Middle East Trip: Back in Tehran

This article is part 12 of 17 in the series Middle East Trip

26-29 December 2011

It is great to be back in Tehran again! I remember being very nervous and lost when I arrived in this city more than a week ago. Being an outsider and one of the very few tourists here, I felt like the whole Iran was looking at me. It was strange to be here — to accidentally board a men-only section of a bus, to perform ablution and prayers in a different way than the majority of the population, and to be mistaken for being a Japanese. But I am no longer afraid of anything now. I am familiar with this crowded city — I no longer feel awkward with the staring eyes. Despite not knowing any Farsi except khoda hafez, I feel very much safe and comfortable.

I have been looking forward to coming back to Tehran after having such a memorable day with my host Reza* and his family, and Saeede. I promised them that I would find a way to come back, even with my packed schedule. I am glad that I fulfilled my promise. The purpose of me going back is actually just one: to spend as much time as I can with them. I’ve decided that I would stay at Saeede’s house for a night and at Reza’s house for two nights before flying to Istanbul on Thursday.

Staying at Saeede’s House

At around 11 AM, Saeede picks me up at the bus station. I’m so happy to see her again. We are like two best friends that have been separated for years. There are just too many stories to share that we talk non-stop! It’s very exciting and I’m still amazed to know that we have so many things in common. Saeede lives in the north of Tehran, not too far from where Reza lives. Although it’s an apartment, her house is very spacious with a large kitchen, dining hall, living room, and three bedrooms. Apartments in Iran are somehow so much bigger than anywhere else I’ve been. Her parents are working and her brother is out so only both of us are in the house.

We have a quick light lunch and then I help her to compose a motivation letter to be sent to Erasmus Mundus for her scholarship application. In my honest opinion, Saeede has a lot of potentials — she is smart and very passionate about what she’s doing. She’s open minded and religious, so too is her family. Studying abroad is something that is encouraged by her parents. Unfortunately, thanks to economic sanctions, financing one to study abroad is very expensive for the majority of Iranians, including Saeede and her family. Getting a scholarship is the only way for her to achieve that. So I decided to give a small contribution to this by helping her with the motivation letter.

When I wake up the next morning, I finally get to meet Saeede’s parents. Her mom prepares breakfast for all of us, while I converse with Saeede and her father, who speaks good English. He offers to fetch me to Reza’s house, where I’ll be staying for the next two days. As soon as I step out of the house, it starts to snow! I certainly did not expect that it would snow here. Despite the snow, Reza and I go ahead with the plan of visiting Saadabad Palace. Reza starts working at 3 PM every day, so he has the time to accompany me around Tehran. We take a shared taxi to a certain neighbourhood and take another shared taxi towards the palace. Apparently, the shared taxi in Tehran has a fixed destination. It works the same way as a bus, but it is a taxi, which can only fit 4 passengers at once. The taxi driver would pick passengers up and drop them off along the way. It is a very confusing system, especially if you don’t speak Farsi. Having Reza by my side makes everything an easy business.

Saadabad Palace

The snow starts to fall heavily as we walk into the complex of Saadabad Palace. It is a huge palace, which was used to be a residential palace for the last Shah of Iran and his family. The palace is very modern; much of its architecture is influenced by Western designs. Inside the palace complex, there are almost 20 buildings of different sizes — they are all turned into a museum after the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrown the Shah, forcing him and his family to flee out of Iran and live in exile. There are some remnants of Shah and Shahbanu (Queen)’s collections which are displayed in the museum, such as jewellery, dresses, and cars. The Shah passed away in Egypt and he is survived by his wife and children, who live in the US and France today. While the ex-Queen Farah Pahlavi seems to enjoy life and gets invited to many events and weddings of other royals around the world, unfortunately, two of his children recently committed suicide to the shock of many Iranians.

IMG_0675IMG_0659Dining Hall

Reza and IQueen Farah Pahlavi's ceremonial dressIMG_0665IMG_0666

I’ve talked to Saeede about the situation in Iran during the Pahlavi era. She didn’t get to live and witness that period, but her parents and grandparents did. The current government of Iran is no different than the Shah — both of them represent the extreme sides of the spectrum. While the current government imposes headscarf and modest clothing, the Shah banned such clothing — much like what we see in France today. The accumulation of wealth and luxurious spending of the Shah and his family while the unemployment rate was high raised people’s eyebrows. Both governments have pros and cons, said Saeede.

Staying at Reza’s House

Reza and I come back home after a tiring and freezing day around the palace. His mom prepares an Iranian dish called khoresh karafs. It is very delicious! I love it so much. Reza’s mom has been taking care of me throughout my short stay in her house. She gives me a mattress to sleep in the living room, although my sleeping bag is enough for me to doze off. She prepares breakfast for me and the family every single day. She packed dinner for me before I took a train to Esfahan. She says goodbye and khoda hafez to me every time I go out of her house as if it is the last time we see each other. She is just such a nice and concerned mother!

Reza, her mother, father, and sisters have been so nice to me that I feel that they are my own family whom I love dearly. My visit to Iran would not be the same had I not meet Reza and Saeede. I am very grateful for that! As my way of saying thanks, I volunteer to cook for Reza and his family. Using the simplest ingredients (onion, garlic, chilli, tomato, and ginger), I prepare a delicious grilled chicken for dinner — thanks to my mom who taught me how to make it. I’m relieved to see that everyone likes it! 🙂

National Museum of Iran

The next morning, I go to the National Museum of Iran with Reza. The museum was built 74 years ago, housing 300,000 objects ranging from the pre-historic era, Achamenid period, to Islamic period. The museum is huge and impressive. It’s one of the best museums in Iran. I spend the whole day inside the museum, admiring various Persian treasures. It is amazing to see that this land had been the witness of powerful and thriving empires, monarchies and rulers for centuries. It had also witnessed the rise and fall of these civilisations one after another. Iran may not be as glorious as it used to before the Islamic Revolution, but the fact of the matter is that this nation is still thriving despite the sanctions placed upon it, the unfriendly neighbours surrounding it, and the unfair media attention that it always gets.

Replica of Cyrus CylinderIMG_0701

Au Revoir, Iran!

My 12-day travel around Iran concludes here, in Tehran. It’s sad to leave this country that I come to admire; leaving behind my “adopted” family and close friends. I certainly did not expect that it would turn out to be one of my most favourite travel experiences I had ever encountered. Will I come back to Iran in the future? Without hesitation, I definitely will! There are many parts of Iran that I would like to explore and I am hoping that the next time I come back to this country, I’ll see big and positive improvements being done in this land.

For now, it is time for me to leave and embark on the next journey into the land which serves as the bridge between the East and West: Turkey. Au revoir, Tehran!

* Name is not real

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