They are told what to do and how to do it. It got on our nerves, you can imagine how annoyed Iranians must be with this, which can be seen in the way they drive. It seems they find their freedom in the traffic, they do what they want on the roads. Nobody respects the Highway Code, and no one cares about whether it is respected or not. Such rules are broken in front of the police, for which your driving license would be taken away in other countries. It is easier to imagine all these if I give you examples. It happens sometimes that three, four, or even five people sit on the same motorbike. The father is driving, the four-year-old son is sitting in front of him on the gas tank, the mother is at the back with a baby in her laps. Between the mom and the dad, there is the seven-year-old daughter who is old enough to hold on alone. Or they just drive through red lights because no one is coming. They go in the wrong direction of the traffic to make their journey shorter. They don’t use the indicator at all. There is enough place for two cars in one lane, for experienced drivers, three cars don’t mean any problem either. It meant a huge, unimaginable chaos for us. Still it works well for them, we saw only a few crashes. Despite that it seems to be a suicide to go into a roundabout, I have to say that we were surprised in a good way. They are more attentive then their Ottoman counterparts. They slow down, let you in, and do not honk like crazy.
Besides this, they drive too fast, they may have never heard of stopping distance, and some cars are unbelievable to remain in one piece. In Iran, every driver has a fuel card. The first fifty liters of petrol cost 700 toman, which is 0,02 US dollars. After exceeding 50 liters, it costs $0,35. Of course, everyone has at least one car. The roads are full of thirty-, forty-years-old, heavily smoking trucks. Air pollution is so bad near big cities (and in Tehran) that we were suffocating. We have never experienced such smog before, not even in Istanbul, despite its heavy traffic. The capital city is surrounded with mountains, which make the smog stay in the valley. Not only cars, but many motorbikes are on the roads, too. Mostly Hondas and other local or Far eastern vehicles are the most popular. We didn’t see helmets at least on the half of the motorcyclists. Ops, I mean most of them had a helmet, but not on their heads. It was somewhere in their hands or on their handlebars. It is said that 10.000 people die yearly in motorcycle accidents, in Iran alone. This number is not surprising as the condition of the motorbikes is mostly poor and the equipment is missing.
Peugeot 405, 406, 206. Renault 5 imitation, Iranian fabrication. Kia Pride, or let’s say its Iranian version, Saba Seipa. They also have their own brand, Imco. Peycan is the local fake version of an English car type. You can find it in any amount, color, and condition. Zamyad, another type fabricated only in blue, which gives you the feeling of an American Dodge Ram. Those who can afford import cars from Europe, however there is heavy taxes on it. The rebellious souls drive an American car. We saw only a few cyclists. At the patrol stations, you can buy petrol, no chocolate, coffee or plush pig in most cases.
The landscape and the atmosphere
There is an abundance of natural variety in Iran. This country is hardly bigger 18 times than Hungary, but mountains, sea, desert, prairies, deciduous forests can all be found there. Among the buildings the mosques are the most beautiful, however, we preferred the Turkish ones. Their serais are not bad either. Old buildings are rare, we were told that the old is demolished and a new one is built instead. Nothing special, square-shaped houses with some decoration. It was only in Mashhad where we saw nice dwelling houses, photos can be found in our album. Cities and towns which we have visited were not so pretty. The houses seem to be unfinished. Iron pipes, bare roofing, floors incomplete. There is not a lot of garbage in the streets. The parks are really pretty, they are well-kept, well with drinking water, benches, and toilets can be found there.
It is incredible how crowded, noisy and smoggy is Tehran. The population is as big as that of Istanbul, but jam-packed in a quarter smaller area. The traffic is a chaos but it works well at the same time. Metros were so crammed with people that we could hardly squeeze ourselves in. There are separate compartments for women, and for all (it is useful to pay attention to the yellow inscription “Women only” before getting in). And there come the street vendors. They carry heavy shopping bags, many things they want to sell hang on their arms. They have everything you can imagine. Some goods they offer, including but not limited to bubble gum, insole, lighter, superglue, razor, tooth brush, tooth paste, torch, socks, balloon blowing kits, nerve-wracking special balls, vibrissae cleaner, Mp 3 player, rubber gloves, power bank, needle kit, perfume. They walk up and down in the metro compartments offering their super-quality products, even the torch that is used by American Police (at least they say so), and in order to take it under an endurance test, they hit them to the handhold rails. People either buy something, or they are extremely annoyed by these vendors. Personally, I found it amusing to watch how people bargain for or test the products. The price of the underground ticket is around 0,2 dollars, while a return ticket costs only 0,35$.
The best and the funniest way of commuting in the city (if we don’t like the crown and the vendors) is taking a routed taxicab. They are private minibuses driven by professionals or by men who are just pick people up on their way to bring the best out for everybody. If we got off our bikes near on a road, a car would horn us for sure, asking whether we want to have a ride. We ask in which direction he goes, and if it fits our plans, we accept the ride. The price is not clear-cut, we just checked how much others would pay. After a while, we were able to count the price of different distances. A journey of 5-6 kilometers would cost 0,5-0,7 dollars. Once it happened that a guy tried to trick us, but without success. We told him that we knew exactly the prices and we would not pay more. He accepted our answer, and we had a decent farewell. In many cases they gave us back the money if is seemed to be much, and once a man offered s a free ride. However, he accepted the half of the price when we insisted. The more courageous ones can also try it with motorbikes, if they are willing to pay a double price. It can be real adrenaline bomb for the passenger as the stuntman-like driver tries to find the free way between cars. There is not many famous landmarks in the city, only some markets, memorials, a TV tower, and a 4000 meters high mountain, which you can approach by funicular. Tehran is not really pretty, still there is something fascinating in it. Does this charm come from Tehran’s bustle?
