One of Iran's natural thermal springs.

 flickr  View my photo journal

I remarked to my brother the other day as we paid a visit to a second-rate Tehran-based fun-fair, that the only fun-fair rides that interest me are ones where I feel I might die - this moment came for me but not at the fun-fair. Whilst traveling with 12 post-menopausal gents to one of Iran's many thermal springs, I truly questioned how much longer I would endure life - as this was a ride that brought that near-death feeling.

I had been invited for what I believed was a day-out to see the natural sights of Iran. I was accompanied by a group of mountain-climbers, the average age of which topping 55-years young. They were a merry band of men, presenting a healthy repertoire of traditional songs, anecdotes, jokes, stories as well as healthy bulbous bellies. Like many activities for me in Iran I get very little notice and even less information about how one should be prepared, and, in this specific case, the day-trip turned into an over-night trip. I had only the clothes on my back (already worn for one day from an unexpected stay in Karaj the night before) and the usual list of phone-that doesn't-work, phone-that-does-work and digital audio-recorder, but thankfully I was to be well provided for by the lads.

Whilst descending for what was nearly a 45-degree decline on the dubious rocky ground of the Iranian mountains, our 4WDs bounced around, adhering to my wishes for this not-so-reassuring lump of human achievement to avoid the cliff edges. We weaved down, struggling to meet the turning circle needed for the tight corners and me itching to grab the steering wheel every other minute. The scenery was breath-taking and reminded me a little of the Grand Canyon, yet a little less jagged. We occasionally stopped to pick and eat wild fruit from the trees, not that my stomach needed this.

Arriving after a torturous hour-and-a-half descend, we made our way to a semi-adapted valley, fashioned with layers of open huts overlooking a thin stream, caked with half-consumed fruit and much litter - it always upsets how the Iranian folk take so little care of their country, carelesly dropping all manner of packaging wherever they stand. We unpacked and took care of important matters such as praying before making preparations for dinner. Prior to dinner we made our way to the synthetically enclosed thermal-spring/pool to edge our way into the piping-hot water.

The thermal-spring/pool was what I imagined the old Roman Baths to be like. It was roughly 15m x 5m and 1.5m deep - bubbling in part from the sandy floor. The water was very clear and had an odd carbonated taste. The experience was extremely pleasant - sitting in a near-uncomfortable heat of water with traditional Persian songs echoing around a candle-lit room.

Following this we ate an impressive meal while I discussed international politics with a former Iranian representative to the UN. I was locked into his stories of meeting Fidel Castro, working with the former Shah of Iran as well as his thoughts on current Middle East political struggles. I was enlightened of his perspective on current tussles between the US and Iran - suggesting that it's as much of a tussle between US and UK, what with the Iranian "politics" being so heavily influenced by the UK.

We rounded off the evening battling with bugs while a Tar (Iranian guitar/sitar) and flute-like instrument blended with the bending tones of traditional Iranian songs. We clicked our fingers in time between helpings of mellon (the name of which translates to donkey-goat) and much tea.

The following day we did the tortourous journey in reverse before making our way back through a small village where we had left a car that would not make the mountain-scape. I was equally as fascinated as the villagers there who seemed to have never seen cars like ours let alone city folk. For some reason their lifestyle seemed so appealing; so humble. I imagine how my life might be should I be left here, maybe they thought the opposite as both parties glared on without trying to appearing too rude. My uncle gifted some money to a young girl which resulted in a huge smile before she burst out in joy as he walked away. We drove off, staring at each other as our lives parted - reestablishing the distance and returning to our respective lives.



Sacrificial sheep, seconds before....

 flickr  View my photo journal

Mealtime in Iran always brings surprises and unlike previous visits I've not had the same meal twice, as yet. The previous year I was pleased to announce that I've had more kebabs than days away, yet, this time I have been exhausting the extensive list of national dishes. These dishes have been quite unlike that with which the average Brit's palette would be familiar. On the whole these are healthy and consciously well balanced. One such meal last week left me with an odd snobbish, wasteful feeling as I openly distinguished myself from the cross-legged family on the floor beside me. As the various dishes entered the room I enquired as to the ingredients within each, "This is pasta and...?", I ignorantly questioned, "No Daveed, this is the sheep's gut with vegetables" they replied with laughter. "And the soup?", "This has been made with the sheep's bones". "Is that barbecued sheep's liver and kidney?", I ask as I start to get the picture, and indeed it was. Following this arrived a plate of brown and white lumpen mess with an arch of what looked suspiciously like a set of teeth - I didn't wish to rest my eyes upon this train-wreck of a dish let alone confirm my belief. I was embarrassed by my behavior; by turning up my nose and had a token spoonful of gut with liver-kebab to redeem myself.

