4 days in Tehran - Iran
At check-in, with no visa in hand, I am predictably asked about it. I figured if I confidently answered it was to be given on arrival, the agent would let it go. (After all, I had been assured, despite contradicting information from my Embassy, that I would get a visa on arrival). He consulted with his superior for what seemed like three hours. It worked. Everything was sorted and I cleared immigration.
|Looking at it now still evokes surreal feelings.|
|The Boeing 747-300|
I like airline food. I always have. And I am a seasoned Y-class traveller. I know it is fashionable to disparage airline food. It is what it is - a functional meal at 37 000 ft. However, I chuckle when I hear the flight attendant ask me 'Chicken or beef?'. That is the old charm I referred to earlier. It is such a classic line from airlines is it not? I have become accustomed over the years to having a choice of 3 meals (Qatar Airways my most used airline here). Anyway, I have the beef with saffron rice which I do not actually mind.
|My meal on board en route to Tehran.|
Two hours later, we land at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport. It is fascinating how everything happens in stages, and when we pass one stage, we anxiously await the next. Would there be someone with my name in print on a board, just as promised? Yes. Relief. I am shown to the, wait for it, CIP lounge - Commercial Important People Lounge. That is what it is called. In fact, adjacent to the airport they are building a dedicated CIP building. I sit in the lounge as a very personable, kind and welcoming man who clearly has a lot of sway, sits in his chair - much like Coppola's Godfather - and makes a few calls. Visa sorted out! I thank him.
|The landscape on my way to my hotel.|
|Locally manufactured cars like this is commonplace.|
This would become a recurring thought in my head over the next 4 days.
|These shoes belonged to a taxi driver's daughter. It was in the back of teh car.|
|A fruit seller whose dignity overwhelmed me.|
On a rare occasion when I have free time to explore, I take a taxi to the downtown area. The traffic is, as everyone who has been to Tehran knows, hell. There are no clearly designated lanes at times, but miraculously, everything works. You wait to see the crash or hear the crunching metal and screeching brakes - but they never come!
|Untitled. Struggling with words.|
|A park about 20 minutes from my hotel.|
|Memories of childhood in a plastic bucket.|
Before I know it, it is time to leave Tehran. An all too brief a stay, but one that lifted the scales from my eyes. It has been a trip in which I expected to write about food, but in the end food was not trivial. It no longer mattered that I could not access facebook or twitter, or that the internet was frustratingly slow. There have been bigger issues.
This trip in the end was about faces. Voices. Eyes. They all reflected a people with visions of a better a life; a world where traffic congestion was gone; where the air quality was better. I imagined returning again, but seeing more Toyotas on the road, and those ubiquitous American fast food places. Cool and trendy stores like Samsung and hotels with names like Shangri-la and Hyatt. That would mean that the world was willing to welcome back this culturally rich country. See, as a South African I know all about sanctions and how the people are the ones who suffer. I know all about being cast away like some pariah. But at some point, it is no longer about politics. It is about humanity.
|The faces. The voices. The eyes.|