As mother requested; there was my vote.

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"So I put the name of the candidate in this box and then either a number one, two, three or four in the other box", I asked the polling station staff who nodded and agreed. I asked again, in another way, just to be sure. "So what if I can't write in Farsi?", I further asked, "then your friend can write for you". I could have written the name of my candidate of choice myself, but I wasn't wishing to leave anything to chance, worried at the possibility that my vote would be void with the slightest spelling error. It had been discussed before hand by many that one should try to vote in polling stations other than a mosques, and to also take one's own pen. To check this rumour, I used the mosque-supplied pen to write a note saying, 'I didn't vote with this pen', and with the second supplied pen, 'I also didn't vote with this one'. That note still reads the same to this day.

"Why were you taking pictures just then?" came a voice from behind me as I was preparing to leave, "for my dear mother; you know what parents are like", I said warmly before continuing in a mock-mother voice, "dear son, make sure you vote, I want to know you voted OK". We all laughed and and slid away while I could. I'd not only photographed my completed ballot but had also photographed the instructions on how to vote as we stood in line at the door of the mosque.

The procedures for voting were as I remember; hand them my birth certificate, ink my finger up, stamp it, fill out the ballots then fold and post in the plastic containers. On this occasion, not only were we able to vote in the presidential elections but also the Expediency Council elections, so to be absolutely sure I'd covered everything, I filled out my presidential candidate of choice on both ballots. "So the green one goes here and the blue one here?", I asked the observer as I pointed to the two plastic containers. He agreed, but I asked one more time in a different way; I'd regret it if I didn't.

With so much post-election activity you'd be right in wondering why I'm returning back to the vote day itself and even to a moment just before the previous blog entry below. But I'm stuck here and still seeking answers. Fraud has been suggested by three of the four candidates regarding the vote (one of which later withdrew his complaint) and although I am still quite suspicious of the election results and feel fraud might have taken place. I don't necessarily feel that any major fraud had taken place throughout the polling stations, but am rather concerned that the potential for fraud was systemically introduced. I regularly bring this up and still make inquiries regarding my concerns but still I've no answers. Yet to my surprise, people seem confused as to why I'm stuck at this point. It's like they've no faith that the vote and the result have anything to do with one another, by which I mean, suspicion of stuffed ballot boxes or other forms of manipulation still wouldn't relate to the final result.

So back to vote-day.

"So David, who'd you vote for?", asked a friend over the phone jokingly, knowing that I'd continue with my British sensibilities and not reveal this information. "I voted for Iran", I joked in response, "so how about yourself, did you do your democratic duty?", I asked. "Yes, I put 77; Mousavi", responded my friend, "wait a minute, what's the number 77 got to do with anything?", I quickly shot back. I explained how I put only a single digit and how I checked with officials – "you made a mistake", my friend told me. After a short silent pause between us I inquired, "what makes you think that you yourself didn't make a mistake ... so, might one of our votes be considered void; is the number part essential?". Still to this day I've not had an answer to question.

"but Ahmadinejad's code being 44 and Mousavi's – where I was at least – being 4 is weird"

Two years ago I voted in the parliamentary elections whereby I also had the opportunity to vote in the Expediency Council elections. This form did not require names to be written, just simply an 'X' was required within one of twelve boxes. This form had all the markings that would indicate a computer would validate it: barcode and black blocks, no doubt for alignment purposes within a feed-machine of sorts. I've mentioned this curious difference to many I've discussed the vote-day with, confused as to why in a relatively illiterate state, a system needing hand writing would be used, especially where this previously wasn't the case. But more confusing is why a number code box existed; there were only four candidate, none of which shared similarities in names? And why the numbers 44, 55, 66 and 77? Maybe hand written names are less likely to lead to stuffed ballot boxes and the number would simply be back-up should the handwriting be illegible, "but Ahmadinejad's code being 44 and Mousavi's – where I was at least – being 4 is weird, especially as they are the two favoured contenders", I've continued to repeat.

As I say, I don't necessarily feel that critical fraud has taken place at the polling stations, although I feel the potential for it was there. Upon hearing the code overlap between the favoured contenders my worry was that any mention of a number four would be considered a vote for Ahmadinejad, regardless of the name sitting beside it. But this would involve large numbers to be implicated and could never be kept quiet. It was Stalin that said, "It's not the people who vote that count; it's the people who count the votes". I'd be tempted to revise it to: "...it's the person who announces the vote that counts".

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The Green Army take Vanak

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"Ahmadi, bye-bye, Ahmadi bye-bye", come the chants from the Green Army, shooting out peace signs with their fingers to any fellow green-clad passers-by. They may also use, "death to the dictator", or simply, "don't lie", in reference to the debut occurrence of televised debates; oh how those debates still resonate. And among the seas of green, which at one point managed to connect by hands throughout the capital, you'll see the face of Mir Hossein Mousavi, you'll hear his name and you can feel the wind of change or at least the desperate desire for it.

If you ask me, the change has come already, the TV debates set a precedence, the little moment of blocking Facebook, only to reverse the decision two days later, and the SMS mass-organising efforts stand as evidence. It's quite a different environment this time around, both online and off; street dancing, up-beat music pumped out from cars and houses and the girls and guys side-by-side, chanting together in unison; all officially outlawed. But don't let me paint you a picture of an oppressed struggling youth, circumventing these laws are very much part of daily life. The difference here is in its volume and its confidence; within the last few weeks the behavior has been observed by the authorities and not just tolerated.

It is just the two "reformer" candidates that have made statements to rid the streets of both tolerance or observance, by which they refer to the so called moral police, who indiscriminately pack you in a van for a lecture or maybe worse. It was only Mahdi Karoubi, the former head of the parliament; the other of the "reformer" candidates, that to my knowledge went further; publicly placing additional promises beside his candidacy, proposing at one point to have an income for mothers so they need not feel the pressure to work while fulfilling their desires, should they desire.

I put a call out on Facebook to learn more about the favoured "reformer", Mousavi. I'd asked if anyone had a translated English version of his campaign promises, but only had replies from others – Mousavi supports no less – that were also interested in seeing such a document. After the second call, this time asking for it in any language, I was presented with a link to a 103-page PDF. With my reading speed in Farsi, it'd be the subsequent election by the time I'd be done. But it struck me, among the Green Army that increases in numbers before my eyes, I never hear of campaign promises being used to convince me to "go green".

like the American elections before us, it is all about colour

Going green was smart, and since this development it always amused me that like the American elections before us, it is all about colour. Mousavi is a Sayed, meaning via his male lineage, he's related to the prophet Mohammad. To symbolise this, Sayeds use a certain shade of green, also shown in the national flag. Establishing this within his identity was great strategy, but also total luck, for each candidate was assigned a colour by which the state broadcasting group selected at random. For his main rival – the current President, Mr. Ahmadinejad – to identify with his selected colour, red, would be suicide. True, red is the only other colour on the flag but it is also the colour used to represent the enemy of Shi'a Muslims, Shem; the killer of Imam Hossein. So yellow became Karoubi's colour and the remaining candidate, the former leader of the still powerful militia group; Sepah, got blue. Neither of those colours hold any great association within Iran and even if they would, Mousavi struck out first and to follow would be a loser's game. But the current President's troops found their identity to confront the Green Army with; they wrapped themselves in the national flag. If you pass though Tehran's Valiasr, a corridor through the capital from north to south, you can see them 3-up on motorbikes weaving between the increasing numbers of green-clad cars, relentlessly sounding their horns and caped with the flag flapping in the wind behind them.

"Mr. Mousavi, I like you...", squinted the President, leaning in and preparing for yet another inappropriate statement during the second of the televised debates. To call these hugely popular events a debate would be misrepresentation; they were simply an opportunity to discredit the integrity of the opponents. It was "Dr. Ahmadinejad" that excelled in this practice, going as far defaming the character of his opponent's wife, and not content with that, finding senior players in the government to take down. "Shameless", shrieked the party crowd I sat with, who'd put a hold on boogying to see the leader of their Green Army get a opportunity to shoot down the man who they felt assumed an emperor like position in their republic. Shots were traded and cheers and gasps echoed around the living room, but this terrain is familiar for the President and as much as neither supporter would say the other won the battle, I'd say the President had them dancing. With such overwhelming fanaticism a shift in opinion was hard to find, and of those undecided voters, they were surely not won over by a great display of merits.

There's too much to be said about the debates and there's still so much being said about them. That single debate with Mousavi and the President sparked catchphrases and jokes that I doubt will be forgotten about anytime soon. That debate was to be my first exposure to Mousavi, for which I was hoping he would gain my support, but he failed. I looked to Karoubi to perform well against the President and for 5-minutes he did, but his ranting made the wheezing of this 72-year old man notice more. He hinged his opinions on religion as a good Mullah does but the foaming at the mouth, general bad on-screen behavior and uncontrolled anger made it an easy battle for his opponent. Karoubi failed too. He was so disappointing that a friend who'd been campaigning with the Karoubi Camp, whom I sat and watched with, went green.

As I write, it is the last day before vote day. As is the case, campaigning during this day is forbidden and may result in your right to vote being revoked. I've just revisited the place at which I exited my taxi upon coming home last night, a journey that took three hours due to the volume of supporters on the street, I got out of the taxi to what appeared to be a riot, with police struggling to keep the supporters from blocking traffic; revving their motorbikes before coming at the crowd with swinging batons. The supporters came back at them! Then the supporters came rushing in my direction and away from the police coming back at them. I'd survived a stampede. Today, in the light of day, I'd be forgiven in thinking I made it all up. The streets are clear and clean and pretty much no signs of an imminent election can be seen.

I've seen a face, I've seen the green and I see the desperate connection between

So up until today, I've seen a face, I've seen the green and I see the desperate connection between. I guess that Mir Hossein Mousavi is the most credible of the faces, for many, to bridge between the current reality and the future desires. As a dispassionate observer it's frustrating to see this shown in fanaticism. But the fanaticism is the change and going green, itself, is what's paving the way to the future desires. But on the other hand, the fanaticism surrounding Ahmadinejad's support is very much about his personality, thus we see a personality and it's antitype put before us on our voting slips.

So with a day to go, I'm still unsure of who to vote for and with complete ignorance to my British sensitivities, I'm being asked this with every greeting. The Green Army that surrounds me assures me that there is only one choice and any hint that I'd question that is seen as me playing silly, or even making a mockery of them and the nation. So I ask them why I should vote for Mousavi, and in nearly every case I'm presented with why I should vote against Ahmadinejad. This isn't my question though. On one occasion I was told of Mousavi's previous standing in government and how he help lead the country through it's most difficult times during the Iran, Iraq war. Commendable, but I'm still looking for campaign promises, and never hear them spoken about. As a friend put it to me, his campaign promises are very simple; they are to be the next president and to not be like the last.

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One of the many white canvases put out for marking in Tehran

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A quick response to Al Jazeera regarding the upcoming Iranian presidential elections

I'm not sure I'd be a good person to ask regarding the elections. My information on this is generally funneled through western minds. My only outstanding thought is that the fielded candidates are a very disappointing bunch. My concern, as with most elections around the world, is that people are not so much voting for what they want as oppose to voting for a person who is against what they don't want. Mousavi seems an odd choice for Iranians and yet he seems likely to win - at least if you stand this side of Vanak. Mousavi doesn't appear to be a uniter by nature and displays little leadership qualities - features that Iranians historically seem to need in my mind. Ahmadinejad in my mind shows these to a better degree. The people are united in a shade of green; of change, and the face is Mousavi's. I'm hoping that this will turn out to be a "yes we can" matter, in that people will understand their own role in shaping the future having invested themselves so much. For the first time, I think people are seeing aspects of a democratic nation develop, by this I mean the televised debates and the use of the internet what with the reversal of a decision to block Facebook. These are important steps towards the desires of the people.

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Yes we can, yes they did.

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"U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.", came the chants from the audience on big screen as the so called Ayatollah swung an Iranian flag. The weary, washed-up wrestler, seemingly on his last legs and on his last match, stumbled around. "Randy, you OK?", asked the Ayatollah mid-grapple, having noticed that his opponent was reaching at his chest, no doubt in pain and close to another heart attacked. Randy, regardless, fought on, leaping over the ropes and catching the Ayatollah's head between his thighs and spinning him down to the canvas, "come on Randy, pin me, let's finish this", the Ayatollah then quietly shouts.

Randy's doctor told him that another match would be his last, but as his life crumbled away around him, he chose to continue doing what he does best; to continue fighting and go on with the show. The show was a rematch with his rival from twenty-years ago (the peak of his career), the Ayatollah; a plump African-American looking man sporting a handle-bar mustache and an Iranian spandex-flag hugging him tightly. Of all the nations; of all the flags I thought. In shock at how explicit the film makers had presented the demon, I leaned across to my friend, "you said... but... Oh my god, that's the 'Allah' symbol on his belly!".

I was informed before the film that, "Iran was officially offended by it", yet I thought nothing of it; figuring that it was just another matter by which the powers-that-be were being oversensitive. But of all the nations; of all the flags I thought. In some way of relief I was later told that character was based upon 'The Iron Sheik': known "for being the man Hulk Hogan defeated for his first WWF Championship, setting off the "Golden Age" of professional wrestling. He was also a bodyguard for the Shah of Iran and his family for several years while they still lived in Iran". Not a fabrication I suppose.

Lifting the Iranian flag, Randy finds his last wind, snaps the pole in two, arousing cheers from the crowd. The referee approaches Randy who is stumbling with his hand on his chest, "you OK? you good to go on?", he asks with genuine, un-staged concern. Randy edges the referee to the side as he climbs the corner-ropes ready for his signature finish; the elbow-drop-to-grip. Silhouetted in a crucifix stance the cheers from the crowd fade to a muffled tone as Randy leaps over the camera leading us into to the credits. Finished.

do you expect me to believe that both America and Iran are collaborating in a staged show?

As we left the theatre I aired my suspicions to my fellow viewing friends; yet it seemed as if I was looking too deeply into it. Were we simply having a nice day out, watching an emotive film for leisure; a tool by which to reflect upon our place in the world and the meaning of it all? "Of all the nations. Of all the flags!", I stated, wide-eyed as we exited the cinema. "Ah, come on!", responded my friends, between their vocal concern for Mickey Rourke's physical condition. I continued; venting my suspicions with my tongue somehow lodged in my cheek "Ah come on, do you expect me to believe that both America and Iran are collaborating in a staged show; playing off one another to convince the masses of bi-national tensions. Also that Iran – although down for the count – will ultimately endure as America fades away?". No, I wasn't buying it.

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Censorship from one nation to the next.

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"So, do you know the different types of Muslims out there?", he asked me, seemingly having rehearsed the question in his head; I guess it was an inevitable question to follow with considering he'd told me he was from Jeddah and I'd said I was living in Iran. In anticipation of this question I'd considered the array of potential responses; I'd concluded that he must be Sunni and figured he'd know that my being from Iran, invariably and unwittingly makes me Shia. "We have two main types of Muslim: Sunni and Shia", he added, not entirely sure if I knew the difference what with my muddled background I'd informed him of between the questions. "Yes, I'm aware there are four – potentially a fifth – and I guess you must be Sunni?", I asked. "Yes, and you must be Shia?", he responded, to which I eeked out some kind of vague answer.

Prior to this, we'd sat beside one another in silence for seven hours before he settled my curiosity as to whether he was Indian. He'd put his in-flight sandwich to the side and waited till I'd eaten mine, "is this a ham sandwich?", he then asked, and to my embarrassment, I wasn't entirely sure. "Turkey, I think" – it was a Muslim question and how I wished to be correct, fully aware of the ensuing conversation. I asked the air steward, who confirmed that it was indeed Turkey, and so we got started.

"Are you learning Arabic?", he asked after I remarked upon the Islamicness of his question. "No, the dictionary I was fingering through was a Farsi to English one", I told him, "but so much of the language uses Arabic". He seemed to think that Iranians spoke Arabic, yet he wasn't so incorrect, I explained my frustrations of trying to learn Farsi and being confronted with so much Arabic thrown without foundations. We flicked through the dictionary and I pointed out the compound verbs, "see, Arabic word, Farsi verb", I said pointing to the word 'utter' - 'to utter'. "But you're not pronouncing it correctly", he exclaimed, repeating the word with a throaty flex. I flicked through to the pages containing Arabic characters, "all the words in this section are Arabic", I told him; he looked at me with a pause; leaned back as if to check if a punch-line was up my sleeve, then laughed. I pointed to several compound verbs and proceeded to read them out with a tongue flex; he laughed again, asking me why I'm bothering to learn.

He restrained to make a comments regarding Sunni-Shia differences and was nearly clever in holding his true opinion back. "It clearly says in the Koran that there are no further prophets after Mohammad", for which wasn't precisely the issue I thought. "Well, as you know, the distinction comes from recognising the leadership after Mohammad", I precariously interjected before he came back at me, "so, which holds more power, an Imam (leader) or a prophet?", he asked, as if he was holding a trump card. I had to concede that in such ranking he would be correct, but I felt the need to explain some background.

Iran struggles to keep some semblance of identity through three main theatres: culture, ideology and rule

"Our language, Farsi, has so much Arabic in it due to an Arab invasion", I cautiously started, managing to find some continuation from our previous discussion. I explained that before this time, Islam – as far as I knew – was not the dominant ideology of Persia. I explained what little I knew of the Zoroastrian faith and referred to Iran's two and a half thousand years of monarchic rule. I ventured far into matters I knew little about, mentioning variations of Islam though various dynasties within Persia. I dropped in my patchy history of England's not too dissimilar predicament with Henry VIII; "to me, it seems like Iran struggles to keep some semblance of identity through three main theatres: culture, ideology and rule", I boldly stated, attempting to explain that these elements are inseparable. It seemed that from my fellow passenger's point of view, Iran was making a mess of things.

