Bold step.

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In the same way that one might simply say the date, 4th of July - "beest o do e Bahman" (22nd of Bahman or 11th of February in the Christian calendar) is of similar significance to the Iranian folk. This day is more correctly called "Daheye Fajr", which roughly translates as "10-days leading up to", and is the anniversary of the revolution as well as a national holiday. More often than not, national holidays mean busy days at work for me - one of the bad points about working in the service sector.

This prominent day came unannounced to me and it was work as usual as far as I was concerned. The night before I joined my father in Tehran and the following morning we made our way through the city, heading to Karaj (the large neighboring city where we work). We didn't get too far into our journey before the people started moving faster than our car. In the warm sun we sat in traffic with me reading a book relaying the early days of Reza Pahlavi, the first of the Pahlavi dynasty who preceded the Islamic Republic. We were at a wedding in 1935 when my father's mobile rang with tragic news of a senior colleague. The days plans were to take new course, thus granting my wish to photograph where the crowds amassed.

I hopped out of the car that sat static on the motorway and joined the human traffic making their way to Azadi Square for the "Rahpeymayee" (demonstration). On the horizon I saw the Azadi tower, and switched to the right side of the long straight road, following the flow off people heading towards the banners and chants. A lot of traffic was moving both towards and away from the square so I quickened my pace to make sure I didn't miss any of the unknowned events ahead. I weaved in and out of the chudor and Basij bulk who held a creative array of banners whilst chanting with the customary slogans. "Death to America", "death to Israel", "death to Denmark" and then "death to England". I tripped in my step, I have not heard this variation since being here, even though history might make it the more appropriate choice. I then paused to estimate the crowd size, switched off my phone and increased the pace.

The exact crowd figures for this day are debatable as different sources said different figures for different reasons. Reports stated 100,000 both from inside and outside of Iran yet I heard "2,000,000 easily" from friends and family. I agreed with the letter, measuring this by my being among the crowd on the 15th February 2003, in London, regarding a preemptive attack on Iraq. There were apparently 2,000,000 there, making it a historic moments for many reasons. The crowds in Tehran seemed as large, if not more so yet certainly the masses throughout Iran exceeded 2,000,000.

After being distracted by my first touch of the Azadi tower I turned around to see smoke in the distance. It could only mean one thing. I raced over like the paparazi for Diana. With a lift of the camera I shot repeatedly, without the aid of the display, above the circle of chanting men. I was a shameless tourist, excitedly witnessing my first flag burning - Denmark's.

I passed the gates that filtered the women out and eventually stood on one side of a large gap between the people and their president. My side were so abnormally close to one another and for a rare moment we moved in unity, not necessarily by choice though. I shifted with the current of people who listened on as the president gave an impressively long speech that I failed to understand. Once again I was a tourist, guessing the distance between myself and the president and photographing, like a fan at a concert, at what turned out to be a spot in the distance.

As the activities drew to a close we made the usual Iranian, "every man for himself" scrabble back to the filter gates . While mature suited men climbed the fences I looked down to the floor gathering as much anti-western material as my pockets would allow. I waited for the crowds to calm and reflected on the day and even the week's events: it was all rather embarrassing: flag burnings, death chants, burning embassies and changing the names of Danish pastries - this behavior seems as productive as presenting the middle finger to your local MP, and just as juvenile.

As I made my way to the metro I spotted a family walking holding hands. They paused at one of the many circular plastic prints that carpeted the roads. These cleverly interactive prints show images of both the American and Israeli flag with a black foot print over the top. As if to specially complete my collection of tourist memorabilia they took it in turns - beginning with the father - to slowly yet firmly tread where the foot print was. My day was complete.




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Other than the two lines of men stepping in rhythm to a deathly slow drum beat, I knew exactly what was coming. I've been partial witness to such activities before, yet this time around I figured I should look on with the many others who nonchalantly witness this annual Shia ceremony. I was too squeamish though, not yet toughened to the Iranian ways and chose to hide, cowardly, behind a screen again.

I raced around, double-time to the beat, framing shots and occupying my mind with documentation. My pacing was mirrored by the... butcher, I guess, as we both condensed time before our work begun. It seemed the two lines of men, whipping their backs to the beat, had reached the appropriate point, the drum beat changed pace: quickened with three bass beats to the snare. The chants of "Hossein" blended back-to-back as the sacrificial sheep was rotated on its back by two helping men. I watched through the display on my camera phone whilst pressing the capture button repeatedly, seeing staggered shots of the butcher opening the neck of the sheep thus transfering the bright warm blood to the tarmac. I was alone in fascination, measured by my little brother who chuckled before telling me that it was "disgusting".

