Wednesday, November 16, 2005

We're Here!

We’re here!!!!!!!! Okay. I’m writing this a little after when we got here, but who knows when I’ll post it. No internet yet. But I want to document this before I forget.
I was pretty sick by the time we got in. I think at this point I have something akin to the flu, because of the chills/sweats, the body aches, the nausea, and the head cold thingy. Most of it seems to have gone by in a blur but here are the highlights:
We landed around 7am. Here’s the view out of the plane at 6:50am:

(I tried to get a good picture of the moon still high in the Iranian sky through the airplane window, but those darn life-saving windows aren’t the best for photography. I think the date is a day off on the camera clock, but I think it’s fixed as of the 23rd onward.)

Here is another pic of Tehran. Again, they’re not the clearest, but you can still see the mountains in the city:

Anyway, as expected, we were asked to please step aside and sit down after the airport officials saw our American passports. We sat with another couple, American, of course. They were newlywed Mormons who were taking an extended tour/vacation/honeymoon of Europe, Asia and a final stop in Iran, because the person who introduced them was Iranian. The wife unit of the couple does something public health in developing countries-ish and the husband unit is a lawyer. Both from Utah, living in DC. Very cute.

Anyway, we didn’t wait too long, honestly. Only about 20 minutes or so, before someone came out and handed us our passports and told us welcome to Iran. AliBobba and I are assuming that it was short because the Iranian government probably already knows EVERYTHING it could possibly want to know about us. They’ve probably got our apartment bugged too. Whatever, it’s all good.

The airport wasn’t crowded and the temperature outside was beautiful. My first thought was “I’m home.” I’m not sure why, since I’ve never been to Iran, but something about it reminded me of arriving in Karachi for vacation when I was little. Karachi is full of happy memories. Anyway, this was distinctly third-world-esque. I’m not sure what about it gives it that feel, probably the cars and the flora/fauna and the people and the overpowering smell of diesel in the air. It’s pretty clean though. Cleaner than Delhi, Karachi, and Cairo, but not as clean as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore (hah, I can’t remember the capital of Singapore). It was fun. And nice to have sun on my face after a dreary and ridiculously cold day in London. The one thing that stood out and yet seemed too familiar were the chador-clad women. It’s familiar because in western media, that’s all we see. Women shrouded in their black as death tents scurrying about the country. It’s different to see it in person though. It was interesting to watch, fascinating actually. More on chadors later.

Our suitcases were in tact and easy to find (they were the only ones left on the conveyor belt) and Agha Katebi was waiting for us at the door. He is an administrator at Mofid University and also teaches high school Biology on Saturdays and Sundays. He is such a nice man. Anyway, all our suitcases didn’t fit into the car, so he had someone take 2 of them to Mofid’s Tehran office while we packed the rest in and were on our way. He said they’d get to us in a couple of days, which was fine by us.

The traffic is just mind-boggling. Or maybe it’s the driving. Maybe that’s what gives it the 3rd world feel, because despite the existence of lanes and traffic lights and other important traffic pattern aids, people drive basically wherever there is space, just honking their way through. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, and I am impressed with their ability to dodge cars and trucks and motorcycles. I saw more women in chador, but also quite a few women in manteau and the sliding headcover that shows half the hair, which Tehranians wear around town without the chador.

It was about a 2-hour drive and they took us straight to our apartment.
This is a roadside mosque/rest area for travelers that just tickled me pink… we need more of these in the US:

As we got into Qom, I noticed that women all wore chador. I still caught glimpses of stylish heels and pants as the chador fluttered around their legs, but it’s much more conservative here and as such, more ubiquitously chadory. If I haven’t put up pictures, it’s because I was too ill or there wasn’t a good opportunity to take any.

In the apartment, there was breakfast and a teapot with teabags and a samovar full of water waiting for us. We have 2 satellite dishes and a flat screen TV.

Ohhh.. and, get this, our bed is actually two twin beds. That wouldn’t be such a huge deal, except the mattresses are sunken into wooden frames, so when you have the two beds side by side, there is a wood frame all around each bed. So it’s not really like one bed, but just like two beds adjacent to each other. It’s interesting and I can see it being a problem. Anyway, Agha Katebi said he’d bring us by lunch later and he’d be by the next day to show AliBobba around the neighborhood. We had breakfast and took a nap.
That’s breakfast below. Sour cherry “murabba-e-albaaloo” preserve (delicious), unsweetened cream “khameh”, biscuits, a flatbread called “lavash”, white cheese “paneer safeed”, and water.

I think later on that day, someone delivered our suitcases to us, which was a pleasant surprise. Also, they dropped off lunch for us at some point. It was a lemon-herb grilled chicken on rice with dried barberries (zereshk), with a big fat side of plain yogurt (when I tasted it later on, it was all really good). I didn’t end up eating lunch and slept straight through it all. Bobali took care of everything else, like answering the door and stuff.