We arrived in America and repeated that awkward moment whereby one says goodbye only to meet again in queues. I joined the visitors queue hoping to not have to revisit the second-interview room and explain why 'Iran' appeared on my visa-waiver form again. "So what language do they speak there in Iran?", the upbeat immigration officers asked me as I added various biometric details in, "Farsi is the national language, but it's interesting you ask...". I summarised the conversation I'd just had with my new found Arab friend, flinching after I said the words 'Arab invasion'. He took a look around him and hushed his voice, "invasion are just a sad fact of life". He explained that we're all one side of it at one time or another. I stood feeling very uncomfortable as he vaguely mentioned how the native Americans know this only too well. I left, having been given the all-clear, feeling slightly glad that Iran and America, thus far, were not on either side of this sad fact of life.

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A whole lot of zeros.

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"I'm surprised there's not a revolution!", a repatriate exclaimed, suggesting that the conditions in some way mirror that of the last time around. It was another occasion for me in uptown Tehran among chic furniture, an enormous television with accompanying surround sound speakers competing with the sound of highrises being clanged together in the neighbourhood. With the current financial uncertainty facing her new homeland it seemed odd to me that she would suggest Iran needs a revolution.

I listened to an Iranian radio station, broadcasting from that very same nation, referring to an article someplace, purporting that Iran's economic situation mirrors that preceding the revolution. I listened to another show from that same nation suggesting that the citizens themselves are far from the economic comfort of around the same period. "It used to be that mortgages would be three times one's annual salary", a lady reminisced, "it used to be that a single earner could provide for the family", another caller remarked.

I repeated this to a colleague, for which we worked out the ratios for our relatively healthy incomes. The price of a modest house, in a modest part of Tehran would be twenty times our annual salary.

As the west deals with it's own belief system it's interesting to note that between all the cracking and crunching, Iran is somehow an Island, as the same colleague put it to me. "How does all this effect us here in Iran", I both ask and get asked. This I can only hazard a guess at. Be it through inability or through some observation of Islamic law, we as Iranians cannot play with credit and thus we own things as oppose to debt - for better or for worse. I guess in our cases we only need believe that the cash currently occupies our hands before we expend on a top of the range BMW with its immense trade tariff (and trust me, they're queuing up for them). In my case, this means I cannot get that mortgage that I'd never in my lifetime be able to pay off.

the knock on effects to oil prices are certainly a point at which Iran will see a crunch

How all these international matters will come to effect us here on our Island will no doubt be known over time, seen maybe by the queues of corporations waiting at our shores, either decreasing or possibly even increasing interactions. This island is however a banana republic of sorts and thus the knock on effects to oil prices are certainly a point at which Iran will see a crunch and in a very immediate fashion. Should this come about, I very much doubt our repatriate will be proved right, yet I'm not sure how much those outside of the BMWs can be stretched.

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A Kharegi

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The Gift of Being a Khareji by X-Rey

Khareji is the word used for a foreigner, but all who are foreigner are not khareji. The main use of khareji is for Americans and Europeans. All Far East foreigners are called Japanese and all black skins are Africans!

The word khareji is mostly used in this sentence: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA(wow!), kharejiiiiiiiii!”

You’re in Vali-asr Street in Tehran, where there’s almost always a khareji seen. Now pay attention, as a khareji guy you’re under the young girl’s attention, especially if you’re a blue-eyed, blond-haired one. You may also encounter the angry looks of the boys you’ve robbed of their girl’s attention! As a girl I really can’t say what happens to the attention when a Khareji girl is around!

The kharejies are really beloved in the majority of people, if you’re a khareji you’ll soon realise it, for example, when sitting in taxi, where the taxi driver will try to start a polite conversation with you about politics, the weather or even Darwin’s theory of Evolution. You’ll also realise it when you’re lost, you’re in the queue at the bank or even when you’re at the bakery; you can always count on our help! And do you know why?! Cause we Iranians love kharejies! We love to tell our friends that we’ve met a khareji, that we helped a khareji, and that we had a chat with a khareji. It makes us feel proud!

Ok, now let me tell you a story:

I was once in a park with a friend.

we do not know what to do with this large volume, the government made some of them to control the relationship between boys and girls

As we have a large number of police in Iran and we do not know what to do with this large volume, the government made some of them to control the relationship between boys and girls, to make sure everything is Islamic enough!

The police stopped us as we were walking:

“Sorry, can I know what is your relationship and what are you doing in the park?!”
“No you can’t!”
“He’s my classmate sir, and we’re here cause I wanted to give his book back”, I brought his book out of my bag as evidence!

“Hehehe, so why did you have to give it back in the park?!”

I tried to show him the place I was before hand (the clinic which again as evidence I showed him my scrub and my card), and the place I was going to (home, which I had no evidence for!), and the place my friend was, and, as a conclusion I told him the park was in the middle of the place we both were! He asked me for my ID card (maybe I was a real important person and I just didn’t know it myself!). He gazed at it.

“Where is Hamburg?!”
“It’s in Germany!”, the place I was born.
“Oh! So then you’re khareji?!”
His eyes had a shine and his smile reached his ears!

“Well, not really!”

In fact not at all, none of my parents are khareji and I didn’t really lived there, but it seemed that it wasn’t really important to him, he continued:

“Germany! Can you speak in German?!”

Rey, keep your smile on your face and calm down!

“Hehe, yeah, I can!”
“So say something!”, the smile! Oh my god!! The smile!

I really can’t remember what I said; I just remember that I counted the whole new conversation as a positive sign. He laughed and said something in Turkish, gave me back my card, “good luck, it means”, he said with a smile, and disappeared on the horizon as he was shaking his hand and the birds were singing and the sun was setting or…he just went!

So now you know why being called khareji as a gift, right?

This entry was not written by me [ddmmyyyy] but has been edited by me. I've added the pre-edit in the comments section - its worth the click.

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The telecabins

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"So would you like to explain what brings you to Iran", I ask the forty-something German standing within my view finder. His voice adapts to a semi-serious tone as I played around with the video camera positioning, "I'm in Iran to cover the elections", he responds, explaining that he will do so as a photographic journalist as part of many politically orientated projects he's working on around the middle east. We stood almost halfway up a scenic mountain setting overlooking a hazy Tehran, I set our photographer-guest to the side of the frame to both catch the passing groups of curious Iranian tourists and the crossing telecabins hanging in the sky behind. He spoke with an impassioned frustration about his more prominent project, "I'm photographing walls, that is, walls of detention: the West Bank in Israel/Palestine, the Mexico border and Belfast for example".

The impromptu interview came to a natural close whereby I realised I should probably get the borrowed video camera back to its rightful owner. We squinted up and down the mountain in search of the group we'd arrived with yet a quick phone call confirmed my suspicions that the day's events had pretty much been called off and a regroup for tea and cake had commenced. With disappointment we set back down to join the group and with further disappointment I listened to the real meat of our guests opinions as the camera hung switched off and by my side.

The Big Green Spring-Clean: join us in clearing up the clog-up. In and effort to rid Iran of rubbish we are conducting periodic team cleans. Begins Friday 7th March (17 Esfand). Meet @Bam-e-Tehran @Tochal (end of Velenjak). 9am. Bring gloves, wear green & make a sign "People came & cleaned me". Pass it on.

"I know the leader of this certain NGO", interrupted one of the American raised Iranians at the cafe table, "and I could arrange coverage with this certain publication", she continued. This triggered others of similar culturing to add in, "oh, and I know this person, who knows this other person, who's involved in this certain group". Within a short period of time we'd amassed a list of potential-maybes to come to an event with no clear definition. "How about we just set a date; all of us here will attend; do this once and then take things from there", I suggested, conscious of putting talk into action for this proposed ongoing event. But supposedly one group needed to notified, another person needed to pull some strings, things needed writing and delegates needed to be found to delegate to the lesser delegates. Apparently I was not appreciating the dream; indeed I appreciated the hidden purpose by which Iranians can nurture their association to the land (that they may feel has been taken from them), yet my suggestion of leading by example was met with silence. "Next Friday, 9am we meet at this location, wear green, bring gloves, make signs and be ready to document the process", I put it, "I'll send a message around, please pass it on".

The Afghanis persist on undermining our efforts. We've still yet to find so much as a pistachio shell

"Day three of the Big Green Spring Clean...", I jokingly gasped as one of the group was rolling with the camera, "... and the Afghanis persist on undermining our efforts. We've still yet to find so much as a pistachio shell". We were fooling around, yet it was true, we came across a waste bin every 20-metres and an Afghan circling every 40, yet this didn't deter our 20-plus team. Headscarfs were held in place with one hand while plastic bags were grasped at in the other; contingents of mostly young women leaped off the beaten track to respond to the calling of a glinting ring-pulls. "Excuse me", interrupted a woman while I'd gotten to day four, "I just want to say, what you are doing is great, keep up the good work", she continued before darting off. "Did we get that on film?", I asked as I turned to the camera once again.

I tried not to read into the fact that only one of the three well-connected, American-raised conspirators turned up (and late at that) and instead enjoyed the abundance unfamiliar Iranian attendees wearing some shade of green. But I later learned that the successes didn't stop there, another mixed ethnic friend who also didn't attend informed me that the multinational company she works for awarded her with a prize for writing about green issues. She'd suggested some association within her writing, "I hope you don't mind", she smiled. Her prize was a trip to Malawi to take part in some kind of green activity – I can only guess that'll involve delegating tasks to locals on how to offset the carbon footprint her trip will produce.

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Gathered among friends

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This is a slightly adapted email sent out recently…

So, this weekend; the final of the three-nights-one-location party stint ended on a good note. The first of these nights deserves a write up in itself, having been spent with English Farsi students and being reminded of how much I’ve adapted to this place. It was weird to have my Englishness trumped.

So, as mentioned, the regular and rotating Peace Delegation from America came once again to [my friend’s] house for a soirée of sorts. Before they arrived I joined the group of cosmopolitan Tehran folk amassed and discussing the variety of guests due. Our friend linked to this Delegation informed us that the Delegation’s organisers had exceeded the annual quota of visits and that there was talk about increasing what was seen as a successful program.

[The host] was freaking out [with joy] about having a black woman, a Jewish Rabbi and some dude high-up in some church be guests at his house. Oddly enough, the Rabbi turned out to be a young Jewish author and the Christian dude ended up being a former band manager of various greats (having toured and worked with The Dead, The Who and a few others that escape me now). It was only the black woman who failed to fit the description; she turned out to be a well decorated Native American from a reservation in Arizona.

As we met them at the door they needed each name to be repeated until they comfortably got their tongues around the strange new sounds. “And you are?”, they asked one-by-one, “David”, I responded, reaching out my hand. “David?”, they repeated, “yes David” … “David?”, they asked again, awaiting a reassuring punchline that never came. As the weather was pleasant we guided them through the house to sit out on the balcony whereby they, like many before, commented about the great view [of the Alborz Mountains] – even though little could be seen in the dark condition.

"I think Israel has only 10-years left", I was somehow surprised to hear this and responded jokingly with, "you've been listening to the words of our president too much"

It turned out that the touring Christian (of some peculiar strand) was from the [San Francisco] Bay area like [the host], to which streets and notaries were reeled out one after another; the native Indian answered questions related to her cluster of clothing and I made inquiries with the Jewish east coast gent about his book that was short-listed just that day for a prize. He talked about this book, informing us that it was entitled ‘Children in War’, which was - if I remember rightly - a collection of non-fictional accounts, as the title would suggest. During his explanation he came back on somebody’s comment with, "I think Israel has only 10-years left", I was somehow surprised to hear this and responded jokingly with, "you've been listening to the words of our president too much". I asked him why he thought like that, to which he went into detail as to how there are apparently a large volume of Jews who fit a schizophrenic profile, Jews who simply can't deal with both the Israel issue and their conscience. He then went on to talk about some kind of lobby thing called J Street that is there to confront or compete with K Steet - or was it the other way around? By this I gathered that he meant there was a lobby group(s) that has strong support for the plight of the Palestinians.

Similarly, I was talking of American politics with the Christian dude, but not before I answered his list of questions about Iran. Every other sentence I had to remind him that what he sees before him and over the balcony – if anything at all – is far from the reality of Iran. He mentioned that he was about to begin a PhD in Sexology, to which it took a few minutes for the group to move beyond the resulting jokes. I both volunteered information I'd learned about sex in Islam to which he brought further inquiries. He said that they were heading to the holy city of Qom the following day to which I mentioned that he could be in for a treat and could also stock up on literature for his future studies. I spoke about the sex calendar devised by the mullahs, indicating the best times for a Muslim to have sex within the week/month/year. He perked up on that one. I also mentioned a few of the related Islamic laws and also of one in particular concerning falling through floors during earthquakes and impregnating things below - that and matters concerning anal sex. He'd asked about gay folk in Iran - to which I had to amusingly remind him that we didn't have any here. I followed on this by adding the oddity that is gayness in Iran; that the men pretty much do all but penetrate in display of their affection with other men. I talked of a book I'd read entitled, ‘Sex Morals and Marriage in Islam’ saying that he might be able to get one of the clerics to run around for him to gather this and many more.

With that I felt it best to educate him on how he should behave before the people he was about to meet in Qom; educating him on how better to shake hands and how best to phrase his requests. By coincidence he was already wearing a ring very similar to those worn by mullahs; that, coupled with the beard he’d been especially growing for the visit, assured me he’d do just fine.

He asked for my forgiveness as he became, “a little spiritual”, telling about how deeply moved he was by visiting the tomb

My conversation with the Christian dude pretty much carried on until they left - for which I was a little worried that I consumed all his time when there was so many other interesting people that he could have spoken with. He mentioned at one point about having visited [the Iranian poet] Hafez's tomb, following with complimentary words about the nation and its history. He asked for my forgiveness as he became, “a little spiritual”, telling about how deeply moved he was by visiting the tomb. He welled up in his explanation; nearly enough to drop a tear. Seeing his red bulbing eyes partly avoiding me seemed to trigger me off too, yet for wholly different reasons.

I was engrossed with his perspective on America and its politics; he was deeply critical and deeply angered. He was sickened by paying tax and knowing that the official figures of how much of that got spent on the military is about 35%; we agreed that this is more than likely lower than is the case when noting how these things are publicly presented. He spoke of the big players such as Haliburton, KBR and the Carlyle Group and how the American people are at the whim of these corporations in many respects. Obama he was looking forward to, suggesting that it might be a break from the current elite - I contended that this result would make little difference should it actually transpire.

"I give it a year and the dollar is done", he awkwardly asserted.

On that, we spoke of possibilities that might swing it another way: Iran was his suggestion. I suggested that something would surly be brought out of the bag for the voting occasion to inspire a specific choice, sadly I had to admit that Iran could indeed be that. He was disillusioned with the system and felt maybe it needed taking back, yet had no confidence in this coming about. With that he spoke of his concern for his children, suggesting at one point that he feels bad for bringing them into the world with what he felt was looming: "I give it a year and the dollar is done", he awkwardly asserted. He followed this with talk of fuel prices, limitation on food, decreasing employment figures and a disgusting health care situation.

We brought the conversation back to Iran, whereby he asked about the political situation both now and previously here. It seemed he’d done his research and there was little for me to add. We spoke of the '53 coup, the Shah and the current regime which led to talk of the current developments in the nation with regards to sanctions and how Iran is dealing with business internationally. I brought it back home with the big topic of these days that is inflation. He was worried about the dollar for next year and I was worried about how over 90% of Iranians would be able to afford anything next year if the events of this year repeat themselves. It all seemed rather odd to discuss all this from the balcony of one of the more fancy high rises of Tehran.

Details were exchanged and goodbyes were said before we wished them well for their pending Qom trip. The Christian dude went to shake my hand and frightened me by doing so in the mullah like way - it took a moment to remember where he'd learned it from.

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In the process of voting

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"Guys, don't you get it, every time we vote we are voting against ourselves", I tried to point out to my colleagues-cum-team mates as we sat huddled around a table for our end of year party. "Hey come on, we gave you four votes on the last round!", gasped an opponent on the neighboring table as an end of round vote count was taking place. To say that the system descended into chaos would be to suggest that it was ever anything else; true, the lady who beat me by one point in the acting round of the competition did do a great job of convincing us she was constipated, but merit was long forgotten by that point.

It was a simple situation; ten tables with roughly five or six people per table; each round we'd send a suitable candidate to either sing, draw, dance or appear a little clogged up. Following each round we were asked to vote on the performance but with the exception of not being able to vote for one’s own representative. Yet, with this haphazard recognition system it soon became apparent to me that one should never rightly cast a vote for they'll only vote against themselves. Regardless, the voting went on; be it for recognition of merit and a willingness to ‘enjoy-the-taking-part’, or be it for the tit-for-tat; back scratching; "we voted for your shit skit, where's our payback?".

Naturally I took it all very seriously, paying careful attention to the new and unavoidable vote bartering, yet conscious that we'd always schemed the better result. As the competition concluded our mixture of great team performances and vote trading brought about a tie for first place with the Media Monitoring department, for which was oddly settled with a round of tug-of-war. Our failure here was in accepting the newer and shinier end of the two-part, make-shift rope, leading to a swift demise and very sore hands.

Another small voting matter took place this weekend, with equally as many peculiarities and equally as contended. This weekend saw the elections for the parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran; which – depending on what side of the Atlantic you stood – was an event that would test of the president’s approval, or be a display of defiance against the Grand Arrogance.

‘who’ and ‘what’ were therefore interchangeable; without somebody to vote for there was nothing to vote for

“Are you going to vote?”, became a repeated question asked by very few optimists. Many considered that I’d presented my willingness with these words, for which were often thrown back with a, “what is there to vote for?”. This question would rouse resentment, for which seemed to centre around the vetting process, whereby many so called reformist candidate didn’t gain prior approval by the Guardian Council (the supreme authority in Iran). The words ‘who’ and ‘what’ were therefore interchangeable and thus without somebody to vote for there was nothing to vote for.