My Dad had been alluding to the many rituals throughout Moharram, a period of remembrance for the Shia faith, where the battle of Karbala and Imam Hossein meet with unpleasant consequences. Yet there is still a lot I must learn of this story or at least be taught. My ignorance however was not acceptable during this period and I could not help but seem to agitate my family by what seemed like normal behavior. As I was dragged around on this national holiday I would often stumble on words that required stern correction and actions that required rapid amendment. This fueled a frustration as I found it ludicrous that I should be scolded without enlightenment or warning.

The lights went out in the local mosque I visited with my cousin in Tehran. Many men rushed forward to sit before the celebrity Maddah (a person who sings/praises the Imams). Almost with the first of many "Hossein"s that were to follow I heard a loud... whimper, I think. It had to be, these two days are not for laughing I was assured. This triggered more feedback as the mosque flooded with groans, whines and tears. I itched to ask my cousin what was happening but didn't wish to interrupt the unfolding scenes.

The men started slapping their heads with the lyrics, beating their chests for a rhythm and crying out of time. There seemed to be three parts to this composition, mixture of Arabic and Farsi verse, broken with a repetitive "Hossein" chorus, and later, two rotating circles of topless men alternating in verse. The beat jumped between two tempos, firstly slapping with one hand followed by occasional slaps with two - hard slaps followed by really hard slaps. The questions mounted, before they clotted inside me resulting in a rare moment of silence in my head. I absorbed the moment, wide eyed, open mouthed and all ears. The celebrity Maddah continued, waving his torch around and occasionally bringing it to a booklet in his other hand. The whimpers followed his words as he guided us through this 2-hour episode, only twice having to hang-up his mobile during the proceedings.

Following the ceremony and meal my cousin was keen to join his friend in a visit to Shariati Street. I joined them on the short walk in the rain only to later realise the real purpose of our visit. It appeared that we'd turned up at a carnival, yet such things would be strictly forbidden. Bad weather had not deterred the many girls and boys from turning up to parade themselves. Such a serious and sorrowful occasion seems to have provided the means for mixed socializing - unheard of here. I was amazed at this bipolar occurrence as I looked on at the cracks in the street bursting with an eager and lustful youth sniffing at each other like dogs. My father later informed me that this used to be the illicit way the girls and boys would find their husband's or wife's but now apparently they look for someone to play with. It's funny what does and doesn't change.



Yazd style.

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I had stepped back in time whilst stepping onto the overnight train to the ancient city of Yazd in the centre or Iran. The sun-faded orange tones of the carbon-fiber interior that still wore the warning signs in multiple European languages captured me in the Shah's time. This was very much doubled by the fact that we were enclosed for the 9-hour journey with the night helping hide any hint of a decade.

The plans for Yazd arrived after failed attempts for visiting other historical cities around the country. For me at least the trip was a little birthday present, yet for the other 6-girls who joined me, it was an adventure. 6-girls is not something one should casually mention what with the climate here, but I rationed that this might be the best mixed combination I could be part of - for security, naturally. The girls were mostly unfamiliar to me but the forced intimacies of the train journey quickly broke the ice.

The train journey was fun, I felt like I was on a school trip with all the excitement brought by the over-night sleep. Amusingly the train guards erratic discipline helped cement this feeling. To escape the limited space in the cabins we went to the restaurant area for some tea, yet the nonsensical responses of the various staff troubled me, "We've run out", "We only serve tea if you eat dinner", "You have to get tea in another carriage". "Everybody out, leave" requested the train's guard one hour ahead of the advertised time. I struggled to make sense of things. I half expected a white rabbit to dash across the floor and pleaded with my friend to explain what the meaning was behind this and many other peculiarities on this journey. The oddities disappeared after the taxi driver removed the functioning portable gas-cooker from the front seat to allow another gentleman in to join us part way to our hotel.

Our hotel was splendid, and the price more so thanks to a friend of a friend. £5 a night managed to get a sensitively decorative room in a 4-star venue. There were very few details overlooked as far as style and modern conveniences were concerned. Water fountains and streams split the garden areas from the yellow bricked Qajari period rooms. We met with the staff and two parrots, created our associations then sneaked off to the rooms to get a couple of hours kip before the schedule commenced.

Much of the trip seemed to be consumed with back-to-back visits of buildings from the Qajar dynasty (some 100-200 years ago) to Zoroastrian nic-naks (reaching quadruple figures). I tried to take in much of what was translated to me but was overwhelmed, probably more so than my fellow traveler who were at least familiar with the non-tourist related aspects. More interesting to me was the winding paths of monotone, milk-chocolate buildings that scatter across the city, blending into one another with no particular care. The shapes were welcoming for the eye; mostly modest archways with frequent domed roofs; circles and curves dominate, apparently symbolising immortality. The pathways, impractical for cars rendered the older parts of the city with a calm silence, only broken by the occasional speeding motorbike. In fact motorbikes seemed the most popular method of transport by a long way and it wasn't uncommon to see entire families to be arrange and transported around.