Similarly, I was witness to the erecting of a platform upon a 12m high spiral staircase as part of a set of water-slides within the family sports complex. I assumed the role of chief archivist, filming and photographing as 9-'chiefs' shouted conflicting information to the 3-'Indian' (Afghanis actually) who were hopping around bare-minimal scaffolding without a care for safety. Upon completion of this task my uncle stated that we would sacrifice a sheep to give thanks to Allah for no mishaps. I thought nothing of it and assumed this was said in jest until I saw a pick-up van arrive later with a sheep laying still in the back. My Dad confirmed that this was to be killed and invited me to witness the moment. Feeling slightly nauseous, I went down to photograph - maybe I figured I could somehow spare this life by capturing an image. I aimed up the lens to a shuddering sheep laying quiet in its own shit within 35-degrees heat - legs tied with fluorescent-pink Poundland-string - I then quickly hurried off to make myself busy before the sacrifice. I didn't photograph the bowl I later saw containing various parts of non-descript mammal. My Dad later reassured me by informing me that the meat would make its way to the local undernourished - except for the testicles, which would be saved for the senior engineer.



"Iranian House" wall picture collection.

 flickr  View my photo journal

After much deliberation I have finally arrived at the 'outpost of tyranny' to take on the exploration of my roots, learn a new language and to embrace a non-western/Christian nation as a resident. These are just a few of the many reasons why I've left the comfort of England for the Islamic Republic of Iran - formerly the 'axis of evil'.

So... the story thus far.

My father - whom is looking after me in the short-term - is being somewhere between splendidly hospitable and painfully controlling. Due to his kindness, I'm being tolerant of his often imposing ways. I shouldn't really complain considering the flat he has arranged for me in Karaj (Tehran's closest city of 1-million plus strong). Today we went to buy curtains for this place - as one of the many things needed before I can move in - and I was given a choice of style, of which was ultimately disregarded - oh, the Iranian politics. Before I make the move to the arse-end of Karaj I am living with the old boy in his fancy Tehran pad. This, of course, has its plus points: fed, watered and clothes folded neatly-clean on my bed, a small price to pay for lack of privacy endless compromise.

I have spent most of the week commuting to a sports complex my family run, where I struggle to either get internet access (circa '96 - 30kps at best) to work on current Borbonesa projects or exchange pleasantries with a healthy supply of local notaries. This has not, for the most part, been a pleasant experience as I have had to play baby-sitter to my brother or cousins. Aside from that I have been very good at fitting in a good few lengths of swimming whilst attempting to dodge the Iranian hair-balls that splash around erratically. While here I intend to regain my status as champion of some small town, somewhere - I'm already booked-up to race with all the lifeguards.

Yesterday was the first opportunity for me to escape the watchful eye of the family and meet with a friend from a former visit. This was doubled as a business meeting - what with him being a fellow design buff. We discussed my going to work with his company, of which should happen in a couple of days, inshallah. Most of the day spent with this guy was done so, mincing around in fancy coffee shops/restaurants - meeting friends and struggling with languages. In one such place I was reminded how conspicuous the Tehran folk are with there wealth - no opportunity is missed with showing off. Later that day, we headed out to a party where I had the pleasure of forcing my music upon them via my rigged-up laptop. There was the usual dancing to be had and a plentiful supply of eye-candy.

I still feel unsettled about things here what with work, family (still to meet) and my flat (still to move into), yet don't really feel any regrets by my heading here for roughly 10-months. If anything I feel rather ready for the time ahead. My ability for the language is improving at a good pace for which the barrage of compliments helps... I think that I am trying harder with the language what with it being important for me to get by. There has been so much change here within the last year and half since my last visit, this has been very much progressive, or at least superficially so. I quizzed a Tehran business man about how hopeful one should be about further progress, suggesting that we might witness this in 2-years or so, he said it's been '2-years' for about 25 years or so, 'I wouldn't get excited'.