Later on that evening, we tried watching some TV, and we have 500 or so channels because of the satellite dishes. The thing is, we’ve only found 3 channels in English. There is BBC World, which doesn’t work too well, there’s CNN International, also not working well, and there’s BBC Prime, which doesn’t seem to have anything interesting on.

There are lots of Arabic channels from all over, several Iranian ones, of course, several music channels (Turkish and Persian music channels), Russian and Eastern European channels, and a Pakistani channel that broadcasts out of the UK. Oh.. and there is also an extraordinary number of porn channels (with ridiculously awful names too). Those are all blocked.

After having slept about 4 hours in 3 days, and not bathing, we felt absolutely yuck. But a nap and our first shower in Iran worked wonders. It was fantastic. It was funny though, because we had not yet adjusted to the salty water, so after we were done, our eyes and mucous membranes felt like we’d spent the day at the beach.

Here are a few pics of our apartment and surrounding areas. Enjoy!

Our back yard. Barren and gorgeous and fascinating. Yes, it’s extremely dusty but how cool is being able to have desert mountains in your backyard? People climb these on Fridays. Picnics, camping and mountain climbing are very popular activities on the weekend.

There are pomegranate trees in the courtyard out back. I’m not quite sure the pomegranates are edible since they look quite picked apart by all the birds that come here to feed. Later I learned that each little plot corresponds to the 4 apartments in each building. So I guess we get our own little gardening plot.

View from our front door into our dining room (from what I’ve seen, other people use this space as their family room, with carpets and cushions and computer etc.). There are lots of doors separating all the different chambers. I suppose this helps with gender segregation and the women can slip around the inner chambers (kitchen, bedrooms, family/dining room) while men can enter and go left to the living room. There is a door that connects this dining room to the living room as well, allowing a direct path from kitchen (on the right) to the living room (on the left).
The two bedrooms and the shower room are at the far end of the dining room, to the left and right of the windows you see ahead. The windows look out into a tiled courtyard type thing with a skylight above. It helps bring natural light into this inner room, as well as in the shower room whose windows you can see outside on the right.

This view looks into our toilet/sink room. As you may be able to tell, this is immediately on the right upon entering the apartment. I am in the foyer/entrance as I take this picture. Again, this allows guests to use the restroom without going into the inner, more private chambers of the house. The shoe rack you see is typically kept outside of the apartment, with all the shoes on it. Whereas in the US, we (we Pakis anyway) take our shoes off inside the house in some designated shoe area or foyer, in Iran they take their shoes off before even entering through the front door.

Our kitchen. It’s huge. Those windows look out to the front of our building. That’s a stove on top of the counter. It has two regular burners and one big burner in the center for big pots of rice. And that’s the big old water heater. I do *love* the dishrack above the sink. What an ingenious and functional way to use vertical space while allowing dishes to drip dry back into the sink without using counter space or having to clean out an unsightly rubber drip tray.

This is our shower room. Kind of icky, but they use flip flops *without* fail in the toilet, the shower, and the kitchen ( a different pair for each room). That blue basin is our washing machine.

Our guest room, which faces the front of the building. Two of our suitcases too.

The view of the front out of our guest room, which is blurry because of the dust on the windows.

Our bedroom. They gave us huge towels which dry us well but are quite heavy when wet and left dye and fuzz all over us. I was red and IrfanAliBob was bluish-purple. Also, notice the two beds joined up. Yes, that wooden frame does indeed run all the way around and sticks up above the mattress when we lie down on the bed. Yes, after much trying to get around it (blankets on the wood, shifting pillows, etc.), we each now sleep in our own bed. (Mine is the pink side!)


Anonymous Yo-Yo said...

great intro to your arrival there..
One thing that isn't clear is who you are there with. At first I thought a close best friend then the discussion of the twin beds made it seem like your wife.. confused

though the pics were small (200x200?) they gave a bit of what was needed.

looking fwd to the next installment.. hope to find out why Iran, purpose (if besides leisure) for the trip and the mystery companion

8:41 PM  
Blogger Irfan Ali said...

Hello Yo-yo,

I suppose it's not clear elsewhere, but this site is a joint effort between me (Robert/Bob/Irfan Ali/Ali) and my wife Sara. We are in Iran so I can do research on my PhD thesis about Islamic ethics of advanced reproduction technologies.

I usually try to "sign" my posts, so it's clear that I wrote them. Until/unless Sara starts doing the same, it's safe to assume unsigned entries are hers.

Thanks for visiting!
~Irfan Ali

10:23 PM  
Blogger huma said...

i was confused as to bobali, thinking of the pizza -- which is probably boboli, anyway, towel descriptions were very entertaining at work

2:29 AM  

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