A friend of mine assured me that one must be pragmatic; that one must pick the lesser-of two-evils and to at least put an, “urgently needed halt to some upcoming disastrous policies”. I could appreciate his desire for crisis management but wasn’t convinced that this is a sensible solution.

My friend stood alone among all those in my circles. “What for?”, became the reasoning for a boycott, but yet again I found no comfort in this being a solution. I was reminded of the end of year work party, "guys, don't you get it, every time we vote we are voting against ourselves", but like the party we would surely end with a tug-of-war.

I’d gathered a few friends for lunch on the big day, whereby we’d hoped to reach a decision for the will-we-won’t-we? I’d pitched my optimist friend against a self proclaimed intellect with opposing views, yet the resulting sparks – though entertaining –still had me sat on the fence. The decision tormented me as I tried to openly consider all options. My immediate options were as follows: to vote (pragmatically and based on trusted advice; for I was desperately lacking), to boycott or to spoil the ballot. Each option held a weight that tugged hard against the other, yet the rope seemed to somehow be wrapped around our throats with only the means to breathe being the thing that would give.


“I think Iran is a relative beacon of light in the region and in some ways refreshingly honest with its democratic process”

“So who did you vote for?”, came a microphone to my face, “I don’t know”, I responded, being half true and slightly ambiguous in my words. “So what do you think of the elections so far?”, returned the microphone, “In what respect?”, I questioned, conscious of all the eyes turning in my direction as I spoke in English. “It’s interesting to observe so many people having faith in a strange ideal”, I continued, sticking with the ambiguity. Her questions were also vague as she alluded to how things compared in a global context, “I think Iran is a relative beacon of light in the region and in some ways refreshingly honest with its democratic process”. Her astonished face led me to want to retract my words, “how do you mean?”, she came back at me, “well, the controversial vetting process, I’d say other nations have more subtle means, but nevertheless have some form of vetting; it’s interesting to see that it’s rather straight-up here”. My indifference almost silenced her; it seemed too much to consider that somebody from beyond these borders wasn’t bleeting for democracy. Again she asked what I thought of this local display, yet I didn’t know what to add, “you tell me, you’ve been here longer. How does it feel for you? Do you think this is going well?”, I said in agitation. As I turned the questions around, she turned her microphone around, flicking the off switch underneath and indicating to the cameraman that they were done.

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The director's birthday cake

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"If vee look at dee graph ve can see der eez several picks", continued my colleague in her monotone drone as she readjusted her headscarf with the beginning of each projected PowerPoint slide. I looked on in horror as a graph indicated PICK, PICK, PICK, PICK and a fifth PICK, all of which marking high points with some audience of some form of media; the subject of which was lost on me as the lines reached up only to be capped with an excitingly coloured misspelling. I shriveled back in my chair to hide from the other native English speaking in the room for whom we were presenting to. "PEAK, PEAK, PEAK, PEAK and frinkin' PEAK!", I muttered into my hand, conscious of how this only reflects badly on me.

"Using world of mouth", popped up on a later slide for which a further crevice on the chair refused to absorb me as I edged further back. Over 300-slides flashed before us during the 3-hour pitch to a private mobile network provider, a recent comer to the market of which broke the state run monopoly. Me and seven other colleagues arrived to try an achieve what we didn't last year with the previous pitch. "Daveed, I want you to present the creative side of the pitch", announced the company director having just dragged me from the busy studio. Being slightly concerned that the development of the proposed campaign evolved way beyond my understanding (due to my attention being needed elsewhere) I suggested another colleague. "Why me?", I asked, trying to hide the traces of stress in my voice while tapping my pen down on a long list of other projects bullet pointed in my diary. "Prestige", responded the marketing direct to my other side, leading me to draw the pen to the pending new year date circled on the lower end of the diary. The thick circle transformed to a zero before my eyes, for which I imagined being added to the end of my pending salary increase.

"What does the slogan exactly translate as again?", I asked the director as he stared on emotionlessly, "is this it?", he responded, "have you started the presentation?". He knew only too well that not only I but the entire department lost the love for the concept – his concept – upon having it forced on us; poo pooing all the others shortlisted. Before the four unimpressed eyes my embarrassment shifted to confusion as I once again questioned exactly who assumed the most senior creative role.

Who holds the most senior creative role has been a mystery to me ever since joining the company - at times I've erroneously considered it might be me. Not only has this been illustrated otherwise on many occasions but was literally evident on slide 245 whereby by an incorrect spelling of my name sat below that of a former colleague who no longer works for the company.

During the live performance I animated myself as best I could to the shortened version of the creative team's section of the presentation. I tried to gloss over the fact that the concept didn't seem to correspond with how things function with mobile network providers and compensated for this in a fine display of BS, plucked from thin air as it seemed appropriate. The result was a grinning director and none of the glaring gaps pointed out by the prospective client.

But then pinkie needed to go, leaving me baffled as to why the presentation continued in English

One-by-one our team stood before the four bemused Iranian faces and one foreign key player's. It was bizarre to hear my colleagues present their respective department's efforts in English and yet pleasing to hear that more errors existed in the typed word glowing before us. Two of the twelve watched in comfort, but then pinkie needed to go, leaving me baffled as to why the presentation continued in English; was all this for my benefit I thought as I pinched myself. This lasted about 20-slides before we all realised that we were Iranian and thus heated words were exchanged in the resulting power vacuum.

Their second in command emerged with peculiar criticisms, maybe to show us that he warrants his role despite his age. None of these made sense to our side of the table as he careered on and above the noise brought about by the open-office, "Salam Mehdi jaan, sedaam miad... Allo, Mehdi... Khoobi?". The resulting laughter wasn't helping number two's platform. "Allo, Mehdi, goosh kon... Mehdi, balah baleh... nah, 'W.W.W, dot, eye arr aye'... Mehdi? Gerefti? 'W.W.W, dot', Mehdi?", continued the hilariously loud voice as I pondered if the network provider in use was also the one we'd come to try and win work from.

My director rose to conclude the tiring episode and brought laughter again to the room with his repeated mention of not being served tea as yet, "it's not Ramazan is it?", he remarked, only getting another wry smile from the other side of the table. We were done; laptops closed; notes gathered and hands shaken, we took to the lift and waited for the doors to close before expressing our thoughts on the afternoon. Unlike my colleagues I grumbled on about the absence of warm beverages; questioning what exactly we in Iran are trading these days.

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During this week we saw the 29th anniversary of the revolution, for which I went along once again

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"David...?", she asked, slowing toward the end with the intent of me following up with a surname. "Just David; he'll know who it is", I added before casually turning once again to her husband – the Nicaraguan ambassador to be – "so how long till you open then?", I enquired, nearly diverting his gaze from our female company. We were provided with a vague schedule for which seemed to hinge on the Iranian president's approval; maybe a month he guessed. The reminder prompted a sigh from his wife, who had apparently just exhausted the Hotel's Thai and Italian menus and wasn't enjoying being prisoned by the unfamiliar snow.

"I don't suppose there's any tension with America for opening an embassy here in Iran?", I enquired, attempting to sympathise with some blurted rehash of Chomsky's Nicaraguan/World Court pièce de résistance. Since I was in deep, I threw in the name Chavez a couple times before retreating back in wait of a damage assessment. Impact was made regarding the torturous 80s; it also seemed that Chavez was maybe helping things (if only for new flight routes) and lastly, no problems were perceived in developing diplomatic relations with the Nicaraguans. "And what about you girls; have you not got husbands?", he suddenly popped, the ticker was now fully operational, "such beautiful girls; why not?", he tocked as the south American charm offensive could been seen visibly melting Tehran's month old snow.

Our loitering around the hotel entrance had run its course and in an effort to spare the girls of the simmering Latin blood (and myself from an inevitable diplomatic slip-up) we concluded our chance meeting. "So I'll be telling the president that David said hello?", remembered the wife, "yes, and wish him luck too", I added as my friends stood confused as to whether they should maintain a straight face.

"If anyone asks, you're a diplomat from the American Embassy*", I told my Americanised compatriot

Coincidentally, that evening I was invited to the leaving do for the Swedish Embassy's Cultural Attaché. Last I heard he was due a promotion, so the preceding hours to what was sure to be a proper knees-up were over-shadowed by a curiosity for what lay behind. "If anyone asks, you're a diplomat from the American Embassy*", I told my Americanised compatriot as we arrived at the uptown apartment, yet my ice-breaker took a tumble: "Oh, you're with the Swiss* Embassy!", a European diplomat later responded, knowingly playing it back at us with a wink.

I pointed out a mutual friend's urban art – traditionally framed and scattered among the apartment – as we found the room to dump our coats. Turning the light on revealed that two of the four walls were top-to-bottom with books, "how are they getting back?", I gasped before heading off to correct these mounting questions. "Here's some pistachios", I explained to our departing friend, thrusting forward a box of the most expensive ones I could find, "you can't leave Iran without pistachios; we've just saved you the shopping time".

"So what the fuck?", I exclaimed in unison with my compatriot, "why are you leaving us?". As he was explaining, I surveyed the room, making playful assumptions with the mixture of skin tones, accents and hip movements. Among the English speaking; young and old, yet another wall revealed itself to me, leaving me once again gasping; this one was filled with a generous offering of international catalysts, positively dripping with availability.

"So how many people work at the Argentinean Embassy?", I asked the coincidentally Iranian looking guy, "two", he responded; "I'm the deputy", he added with mixed frustration and pride. I was distracted as he effortlessly jumped between Persian and English, amused at how his Spanish tongue wrapped around the local dialect better than with English. He went on to inform me of their meager existence, for which seemed to sustain itself out of some stalemate, "there was some incident with a bomb a few years back", he partially explained, before finding a polite moment to exit in the direction of the hubble bubble pipe where he sat for the rest of the night, connected in solitude.

"So where are you from", I asked the very English looking chap waiting in turn for the hubble bubble pipe, "Dublin", he responded. My slip-up came, reflexively I asked him which embassy he worked for, and while I failed resolve the capitals of the republic and the north he came back, "what do you think?". I answered wrongly, "these British don't know there geography for shite!", he gasped ! I bowed my head in shame to him and the all the twenty other Republic of Ireland folk that were apparently also in the country someplace. He offered the hubble bubble pipe to me and I offered to wrap it around my neck before slipping off to seek exile among the few compatriots.

*There ain't one.
**What little diplomatic relations there are is conducted via the Swiss Embassy.

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The knife dance as performed by Reza The Styx

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"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you", we sang to a rendition of the Iranian version of the song. I looked on as we also made our way through the Iranian version of events, nearly forgetting that it actually was my birthday and the glowing face we all looked on at was celebrating four days late. "Who's this one from?", shouted the helper as they sat before the recipient; perfume, a fancy shirt and ornamental modernist candles revealed themselves with kisses and hugs returned in kind. Group photos were arranged before the cake was cut and distributed. "Happy birthday", I wished the host as she smiled back with thanks; I restrained from mentioning it was actually mine.

Following the relief of finishing my weekly Farsi class I was picked up by a friend, "happy fucking birthday man!", he reminded me before suggesting a plan to fill out the otherwise unplanned afternoon. "Let go find some chicks", he prompted to which a place sprung to mind with embarrassing ease. "Those girls are checking us out", he said under his breath to which I later look to my 3 O'Clock as instructed. Two of them later left the cafe; "that's a sign man", I was informed, to which he also up and left, leaving me to contemplate if being freshly thirty really was too old for this type of thing. Both the girls and my friend returned and the text messaging began. "Dude! she says, 'I like your friend', I'm gonna give your number; tell her it's your birthday". A text message arrived for me; "Happy birthday", I read out to my friend. Reluctantly I played along and called the number as suggested; "they'll meet us outside in a few minutes", I summarised as we settle-up and left. Conscious of the legal and religious obstacles we quickly greet them to rearrange a rendezvous. "We're out celebrating our friend's birthday", says the one who likes me, to which I inform her it's mine on this day too. "Oh no, hers was the other day", she corrects me as we discretely slip off for safety. "OK, it was a pleasure meeting with you", my friend interjects in response to the girls' suggested plan, "we've got a birthday party to go to", he adds, and thus I guess it goes.

"Happy birthday Daveed", my friends greeted me as they arrived one-by-one to my house to celebrate the dying moments of my twenties. "It's not my birthday" I remind them, repeating the dying hours of the twenties part, "my birthday is tomorrow", I remind them as I'm handed various paper bags with gifts within.

Dance away a decade of decadence. Dance dammit, dance

'Dance away the dying moments of his twenties. Dance away a decade of decadence. Dance dammit, dance', it was written on the amusing invites made by a friend. I felt slightly safer having these printed and distributed knowing that he'd forgotten to add a time and date for the event.

"Daveed, why are you not dancing?", exclaimed a friend, interrupting my playing host. "Can it go louder?", "put on the Iranian music" and "when's the salsa coming on?", they came as I struggled with my make-shift set-up. "When will we do the cake", they came, "when will we do the presents", they came as I jumped between various music genres and failed to pleased.

"Who's this one from", shouted my helper as he sat before the me. The eyes glared on as I was worried they would: I'd needed to maintain a consistent level of surprise and gratitude. Books, traditional bowl, books, traditional shirt and more books revealed themselves before I gave my gratitude speech in two languages.

"Who's going to do the cake dance", shouted a guest as the traditional beats fired up while I sat before the 'Happy Birthday David' cake. My house mate then pulled off some traditional shuffles with a knife being delicately dangled before me. Tradition has it that I'm to be denied the knife three times as it's danced before me; I got two traditional shuffles before the slicing and distributing began.

"Happy birthday", they wished the host as he smiled back with thanks; the host restrained from mentioning it wasn't actually his birthday.

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Snow arrived covering my out-of-town neighbourhood. The development to the left are the ongoing, still unfinished Mayor's offices

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"What is it; house prices double every five or so years?", I put it, plucking a guestimate from nowhere in particular, "no, not at all", my friend's father – a property developer – corrected me. I expected him to maybe add another year, but it was quite the opposite; "no, house prices double every two and a half years". With my jaw still hanging some place below my neck I listened to him explain of how land prices increase at such a rate that development is given up on, leaving the major cities filled with concrete skeletons gridding the skyline.

My five year guestimate was certain to be off if only I'd remembered a family member purchasing a small spot of land in the north of Iran that long ago, at what would be $5000, and it currently being valued at nearly $400,000. This land, like the neglected patches around the major cities, has simply been left untouched; and why not; why have the headache and expense when you are earning while sitting still.

Not too recently I decided to look for a place to rent that would be closer to the office and the Tehran night-life. Initially I had problems with wanting to cohabit with a male friend; two young lads rang alarm bells with landlords. The next problem was having to front a refundable deposit of roughly ten months rent in advance, of which not I nor my friend had saving to hand. And it's this situation that baffles me daily: inflation is at such a rate that the money in my hands, or even the bank (if I was to use one here - which I don't) is currently depreciating at such a rate that it's frustrating if not futile saving for those big ticket items.

An odd, yet equally unfeasible alternative for us could have been to give a large sum of money to a landlord upfront. With this, our deposit of roughly $30,000 within a one year period would have adjusted (through inflation and bank interest) so much that upon getting this exact figure back from the landlord our rent would have materialised. If that same landlord were to invest it in land in the north of Iran then my five year residency could have gotten them a $2.5m asset to play with.

My friend and I gave up on the house hunt and continued living in the out-of-town apartment gifted by my family. The monthly rental amounts we were looking at never ventured below the national minimum wage (per month), meaning that to rent in what is wider-central Tehran, one must be of a healthy threshold. Although I met this threshold comfortably it didn't justify the exchange in commuting and would have paradoxically decreased the means to enjoy the Tehran night-life.

my savings may never keep up with the adjustment and I should claim the value while it correlates with my blood loss

With these big ticket items I am often castigated by my grandmother for not looking to invest in a house or being a, "real adult", and getting a car – apparently the money I drain away in coffee shops will bring this to reality. As she keeps pointing out, I do get a relatively healthy income putting me in the top 0.5% of earners here, yet when I thinking about saving money (which is made easier by my not currently paying rent), I can't help but wonder if I'd be wasting my time; that I'd be better off spending it fast. By that I mean that my savings may never keep up with the adjustment and I should claim the value while it correlates with my blood loss.

If I was to use a bank, I could accumulate the money there at what I think is around 18% APR, but this would probably still not keep up with the cost-of-being-alive and certainly not with the current climate in the property market. With this move I might then also be able to ask the bank for a loan, which I hear would be hard to arrange and not likely to be enough to get a footing. As for a full mortgage; they are pretty much unheard of here in Iran.

I was quoted in an Indian economics journal recently about this inability to keep up, yet was cut off without qualifiers such as joining the capitalist tramplings, using banks or using my family. The tramplings I think about a lot, by which I could buy and sell land - yet at the cost of any moral sensibility. The banks give me the same unease and the family is an altogether different unease. It's hard to avoid getting drawn in though; the longer I don't join in the tramplings the harder it will be for me - but I can't help but feel I would become part of the wider problem if I do.

everybody has two jobs - it's funny and it's true. That second job is the difference between being alive and living

For those slow or unable to indulge the tramplings there's always the blood loss. There is a funny comment I often hear in Iran; that everybody has two jobs, and that they work harder on the second - it's funny and it's true. That second job is the difference, the difference between being alive and living. It is increasingly more common to hear talk of all the above while sat in taxis around Tehran; the government bear the brunt of the frustration for which harsh words get shouted back at the car radios. Often I hear both inside and outside of the country that the president, Ahmadinejad is responsible for all the developing financial issues; I couldn't say either way, but I rather think he's an easy target and people maybe neglect external pressures and the country full-on embrace of neo-liberalism among other incidental matters.

