Me at engagement party.

 flickr  View my photo journal

A trio of obstacles have been surrounding my planned Christmas visit to Dubai to celebrate the festive period and the new year with my [mother's brother] and his family. The most troubling of these obstacles being the absence of my passports! Some two months ago one of the many notaries that loiter around in the offices offered to help "arrange" my army service (it is compulsory for male Iranian nationals to serve two years. Due to a few unfortunate circumstances I am eligible to serve, yet somehow I'm in a lucky minority who are eligible for a "buy-out" at around $5000). This gentleman, a war veteran, requested my passports and promised rather much. I very reluctantly entrusted him with my passports (both British and Iranian) and had faith in my uncles and father who seemed to trust this man. Following this I had joined the war veteran for multiple expeditions to various official buildings, each occasion I was surprised at what exactly he had hoped to achieve, we were pretty much cold-calling and it appeared that he had no particular plan. To complicate matters further, we had used this veteran to get me a cheaper flight to Dubai (due to his veteran status).

Come Christmas eve I was stood packed and ready to go to Dubai after several changes in flight plans. I waited nervously whilst the veteran, who had been assuring me that he would arrive each of the four days previous with my passports, tickets and temporary exemption for my army service - "I'm on my way", "tomorrow, 2 O'Clock", "Tomorrow, 6 O'Clock". "He's in Mashad" explained his wife whom I desperately called due to her husband's phone being off for over 24-hours, "A driver is bringing your passports" she continued. It was only that morning that I received the ticket and the behavior of the veteran was not helping my confidence about the other matters, the only thing he seemed able to arrange was the string of bullshit that exited his mouth. Even if the passports were to arrive in time at this point, I was still not sure how things stood with my temporary exemption from the army. My flight had departed and my passports had still not arrived, so I called my [mother's brother] in Dubai to explain that I would try to get a flight for Christmas day.

As a conciliation for my change in plans an uncle in Tehran invited me over, "Tonight my house is Dubai and I'll be your [mother's brother]" and so Christmas day I awoke in Tehran, put on the Christmas tunes on my laptop before rearranging the plans. Whilst in Tehran I took the opportunity to go out for coffee with a friend before sitting down to a Sunday roast with my Dad, brother and step-mum. Earlier that day I had successfully phoned the veteran who was once again giving me the run-around and sadly I got my hopes up that I might be able to get a flight that night. It was just before leaving for an engagement party that night that I had a call announcing the return of my passports - one of my better Christmas presents maybe. I was informed that I also had a ticket arranged for the next day, first-class even.

Boxing day came and I headed off to work where my passports were waiting for me, yet no ticket, in fact the first-class part was an embellishment on my uncle's part - a joke apparently. Predictably our veteran friend had his phone off again and I rushed off to attempt to change the ticket myself, but alas, no seats were available that day, worse still, I learned that no extension had been made with regards to my army service. So, Christmas eve; no passports but ticket, Christmas day; passports but no ticket and Boxing day; passports, ticket possibility yet no army service. Ultimately I can't leave the country, as is still the case to this day. My visiting time of 3-months has passed and I can either get an exit VISA with great trouble or arrange my army service which has to be done either way.




 flickr  View my photo journal

"Which is better, England or Iran?", is a question that I have rehearsed the answer to yet am no closer in being able to comfortably answer. I am trying out new answers for this, adapting to each audience - never wanting to upset and at times wishing to be reassuring about what it is to live here. Occasionally I become flippant and throw in an outrageous response yet invariably I escape this vague question by replying, "Which is better, apples or oranges?".

"Which is better for education?", "which is better for doing business?", "which is better for healthcare?" - such questions might get more sensible answers. I am always left revising each alternative response after presentation, shocked at the gross generalisations I've left printed in people's minds. I cannot possibly present an objective response and any variation I may present will only serve to mirror my outlook and lifestyle. Being consciously aware of this, my distortions are expanded further still.

"Iran is more dangerous", "Iran is more beautiful", "Iran is more free" - I blurt out with snap-shot reasons and humorous anecdotes. "England is more...", I pause. I can fill this gap with anything - stories and facts can be found somewhere in the almost 28-years of living. 

In truth, there is so much that frustrates me about England, it is natural. There is so much that I'm happy to be away from. I cannot say the same about Iran for I barely feel like a resident, I have asked very little of this country and contributed less. I'm not even sure I feel comfortable with these arbitrary borders, nationalities and cultures that we dice the world up by.

I remarked to a friend the other day that being English is like being a child with a pleasant babysitter that brings the best toys around yet is possibly a little too watchful to make it fun. I went on to say that being Iranian is like having no babysitter at all and doing what ever you want when you want.

Generally I find Iran dangerous, I volunteers this without being asked any questions. Perversly enough there seems to be a little too much freedom you may be surprised to hear and this, for me, invites the danger. When the laws are so easily bought and regulations not present the people don't shy away from trampling on their fellow sister/brother.