We made plans one night to go to the cinema not too far from our hotel. This was going to be the first opportunity I've had to experience what an Iranian picture house had to offer. I was fed with many amusing anecdotes of what going to the cinema means. Naturally my curiosity lay with what could possibly exist after the splicing machine was made blunt for the Islamic audience, yet more intriguingly I was enlightened as to how subtitles were once relayed to the part-illiterate audience. Apparently a person would stand before the screen and read in a monotone voice, "Kissing noise", It was explained before the group broke out in laughter. We were late and decided that we would run, at least as fast as our headscarfs would allow us. This excited more of a response than on other occasions in the streets where motorbikes would rush by with riders shouting unknown comments to the six relatively liberally dressed city-girls that accompanied me.

As it turned out the cinema was closed due to Moharam so we set back for the hotel and found ways to amuse ourselves for the evening. We played a game of "Pantomime", which is Shirades with less limitation. I saw great poetry in seeing the Iranian folk try to silently act out "Axis of Evil". "The Sixth Dimension" followed, which I unsuccessfully acted out. This led on to a debate, mostly centering around perspective of life, which gave me a fascinating incite into the minds of my generation in Iran.

We were lost in the old town, partly by choice yet we filled this time like so much of the trip by rearranging ourselves for each-other's camera. I'm not sure how we got into one of these curious buildings but somehow we were invited, impromptu, to visit what appeared to be a tar (Iranian like guitar) workshop. Echoing around the courtyard were the solitary tunes repeating while we explored without guidance. We were envious and imagined our lives there in whilst circling the courtyard. The group disseminated as we explored and when I found them later in a dusty room, no head turned as we gazed on at what we'd stumbled upon. This room appeared to have been vacated with disregard, with evidence surrounding us as to the lives of the previous occupants. As we rifled through the cupboards and shelves, coughing with the disturbed dust, we put together the history. Two men, doctor and merchant, left roughly 2-years after the revolution. As we studied deeper I half joking asked whether it would be wrong to loot the place, yet as I looked up, it appear that this question was being answered. I claimed old letters, a receipt book and news papers while my partners in crime went for old keys and locks. I've formulated plans to go back but I could surely not navigate the Yazd labyrinth so successfully again.



Khomeini bunting.

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"What happened?", I asked to my friend who had stopped the car to ask for directions back to Tehran after having kindly offered me a lift. I was confused - it seemed that two people had made an effort to put us back on track: a man on the streets, verbally providing details and another man in a car (also caught in traffic) writing it down on paper. "Why, were you apologising so much to the gentleman in the car?" I later added whilst wondering why he went to the effort of writing down the directions, yet not bother to pass them on. After a short period of silence my friend replied, "The guy in the car beside us was a Basiji, he was writing the car details down". "What did you do?" I nervously asked, only too aware that it is often irrelevant. "My headscarf slipped back", she answered. It seems that this plain clothed driver was a Basij member and had noticed something we hadn't: that my friend's headscarf had in fact slipped back a little.

As it turns out, this gentleman was not a Basij member but rather a member of a more curious set-up, the Nirooyeh Entezami Naja, whose responsibilities lie with protecting the Islamic way. They seem to fit somewhere between the military, clerics and police - occasionally armed, with police powers yet apparently strictly Islamic. While I am here, the Basij is also a confusing outfit and difficult to explain. Their function is not particularly black and white yet their power seems vast. They seem to also fit somewhere between the military, clerics and police - assuming elements of all yet only in the name of Allah and not necessarily towards the government like the Nirooyeh Entezami Naja. I will explain further on this organisation another time however as currently I know too little and it is probably unsafe for me to go any further.

Strictly speaking I'm not actually allowed to be in the company of a non-family female like I was that night and at the time I thought that we were about to have to pull-over and explain how we knew each other. I enquired with my friend as to what exactly can result from such scenarios, yet she was not entirely sure herself. She only replied that it may range from a warning, maybe lashings or even jail-time. I've heard many stories of the variety of bizarre reasons as to how someone can get in trouble, yet if bribery can't help you (as it often does), don't cry for god's as he seems to be the one you've upset.

This event had happened three weeks ago and at the time I managed to calm my friend down by assuring her that the conditions where not favorable for this gentleman to get the number plate details and that maybe he was just trying to play the big guy. This however wasn't the case. My friend's father was visited by an army soldier which subsequently led to her having to provide a statement at some official building. The following day she had to relinquish her license and the car (which was actually her father's) to the pound for one week.

These stories have been getting closer and this night was the closest I've came to trouble. I'm sure however that it is only a matter of time before I am directly involved. I say this because I firstly am so ignorant to the laws here yet also because it is so easy to stumble into trouble, even when one is acting as is required.