The Iranian new year is coming and with it the usual price adjusting period where within a single week one can observe a national inflation hike. My healthy wage should increase also during this period but I figure it will only keep up with the post new year adjusted inflation, meaning that as the year creeps forward I'll lose more blood for my Rial and I'll still not consider buying a house or even a car. You'll more likely find me regularly draining it away in coffee shops, attempting to at least appreciate its value while discussing how bad this could all turn out.

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In position for the shoot.

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"Close your eyes Daveed, look up Daveed, press your lips together Daveed, look down Daveed", the makeup artist requested as she poked and prodded various devices at my face, "what's your eye discrepancy? Me too, can I wear your glasses; I forgot mine?". What a strange job for Iran I thought to myself as the face staring back at me gradually resembled my favourite character in the Wizard of Oz, "you must be one of few in this trade in Iran, I mean, you must be spending more time making-down than up", I curiously asked. She responded with an anecdote of a film she worked on in which a scene was scraped as the chicken on the table looked "too erotic".

Another cigarette break saw her on the chair complaining of back pain; something about a car being lifted when she was eleven. I looked around the room with a sense of awkwardness, two of the audience were wheelchair bound, one of which had just minutes before stared at my hand as I went to shake it; unable to move much below the neck. A young observer kicked a bin across – it slid just in place for the falling ash – before he continued his swaying back an forth between the various helpful moments. I noticed his odd shape, like his arms were firmly crossed with every maneuver; it looked oddly arrogant. It was only when the phone rang and I saw him chin the receiver to his shoulder that it came to me – the guy has no arms; cripes, I thought as I imagined my daily routine without arms. A coincidence I thought; my face was caked in makeup for which I could not touch no matter how much it itched – what does he do when he has an itch, needs to piss, change clothes and what breaks his fall. "Can I take a photo of you?", he asked as I saw him with a mobile wedged between his big-toe and next-toe. And so my photo was taken as he balanced on one leg and somehow pressed the correct button from the other. "Look; not bad!", he joyfully stated, having rotated the handset to show me the results.

A few days prior to these scenes I'd nonchalantly agreed to partake in a photoshoot on behalf of a local client. Oblivious to what was planned, I'd turned up obscenely early for work to then join colleagues on bus journey to the south of Tehran to a place known as Kahrizak (derived from the name of the charity), a place better described as a large megaplex, housing 1700 variably challenged Iranians and 700 rotating staff. We'd been requested to provide an advertising campaign that didn't focus on getting donations of money – for apparently this was in plentiful supply – but rather on asking people to give there time and love.

Having been made-up, we made our way round to the theatre in a golf buggy wearing the label, 'donated by LCS, London England'. As the manageress dodged the wheelchairs being pushed around by the slightly more able, I was amused at how it was I that was being stared at; I heard echos of my mother, "David, don't stare!", yet it was I that was the odd one out with a silver face and a Star Trek tunic.

"Look into her eyes; you know, this is the woman you long for", enthusiastically requested the shoot director as we arranged ourself on stage, "yes, reach your hand out to her", he added as I jokingly brought out the thespian in me. If only he knew the existing office gossip about me and the colleague that he asked me to connect eyes with for an uncomfortably long period, "yes, that's it, you want her!".

"Excuse me, can you put my leg back on the rest?", asked the man whose hand I couldn't shake, "oh, and can you readjust the newspaper in my hands?", he added between the director's shuffling of the wheelchairs back and forth. What the photographer didn't capture, the toes of the no-armed guy did as we moved to a new arrangement, "now you're angry; point at her; shout at her!", I was instructed, "yeah, you screwed up on that Renault account!", I shouted as she turned to ignore me – just as instructed.

We were buggied to the MS centre for which everybody felt the need to remind me, "this is the MS centre", with a deliberate pause following. This section of the shoot didn't involve me so I took great amusement in walking around and being stared at, like some visiting clown. I joined my fellow protagonist and another female colleague in what they referred to as 'head hitting' – a euphemism for paying visits I assume. "Hello, we're here doing a photoshoot...", explained my colleague as she entered each room. I would wait outside initially; we were in the women's section, "we have a man with us, is it a problem if he comes in?", she would ask on each occasion.

With each room I was surprised at their surprise – ah yes, I look like the Tin Man I had to remind myself

With each room I was surprised at their surprise – ah yes, I look like the Tin Man I had to remind myself. The first two girls perked up for the occasion with one reciting cheeky poetry as she lay before us, each word struggled to pass her lips as her eyes spun like fruit machine wheels. The next room was not as severe and the one after held a delightful sense of humour – how they transformed as we entered – TVs were immediately switched off and smiles bridged the little skits they performed for us.

The last 'head we hit' had a performer who battled with severe convulsions, "you turn the TV off, let me put the music on", she asked as she shook the stereo into giving us the pop, yet slightly traditional sounds of Pourya. Upright on the bed, she shimmied back and forth not missing a single word with each song. We joined in, cautious to not alert the staff, "don't tell them", she whispered, "it can be our secret". The Tin Man had been oiled-up and pulled out a few moves to the first, second, third and forth song. Our performing resident was playing Pourya, pointing at me – the subject I guess – with each reference, "I can't live without you", she nodded to me with a wink.

"Shall we go after this one", I asked my colleagues in English, "what?", asked the girl. I lied in response, "I was saying, c'mon, let dance!". I was convinced that we'd repeat the album again and my colleague seemed to not have the heart to break the performance – one of us had to be brave.

Our reason for being there, at Kahrizak, became clear to me at that moment as a difficult goodbye was made. "In one month!", protested the girl as we told her we'd come again. "You know Daveed, she's the same age as me", my colleague added as we walked away, but she was courageous; not dropping a tear over her stage makeup. And me, I guess I found my heart; I guess I'll go back.

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This shot was not taken in California.

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"Ahh man! That dumb ass Bush!", piped up on of the more lubricated girls, dropping her conversation in favour of the table talk going on behind. She leaned in with one hand supporting her swaying body and the other waving around with a barrage of insults. This spectacle caught my attention beyond the spillings of an oddly pretty thing; she'd effortlessly adopted an American twang with the English she'd brought to the table and amazingly gifted those sat around with a similar ability. I was distracted from the conversation with the gentleman to my left; the English being spoken was of native quality, yet in all the time I'd sat there this convenient ability had not been displayed. I turned back to my left and made some comment about this gentleman also hiding such ability, "yeah, I grew up in Orange County, California", he responded, later adding, "hey man, you're Persian's not too bad considering how long you've been here".

I guess this begun with an interview that never happened. A fellow dual national friend of mine invited me to contribute to a piece for Al Jazeera News; simply to give an Iranian perspective on their news service. I'd arrived late, for which I was to be the last to comment. "Yeah, Al Jazeera, that's the one on channel 6 yeah?", I responded to the off-air question, "no it's on satellite only", they came back at me, leaving me confused as to what that Arabic news channel on 6 was all about. "Oh, well I don't have satellite and the TV is only on for football", I added, embarrassingly bringing a conclusion to interviews.

Iran is a sanctuary of sorts; to enjoy an elevated status maybe; to bum around and sponge from the parents

Following this non-event we gathered at my friend's office to which I found myself surrounded by dual nationals of the American kind, "ah, another refugee", I teased with each as they stated the volume of time spent here and there. We shared our reasons for being in Iran – when given the choice not to be – and found that the was a lot of overlap; we were all 20-somethings, educated in the west, curious with regards to heritage, with much family still in Iran and non-plussed about which borders surround us. I get the impression that there is also a hidden story with each person, it seems that Iran is a sanctuary of sorts; a place to escape to; to enjoy an elevated status maybe; to bum around and sponge from the parents, as is common with many Iranians at that social level and age.

For a few weeks now I've been meeting these new found friends, for which our mutual associations have expanded to a community of sorts, bringing me a very different feeling towards living in Iran. Its been great to share the oddities that only we see, the jokes that only we could know and the advice that only relates to us. I'm reminded of my father's expat friends in my hometown and all those moments where he fast finds an affinity with those other first generations whom found themselves on British soil for whatever reason. Yet in my case the affinity is drawn through language and a similarity in culture more than nationality for I've found far less British dual nationals.

As I sat at that table in the uptown penthouse apartment and listened to the crowd of perfectly bilingual guests I was surprised at how un-Iranian everything seemed. The football that was silently playing in the background on the television had switched to still of the supreme leader's face for which I was amused by the juxtapose as I scanned across the room. The moment came as oddly settling as I felt I'd found a liberating scene; for a moment I was distanced from the concept of borders and reveled in the cosmopolitan atmosphere I'd stumbled upon, both then and since.

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A recent expedition to update my passport - it must be 5-years ago that I first came to visit as an adult.

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"That was something I wanted to ask you...", interjected the more European sounding of the two as a microphone crossed my face and the direction of the eyes came my way. A perfectly intellectual sounding and possibly interesting question was being formed but they might as well have asked in any other European language as I wasn't able to absorb it. The mic fell before me, "are you still not wanting to say anything David?", asked the main interviewee, to which the mention of my name seemed to not help, "don't worry, keep it rolling", I replied and with complete disregard to the question, I spilled out the pent-up counterpoints to my friend's prior commentary.

"I wanted to come back on a point my dear friend was making", I begun, noticing the nearby table of customers re-show interest as a new mouth fired-up. "I often get contacted by the western media showing an interest in the Iranian blogging scene and I wonder if they kind of project a romanticism in it", I added, repeating a point made in my initial contact with our international guests. "I'm not really qualified to answer in any case as I don't read blogs in Persian; because of my level of competence, and there's very little else that interests me that is written in English", I somewhat embarrassingly revealed. I returned to another point I'd mentioned in my prior correspondence, "I think it is too simple to think that politics is affected by the politically orientated; such thinking neglects to appreciate a more subtle and possibly more powerful undercurrent".

I spoke of the sweeping fad that is Yahoo 360; a social networking site that took over from the blocked Orkut; currently evading blocking by virtue of the inability to form groups, as my friend later pointed out. I'm not a subscriber to this fad but often hear it spoken about and frequently find a fellow colleague at work obsessing over correspondence or tweaking new photos of himself. I also spoke of Flickr, which is blocked here, but has a simple way around it. With Flickr, I mentioned a point that has always interested me so much with this site, this is the unifying subject matter or photography. With this cover, all manner of activity is catered for without arousing suspicion; in the case of the Iranians, this can be making new inter-gender relationships as well as delving into politics. I referred to the Flickr community, which strike me as a relatively unified, yet wholly charming bunch of people, and made a point that such active use of these sites help substitute restriction in both the culture and laws.

With such situations whereby some news organisation or another expresses an interest in the romantically suppressed Iran, I normally get turned off; if only by feeling that I'm expected to confirm western perspectives. Similarly, I watched a series of NBC reports from Iran the other day, whereby it was suggested that Iran, "has a long way to go", referring to the segregation on the innercity buses*, they explained this half-truth further, "women – by law – have to sit at the back". Well yes, but men by law have to sit in the front, and they failed to mention that the metro is unisex with even a special section for women only. With these western goggle firmly wrapped around their heads I get frustrated in meeting the requests, and not to mention paranoid for my personal safety, for which I've adapted various automatic responses.

As we arrived at the agreed coffee shop location for the interview I realised that I'd once again forgotten to get and give descriptions of how we looked. "Excuse me, are you...", we unsuccessfully asked as several foreign looking possibilities sat around. For the occasion I had invited several similarly situated friends, yet sneakily I'd not informed either party of the eventuality. With this, the plan was to deflect my input, increase the quality of results and maybe to have safety in numbers if all turned out to be not as it seemed. Upon meeting the journalists, no evidence was provided to prove their associations and a few interesting details were given that seemed odd for them to have not mentioned before; all of which not helping ease my mind. Thankfully though, common ground was a plenty and although certain points roused me as they unsuspectingly (I hope) triggered sensitive points, I managed to settle.

With a slight lapse in security, the whole of the regime would surely be gone – I was sitting in a dream American target

Both my friend and I, between us, seemed to provide an interesting juxtapose of points during the recording, to which much of my friend's words were new to me. He mentioned a declining interest in politically motivated blogging for Iranians, as the results and threats do not weigh up. It was suggested that the fate of the nation seems beyond control between elections and thus a certain futility is felt in such writing; certainly as friends of his have been punished for such activity. Among his incite he presented a fascinating volume of technical facts concerning internet activity in Iran that had both me and our international guests wide-eyed with interest.

My friend concluded on an amusing point, "we know the president is how he is, why write and complain when it's beyond you to do much about it; it's stating the obvious, like saying that Donald Duck is a cartoon duck; that he's a character by Disney and he can talk – you know, nothing changes". And with this summary the romanticism was surely dispelled as we all laughed an awkward laugh.
*Only on the innercity buses - intercity buses are mixed.

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My special ticket to the said event.

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"Hizbollah, Hizbollah, death to America, death to America, death to Israel!", the attendees repeated again, in response the sporadic outbursts coming from the back. I took a look around to check out if I was in the minority in not repeating these chants; I was. I turned back and glanced across the varied crowd, made up mostly of representatives from many national institutions, and noted with some surprise that many were smirking as they played along. This moment brought memories of the days I mimed out hymns at school assembly not helped by the fact that we were all sat crossed legged on the floor listening as verses from the Quo'ran echoing throughout the room.

"Daveed, what are you doing tomorrow?", my uncle phoned and asked, curious as to how I planned to spend the national holiday marking the end of Ramazan. "Do you want to come and see the Spiritual Leader?", he asked, finally getting round to a long spoken about moment. "Of course!", I responded without hesitation, "but what do I need to wear?", I went on, confused as to whether we are celebrating or not; because at times it's difficult to tell here. "Wear Basiji stuff", he said partly in jest, referring to the type of clothing worn by the moral police, by which he simply means an open-collar white shirt, ill-fitting trousers, sandals and overgrowth in facial hair.

I sat twiddling with my finest tasbi (praying beads that is), besides my uncle whom I kept close for translation purposes as the sporadic chanting continued while we awaited the Spiritual Leader. Gradually the room filled up, for which I took great amusement in watching varying ranks arrive in order of reverse-importance. Army, navy, air force and police personal took seats bringing increasingly decorative uniforms and commanding a larger fuss on entry.

Some socks crossed my face and an apology followed and with little sign of shame, a Basiji looking chap had practically sat on my uncle's lap. "Are you going to stay there?", I ask this man, "If you'll allow me", he responded, "you're sitting on my uncle", I reminded him, "yes, I'm sorry", he politely added. Maybe I was out of line but I thought I'd see it through, "don't apologise to me, it's his legs you are sitting on", I exclaimed, arousing the attention of those around us. He came back at me calmly, "when the leader arrives everyone will rush forward and everyone will be on everybody else's legs". My uncle gave me a blink, that indicated that I should leave it, after which this guy sought new legs to sit on.

Somebody shouted something, a name maybe, to which the entire room raced to their feet. I didn't think, I just joined them to which the next few seconds seemed to arrive in slow motion. "Khaamenei, the leader!", came the chants as scores of men raced in front of me, followed by us being pushed forward as the crowd condensed. I tip-toed to look ahead and saw the Spiritual Leader snap out from behind the curtains, to my utter surprised there followed Ahmadinejad, the president, appearing from his left, and then Rafsanjani, the former president, appearing from his right. I was astonished at this fan of cards that was put before me, a full-house for sure.

With a slight lapse in security, the whole of the regime would surely be gone – I was sitting in a dream American target!

I scanned the room; the head of the parliament, the head of the judiciary, the nuclear negotiator guy, two former presidents, the most senior ranking members of the institutions, and these were just the faces I knew of. With a slight lapse in security, the whole of the regime would surely be gone I thought to myself in horror - conscious that I'm sitting in a dream American target.

The resulting mosh-pit calmed as the stars took their seats on the stage; we joined them, and arranged ourselves on each other's laps as the Basiji guy had previously mentioned. The president took to the microphone first, for which I understood pretty much nothing of what he had said. I got the impression that he was reading poetry but it's always so difficult for me to understand Iranians when they use the formal 'book' language. There then followed the stern tone of the Spiritual Leader, of whom I understood a fair amount more; although I found myself rather distracted by his prosthetic arm, that I'd heard so much about, yet never seen. I was mesmerised by its ability and its strange strained look when in the open position. This appendage turned in time with his other hand as he accentuated his agitation; being very critical of American ambitions and very supported of the Hizbollah cause citing concerns for the Palestinian people, yet mostly he referred to the region developing though indigenous desires.

Although there were roars of supportive cheers, there was no encore as the stage emptied. This moment seemed to have been as snappy as the entrance with large volumes of the attendees rushing off to try and get backstage. I joined them; not entirely with reason but rather with curiosity, yet all I had seemed to do is get in the way of the top brass as they wished each other well on this celebratory day.

I rather enjoyed the fact that I may have been surrounded by some of Iran's most influential names and not have been aware of it. In fact, this became a bit of a game to me; guessing the value of these cards as they shuffled themselves around at the end. Yet in this moment I was reminded; this is the only way in which I am a player among them.

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Scenes from Palastine, edited between scenes of demonstrations in Tehran in support of the Palastinians.

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"Oh my f...", yelped a friend having just switched over from a Manchester United game to an interview with our president by a CBS reporter. The ensuing gasps and the shrieks were more appropriately related to the football and certainly the excited leaping from the chairs and fruitless flicking of Vs. "What the... shut up, just shut... you liar!", came the reactions to what was an all together different match. Such emotive responses surrounded me with every touch of the ball by our president, but I couldn't see the fowl play they repeatedly protested about. Yeah, there were dives and excessive rolls, but it's part of the game, and in this game and that room, it appeared I was rooting for the underdog.

