I’ve stayed on and off just under a month in Tehran, but had it not been for visa necessity, I probably wouldn’t have stayed more than a couple of days. Consequently most of the time I’ve spent hiding in my very kind couch-surf hosts apartment while I wait for the powers that be to either grant or deny my entry into Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As much as I have loved being in Iran and seeing this beautiful country – I detest its capital city.
Those that know me well will understand one major reason why. I loath big cities. I despise large groups of people in one place (even attending a concert is a struggle for me these days) and I abhor the rat-race in all its forms. Rich or poor, for better or for worse, I cannot abide this many people trying to make a living in one place. It’s disgusting.
I’ve done the touristy thing of course, but save from a few pocket highlights such as the mountain area of Darband, The Golestan Palace and photographing the bazaars, Tehran has little to offer me. With a population of around 9 million in the city and a further 16 million wider-spread, you can understand why. It’s a dense, claustrophobic, traffic-contested, noise infested, raucous, smog hole. I would be interested to know how long I spent trapped underground making my way across town on the metro. I’ll never get that time back.
I think that’s what really hammered the final nail into the coffin of Tehran. At any time of day or night, there is no respite from the sheer amount of people stomping to their destinations, shoe-horned into carriages, jostling for position on the escalators. Hanieh, my CS-host, has to get up at 5 am to make it into her work on time – such is the size of the window of clear roads, before all hell breaks loose and it’s taking an hour to travel what should take ten minutes. It’s unforgiving, it’s stressful and it’s an environmental activists nightmare. Of course comparisons can be drawn with regard to any major metropolis. It’s quite simple – if you like big cities, Tehran is for you. If you don’t – for the love of all that’s holy get out while you can.
In its defence, the people are wonderful – but the same can be said for all over this amazing country. Walking through the bustling bazaars in Tehran has been a highlight, smelling the smells of the silk road, bartering for goods, and my fingers aching from relentless handshakes, eyes blinded with smiles. As I reflect back on my time here, I can see this interesting juxtaposition between wonderful hospitality, friendship and stunning scenery, versus draconian laws, paranoia and religious suppression. Iranians are fighting to promote their country as safe, welcoming and tourist friendly but they’re facing an uphill struggle against a government that simply replaced a regime for another one.
Certain well-known websites are banned, the influences of the outside world regulated, and alcohol is prohibited, but available on the black market. Getting caught bootlegging carries a heavy price. Iranians in Tehran (and indeed the whole country) party hard in secret, and as I’ve already discovered, this can lead to dangerous excess. Sex is forbidden unless married or engaged, and woe betide you if you’re caught doing that out-of-wedlock. I’ve been making a running joke concerned I’ll get my hand cut off if I touch a girl in public. So unless you have your own place, a trustworthy mate, the back of your car or your parents are out-of-town – give it up. You need a marriage certificate to be in a hotel room together. Couch-surfing isn’t allowed but it goes on anyway. I had to be quiet when anyone telephoned, sneak in past the neighbours (everyone is suspicious and a potential curtain twitcher) and under no circumstances was I to answer the door. After a while it begins to feel like you’re trapped – because you are.
“You’ve only been here a month – imagine what it’s like living here for 30 years.”
I don’t know I’m born.
And then there’s a rise in alcoholism and STDs! Is it any wonder?! Sex education is non-existent and the illegal booze made at home in a bath-tub isn’t so hot on the liver. It’s like anything you tell someone not to do, they’re more likely to do it harder, faster, stronger. I often cite a Star Wars reference so apt in such circumstances, when Princess Leia is addressing Governor Tarkin:
“The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
Never a truer word was spoken.
Not surprisingly a large percentage of the population are a bit pissed off with all this. Many young people want out, with Germany being a preferable choice, and I’ve been asking every friend I’ve met and made if the situation could change. But as always with such politics, even a whisper of discontent could potentially bring the jackboot. The government (all governments) don’t want people to think for or educate themselves, so Iran is shrouded in mystery to the outside world and hidden behind a curtain of fear. Just ask any one of my friends or family in the UK or States about my decision to come here and they would question my sanity. “Don’t go there it’s dangerous. It’s a dust bowl filled with terrorists.” NO! I’M GOING! Don’t believe what you hear or read in the press!
And while you’re here, you just get the sneaking suspicion that with the sheer beauty of the place, the incomparable warmth of the people, hospitality and unrivaled safety (seriously I’ve never been in a more secure country than Iran – I’d happily walk anywhere at night with everything I owned), if the government and religious leaders would just change down a gear for a moment and removed that giant stick up their ass, Iran would be one of the most amazing countries in the world. But as it stands, never have I been to a place in more desperate need of a massive blow job.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I could write passage after passage about this place, but pictures speak a thousand words they say. I hope you enjoy the shots below, but really the best thing you could do is to pick up your passport and come and see Iran for yourselves. You’ll love it even if you drink beer and have sex, and you’ll love it if you don’t. I learned a lot about their culture, I learned a lot about myself, and I’m a little step closer to finding Stu.
Thank you to everyone who made my experience in Iran so incredible and memorable – you know who you are. I hope you all find what you’re looking for too. Hopefully one day Iran gets the freedom and admiration it deserves, and until will meet again – خداحافظی برادران و خواهران من Goodbye my brothers and sisters. Xxx