As if flying to Tehran isn’t a journey unto itself, the drive into the city seems never ending. When you consider most major international flights from Europe don’t arrive until late, late, late at night (My Lufthansa flight arrived at 1:20 am), by the time you pass immigration and find your luggage in a sea of never ending bags it’s nearly 3 am. Dizzy with exhaustion you find yourself sitting in the back seat of a car driving on the highway with not much to see apart from a few road signs dotting the horizon.
Our car slows down to the tollbooth and men wave incense from a small can blessing our trip for a small tip. A mere 3000 Rial allows you to continue on the highway that leads into the city. The men who work there appear to be tired and disinterested, but who could blame them as they sit at the tollbooth at 3 am. During a marathon of trips to IKA where we drove to the airport three separate times in one day, the toll booth operator was too tired to give us the correct change and let us pass for free. For those who have traveled to Iran, this story might not seem to surprising. Between the black and white rules and restrictions, in reality there’s a lot more grey than one would expect.
Along the highway an enormous shrine to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the man who molded this country to its present form today is lit up in green and gold.
Tehran slowly approaches you from a distance.
While the distance from the airport to the city is certainly tiring for a traveler who has come from as far as the United States, I find that it is best for acclimating to the jav (atmosphere).
Tehran’s population of over 13 million people is overwhelming. The traffic is overwhelming. The language is overwhelming. The culture is overwhelming. Everything all at once is overwhelming. So better to introduce foreigners to a sleeping Tehran. A city’s whose traffic is nearly non-existent; where the noise is dim; a city that isn’t seemingly busting at the seams. This is the city I say goodnight to as I close my jet-lagged, weary eyes to sleep; for the one I will awake to is as different as night and day.
And since you (my father mostly) has waited this long for a blog post, I leave you with an amusing compliment I received one evening here in Iran.
As I may or may not have mentioned before in this blog, people stare at you in Iran. I mean STARE. It’s not a casual glance, a discreet flickr of the eyes in your general direction. They STARE. They STARE with reckless abandon. They STARE at you as if you are the most interesting person on the planet, until of course they find someone else to stare at. Being an American I do of course acknowledge that I might stick out of the crowd more than others, especially when it becomes clear that I don’t speak Farsi. To be fair I’ve become a lot better at faking my Farsi with a Salaam and mumbling of polite conversation topped with an understanding nod of agreement. So one night while out with family friends for a little Persian BBQ at the park a woman told me with great enthusiasm that I looked so American. Like really American. In fact, she said, I looked like one of the “hostages,” as in the American hostages taken at the US Embassy shortly after the revolution. For once in my life I was at a loss for words and just smiled and thanked her. I will emphasize that in all sincerity she meant it as a compliment; that being American was a good thing. However I can say it was by far the strangest compliment I’ve ever received.