I'm an odd supporter of the home team, going so far as to carrying a photographed keyring of our star player. Yet, how I'm scorned at for this, regardless of how far my tongue is wedged in my cheek. I get a similar responses when pushed to vocalise my thoughts; it's not that I'm fashionably backing the outsider, but more that, at times I hold a view that the games can have as much relevance as an actual football tournament.

"This is a terrible translation", both my friends simultaneously remarked as I strained to keep up with the pace; the only errors I noticed being the additional, "Mr. President", and other courteous terms padding the translated questions for the home team. I was enthralled; lost between needing clarification from my friends and not wanting to interrupt. This match was perversely important however; a long running tournament seems to be reaching its final stages, with a great many heated fans hungry for a slip-up; an excuse to vent anger and transcend the event; offering their own interpretation of a red card, regardless of a referee's decision.

For me, these vigilantes who seemingly shroud themselves in their own comfortable understanding of events, have at best, historical amnesia and certainly a gross immunity to self-awareness. This became prevalent with the media circus surrounding a recent visit by our president to the, "Lion's Den", which could be marked as the away-game to the previous week's interview.

"The Evil Has Landed", we read in the morning papers as the cogs of the corporate media shifted a gear. Various tactics had been considered by the home team; or even stolen, with 11/9 victims once again not left to rest in peace. Predictably, the media performed its tacit role of 'amplifier' well, with the volume turned down for this and also for the main reason of the visit: the fact that our president was a guest to the United Nations. Where the volume was increased however, was with our president also being a guest at Columbia University. Here he was made equally as welcome, being introduced as a, "petty dictator". Such flattery! And I'm serious.

no amount of witty uppercase-play can invite the situation whereby he will hover his finger over a phantom red-button

Such flattery that can only exist with tiring ignorance of our system, and this man's role; this democratically elected man I should add. He is arguably less influential than his international equivalents – simply a face, some stock-words and a nice beard, but one should be careful not to over-estimate him. One should know that he does not preside over the military, unlike the much loved former shah who was not democratically elected, did preside over the military and was not shy in using it against his own people (with a blind eye from the west). So one should be aware that no amount of witty uppercase-play ("AhMADinejad") can invite the situation whereby he will hover his finger over a phantom red-button.

The madness could be attributed to the provocative words on the holocaust; clumsy at best, but broaching this taboo in its current way of, "let's allow more research", invites an interesting response. These little pokes at western hypocrisy seem to be chipping away at the roots of a regional issue and – depending on who does your indoctrination – it resonates in great volume, yet in different ways. I might be so bold at this point and suggest that the surrounding rhetoric is awkwardly refreshing; so rare to hear a representative at such a level to stand up against the status quo and even represent his people. Today, for example, is an international day of recognition for the plight of the Palestinians, with a national televised demonstration running through most cities – yes, it reminds me of when in Britain we had national days of recognition for the struggle against the Apartheid. Remember? I put it to you, this guy is not mad; he is a mirror, one that is highly susceptible to smearing.

I heard that the airport flooded with admirers upon the return of our man, with crowds no doubt thankful for his safe return. I couldn't help but also feel thankful for this, as it was with each day that I gritted my teeth and begged that he not slip-up. But how silly of me; this has been proven to not be necessary; the age-old "wiped-off the map" – dusty rhetoric for the Islamic Republic – had recently gotten a fresh mistranslation and amplified by the corporate cohorts.

It is exactly that which we in-turn fear, the cyclical repetition of, "bringing democracy to the middle east", as this for us is like being wiped-off the map

But when these words are not being hideously mistranslated, they are not all that outrageous; in fact, much the opposite in my mind and no doubt the minds of a great many others in the region. I should add, I'm under no illusion that these words are said with as much sincerity as, "bringing democracy to the middle east", but they resonate with the same effect to a different audience. Yet, it is exactly that which we in-turn fear, the cyclical repetition of, "bringing democracy to the middle east", as this for us is like being wiped-off the map.

The tournament is racing to its final stages, and with this, my greatest fear is of the resulting hooligans; for you [my readers] are the one who allows the transcending of the game. Be cautious, your anger or fear might be measured by your ignorance. So I feel we should be vigilant, so as not be seduced for want of our vigilante behavior, for it does us no credit and we far from benefit. I might then end by provocatively suggesting that, if you want democracy, respect it, and respect ours.

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My panoramic effort of the group shot - click above to see the full effect.

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"My name is Reza; ID; 'The Styx', S.T.Y.X.", spelled out my friend before the camera made its way round the ring people to me, "my name is Daveed; ID; D.D.M.M.Y.Y.Y.Y", I added in confusion; wondering if I'd numbered my 'Y's correctly. "You forgot the forward slashes", reminded a fellow member before as we moved on to other members; "...full-stop, colon, 'Saha', colon, full-stop", and then, "...'Thirsty Fish', greater-than sign, equals sign, smaller-than sign, greater-than sign".

This tedious introduction was as difficult to relay above as it was to sit through. It was a getting-to-know-you moment for the now regular Flickr photographer's gathering, which in this case, was hosted in a lush public garden in up-town Tehran. I'd first joined Flickr to help extend beyond my words – or vice-versa – just before coming to Iran and was a short time after that that the Iranian Flickr community saw its first gathering. I received an invite to that occasion and politely declined. It was a simple decision for me; the site is forbidden in Iran and in those tender early days, where I'd yet to settle my behaviour and understand the boundaries, it seemed perverse that I should expose myself. Several gatherings on from this, Flickr hosts – in just one case – a group of over 1000 Iranian (related) users with over 22,000 photographs of which around 30 of those Tehran users joined me for my first experience.

we were friends; in the virtual sense, I'd been commenting on their work for maybe over a year and now there they were before me; with their wife, child and a grinning face

For this occasion I was only nervous at the thought of greeting the many new faces, and thankfully not for being carted off by a tipped-off police squad. It only occurred to me upon my first introduction that the game of replacing names with IDs was going to make things a little trickier. "I'm Daveed – 'D.D.M.M.Y.Y.Y.Y'", I repeated, struggling to mouth out this damn alias; this would be followed with a fellow member mouthing out various character combinations in return. It was funny, we were friends; in the virtual sense, I'd been commenting on their work for maybe over a year and now there they were before me; with their wife, child and a grinning face.

Americans can only try and have such a smiling group of friendly faces; it was unreal, we were 'virtually' family. We darted around, photographing the garden, photographing each other photographing the garden; some of us photographing the photographers of the photographers. "Go stand over there", one would ask, "sit on in this area", put another as digital clicks and analogue snaps sounded around me. And then there came the traditional group shot.

I'd seen many group shots arriving in the Iranian groups, with numbers increasing, associations growing, and now, it was my turn to be another face in the crowd. The nested photographic situation arrived with this moment too, as we arranged ourselves into the photographers and the photographers of the photographers etc. I did both before sitting and smiling; both at making this moment and in the knowledge of being able to follow the follow-on tradition of being able to add a note around my face when the photos were later posted: "Me! It was great meeting you all; I look forward to the next".

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The month of Ramazan is upon us - good luck to all those observing it.

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"Don't worry about it; buy something for your mother", I suggested as I slipped the money back over to her side of the table. I cannot recall a having experienced a silence quite like the one that followed, not for a while at least. In curiosity as to why everybody had stopped talking, I looked up; two of the horrified faces staring at me opted to snigger into their hands, everybody else's gapping mug waited until after they'd given me a look of disgust before they looked at one another in disbelief. "Daveed!", exclaimed another, under her breath, as I started to grasp how what I'd said might have sounded. The very small English one-penny-piece had then dropped as I read the face of another colleague, "you idiot!", it said, almost reveling in my slip up.

Having survived the episode, I later consulted my informant colleague for clarity, "you are suggesting that her mum is in need of charity!", she laughed, displaying a face not unlike those at the lunch table. "But I followed this by clarifying; saying that I meant she should buy something like flowers", I fruitlessly protested, "I was trying to be complimentary while deflecting the subject - you know, 'if you won't take, and I won't take it, then let somebody else have it', for example – In this case her mother". I had indicated as much during lunch, but I fear it looked like too much backtracking; certainly too little, too late.

I should have paid more attention to my father's advice, "never mention or ask after wives or sisters – or generally any female relative"

I should have presented the deflection in English – the usual language I talk with this particular colleague – at least I would have limited the damage. Yet, simply, I should have said nothing and paid more attention to my father's advice, "never mention or ask after wives or sisters – or generally any female relative", he's warned me after having escape previous such moments.

"So, how's the wife?", I've occasionally asked, having exhausted most other pleasantries. My expectation is to hear, "she's fine; switched jobs; better hours you know; she's happy, yeah", but I rather feel that this question is like asking about a man's locked-away possession or asking, "have you still got that lawnmower?", a questions that implies a follow up, "can I borrow it this weekend, I've a lawn that needs a good seeing to".

My father had helpfully explained; that this comes across like I'm asking with intention: what exactly do I want to do with her? Maybe the mention of flowers then, didn't make things any better. Like with similar such 'protection' over women in this country, I find it projects an inadequacy. The whole awkward episode certainly presented an inadequacy on my part.

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This guy doesn't hide well in society.

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"So which is better: here or there?", asked the barber, predictably, as he skirted his large everything around the chair while sculpting at a painfully slow pace. "Well it depends...", launched my friend as I sat waiting behind him, having been fussed over myself just moments before. My glazed stare at the passing weekend-traffic outside gained focus as my friend had plucked some plausible response out of the hat. He was interrupted, "so where abouts in England did you live?", I knew how my friend was going to respond, and froze hoping he wouldn't; I mimed the answer in horror as he said it; "Brighton...". I had to check I was there; I could see my reflection; I could see my friend's face in the reflection, but in it my friend failed to register my rigid eyes aiming him up in disapproval.

I've recently extended a charitable hand to a dear friend; offering him the spare room in my flat for an indefinite period. In this deal, however, I had not offered him aspects of my life to merge with his for public amusement. Aside from that, this new living arrangement struggles to be mutually beneficial, as I am reminded once again of communal living; it's great for the company, but such arrangements bring tedious clashes. For a change I am the tidier party, and with patience I put food back in the fridge, turn lights off in rooms (not being used) and take cups and plates continuously back to the kitchen, where I find meals continuously in some state of being prepared or eaten. My method for confronting this difference has so far been to knock on the doors of the empty room with lights on, and say, "hello? hell-lo-o?", then turning to my friend, "Who's in this room?", I ask; this usually brings a laugh and apology. Gradually he's getting it, and gradually the phantom tenants are disapearing.

The incident at the barbers was part of an outing of exploration, to discover the other end of the neighbourhood. It proved a success, with the discovery of an excellent bakery, a well stocked corner-shop and a dry cleaners.

Back at the barbers:

one such case being the repeated situation whereby English written menus are automatically given to my friend, and the Farsi version to me

As our newly-found neighbourhood barber pranced around, I sat listening to my friend's (and my) semi-fictional life being unveiled. His mostly-correct answer about British life had me itching to jump in; to clear minor errors or elaborate. I didn't though; like the barber, I was absorbed, yet was struggling to track back when I might have said the words he was regurgitated. On reflection, maybe I was being a tad uptight about this; what does it matter to the barber that the minimum hourly wage is not 4-pounds (this one can't have come from me).

I guess I'm not in a position to complain though, I too occasionally adopt alternative presentations of myself for passing strangers, mostly to avoid the many personal questions brought about when my accent reveals me. In fact, this is something we both do together, mostly due us attracting attention as we jump between languages. Embarrassingly we are beginning to firm-up on these roles we play; becoming characters in the repetition. Amusingly though, words are not needed; we are recognised without them; one such case being the repeated situation whereby English written menus are automatically given to my friend, and the Farsi version to me. This - it should be added - is more likely due to him being 6'.4", blond and dressed like a marine - and now, sporting a kooky hair cut; he's not exactly inconspicuous.

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The writing's on the wall.

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"And she's got hair like yours", my auntie gleamed before I halted her, "she's loosing hair like me?" – I bark with intent. She held a smirk; gave me a moment to let me know she's serious, "no, it's short - she's the mirror image of you!", she continued, gesturing a body shape that wasn't too offensive. I'm glad one of us was exited; the sales pitch was dire, "oh, and she speaks French", interesting I thought, "but not English and more importantly she's not Turk", I added as flattery for her. My ensuing silence measured my discomfort in having been called up on my bluff, "great, arrange it for the weekend and tell me where and when".

In a rare moment of inter-office flirting I laid a few pointed questions before one of the secretaries; I got interrupted before a conclusion and figured another opportunity is sure to arrive. Four days passed before I was to be given the chance again. It could have happened in the even rarer moment, with her coming to the floor I work on. I noticed a lot of fuss, a lot of pink, a lot of makeup and something passed around before the procession left. I jumped as a tap came upon my shoulder; taking my earphones out I was greeted with, "have you heard?". Drops of bitchiness were gathering into a pool of jealousy, festering with "did you see the way she was dress? - slutty?". I got the story; without being told. Iranian living abroad*; wants semi-packaged bride; in town for a week; engaged that night; married the day after; discovery day followed, I presume; back to work the day after; "do anything nice this weekend?".

"That's very nice Daveed", she responded with a warm smile as I caught my reflection in the frame, "if you had of asked me Wednesday I'd be your wife now"

"So, if I'd have asked her on the Wednesday, I could be a married man now?", I rhetorically put it to my informant. "Daveed was saying that if he'd have asked you on Wednesday..." – farting would have made me feel more comfortable at that point. I stood holding a framed picture of what looked like the secretary in embrace with her now husband, "crumbs, look at how she's dressed", I thought. "That's very nice Daveed", she responded with a warm smile as I caught my reflection in the frame, "if you had of asked me Wednesday I'd be your wife now", she smoothly added; I gave a cocktail-party laugh; dragging it out as I struggled for appropriate questions. "He's gone back", she responded, "I'll join him when the paperwork goes through, in maybe eight month's time". "Oh me? Errr, I just hang out with my family this weekend", I responded as I passed the frame back to her.

I've still had no news from my auntie regarding the suggested khastegari** but have been increasingly hearing the question arrive, "have you found a wife yet?". Maybe again it's my hair; as it creeps back it exposes a look of loneliness. My mind collapses at the thought of taking these people seriously; I'm not sure I'm capable of such levels of certainty and don't care for such consistency. I'm assured that Khastegaris are rigorous and calculative, but it still seems so arbitrary; such a shocking gamble; maybe even inhumane depending on one's philosophical persuasion.

I've been here for almost exactly two years now and the weekend gone was the closest I've gotten to the much spoken about event. My family know the likely result and have – so I've recently learned – turned down many invites due to this. "Having my auntie pick me a future wife", I asserted to my friend upon being asked about the planned weekend, "is like asking her to choose software for my Mac: I'm sure she return with something I might work with, but there'll certainly be fundamental compatibility issues".

*Abroad, or, "Khaarej", as we say; simply meaning 'foreign'. The word has a certain ring about it – all things superior are Khaarej; escape is khaarej.
**"Khaastegari", is a proposal ceremony of sorts; an arranged event whereby potential coupling takes place. If I ever go on one I'll explain what is involved.

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My grandmother's kitchen wall.

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"Y'Allah! ... Y'Allah!?", I enquire in a deep mock-Arabic tone while stood looking at my toes as they skirt the door frame. "Y'Allah!? ... can I come in?", I ask, "yes, yes, come in Daveed", replies my auntie as she hops out from the pokey wash-room connected to the kitchen and tightens the headscarf she'd just had to grab. "How are you? How are things? Where have you been these last days?", she asks as she makes her way to the fridge to prepare me a diluted fruit-juice with ice. "Salam Daveed, how are you?", greets my grandmother as she comes in the door behind, "salam grandmother, how are you?", I ask her in Turk, mustering my finest mimic of her tonguey-tone. As I sit to my diluted fruit-juice I observe the questions as they branch off in there usual fashion, to which I unavoidably answer my way through them.

As the summer goes on I've been playing host; to some degree, with the various relatives arriving from abroad. Among these, I've just recently had the pleasure of my young brother's company; and, I should reluctantly add, that of his mother's. Sadly, too much of this precious time has been consumed with bickering: "he's got; she's got; we've got", and the gatherings; few though they have been, have been preoccupied with slagging matches. In an effort to avoid premature heart-attacks and give my father a break from the petty demands, I've tried to keep the conversations to contrived anecdotes.

"Take a look around grandmother's house; go in each room", I joked while sat to varying summer fruits and tea with the step-mother, father and my brother. "Look at each clock: the kitchen, 30-minutes fast; the hallway, 10-minutes slow; the front room, 1-hour behind; the guest room, stuck on 5". "They live in varying time zones", I point out, "but it goes beyond the clocks: they eat dinner any time around 11pm to 1am; lunch maybe 4pm and breakfast not too long before that". I then explain further, "If I stay there, I struggle to sleep while they* chat, argue or watch TV till 3am; and then during the night my grandmother scuffles past me; checking I'm comfortable; adjusting doors; putting blankets on me; fiddling with mosquito deterrents". We chuckle in recognition, "then, just before the traffic begins outside; say 5am, 'Daveed, are you not late? Daveed, are you not late for work?' - 'it's the weekend', I remind her - voy!".

The place has not changed in 30-years; same fridge, cooker, tables, chair, curtains, gas lamps, and the same damn clocks", and then I remember, "new seat covers though; 30-year old design however"

While relaying the alternative time observations of my family I realised that it's not just hours that are distorted there. "Just recently they bought new rugs; a change of colour, yet I went back the next day and they'd changed them again: new versions of the old ones". It was coming to me, "take a handful of mod-cons out and the place has not changed in 30-years; same fridge, cooker, tables, chair, curtains, gas lamps, and the same damn clocks", and then I remember, "new seat covers though; 30-year old design however". I wasn't complaining, nor suggesting unnecessary changes, it was just interesting: a conscious lack of change.

