Empty graves.

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"God, take me as well, I can't live with this pain" begged a gentleman to whilst gripping onto the nearest relative in the office area of Behesht Zahra, Tehran's immense graveyard (with, at a guess, 5-million resting bodies) situated near the shrine of Imam Khomeini. Further loud cries were silently watched by the many separate burial parties both in and out of the administration area. Crowds gather around a screen after having paid, cancelled birth certificates and taken care of other formalities, waiting to see their time come. "Would you like to see the bodies washed?" asked one of our party – such things cannot be decided, one only knows when it might be too late - I went anyway.

A distant relative – one I was not sure I'd even met – had had a heart-attack the previous day yet due to him not being that old we had a long wait while tests were carried out. During the wait I met with many relatives I still had not seen since arriving 5-months previous, we consciously kept the smiles to a minimum whilst catching up. In between this my father helped piece together the family tree while I attempted to figure out both my association and theirs to our late relative.

"These are the bodies after they have been washed" pointed out the friend of the family. "These ones have not been claimed" he went on. My confused face prompted him to explain further, "Maybe they have been murdered or in a car accident". One of them had definitely been in a car accident by the shape of the white cloth that tightly wrapped around it's body. "This one again, no name" he said while I watched two distressed men unwrap one of the three bodies to look at the face. "They photograph them before they take them for burial..." he added before we were interrupted and asked to help load them to the car waiting outside.

We followed the railings where a line of wrapped bodies entered a small hole in the wall leading to the washing and wrapping room beside a narrow viewing corridor. We were separated by the dense crowd pushing and pulling, struggling to get a glimpse of their loved ones through the slim windows. It was the same when we returned with our late relative. "He's here", called my dad who had allowed some room for me to look in.

Two men lifted his naked body into a shallow stone bath, his stitched chest from the autopsy triggered a murmur through the onlooking family. A small cloth was placed over his genitals and the washing commenced. Would I want to see my dad like this I thought whilst looking at our late relative's son who, for the first time, gave up the solid stance and dropped his first tear. He, like others, were then comforted and led out as their uncontrolled shrieks brought the room to silence.

There was too much to watch and too little did I understand. What is that liquid for? What is the green powder for? What is this procedure for? The body exited the room and we collectively lifted the stretcher, exited the building to join the women who waited outside. After walking a short distance shouting, "There is no God other than Allah" repeatedly, we placed the body down in a sheltered area where other parties conducted similar prayers. Hands rushed down to the body with tears following. Women shrieked out, "Uncle!", "Brother!", "Dad!", "Son", as they grabbed at any available body part.

As we went through various symbolic stages of this burial, the chesty cries and shuddering shrieks chipped away at me. I considered that Muslim burials are very public: the pain is very much on show. There seemed to be no climax, the cries got louder as we past each stage of the actual burial itself. During the hysteric shrieks of the women I couldn't help but think that they thought he would hear their statements and requests – it confused me that they were like this, yet this I learned is very much how Islam presents death: they shake the bodies in the grave whilst asking the person to remember all his Imams and of course his God.

I asked the family friend how many times he'd been to this place, "more than twenty?" I enquired. "Try more than 50" he replied. It sat in my mind that I would return many more times myself, I looked around at all the family and tried not to imagine each occasion. We all have our last time, but we will not drop a tear on that occasion.



Iran Nuclear.

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"What do you think of Ahmadinejad?", "Do you think there will the be a revolution soon?", "What do the people think of [insert political situation here]?", "Why did you go?".

I've been thinking a lot about the various conversations I had with many ex-pats present at a barbecue with my uncle's next door neighbors whilst in Dubai. It was a great insight for me to hear the variation of perspectives towards the UAE, Iran and England, especially due to the guest's varied ages, backgrounds and social orientation. Maybe I can summarise:

A tall animated American whom had conducted much business during the Shah's time made sure that I didn't miss his many praises of Iran. This analytical chap presented me with an amusing explanation as to why Iran went through a revolution, "spark plugs!" he exclaimed. "It's the little things that build up" he said before continuing his experience of the preceding hours before the revolution. His business was in the motor-trade and he went on to inform me of the business environment during the transition. "The Shah is no good!" he paraphrased in Farsi with the most Iranian of facial gestures. He further explained the attitudes' of Iranians before the revolution, reciting conversations with his many good friends he'd acquired during those days.

The wife of this chap was an elegant dual national - born and raised in Turkey and partly living between America and the UAE. She was keen to hear my opinions regarding Iran's political landscape. We discussed the appearances of the Iranian president within the western media which were mostly concerning Israel. She leant forward whilst lowering her voice to let me know that she understands the comments in question and is most amused by the vociferous response. She spoke mostly about altering standards of living mostly within America and was very concerned about the direction yet more concerned about the the peoples response - or lack of. "It's turning into a police state", she told me nervously and went on to present evidence.

I discussed social differences between the UAE and England with an ex-pat Brit copywriter who now lives and works in Dubai. He explained about his love for Dubai's unquestionable acceptance of multiple faiths and backgrounds, suggesting that Britain only presents this on the surface.