"Where would you rather live?", is another question I am occasionally asked. This I am certainly more qualified to answer. My answer is that I don't feel I have a preference but rather more to choose from.



Like this is fine.

 flickr  View my photo journal

I'm always mildly amused by the comments made about my limit wardrobe (albeit consciously limited in variation) especially when it is common place for the Iranian folk to wear the same clothing for around 3-days running. The other day I was once again subjected to a public bashing regarding my clothing choice (on a day that my clothes were relatively varied) and was quizzed about the jacket I wore. I proudly stated that this was my father's some 30-years previous, which was met with the same stale faces that glared in disbelief when I said I'd been shopping in second-hand stores. To hide the shame I brought on upon family, my uncle loudly announced that his son in-law would take me shopping - no expense spared. As much as I felt the urge to explain myself, it wouldn't have resulted in anything and besides, more clothes would come in handy.

So the following day I joined my uncle's son in-law for a trip to Ferdosi - Tehran's exceptionally large clothing mall with maybe 200-shops, at a guess. To get there we travelled through Tehran by motorbike-taxi, which - granted - is a fast way to travel the city, but, is also fast way to invite death. On top of the dangers found on Iranian roads we were further in danger by being three to a small motorbike (no helmets), weaving through dense traffic with our knees knocking the odd car here and there. Oddly enough I found this most enjoyable and likened it to the open-top bus tours found in London.

It appeared that we had an incredibly large budget for our expedition, yet a very short amount of time - this was made shorter still by our poor knowledge of each others first language's. It's worth noting that in Iran it's pretty much universal for shops not to price their goods, thus bringing the art of haggling, which is always made harder by the presence of any English. Often I am asked to not speak when out buying goods and if I'm unlucky enough to be alone when shopping then things can get very expensive. Although there was a vast range clothing available, with many familiar brands, I struggled to find anything I liked. This was maybe more of a reflection of my preferance - no logos, no patterns, not "distressed", torn, frayed or creased... and preferably black (red at a push). These are the rules that normally make shopping a quick and painless affair - without these guidelines the variables become too much and my mind implodes under the weight of too many questions.

After this semi-successful shopping expedition, my uncle's son in-law popped me in a taxi, giving the driver the vaguest of directions. This was to begin a painful two-hour ordeal as I tried to get back to Karaj. The driver immediately asked if I knew where we were to go - "Just go to Karaj and I'll guide us from there" I confidently replied. I then stupidly dozed off (as I usually do on the way to Karaj from Tehran) only to wake up in unfamiliar territory - the driver had taken the slow, alternative and unknown route to Karaj. As we entered Karaj I asked him to follow the heavy traffic, assuming it was heading to the center like myself, but soon we were lost. The driver became irate and refused to listen to my father's direction via mobile phone and it was left to me to quiz pedestrians as to the directions. At this point a kind gentleman entered the taxi, offering to guide us to my destination. A short while later our guide left the taxi announcing that this was where I needed to go. "Go on then" the taxi driver said, "this is your stop". The guide had seemingly taken us to where he wanted to go no doubt and further away than where I wanted to go - at my expense! The driver -  a fragile sort, grumbling repeatedly - was steaming as I asked him to drive on while I quizzed further more people. Eventually we arrived, I exited the car, threw some more money in, he threw my bags out, I slammed the door and swore very loudly.



Flag on a Fokker plane.

 flickr  View my photo journal

"My friend won the American lottery!" exclaimed a friend whilst pointing out a man in a photo from her recent trip to the desert. "Wow, well done him - how many millions did he win?" I enquired. She paused and looked at me a little confused for a period, "no, he won the opportunity to live in America". "Oh!" I blurted out, wondering wether this was meant sarcastically. She then proceeded to tell me how excited he is and how he is rushing to ready himself. As she continued, I descended into thought - I was reminded of a film, The Island, where residents of an illusionary life where granted the opportunity to leave the restricted environment - ultimately to their death.

As I entertained the possible similarities between this film and her friend's situation I was reminded of the advantages I have over most residents of the Islamic Republic of Iran - that my British passport enables me to avoid travel and work restrictions around the world. As far as I know there are a couple of countries available simply for visitation with an Iranian passport - Turkey and Russia, anywhere else and one is subject to VISA acquisition.

The topic of leaving Iran is high on the list in conversation with friends, be it my leaving or their wish to leave. When discussing this with female friends I am left with a wiff of paranoia as I hear the echos of my family warning me - "Daveed, be careful - the Iranian girls are only interested in leaving Iran...", "...they will try anything". I'm not sure they appreciate the concealed insult as they say these things - when I suggest that we might have common ground or that we are enjoying each others company I am looked at with, "Oh so naive". And with this, my merits are reduced to a little booklet and all its entitlements.

The lottery of life has landed me with this little booklet and not the limitations brought on many of my friends in here, yet I often wonder, who would remain if things were a little different.