The off-spring and in-laws battle for grander chandeliers, I've seen them; they kiss when greeting, but their eyes calculate curtain prices as they go left; right; left. Maybe they even calculate bulb quantities; I have; my uncle and aunty's "museum" – as another uncle coined it – has 48 bulbs in the front room alone! Their clock is stuck on 6.15 though - it's a change I guess.

*My grandmother lives in a 3-story apartment owned by her but cohabits (between floors) with her youngest son and his family who pretty much look after her in her senior years.

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My grandmother sorting out the meat.

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"Bah! Bah! Bah!", right cheek; left cheek; right cheek, followed by a hug. "Bah! Bah! Baaaaah!", right; left; right; another hug and a pat on the back. "Bah! BAAAAH!", right; left; right; centre; centre; centre. So many men and so much kissing; a ring of them, bursting from the exit of Tehran's undersized airport. I joined in, "Bah! Bah! Bah! Dear uncle, welcome back", I warmly greeted him; cautious of him going central. With the embraces done, our visitor stood circled; trapped by the airport crowd and ringed by gleaming faces. Again it came; round two: "Bah! Bah!", in an emotive, pirouette finale.

Before the airport exodus I'd dashed round to grandmother's to bum a lift with another uncle; "your eyes are bright", I exclaimed to my grandmother, stating a common phrase for such occasions - "your eyes are bright", she reply with an amused smile. She was sat at the dining table, labeling numerous lumps of meat spread across it, "Are you coming with us?", I asked; more out of politeness, as I already knew the answer, "no... I'm an old woman", she sought to remind me, as she incrementally slapped squares of paper on the fleshy mounds. "So you sacrificed a sheep for the occasion?", I added; stating the obvious, as I waited for the eventual, "Shall we go?", from my uncle who was now ready. "Your eyes are bright", I answered, "your eyes are bright", he responded with an amused smile.

Around a year and a half ago my uncle returned to America from Iran, concluding his lengthy stint back here. This was a sad occasion for me, especially considering I'd freshly arrived to live here. I gravitated towards him more than my other three uncles, simply because my weakness in Farsi, and his strength in English; yet there was more. Like me, he'd matured in a Western environment – mostly – and thus he became an important bridge for me to unite cultures. Of course, my father also performs this role, yet the objectivity, and dare I say; increased intellect, was a valuable thing to me. It was interesting for me to see that our common ground had increased, as my uncle – bless him – battled jet-lag and fatigue while we caught-up into the early hours of that first night.

Three sheep, I thought to myself; I was out of the country for 25 years, and the only thing killed for me was my curiosity

The following day I was privy to a second round of greetings; joining my uncle on a visit to Karaj. We arrived at the entrance of the family business where a crowd had gathered in anticipation; eager faces lowered to get a glimpse in the car as we rolled in. Among the crowd were some special guests; two sheep being held between labourer's legs – I think I tutted: can we not just buy icecreams? Three sheep, I thought to myself; I was out of the country for 25-years, and the only thing killed for me was my curiosity.

Another kiss ring ensued as hoofs flapped around in the background, "come and see, come and see!", my young brother yelped; taking our younger cousins by the hand. They met with a pool of blood coming just as fast in their direction, before decided to go do something else. As the kisses turned to questions, melon and tea arrived; blood was washed away and skin turned inside out - my eyes were still bright.

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Sometimes the views can be good from inside the taxi.

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"...And then we pulled away, only to stop a few metres ahead whereby another person had gotten in with us!", I often retell, as if a great punch line is about to be dropped, "in horror I turn to my Dad who's nonchalantly looking at nothing in particular – 'Dad, what's going on, why did they get in our taxi?', I whisper...", and so goes another anecdote of my first Iranian experiences. My sister came to Iran for some of the same, and in my efforts to prepare her for the Iranian oddities I'd deliberately left off the shared taxi part. I'd looked forward to seeing her face with this moment, like a child in wait of some lame prank – I'd set my bucket above the door and now I just needed to wait for her to open it. She did open the door and without a flinch she sat beside another person and just like my father she glanced straight ahead – why didn't the bucket fall!? She later informed me that she'd traveled to Bolivia where share taxis are also usual practice – damn my ignorance.

Shared taxis are now too much of a feature in my daily life yet I still amuse myself when thinking of the tacit rules, the variables and the knack one needs to utilise this national nightmare of a transport system. I thought I'd take it upon myself to add another entry for a possible guide thingy, I've done money and now here is one on taxis.

Being anywhere near a road invites the sound of a car horn as taxi drivers anticipate customers, the more lost you look and the less you move the more the horn will sound. This will continue with car after car until you get in or get away. A single toot will announce the taxis' presence followed by a toot-toot - "where you going?". Then there's the 'approach' as the driver aims for your legs to pull to the side. This can take a few forms – eye contact is made as both parties lean in, the driver won't commit to a stop unless you are going on his route yet the distance and noise leaves a small period where one's lips pucker for a location name. "Straight ahead", I yelp, shuffling my feet back, yet I'll often get the Iranian 'tut' – a slow lift of the head – "where the fuck else is he going", is normally what I mumble to myself as the I gear up for another approach. Occasionally hand gestures can aid the approach but one must know the layout and assume the driver does too. A circular stirring index finger gets you to the next roundabout, four fingers gets you the next cross roads and three gets you the next intersection and I imagine two or one get you run over. Mostly I give the point and wag - 'straight ahead' – but this more often than not needs a stated location.

basically they don't sit in the middle-back, unless there is another female beside or the knight is defending a bishop and the king might slip into check. Ok, basically, if the piece is black do what you can to not touch it

Once the driver gives you a lowered head – "yes" – you must then prepare for a little seating rearrangement, this can take two forms. Firstly there is the location rearrangement whereby by passengers will get out, thus putting you deeper to the left – assuming you get the back three seats – this of course means they will alight sooner. This is a 50/50 may-or-may-not happen scenario whereby other variables will effect the decision: mostly ease-of-arrival-shuffle or predicted ease-of-departure-shuffle, mostly to traffic. The front seat is also subject to seating rearrangement whereby passengers will naturally free the space in the rear when possible – yet not always. The second rearrangement come with the positioning of females – a minority passenger but respected one. If possible women sit beside women and if not, by a door or in front, basically they don't sit in the middle-back, unless there is another female beside or the knight is defending a bishop and the king might slip into check. Ok, basically, if the piece is black do what you can to not touch it.

At this point if you don't know your route then you've made a mistake – know your route and it's corresponding price, or, ask in advance! You will be safe in numbers or on short runs but if you are alone and not certain then don't be surprised if you get into an argument as you pay upon arrival. It should be noted that you are hugely advantaged in an argument if you have smaller denominations of money and also profess to only have on you the money that you think is fair for the journey. As a rule, keep smaller denominations, it does everyone a favor - I once had amounted four unopened packets of chewing gum in my pocket (bought quicker than I can chew) to get change in anticipation of taxi troubles. Now I think about it there was a series of experiments regarding this Iran taxi payment dilemma. OK, ultimately you can walk off without paying but if you've given a large denominator and are sitting waiting for change then your loosing and if you've exited the car to wait for it – you've lost.

A series of computations will be needed for alighting. One must simultaneously judge the speed of the moving taxi, foresee the traffic and times one things by another, divide something else, do a square route thing and then calmly say, "may your hands not be tired", to which you will get, "are you getting out?", from the driver. If you get the computations correct you will stop just where you wanted, which would normally involve cutting up a few cars before a possible reverse seat rearrangement. Excuse mes and thank yous are said and then as you walk away, wait for it – toot, toot toot.

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A Tehran hole.

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"Iran is not blessed with the best of capitals", I read from the book my Turkish tourist friend had left before me as he dashed off to the toilet, "concrete, cars, traffic, pollution, bits of road and pavement absent", this was the Lonely Planet's comedy endorsement – read travel guide – of a place I now call home. I read on fixated, maybe a survival guide would better describe it as warning after warning explaining the uniquely bizarre and unsafe environment organically inflicted on the nation. I was in open laughter a pages kept referring back to the cars drivers and roads, "Tehran's taxi drivers are exceptionally good drivers", they reassured us as anecdote after anecdote found its way on the page. I can't say I've read many Lonely Planet guides but I'm sure they all aren't consumed with stark warnings and frustrating tales.

I have gradually become numb to these oddities yet occasionally a fresh pair of eyes arrive to remind me of this daily chaos. "There was a hole in the path – just path and then a great big hole, no warning...", they tell me as I am brought to tears of laughter. I laugh because I've said the same and because the person I told laughed at me for finding it strange. There is more, they too have pages of anecdotes as a whole spectrum of absurdity folds me over in laughter. I laugh at them, at myself, at the Iranian people, what is this place Tehran, a clash of 15,000,000 ideas simultaneously manifesting themselves in some attempt of a capital.

I recently wrote of my lack of enthusiasm for returning back here but I fear I failed to qualify my analogy. I believe I wasn't naive in coming to live here in Iran, having visited the place a couple of times before I was aware that the culture can be abrasive and that it would likely toughen me, bringing calluses to my soft English manner. I embraced this as character building, but hard skinned is not how I would describe myself. I've learned to rival cuntish behavior with cuntish behavior but I might more correctly describe this as being sore skinned: I am sensitive to the trampling and clamor to not be kicked down. I'm gradually learning to be a city arsehole and now leave the house armed and trigger happy.

There are two things new to me here, city life and Tehran city life. I have lived for 3-years a piece in probably England's smallest cities, other than that I'm of the small town, and a dainty one at that. London could have made me that city arsehole or cunt if you please, but Tehran's 15,000,000... I look to nature for analogies, ant hills? Far too organised and clearly all inhabitants are of the same species - they do walk all over one another though.

It's tiring – holes and arsholes, all 15,000,000 of us. I'm not part of the solution and gradually becoming part of the problem

I might single out just one daily moment, one I've not numbed to and have still yet to learn how to snap at. It happened once again today just minutes before I began writing. I was being served in my local corner shop, actually in verbal intercourse when some cunt walks in shouting, "razor blades, give me three razor blades!". I don't think he'd even entered the door when his demand was placed but he'd managed to barge in front of me as the shop keeper respected the law of the jungle, serving him first. I didn't respond like the other times today, yesterday, everyday as I was not sure which person's throat I should take those razor blades to.

It's tiring – holes and arsholes, all 15,000,000 of us. I'm not part of the solution and gradually becoming part of the problem, this might not be character building but rather character destroying. And what was it I was saying about holding my breath?

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More posters regarding the Islamic dress code.

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"David is ur english friend who wanted 2marry an iranian still available? Are u watching channel 3? Mother fucker bastards [other words edited out] is sayin any girl dressin against our 'islamic stndrds' deserves 2b raped. I am nt stayin here 1more day. Whatever d price...". I wrote something back to this, philosophical it was – I kinda believed it too – it seemed to help calm things, at least until two days later when we were discussing this again over coffee.

It felt wrong that two men sat plucking from history the development of nations to justify those broadcasted words. We aired our supposed views, one girl was steaming and the other not even listening, "I'm not staying another minute!", shrilled one as the other tapped messages on their mobile. I joined my male friend in forgiving the bad mouthed child, "they are adjusting, in a difficult position, it takes time", and I kinda believed it too.

Our development must be aboriginal, my counterpart pointed out, for we are not insignificant and this is our problem.

"Iran is fresh to the industrial world, fresh to these concepts that have matured over a slow period among 'western' nations", I respond, "the Shah's time was a blip, a facade of the west, I'm not sure it suited the Iranian people and culture, not en-mass, such unequal development can crack the society and did". "Foisting these ways upon a nation without the background, the infrastructure or the understanding might cause more problems than solve", I suggested, ignoring counter arguments arriving with my every word. I went with it, consistently seeing this perspective out, "without these things we might be leaping into subservience (again?), facing west, behaving western yet never being western – by that I mean being in control of our destiny". Our development must be aboriginal, my counterpart pointed out, for we are not insignificant and this is our problem.

"Western seduction is easily succumbed to, frequently so and why not?", I pointed out, referring to chronic brain drain of which our female friend wanted to contribute, "thus development is distressingly slowed". My counterpart reminded us that relative to the region things are not all that bad, I agreed, I champion Iran, would choose it over many other neighboring places – the other oligarchs – subservient or not – don't appear half as indigenous. But I threw it out there, "Iran is stalling", I suggested, "waiting for the inevitable new world order, where it will comfortably face east and allow itself (and be allowed!) a suitable renaissance", and I kinda believe it too.

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Me, before.

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"Did you do the back?", I asked as I lifted my hand from below the plastic bib to check for myself, "yes, it's just like that guy now", the hairdresser mocked, referring a passport photo I'd stood next to the mirror, one taken roughly a year ago, just after the last haircut. "Did I wear glasses in the last photo?", I then asked, referring to the 'before' picture I'd took before he began – I wanted consistency for the 'after' picture you see – "yes, with glasses", came an unamused response, almost like he'd expected me to ask.

Among all the events over the last year (marked with the unruly curls that were now scattered and sharing the floor) the local cheap-chops had had a price hike, what was the equivalent of 30p for your standard short-back-and-sides was now 40p! Another change that could've been found somewhere amid the arches of the curls would be my ability to grumble about this and be understood, which I didn't do, but I felt it illustrated an important difference made during the time between cuts, one maybe worth the extra 10p.

My recent visit to England was expected to be a little disappointing, I knew I'd have to condense too much of what was familiar and missed into a series of partly overlapping events. I'd expected an amount of adjustment in the plans and tried as best as I could to plan around the inevitable alterations. On the whole I'd successfully managed to spread myself thinly across as larger group loved ones as possible, I'd drawn up plans, listed must-dos and pretty much got there – it was all so unfulfilling though and didn't set a good mood for a return to Iran. Coming/going back, however, was not so easy, but it wasn't just the leaving all the renewed familiarity behind.

yet I'm too aware that I can only hold my breath for so long before needing to be in an atmosphere where I can breath once again

I've often found it an appropriate analogy to describe being in Iran as being underwater – it's like I've decided to dive down to the murky unknown seabed, curious as to what I'll find, curious as to whether it's like they say, yet I'm too aware that I can only hold my breath for so long before needing to be in an atmosphere where I can breath once again. This underwater analogy is often extended and ever more fitting, but I think it helps illustrate where my recent psychological retraction from Iranian life has come from.

When those curls were beginning their first curve so much of Iran was unfamiliar to me, I mostly received the place predigested, presented in English with helpful 3D renderings. Coming/going back last year was easy, the murky seabed still had so much to be discovered, this time around it's different, it's not that I've haven't discovered interesting things, more that the novelty has been lost. I have also now reached a standard whereby I can digest this place first hand, where I have an independence, where I'm able to communicate and where I can grumble about a 10p increase at the local cheap-chops. Yet the price hikes feature low as it is with each day that I discover another thing to grumble about and yet another thing to make me want to resurface.

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Keep banging on the walls of Fortress Europe.

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"No, it's not that they aren't allowed to leave, the government aren't keeping them here", my father corrected me, as we filled the commute with the usual analysis on Iranian life, "it's just that nowhere else will have them!". It was over a year ago that I'd had this realisation, it came as such a surprise that I remember the exact square metre of road he said this. This sad reality shouldn't have came as a shock to me, but I don't hide it – I'm incredibly ignorant of immigration and VISA issues – and to all those that find me, call me or email me it comes as a shock too.

"Daveed, I want to buy a house in Cyprus, maybe we'll go live there", my uncle perks up, something on the TV must have prompted him, "can I get a VISA?", he gets there, "do you think they'll give us a VISA? Can you find out?". This is the latest idea, Cypress, the latest country and his latest expectation of me. I look up inquisitively when he gets to these questions, maybe I look like I'm thinking about it, I hope so. If he could tune into my mind he might hear this between the distortion – "what dear uncle gives you the impression that I – dressed in my jim-jams, sipping tea while trying to block out Turkish soaps – have the foggiest about immigration and VISAs". I probably give a 'hmmm' at this point, then I sip, "never dear uncle have I ever personally* applied for a VISA or immigration, I've never even seen the form(s) and never made an inquiry about such things". These things are not aired, partly through politeness and partly because he and all the others that come with their questions don't want to hear the second reason why: that I mostly never need these things while traveling.

I did some maths, "at the current rate dear uncle you'll hear news in five years, so – don't make any plans"

Maybe I'm tetchy due to help I gave in what became an unsuccessful application for a visitation VISA to Great Britain and the ongoing help in the – as yet – four year process of immigration to America, both of which seem to appear more like a sick joke. I'll begin with the America gig, I'm still unsure with this one whether it's legit – the papers and stamps seem official enough, provisionally it's a green light, it's just the, "your application is being processed, do not make any plans..." bit that baffles me, maybe it's just the way the Americans put it, everything seems like a scam. "Can you call them", my uncle asks, "can you check online", he repeats. They've given him a handy user name and password, "your application is being processed", do not make any plans...", it says when I login with nearly a word-for-word copy of the letter, but it looks neat and makes my uncle feel that things are moving along. Just to confirm, I called, guided my way through the labyrinth of options, tapped in enormous strings of digits and finally got it, "your application number is 'x', we are now dealing with 'y', do not make any plans...". I did some maths, "at the current rate dear uncle you'll hear news in five years, so – don't make any plans".

The Brit gig was simply obscene and insulting as well as very expensive, remember, this is just for a two week holiday. I was drafted in for translation - not that my uncle can't read English - more that, even by lawyer's standards the paperwork contained an extra special weave of verbosity. My uncle had failed the initial application, having stumbled on the interrogation process, the poor feller mislocated a small town among other things, how silly of him to say north-west, it was clearly south-east. But the British aren't too harsh, they give you the option to appeal, and at only twice the price of the initial process, roughly two month's average wage. But it was failure again, this time my uncle couldn't prove that all the land and property he owed around Iran had any value, deeds don't mean dollars, oh how they wriggled out of that one. The re-appeal was available but the game could have gone on with the embassy raising the bar, inventing more English and taking further money. Unless the family were to leave a deposit, like my uncle himself, the embassy expected it would end up being an asylum case at the other end.