My uncle baffled me with his amusement towards my half-arsed boycotts and concerns with western foreign policy. His response to these and other matters startled me. "Before we entered Africa the average life-expectancy was 34-years old, now it's 37... things are surely better?".  I was dumbfounded with this comment and wished I was quicker in a counter-response to this and so much more. As I indulged his informative and impeccable explanations I realised however that we fundamentally agree on more than I would have expected. He later explained why he was amused by my concerns which led to an interesting debate about the period of history people grow up in and how this adapts one's focus.

"Why did you leave England?" I asked another ex-pat Brit. "England isn't the country I grew up", he reluctantly responded. He seemed bitter when elaborating on stories concerning his dad's harassment by immigrants that seemingly drove him out of his home. He continued with observations of the changing economic situation in England which he is reminded of on his annual return. The cost of living seemed to be the centre of his debate mixed with disillusionment with national attitudes and government policy.

So in conclusion:
1. Amusing
2. No
3. They think it's a joke
4. I ask myself this every day



View from the WTC Dubai.

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I have been told at times that Iran is "100-150-years behind", a confusing statement to me for many reasons. I'm not entirely sure where this measure begins, I'm confident blogs didn't exist that long ago. I'm not sure that I like statements like these as they seem to imply that there is something to model, a correct path for which society must follow. I do appreciate that Iran may take generations to achieve some socially positive advances but I worry about what exactly is intended to be modeled.

Literally Iran is 622-years behind if we acknowledge the calendar differences, yet these arbitrary measures have been making a little more sense since I've arrived in Dubai for my long anticipated break. This place seems several years ahead. I can measure this in a few ways, most of which are superficial. The most immediate aspect to notice is the transport, Iran seems particularly stunted in its transportation, be it public or private, yet Dubai on the other-hand seems to not have any cars older than 5-years. On this point I can't help but feel like a character in a time-travel sci-fi movie, I have never seen cars like the ones here. 50% of them are unfamiliar to me, even from my time in England, yet this is due to a large American and East -Asian manufacturer presence.

Since arriving here I've noticed I'm never too far from the words, "more money than sense". The most noteworthy use of this reflexive statement was the first; upon landing in Dubai I looked outside the window to see one of many ships dumping sand offshore to create an island. And this, like the many other ambitious creations arrive at an impressive pace, which my auntie noticed in the outdated scenes on the postcards from only 1-year previous. Apparently 20% of the world's overhead-cranes reside in Dubai, helping build the ever taller skyscrapers that shine like an unfatigued computer generated landscape.

This landscape is managed, maintained and lived in by a strong mixture of peoples from around the world - a mix with no apparent dominance. Quite confusingly English is the dominant language, I hear many accents, even familiar English ones - I'm nearly home! It is strange for me to speak English publicly both due to my time in Iran and also due to me being in a non-western country with many non-westerners. It is also refreshing to for me to talk English with family here, to talk a speed and to talk without having to avoid cultural subtleties.

With caution I might state that Dubai is the most "civilized" place on Earth. The service, the manners, the smiles... what's the catch? Maybe its because the people choose to be there and the place wasn't inflicted upon them like England for me. Maybe civilization can be bought like an island in the sea. Who knows, maybe in 150-year Iran will be that civilized.



Night Wishes.

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21.12: I buy non-alcoholic "champagne" at the shop in the pool before wishing the staff a happy new year.
21.21: We meet.
21.30: We sit to dinner which consisted of rotten tomatoes and chat about families.
23.24: We lie about our association to a local trader as we made our way to the taxi.
23.45: We arrive home, put music on and prepared ourselves.
23.58: We look at the six available clocks and decided which we would recognise.
00.00: Pop!
00.01: We try to sing 'Old Langsine'.
00.02: We eat, we drink, we smile.
00.07: We prepare for our task.
00.15: We leave without words or light and make our way to the street.
00.17: We find the centre of the unused expanse and dig a small hole with tea spoon for the first candle.
00.33: We see wild dogs in the distance.
00.35: We see wild dogs running in our direction - maybe twenty in total.
00.35: We walk back home slowly and silently, being barked at all the way.
00.45: We stand watching the dogs in the distance while pretend to make a phone call as a couple of cars pass.
00.55: We return to place further more candles in the ground.
01.01: We stop placing candles, 33, 77-short of the desired volume due to the return of the dogs.
01.02: We begin lighting the candle in a random order.
01.10: We complete lighting the candle and begin photographing at various distances.
01.11: We leave for home being barked at all the way.
01.23: We light 22-candles on the balcony and photograph both the balcony and the unused expanse.
01.44: We drink coffee and eat cheesecake.
02.20: We re-light some candles on the balcony.
02.34: We watch the first few candles go out in the unused expanse.
03.03: We listen to Dub, Ragga, Dancehall and Grime music whilst talking about London.
03.30: We miss the GMT new year.
03.45: We realise we've missed the GMT new year and count down from ten before singing Old Langsine again.
04.04: The last candle goes out in the unused expanse.