The speed and the accessible content of course is restricted. This the citizens outflank by connecting to foreign servers and with other programs. We don’t really understand the government’s struggling.
The media is also national and strongly filtered. Solution is: parabolic antenna that gets the foreign Iranian broadcast. Politics, video clips, discussions about Iran, for Iranians, all unreservedly. If a policeman comes and wants to take down the antenna… well anything can be solved (like Dadan’s Bulgarian pal said, ’’If you can’t solve it with money, solve it with a lot of money!’’) This goes just like so.
The sun-bleached portraits of the fallen Iranian heroes are still alongside the streets. Khomeini Ajatollah peeks on every corner, watches with all-seeing eyes to check out whether everything’s going in the same old way. Propaganda, bans and inspections or not, things change slowly, so there is to be worried about. The warn-out citizens are welcomed by underground clubs and restaurants, which existence is spread by rumours and problems with the police are solved just like those of the antennas. If a grim religious leader weren’t enough, they often add the actual old guy, Khameni. They like wall-paintings, of which the toughest we see is: the soldier in uniform is walking out of the sea (Persian Gulf probably) and behind him are burning American warships and a helicopter is falling down. I know the USA isn’t quite white-handed, but I’ve never seen such an aggressive and inciting propaganda anywhere else, although I’ve only been at a few places.
There are no discos or clubs (officially), you should clap moderately on concerts, dance is best to avoid in public. Except for weddings, but still you can revel in public only for a while, then the core of the family goes home and has fun decently. There are no pubs of course, they throw house parties instead and they take the necessary narcotic stuff there. The country supposedly has quite a lot drug user. The common border with Afghanistan probably contributes to this fact too.
In Iran, people eat consciously. They have so to speak warm and cold dishes, however they refer to it based on whether a food stimulates or reposes blood pressure and not the temperature.
Sugar rich food is put on the table for breakfast, things that increases the blood pressure. Bread, marmalade, seeds, honey, yogurt, cheese. They don’t eat any meet for breakfast. For the main meals the garnish is usually rice, which provides the greater percent of the meal. Rice with some kind of meat, stew (khorest), vegetable. The side meal for them is the meat, they eat enough of the rice. The portions are different. They eat much less potato and pasta. The rice is cooked in a totally different way than at home, which also shows its principal role (there is a special device for cooking rice in most Iranian kitchen). What is more, there exist different types of rice: a type elaborated for celebrations and a simpler one. They decorate and savor it with all kinds of spices (for example saffron) and dried fruits. They eat less soup too, than us Hungarians, but still it’s present in their kitchen. They serve all dishes at once and everyone takes what he wants and in the order he likes. They eat a lot of leguminous and dishes made from them. After dining they too have tea (coffee is rare), with which they serve roasted seeds, candy, chocolate. Iranians drink alcohol too of course, it’s just somewhat harder and more complicated to get it. In the evening they consume a yogurt-like drink called dough (very similar to the Turkish ayran) to which they attribute a sedating virtue.
People are wonderful in Iran! They are welcoming, friendly, curious, opened for new things, and for the unknown. During the thirty days we spent we only had to put up a tent three times. This is not an extraordinary experience, we read the same from Zita and Árpi, the 360 degree bicycle honeymooner couple. We didn’t had to look for accomodation, people just came to us and asked if we would like to join them home, be their guests. The reason is that they like it and it makes them happy having a guest in the house, if unexpected, even better. Where does this come from? The culture, or from the Islam and prophet Mohamed, we don’t know. One thing is for sure, we have never been given as much care during our journey as in Iran and we feel like we won’t be either. They took care of us with love, without bias, information or questions. They didn’t ask what is our nationality, what confession we belong to, if we have a job or if are honest. They just came and gave everything (during the conversations everything was mentioned of course). It wasn’t good because we were able to eat and sleep free, but because as soon as Iranians noticed us, the care and attention just came naturally. Be that two saffron icecream, a bottle of cold water, a tea, a shady place, a bag of cucumbers, a few cold energydrink or fresh baked bread. They gladly talk about anything, they are curious about the world, still proud of their own culture too. We think it’s a magnificent combination.
Iran is a wonderful country, anyone who can should go and check it out. It isn’t expensive, assertive, neither ostentatious, and everyone will gain many great experience. The obligation to wear a hijab and long trousers is only a necessary inconvenience. Zoli Kobra put it into the right words how to approach these characteristics of the country. He said that the rules must be accepted and respected, and things should be done the way local people do, even if tourists are allowed to wear short trousers. Our freedom is a mirror to the restrictions they have. We should not throw this into their faces, but identify ourself with them.
If you have the chance to visit Iran don't miss it!