A colleague was rejected a visitation VISA for Canada the other day and another for America. In the Canadian case I was told that six people were successful in just over a hundred applications for that day, this is good business and psychological torture. I hear chants of freedom coming Eastwards, but they seem self-serving - as my father once enlightened me, the jail is imposed by those who chant the loudest.

*I have had two VISAs, one work related for America, but it was all taken care of for me and another for Lebanon, which was never used and also arranged for me, yet not entirely necessary due to me having a British passport, it was simply a time issue.

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Fights breaking out at my local petrol station as rationing is brought into effect.

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"I've got no cars", said the man behind the desk in an oddly jovial fashion, "ration cards... two hours ago... queues...", was what I then made out between his fast talk and the loud TV he kept pointing to. "Well is there another agency near by?", I inquired, "yes, I own the next one down the road, it's the same there too". Following this news I took to the street to thumb a 'door closed' taxi, where I stated my destination, suggested a priced, all parties agreed and off we went.

I'd heard our destination before I saw it, the box yellow glow of petrol station was resonating with human noise, "I'll get out here", I said to the taxi driver, as if I had a choice what with the clotted final road to my apartment. I reflexively set the phone to record and watched the screen as I entered the roar of angry car owners. A driver cut in from the exit of the station passing me so closely it went unnoticed on my screen, he didn't however go unnoticed by the army officer and angry 2nd, 3rd, 4th place customers waiting for his door to open. "Six hours!", he yelled, "get back in the car", they shrieked, "I was at the end, six hours", he continue as at least eight pairs of hands were going for him. Nobody was backing off, the hungry crowd especially, I surveyed the forecourt, capturing the commotion, in my screen I saw at least ten other amateurs also poised like me, there was as much demand for footage as there was fuel.

It was a race against the clock, half eleven I made it, that meant half an hour to go before the full rations came into effect

Each pump was connected to a car and/or several hands with families attempting to work in teams arranging additional vessels to fill. Instructions spilled out with little manner and little attention paid, flowing continuously like the liquid that had brought miles of junkies desperate for their last unmonitored fix. I tried to make my way around to capture the chaos but my legs couldn't fit between the fronts and backs of vehicles. I had to leave the station to find a gap during the shuffling forward and was amused at the irony of the idoling vehicles with the drivers standing out beside. It was a race against the clock, half eleven I made it, that meant half an hour to go before the full rations came into effect, having only been announced two and a half hours before. I tiptoed to look down the road, there was more than half an hour's worth of queue and a certainty of more chaos.

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Our Turkish friend standing on the wall of Babak Fort.

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"We only have chicken kebab", informed the waiter as we sat at an uncleared table of a rapidly emptying restaurant part way up a mountain. Whether this news meant that our previous alternative of eggs was no longer coming we were yet to find out, but things were looking up as when we entered they had nothing to offer at all. Between this Mad Hatter lunch ordeal our traveling team was united with its needy pillar as our previously unseen guest had finally found us. We were to play host to a Turkish tourist during our three day excursion to Iran's Turk (known as 'Azeri' to the locals - as in, relating to Iran/Azerbaijan) regions – making the most of yet another Islamic holiday.

Our rendezvous arrangements proved as backward as our lunch arrangements as we missed our new friend in the main city of Tabriz and had to guide him to an early stage of our trek. His arrival couldn't have come sooner, he became the key needed to unlock to mystery of the local behavior. As he arrived our soup arrived, one single large bowl of it - at the beginning we wanted soup, then they didn't have any, then they didn't have anything - now we had soup, no eggs and everything we'd initially ordered, including the previous customer's food that still hadn't been cleared.

It should be noted that the Turks are to the Iranians what the Irish are to the English and as we settled up and headed off the many Iranian jokes about the Turks started to gain credibility.

We were like some comedy outfit, one deaf and one blind, getting results in a slap-stick style

In theory our newly found friend was to be guided by us Iranian folk as he upturned the stones of Iranian culture, yet things went much the other way round. The regional language is Turk, of which 30% of Iran speak (including my family), not the Farsi that we city kids speak. Of course, our new friend can't speak Farsi but his mother tongue is Turkish, which is maybe over 90% the same as Turk, forgiving the kooky accent. Thankfully however we all spoke English and for a rare occasion I was the good all-rounder, knowing a shameful amount of each. Between us we made a triangle of entertainment for the locals, discussing in Farsi, conveying in English and presenting in Turk - only to then do it in reverse. We were like some comedy outfit, one deaf and one blind, getting results in a slap-stick style.

"Don't be tired", "don't be tired!", and then another group of trekkers passed, "don't be tired", I politely state again. This aroused outbursts of laughter from our new friend with each kooky Turk tone that came from me. I was sincere, it's what we do when hiking, maybe it was the fact that I had no idea what was being said back at me. During this hefty hike we all became acquainted as we guessed our way through the cool cloud covered mountain. Our new friend is blessed with warmth and honesty that allows for his charismatic and sometimes over-familiarity to escape evasion. Most of the trek he would be in some way attached to us, or even passers by - he was as comfortable with English as he was with his hands when talking.

Our trek was to take us to a place called Babak Fort, a historical location known for a time the locals fended off the Arabs. The site was hidden by winding paths, steep climbs and also low cloud during our assent - thankfully the cool moist air took the strain out of the climb, gathering in our hair like dew on a spiders web. We deceptively arrived on several occasions of which I'm sure was the intentional design, yet upon our eventually arrival there was little to see. I mean, literally there was little to see, 5-metres ahead was what was available to our eyes and that which could be seen was restoration work.

Groups of trekkers joined us in this short lived relief, snacks and drinks were had as at least three mobiles squealed out traditional songs. A group of odd haircuts and clothes played the worst of it, between their chats and sing-alongs they cleared the plastic remains from previous visitors. "Is that Mostafazedeh...?", asked our musical buff in Farsi, "Talk Turk!", replied the haircut in Turk before they reached a chorus in unison. In response to this hostility our new Turkish friend's hands came out the pocket again and connections were made - it appeared that we'd stumbled upon the Azeri separatist. There was a long trade of words between the Turk and Turkish neighbours, a lot of touchy feely yet understanding seemed to be met. "What was that all about?", I asked as the deaf man to the blind. "I'll tell you later", he responded as I led us back down the mountain.

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"I cannot get away, firmly entrenched in group activities", came an email, "I completely misjudged the situation that we would find at our arrival here. We have been completely swallowed up in a wave of hospitality", I read as my vague plans as tour guide to a group of Canadians went out the window.

There have been a few such requests of late by random folk from around the world fancying a more alternative, alternative holiday or arriving on some business. They find me through my photo journal or they find me through friends. Advice is occasionally sought or mostly provided. "Rule number one, do not let anyone touch your money", I wrote to our Canadian tourists, "rule number two, DO NOT LET ANYONE TOUCH YOUR MONEY!". And so began a list of things to note when traveling Iran.

With this wave of interest I've pondered writing a series of introductions to aspects of Iranian life, both helpful to a tourist and informative to person curious about Iran. In various forms I've been writing these to those faceless people who email yet I wanted to avoid the repetition. Having been stung a few times regarding money I felt that such a prospect would be best undertook with this subject.

And so begins what may or may not turn out to be a series I might call, Doing Iran.


The Iranian currency is known as Tomans and Rials whereby one gets 10 Rials for each Toman. Mostly the currency is dealt in notes although coins are used as well as Bankers' (Travelers') Cheques. Cards facilities are generally not available.

Notes come in the new 5000 form, recently new 2000 form and mostly 1000 form. There are also 500, 200, 100 and 50 Toman notes with coins decreasing down to 1 Toman. Bankers (Travelers') Cheques can come in 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 500,000 Tomans


Exchange rate
Last year I got 1600 Tomans for my pound this year I get just over 1800 Tomans. People often say that 1000 Tomans gets you a US dollar, which currently is about right, yet I feel this is a temporary matter as the the US dollar is not (yet!) devaluing like the Toman. Regardless, due to the nature of money one should expect in Iran that prices (all these stated here) will increase, as is often the case, following the new year (March 21st). Don't be surprised if this increase nears 10% per year.


No doubt due to inflation the currency is in relatively small denominators, thus one needs to carry measurable amounts of notes even for day-to-day items. The breadth of price in day-to-day purchases also doesn't help so one must be prepared for many eventualities.

Card facilities
Cards are coming into effect for taking money from the wall, but this is not a facility for international travelers. I never seen a swipe-card machine and can only guess that large hotels have such. What with the near non-existence of bank card facilities one must plan a trip expecting to carry hundreds of notes.

Maybe important
Although I hear of less incidents than in London it is wise to distribute your money around your pockets and bags. I've heard of many moments where motorbike riders travel in twos and bag-snatch. Also, try not to let unknown people handle your money, I've had times where people tried varying techniques to pocket what is mine.


You can fill a 2.0 litre car (75 litres capacity - does around 700 kilometers town driving) for 3000 Tomans. Although petrol prices and means to consumption are changing so expect this prices to both rise are rise sharply in large quantity purchases.

3rd party Insurance is compulsory starting from 200,000 a year and applies to the car and not the driver. There is no road tax (although toll roads connect some cities starting from around 100 Tomans). MOT is compulsory costing around 7000 Tomans per year. All these extras are rarely adhered to and not enforced.

Taxis generally are shared and can connect you to most places while jumping between. In Tehran it may cost you 100 Tomans for a short one hundred metre journey and taking you as far as half a mile depending on the route. Relatively long routes can cost around 500 Tomans. Journeys outside of Tehran may be as much as half the price. Tipping is not appropriate for these drivers but no doubt welcomed.

Private Taxis
Journeys in Tehran can start from 1000 Tomans and getting from the north to central at night can be as much as 6000 Tomans. This price will get you the car thus the price can be split between fellow travelers. There has been the recent introduction of yellow metered taxis which are more competitive yet not as easy to come by.

Inner city buses cost 20 Tomans for any journey around Tehran city. Intercity buses can be equally as reasonable where you can travel from Tehran to Mashad, around a ten hour journey at around 4000 Tomans.

On the relatively few metro lines one can expect to do the full distance of north-central Tehran to the end of the Karaj (Tehran's neighboring city to the west) in around an hour and a half for 150 Tomans. A general price can be paid for a single journey on either of the two main city lines for 75 Tomans.

Trains connect most cities and are also very reasonably priced. I took an over night train to Yazd, which took around 8 hours and had sleeping facilities as well as a buffet with hot food, this costed around 8000 Tomans.


Flat regular bread (lavash) can be bought from the bakers for around 25 Tomans a piece, a pint of milk costs from around 100 Tomans, rice is starts from 1000 Tomans a kilo, eggs start from 70 Tomans each, apples start from around 500 Tomans a kilo.

Iran is fast becoming consumed with corner stores selling basics as well as many types of plastic wrapped junk. A packet of crisps for two is around 300 Tomans, chocolates start from around 50 Tomans, a plastic bottle of Coke is generally 250 Tomans. Freshly made sandwiches (usually filled with processed meat and salad) start from around 700 Tomans

One of the more traditional dishes, Chelo Kebab, consisting of rice, a barbecued tomato and minced muton (sometimes bread and yoghurt) can start from around 2000 Tomans. Fast food joints are fast becoming popular where a pizza starts from around 2000 Tomans, burgers 2000 Tomans, Chips 500 Tomans. Fancy restaurants can have main courses starting from around 7,000 Tomans.


Electronic goods
Electronic goods are pretty much exactly the same price you'd expect to pay in any other country thus the nationals expect to have to work more for these goods as their wages do not reflecting those other (industrialised) countries.

Genuine labeled clothing is hard to come by but a few stores are available in the country. A large number of stores sell fake clothing swearing on their families lives that they are the real deal. Diesel and Levi's jeans are popular and prices can start around 30,000 Tomans, yet these are often rather convincing copies made in Turkey. Women's fashionable manteaus (required Islamic dress) can start around 15,000 Tomans and often get to around 60,000 Tomans.


Galleries are often free, Tehran's Contemporary Arts museum is 300 Tomans and historic sites can cost around 200 - 500 Tomans.

Sports facilities
Swimming sessions can cost from around 3000 Tomans and including saunas can get up to 6000 Tomans or more.


Skilled laborers get paid around 400,000 per month, taxi drivers can make around 400,000 Tomans a month, general teachers start from around 350,000, Doctors start from around 500,000 for junior positions. I think I heard once that the national average is around 200,000 Tomans per month - I'll confirm later.

I welcome any corrections, additions or helpful links, yet would like to stress that inflation may make most of these values redundant shortly. Thus note the date of posting.

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A poster campaign, "It's our own fault", promoting good hejab in Iran.

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A lot of changes have been taking place in Iran over the last week, the Islamic Republic has been remembering itself, taking further steps than enforcement of the dress laws. Coffee shops have been closing due to women smoking in them, clothing shops will have to have their stock put to the scrutiny of the Islamic ideals and Satellite dishes have been torn from roofs.

I occasionally duplicate my blog at an interesting site by the name of MidEastYouth.com, a site that brings folk from the Middle East together to share and publish words and ideas. I'm flattered that they except me as a youth and often enjoy the lively debates that spin off from mine and other people's writing.

Occasionally I get lost in these debates and felt that one of the recent ones resulting from an article concerning the struggle for free press in iran [oddly enough this has now been deleted by the author who feared the repercussions, or so I was told], would be a timely one to reverse-post with. Here is my last response/rant.

Esra [site founder], I feel you've rather missed the point about Chomsky (with all due respect). The beauty with Chomsky is that he doesn't have ideas, or at least not in that way. You will often hear him state that he is far too unqualified to make predictions and you will note that he's at pains to simply present facts and make suggestions as to other ways to perceive them. It is by not sticking his neck out like this that I feel he gets a large audience and relatively little bashing.

That Chomsky 'doesn't try hard enough' [referring to Esra's comment] to enforce any ideas might make sense with what I say above. Although it should be added that Chomsky was very active in his early years as far as protesting and organising.

As for Chomsky not being a force for change [referring to Esra's comment], I very much disagree here. When the people have access to such a wealth of mostly hidden facts, then has them presented in a way that exposes alternative agendas - I feel this is a very powerful source of change. he has been a huge influence for me, a true intellectual power-house with such a perfect form of presentation, modest, selfless and relentless. He has inspired me to dig deeper, try harder and alway reflect upon my bias.

Which leads me on to City boy [the author of the article in question], maybe I need to be clearer here [referring to his response to mine]. Yes, we can be reductionist about bias and suggest that all individuals include an amount of prejudice in their words, actions and behavior, this should be universally appreciated. But we must look at the bias in the institutions and corporations.

To get back to Chomsky, he asks us to consider that the media's market is the advertisers and their product is the consumers - with a bias toward more wealthy consumers. With this in mind we have our understanding as to the trail of influence. Jina [commenting on City boy] suggests that Fox news is a mirror for the government, yet I feel this also misses the point, again, Chomsky would tell us that the Government is the shadow created by the corporations, and especially so in the USA I would add. Regardless, the media simply align themselves to the market thus adapting what we consume.

Where this is slightly different is in cases like the BBC, whereby license payers contribute with the government to provide a service. Yet I see this as a more interesting form of media distribution of which is certainly still open to bias. One may simply read of BBC Persia's reporting during 1953 when Mosadegh lost power. More amusingly the BBC did a documentary about it recently.

But one sees these cases where the consumer is fed to fulfill the needs of the government and those higher up: the corporations. Was it no small coincidence that the largest company of the that period ('53 coup) for Britain was British Petroleum which pretty much functioned only in Iran.

The field may be larger, the fence maybe lower but we are still sheep

City boy, aziz e delam [returning his Farsi endearment], please do not purport to be a tour guide for 'reality'. "Freedom of democracy" is an illusion for a few countries and although I have also heard our dear Chomsky suggest that indulging the political process has benefits, he is never a faithful for the concept and neither am I. The farce of a system that we have in those countries (that feel so enlightened to export such a virtue) is simply a means to control the masses. The field may be larger, the fence maybe lower but we are still sheep to use the metaphor. My guess is that soon the fence won't even be needed as we will simply obey.

But you know my field is different with methods such as these [blogging] although my basement [term used by City boy] doesn't have the resources to compete with the majority of the established media. Yet it is not the resources I desire as this will then create a market and thus I am no different.

So OK, as you suggest I can write for these institutions and corporations [in my basement as is suggested], but you honestly think I am at liberty to say what I will.

But then we can get on to systemic failings, which I might state is where America struggles more. Robert Fisk talks occasionally about this subject whereby career mindedness or even the need to maintain a job has sucked the life out of any ability to counter the corporate line. So we can sees the compounding distortions.

The 'West' is afforded 'freedom' and 'democracy' as the results are not as harmful

But yes City boy, there is a difference between Iran and the 'West', but this difference is – in my mind – to do with the ruling family or party's strength. The 'West' is afforded 'freedom' and 'democracy' as the results are not as harmful or at least comfortably undermined. In nations like Iran, the clamping down is a reflection of the weakness in dealing with it by other means.

But City boy, I don't much care for revolutions [he suggests we should conspire to one] nor think it would be wise, I might rather evolution - it's less bloody among other things. Regardless, optimist or pessimist, keep on writing and thinking, moving and progressing.

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A male street trader selling headscarfs.

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"There's only one stop that bus is making", my friend laughed as we negotiated the crowds of Tehran's estrogen interchange that is Vanak Square. My reaction to this would only have been found on the inside as the ugly reality of what I'd seen 24-hours before revealed itself.

