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Tehran- the politics come out

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Before Tehran the politics of the country seemed more like a pain in the ass than actual reality, however in Tehran you are reminded that the government are in fact a little crazy. If you have read any information about Iran you will realise they are not so good at foreign relations. Clearly no one has told Ahmadinejad that blatant abuse of other countries doesn’t get you very far. For instance, the walls around the old American Embassy are covered with murals.

(not so clear photos because I was trying to take them secretly but this one if you can’t see is the statue of liberty with a skull face)

And outside the Germany (still active) embassy is this nice little plaque just to remind the Germans how much they dislike them.

(OK, this is hard to read but it says “to Iran people, the name of the German government is associated with the horrible massacre….the German government generously supplied chemical weapons to Saddam…to slaughter Muslims in Iran…we shall never forget the German governments complicity and undeniable role in this atrocious crime)

There are 2 english newspapers, which like all the other media in the country is state run and full of propaganda. In fact the whole media system is reminiscent of Orwells 1984, I’ve been told the media actually rewrites history to suit. The newspapers are full of objective, unbiased statements about the ‘Arrogant powers’, mostly referring to US and UK, and everyone’s favourite “Zionist regime”, Israel. My favourite quote from a copy I brought was some study proving Iran’s ‘superior intelligence over the rest of the region” So while the government and the people are 2 compleately different things in Iran, in Tehran they start to merge. While everyone of the people I have talked to hate the government (I mean like really hate them), these people tend to be the educated, English speaking middle class, who are not the majority. It seems people think around half the population support the current regime, while the other half are vehemently opposed to it. Everyone I speak to asks me what I think about Iran, and always then talks about how much the hate the government, how they want it to change. Sadly most of the people that will be able to change it are all trying to leave to the west. So while Tehran isn’t the nicest city, its still an interesting place and important for Iran.

(someone handed me this card in the street, what could it possible mean?)

Tehran has a great, well organised, clean and cheap metro which is what I jumped on to head to the cheap and nasty hotel district. Any metro system in the world hates people with giant bags, Iran no exception, although possibly more feeling sorry for me rather than outright hatred like London. Everyone I had been so far in Iran, people were always asking me if I was OK, so popping out above ground staring around aimlessly for a street sign I was hoping for someone to come offer me some help. But Tehran is a a bit of a different story, and I spent the next 45 minutes wandering around the streets in the heat with my giant bag (I am never travelling with this much stuff again, I have no idea how people go on long trips with more that 12 kilos of stuff) eventually I found my way ended up at this hotel I know was too expensive but with a really helpful manager, who let me use the bathroom, brought me tea, showed me where other cheaper places were and let me leave my bags while I found a room. Unfortunately things were pretty full, the only place with dorms was full, along with all their other rooms. I ended up for one night in a single room for $15 USD (way out of my budget), somewhere else then moved to the cheap hotel for the second night, where I still have to get a double room because everything was full. The main attractions in Tehran all seemed to be museums, which I wasn’t very interested in. After finding a place to change money I headed over to Golstein palace, which used to belong to the Shar, before it was all overthrown.

I wandered around the gardens for a bit and opted to go into one of the 8 museums that were there. It was nice, nothing special. The one museum I wanted to see was the jewels museum, kept n a vault under a bank, it sounded pretty impressive, but I turned up to find it was closed doe to some day of mourning for some important person. I know this because an English speaking guy had attached himself to me at this stage who began as helpful but ended up being a pain, as I tried very politely to get away from him. He ended up walking me to the bazaar, then walking with me right through the bazaar, then taking me on a horse ride and trying to buy me ice cream. There comes a time where subtle hints can no longer do and I told him I would prefer to be alone so I could do some shopping, not always easy with a guy hovering around you. So I got rid of him to find myself being led to a carpet show by another guy!

Turns out around a 3rd of the bazaar was closed due to this day or mourning, but ‘helpful guy #2’ told me there are over 20,000 shops in the bazaar, and at its busiest time there are over 1 million people at a time. Its pretty big. I couldn’t seem to find any touristy stuff, but did end up with a thermal mug for my train journey. My final day in Iran came around, I was due to leave on the train that night at 8.30pm so had the day to kill. I wasn’t feeling very inspired in Tehran and was more interested in getting on the train than dong anything, but I had checked out of my hotel room so thought I should go do something. It was pouring with rain outside which didn’t help. I caught the metro (sans giant bag, much nicer) over to the university where there is a whole street of bookshops, with the help of an actual nice helpful guy I found some english books (all classics) and brought myself something for the train.

My money was running low at this point and because of sanctions you are not able to get out money from ATM’s in Iran, and I didn’t want to change any more money. On the metro on the way back a guy helped me get on the right train, he worked in a bank, and of course wanted to get out of Iran, because “the fucking government make this country like a prison”, its really sad that there are so many cool people who truly do love their country but want to leave because the government is so messed up. This guy also loves the Bee Gee’s, which are the screen saver on his phone, he also loves Elton John, and asked me quietly, “is it true that he is a gay man?”. I have spoken to a couple of people who really think that military action from the US government would be a good thing, when I have pointed out the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan they stress the Iran is different, people are more educated and want change. I can’t really agree that US invasion would be a good thing, but to get to the point where you think its the only way for things to change is pretty crazy. I hope that it doesn’t come to some sort of war, as generally America don’t just get involved with other countries out of the goodness of their heart. But a lot of people have idealised notions of the west, and of America, for lots of people America is the goal, better than Europe, that’s where they want to be. I was complaining about some problems I was having with my bank to this Iranian guy who told me it was strange to hear that in other countries there are such problems as he thought only in Iran are there things going wrong all the time, where in the west he thought everything always works perfectly.

So finally making it back to the hostel, and the rain beginning to clear up, I tried to get a bit organised for the long journey ahead, went and blew the last of my money on some supplies then it was back on the metro, and into a taxi with literally the last of my rials to Tehran train station. After getting a bit lost I finally found the international terminal and settled in to wait to leave.

As a bit of a disclaimer, I realise that I talk a lot politics in all my posts, and probably make a lot of gerneralisations. These are just my observations based on who I talked to, which is generally only middle class educated, westerns friendly people. So I am aware that I have a bit of a one sided view of Iran and definitely did not spend enough time to get a compleate picture.