Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tehran part 3

As you can see Tehran is surrounded by mountains. Even though its 80 odd degrees in the city you can still ski in the resorts an hour or so away. That's on my list of surreal activities in the future.The cab below is typical of what I'm sure most of you would picture in Iran and to a degree you'd be right.When I got on the Emirates flight in Dubai the departure lounge was all flowing locks and designer dresses. Just before landing, out came the head scarfs and the cover up began. Women all wear head scarfs here. Some push it back daringly far revealing tints and perms and salon colours.
Some wear make up.
Some don't.
Most meticulously manicure their eyebrows and finger nails.
The mode of dress seems to involve a smock like jacket (reminiscent of a lab coat), head scarf and some sort of trouser-like affair which ranges from super skinny jeans to floppy formless trousers.
Shoes range from Converse basketball shoes to closed toed sandals.
The full burkha is rare.
Why have I noticed this stuff?
Well, I think I came to Iran with a preconception of a country of oppressed women.
It's different from the west and Dubai.
There's no cleavage or flesh on display.
I'm sure there's an underlying hardness to it all, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the wit, smiles and assertiveness of the women I've come into contact on a professional level here.
It clearly isn't Saudi Arabia but it's not freedom either. Expecting the worst, I think I've started to be lulled into the "it's not so bad" school of thought.
Couples walk arm in arm down the street and the religious police I've heard so much about aren't in evidence though this little tidbit from today's "Iran News" (one of two English dailies) is worth pondering:
Police to face "badly dressed" Women in Cafes and Offices
Moral police will confront women deemed inappropriately dressed not only in streets, but also in private offices, cafes, restaurants and internet cafes, Tehran's police chief said on Thursday, Raja News reported.
'The police will deal strictly with those who do not respect the law' Comander Ahmad Reza Radan said describing the aim of the campaign as increasing security in society.
Vans of moral police have been a common scene in main squares and streets of the capital for about two years, with officers monitoring women passer byes.
'The police will also face West-planted groups such as Satan Worshipers" Radan added...........
I guess I spoke too soon.
More on all this later after I've thought about it over the next couple of days .
The picture below is not what I'd expected to see in Iran:The queues outside of petrol stations stretch down the block day and night.
The second largest oil producer in the world has a shortage of gasoline.

Despite this shortage its only 1400 Rials per liter.

8700 Rials = $1

So that's 16 cents a liter or 80 cents a gallon.

Though Iran exports oil, it imports gasoline. The embargo has left refineries in short supply of spare parts. The present President has also made some silly decisions making the situation worse. I've heard some conflicting stories regarding this but the fact remains people wait in line to fill up their car and roads have another lane choked off further aggravating a terrible traffic problem.

Motor bikes are abundant and helmets are almost unknown. The weaving in and out of traffic is suicidal given the lane straddling and optional traffic lights that cars indulge in. I've been to many cities where drivers are bad.
Tehran is the most terrifying I have ever had the misfortune to endure.
Tomorrow I will be in a car for 2 hours to a city north of here.They're not regulating traffic. Perhaps they're on the look out for an errant headscarf.
The 8 year Iran-Iraq war still has a resounding resonance here. Every night the TV ends with a montage of the martyrs fighting against the "Saddam hordes". Murals of the fallen adorn most apartment buildings. .....Remember this was some time ago. The newspapers here are full of talk of "war-mongers" and "Zionist Aggressors", but the people I've met have been very low key and soft spoken. I may be simple minded and naive but a society still so obviously in trauma from the last war it was in doesn't strike me as itching to start another one. Perhaps we can learn from this and not embark on another ill-considered adventure.
Check back for more as and when.




kublakhan said...

After you get back home and you're all nice and cozy in Cambridge you should rent "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi (maybe it will still be in theaters? maybe you have already seen it). It was just released earlier this year/late last year. It provides a rare perspective of a young girl’s life in Iran during the revolution and the war. It's funny as hell! sad too... but visually very interesting whatever the case because it was adapted from Satrapi's graphic novels about her life. She illustrates pretty well the tight-rope tension between rebellious self-expression and survival under an authoritarian regime.

kublakhan said...

oops I wanted to add this informative link to my last comment:

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Canada T (hope I spelt that right!)

As an Asian entrepreneur currently on a business trip to the west, I wanted to share the following thoughts with a fellow traveler.

My first impression on getting off the aero-plane was, after being hit by an ice cold frosty blast, how the sea of sea of chalky white westerners, all looked the same. They gave me strange looks, not the curious stares and special treatment westerns get when they visit the east, but a look of mistrust and hostility. Perhaps they thought I was a Muslim Terry-ist! Neither did wearing western dress, in order to blend in with the natives, make much difference to their attitude.

We in Asia have pre-conceived ideas of what the west is like; we imagine a luxurious life style, a free and open society where anything goes and that native women are exploited. After all, there is plenty of female flesh and cleavage on display but little male flesh. The Jordon look of exaggerated femininity achievable via surgery seems to be in vogue and what many women aspire to.
I expected the worst ie hedonism and moral decay.

I went to a strip club one evening in order to explore the above phenomenon further (honestly!), and got chatting to a stripper. However, my best “James Bond” moves, trying to impress her with my status and position (after all I am a guy!) etc did not work. Anyway, this stripper turned out to a law student, working her way though university who was far from downtrodden and exploited. I was surprised by her wit and intelligence and concluded women can run rings around men any where in the world.

What I learnt from the experience is, when you dig below the surface and we are not all that different after all ….

As for the so called luxurious lifestyle of first world countries, it seems like a fast passed, lonely grind
for the majority, whereas my lifestyle coming from a third world country is laid back with a chauffer driven car, cook, and maids.

Happy gallivanting around the world. OK?

Terry said...

Hmm your IP address says you're in the UK and at ULCC.
You visit the blog quite often right?
Interesting comments whether it "was for real" or not....Remember modern technology picks up all the little tracks we leave behind in cyberspace!
Regardless, I'm glad you look into my world from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Am well aware of IP addressees etc - my identity is no big secret;
I’m just a passer-by who comes and goes at random when bored out of sheer curiosity, not a regular,
like a blog robot!
Blogging must require alot of dedication and time …