The previous day I'd stumbled upon this Islamic carnival quite unknowingly, in passing I donned a dumb grin, "Oooo, TV cameras, Oooo big bus, Oooo, lots of officially dressed people". I slowed down, deducing what type of guest was in town: there was just enough people for it to be the president, too many for a foreign notary and certainly too many for a news article. The bus was curtained, so I guessed that they were famous, but why so many empty cars parked around I pondered. I loitered, but it was too calm, I assumed I'd missed the precession and left in disappointment.

That night I'd popped out with my father, traveling by car we couldn't help but go through Tehran's notorious Jordan Boulevard – notorious among other things for being a road not unlike a catwalk. As we inched forward I noticed the traffic had slowed for different reasons to usual. One-by-one police officers glared in at the drivers subsequently ushering the women drivers to the side whereby further police and a blacked-out van awaited.

If a headscarf falls in a far away forest and nobody is there to see it, will they make a sound?

If a headscarf falls in a far away forest and nobody is there to see it, will they make a sound? I thought while I sat watching the the police decipher the morally correct with no great ease.

"My friend was cautioned", said one girl at work the next day, "yes mine too", said another. We all shared our stories and although this annual tactic is expected we all agreed that the level was way beyond what has been seen for the last few years at least.

A fellow blogger amusingly writes, '“The news is reporting that 93% of the population approves of the crackdown on hejab,” our cab driver told us. “If that is true, there is no need to enforce hejab,” I responded.'.

This self-serving statistic, true or not, is mentioned almost like things would be different if it was the other way round, but we live in the Islamic Republic and it's that time of year for us to be reminded.

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The hand-over - photographing the new phone with the old one.

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"Give me 30,000 Tomans now, I'll take your phone and I'll let you know when it's done and how much more you have to pay", replied the shop owner in all seriousness. Although my father had told me not pay more than 5,000 I certainly wasn't going to leave my handset with some random only to later have it held to ransom, and I certainly wasn't going to pay that much for a 2-minute fix. I gave a sarcastic reply as we walked away where my friends then informed me that my accent wasn't helping matters, "leave it to us", they kindly offered.

More room could be found in the floor-boards of a house and it might have also been a lot cleaner I thought as we scurried around the basement floor of an overly exposed shopping centre. We both knocked and were knocked as the pace of creatures slowed towards the half-filled window displays. Customer interrupted customer only to be interrupted by the customer who was interrupting another customer. Human heat united with display-lighting heat as potential customers sniffed and nudged at the windows while pointing out the various models available.

For a year I'd carried two phones in my left trouser pocket, one I photographed and was occasionally reminded of birthdays with and the other I excepted misdirected calls with

For a year I'd carried two phones in my left trouser pocket, one I photographed and was occasionally reminded of birthdays with and the other I excepted misdirected calls with. Partly for technical reasons and partly due to lack of effort I never got the superior handset unlocked from its UK network. As a splendid gift from my dear mother and sister I received a more superior model than the last (thanks again) yet this time around I'd arranged the unlocking prior to my receiving the handset. A childish joy befell me as I tossed the manual to the side and liberated my Iranian SIM card.

"'Inactive SIM', it says, you sure this was unlocked?" As I was to later find out, the Islamic Republic, in an effort to stop black market trading have called for all phones as of October 2006 to be registered. There are two ways* around this for me: the 'right way' is to find some office, bring the box, a receipt, my passport, my flight ticket and maybe money; the 'wrong way' is in theory less bother, or so I thought until visiting the basement of bull shitters.

"They don't even say anything, they just lift their head with a 'tut'", my friend exclaimed as we leap-frogged shop-to-shop. Aside from this response there was, "this phone is the only one that can't have this done", and, "50,000", "70,000", "90,000". The price increased with each shop that boasted the ability yet my desire to give up increased with every person informing me that this one specific phone can't be tampered with.

So it's the 'right way' for me now, yet I'm not expecting the process to be any less clear or frustrating.

*There is a third, which involves joining the recently introduced private network, IranCell, boasting many (long overdue) new features to the Iran market (MMS, WAP and the likes). This company have broken the monopoly and brought reasonable prices for SIM cards as well as putting a boot up the arse of state-run oversubscribed effort.

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Another nature spot sodden.

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"There's a lot of rubbish around here", my sister remarked as she held her video camera to the window while we made our way back from an outing to the east of Tehran for some tea and hubble-bubble. Damn, there's a lot of rubbish around here I thought to myself, looking left and right in shame. The semi-brown mounds cut with tarmac patiently saw our exodus as we repeatedly rearranged our convoy back to the city to conclude the weekend.

Plastic bottles, bags, cartons and wrappers seemed to keep an even distance from one another, sometimes self-consciously collecting themselves in a larger plastic-bags, maybe still deciding what next to do. "Damn, really lots of it", I regrettably agreed. Every improvised picnic since mass-production was still being enjoyed - less so higher up and more so near the roads - only good memories seemed to have been taken away.

"I was on Iran's Kish Island when first visiting, beautiful it was, white sand, clear water", I reminisced, "where the grass met the sand the Iranians had spontaneously created land fills". It was one of a catalog of moments I've witnessed. "There's a strange sense of commons with the Iranians", I continued, "inside the house they obsess about tidiness and cleanliness, yet when they leave the door the very same
parents instruct their children to discard any packaging wherever they may be". Often it's the open guttering (known as joobs) that brings the melted snow from the north to south of Tehran that bare the brunt, edging Tehran ever closer to a heart attack.

I'm sure the city blames the people and the people blame the city, like when friends complain while sat in traffic about how long their journey increasingly takes

"To be fair I guess it's difficult to distinguish where the bins are when so much of Tehran is in some state of repair", I joked referring to the pipes sticking out from the paths, pot-holes, open building sites and paving-slabs nearly all present -- yet mostly broken if so. "But it's interesting what this says about Iran and the Iranians", I speculated, "I'm sure the city blames the people and the people blame the city, like when friends complain while sat in traffic about how long their journey increasingly takes". But there can be no excuse for not taking one's rubbish away with them I thought.

"But you know, the people are rubbish, I mean they seem only aware of their own existence or enjoyment – and maybe that of their immediate family", I sighed confused at how coming from the 'West' I can say this. "Again, it's like the cars are their movable houses", I continued, loosely referring back to my comment about the inside and outside of the Iranian houses, "they are subject only to the laws of physics. I mean, if the car can physically go there, then is goes there - blocking the roads, going the wrong way and traffic lights goes unnoticed, it's the same with the rubbish".

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Persepolis, where we were lucky to not have rain upon our visit.

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"Have you seen or heard the news today?", I eagerly asked with each fresh local face that introduced themselves to the group. "You know, the fifteen British sailors, have you heard anything?", was my fourth question, and like the third it was also answered with a no. "Do you Shiraz people watch the news or read a paper?", no, they would also repeat.

On the seventh day of the Iranian new year I'd left for Shiraz for a six day trip where we would join a dear friend for a long overdue visit. I was honored to have the company of my sister who was in Iran for a two week break, enjoying the reversal of sibling responsibility, among other things. Most of the trip was spent keeping a respectable amount of tourist activity going but we happily contended this by adopting a dose of local lethargy. The laziness was made easy by the unreal volume of rain which concluded in the thirteenth and last day of the new year celebration (a day traditionally known for bringing Iranians out to nature) reaching torrential conditions.

"We'll be staying at the kid's house", my friend answered as we left Shiraz airport to drop our things off. This seemed to indicate that it would be another of his family's houses yet although I never dug deeper, I suspected this was not the case. We we're well catered for with a freshly stocked fridge and mountains of bedding, but the place bore little sign of being lived in before us. A small bundle of my friends belongings seemed to oddly fit with various cosmetics and girly things found around the house. Yet it was the empty, pink, lingerie package resting near my impromptu bed that invited the most questions.

The lack of explanation seemed to ask for a lack of questions and as we overloaded the cars with more people than chairs I kept my mouth shut, as with every swerve and near miss

Like the house I wasn't sure who owned each of the different cars we used during the stay. I was however informed that my friend is still yet to pass his driving test, which made me mildly more comfortable about us taking it in turns to drive them. The lack of explanation seemed to ask for a lack of questions and as we overloaded the cars with more people than chairs I kept my mouth shut, as with every swerve and near miss.

We did Persepolis, Eram Gardens, Imam Reza's brother's tomb (Shah e Cherugh), Hafez's tomb, Karim Khan's and the local amusement arcade. "You could have done twice that amount", a friend criticised, "it makes no difference to him, 'here's a stone a few thousand years old and here's a more modern one we call tarmac'", they joked. I wasn't complaining, there was no tick list and it's a good excuse to come back future.

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My sister standing in front of Hafez's tomb, Shiraz late at night.

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"Do you want to see Hafez's tomb?", our host asked late one night having just watched one of the 180-films on his hard drive. A late night expedition to one of the world's greatest poet's resting places seemed in keeping with the haphazard holiday activities and thus we went.

It was gone one O'Clock in the morning and to my amazement the place was in fact open and more amazing still, we were not alone in the expedition idea. Having circled the courtyard, taken pictures and jostled our way to tap the tomb, we stood back and reflected.

Not being too familiar with Hafez, I asked my friend to help explain a little more about him, sadly we didn't get too far before my friend's knowledge ran short. "C'mon, you have the apparatus for nightly romances, learn a little more about this fella and impress the girly tourists while they indulge their late night curiosities", I joked, getting into far too much detail about how he can achieve this.

Just as I was explaining how he should begin his romantic tours by picking and referencing a flower (that he should later give the girls as a gift ) the bedraggled man that had been edging backwards towards us, spoke. "Hey, are you guys English or something?", came an American twangy accent. And so began a random late night deep-one with a columnist of the Tehran Times.

This man turned out to be a walking encyclopedia with a dodgy dental arcade, obviously wearing the scars of his back-to-back rolly smoking

"I'm an American refugee", he joked as he filled us in on what brought him to be visiting this tomb at 2am. This man turned out to be a walking encyclopedia with a dodgy dental arcade, obviously wearing the scars of his back-to-back rolly smoking. I was absorbed, a little more so than my sister and friend who'd accompanied me, yet I made the most of the opportunity to pick his brain.

In roughly this order we'd discussed, Hafez, poets, heritage, anthropology, language, the United Nations, the WTO IMF and World Bank, America, Iraq, the dollar, the dumping of the dollar, 2012 and a small group of 'people' with an incredible amount of influence over human kind. At about that time a well groomed young man wearing a large CND necklace interrupted us, "I heard you talking English from over there, can I join in?". Things were not at a point where one can drop in and so we fell to silence. I didn't want to be rude but the conversation had gotten freaky, our refugee friend was well researched on some alarming topics.

This was not the only time I would be wrapped in deep-ones with a dentally challenged visitor to Shiraz. I wanted to go for a second meal at the famous Bathroom Restaurant yet both this and the second choice were closed leading us to a third option for our afternoon kebab. I chose table 13 as it was equidistant to other customers but the others wanted to sit at table twelve - maybe it was the fish tank.

I can't recall what we'd been talking about but halfway through my kebab a polite English voice came from the table beside us, I'd clocked this lone woman as German and was previously intrigued by her colourful dress. "You're talking English, are you English?", she asked, "it so nice to hear and English voice", she continued. She was Kiwi but lived mostly in the UK and began to tell us of her conversion to Islam and lone travels around the Middle East.

She re-piled her rice with each subject, possibly eating it or possibly displaying it between her one-up one-down dental arcade. And so began another intriguing discussion of travel, Iran, England, oppression, feminism, education, science, religion and submission.

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My Aunt's Haft Sin. Happy Iranian new year to all my readers.

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"So what has been the Iranian response to the 15-navy personnel arrested yesterday?", she asked as I sat in a coffee struggling to hear through the chatter and poor mobile reception. "I'm not sure I'd like to speak on behalf of the Iranians but I've not really heard it discussed", I responded, "I mean, the Iranians are celebrating the new year and I'm sure news and politics are far from their minds".

Each time I get an international call, beginning with a silent pause and then a, "is that... of... doing?", my paranoia is refreshed. There's been a few of late and it still puzzles me why I'm selected among all the possibilities. I'm flattered, it's exciting yet I can't help but think there'll be troubling repercussions.

"Well, I think they genuinely must have been in Iranian waters as I'm sure it's too much of a politically tense time to make such errors or begin a blackmail campaign", I speculated during the pre-interview. "I mean, this will be politicised and not work to the Iranians' advantage", I regrettably added, certain that it would be the other way around.

"So you think they'll be released soon?", I was asked in surprise as I suggested it would blow over quite quickly. "I think there was a similar incident not too recently where the captives were released swiftly", I added, trying to remember if this was the case or not.

Coincidentally I was awaiting the company of a foreign journalist friend of mine who I was sure would enlighten me of an similar such events. "No, there was the capture of two journalists, French and German, they were fishing off an island, traveling from Qatar", he informed me, "Their maps stated they were not in Iranian water", he went on noting that there had been a dispute. "They were detained for 15-months and released at a politically advantageous moment". He then informed me of the UN Security Council meeting to be held later that day where further sanctions against Iran were likely to be passed – was this another politically advantageous time?

I'm sure many such intrusions of air or water space has been tolerated by the government here, not willing to contribute to the West's media circus

I then proceeded in my speculation and countered his thinking that this was an Iranian tactic. "I'm sure many such intrusions of air or water space has been tolerated by the government here, not willing to contribute to the Wests' media circus.", I went on, referring to Seymor Hersh's articles of US drone flights in Iranian air space. "Maybe claims by both sides about being in certain waters are correct in themselves, I mean, the navigation facilities on the British boat may have been tampered", I pondered, curious that this might have been extra-military activity. "Drop a word or two in the right ear and you'll see the Iranians taking the bate... and what great timing", I cynically added.

"Is it Seepa or Sepa?", came a voice on the phone interrupting the radio show as I awaited my turn. "I'm sorry, was that for me?", I responded. "Yes, Seepa or Sepa?", he repeated. They must have made a mistake, I had no idea what they were asking, "the bank", he then added – "Oh, Sepah", I informed him.

Just after we led into the story and they still mispronounced the bank name the presenter introduced me, using me my given name. "So, how do you feel about these new sanctions?", she asked. I sat in my pants, freshly awoken and only too aware that I was live. I'd written notes and was minimally researched but I wasn't at any point told that I would answer on this subject. A few more questions followed and although I filled the time with words and didn't 'um' and 'er' too much my response was poor. I'd mostly attempted to present the hypocrisy of the events, but was rather distracted by not wanted to discuss the matter at all.

"So what is your take on these 15-navy officers arrested?", she finally asked. "Well, it's a rather interesting coincidence, somewhat of an 'October Surprise' I might say". And just as I was warming up to allude to a parallel with the Iran Contra scandal, she interjected, paused a for a brief moment and that was me done.

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Dancing around the fire in the street.

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"Strange, riot police", I exclaimed as we edged passed two pick-ups packed with black-clad, heavily armed men jostling helmet-to-helmet, "heh, that's how the Iranians transport their sheep around – same pick-ups, same packing", I pointed out to my fellow passenger.

There wasn't much about the slowly-panning scene around us that said anything other that civil war. Bodies hung out of cars lighting various explosives and tossing them under the neighboring car. Young men ran around between varying sized groups keeping a cautious eye on the regular clothed police. Our journey dragged on as roads would be cut-off by further pick-ups supported by batoned men in military uniform, "the road's closed, turn around, hey Mr. where are you going, come back here!".

Iranians choose to celebrate this night by gathering outside to leap over fires, throw fireworks at one another and to dance to any available sound system

The last Tuesday of the Iranian calendar is known for celebrating the last Wednesday, we call this night Chaharshanbe Suri, meaning Red Wednesday, seen as marking the arrival of spring and revival of nature. Iranians choose to celebrate this night by gathering outside to leap over fires, throw fireworks at one another and to dance to any available sound system. For me the night simply marked my premature graduation into a latter stage of adulthood, [sound of banger at my feet], "damn kids, I knew they were going to do that", I grumbled as I stood on a street corner cold and lost.

"Where are we?", I asked my friend as I assessed the ideologically-challenged terrorists advancing. The taxi driver had dropped us off at a similarly named road, my friend was wounded and we were a long way from back-up. It wasn't a good start to the evening.

It seemed that little had changed in the passing of time as we descended on the gathering: shrieking humans circled a fire or gyrated to unofficial national anthems while dodging the incessant barrage of arsenal. In the observance of ancient practice there was a lack of observance with contemporary practice as citizens freely danced in the streets with conscious disregard for the enforced moral codes. Hair would fly around as carelessly as the fireworks and an odd sense of defiance and unity warmed up the cold and fragile night.

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Russell Brand interviewing Iranian comedian Omid Djalili.

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Dear Russell, Matt and team (with Trevor being sadly missed),

I'm writing to thank you for the grand service you provide in cheering up a nostalgic ex-pat living in the Islamic Republic of Iran. A fine mix familiar tunes and juvenile behavior (made more so in the absence of Trevor) lifts the spirits for the working week ahead.

I'm not quite sure I'd want to translate that British citizens are calling a radio show pleading for advice on how to avoid friends pissing on their legs

Listening to the show is quite a laborious task and not made any easier by the circa 1998 connection speed. Dodging the IT guys hawking building in search of the culprit responsible for bumming all the bandwidth is a frustrating deviation from your verbal ramblings. Then having to explain why I'm folded over, ripping the earphones out in tears of suppressed laughter is my next problem. The strange looks from my colleagues who are poised with concern is a tad embarrassing. I'm not quite sure I'd want to translate that British citizens are calling a radio show pleading for advice on how to avoid friends pissing on their legs in the showers or about the reasoning for dolphins hooking their cocks on the slack of one's shorts.

Speaking of piss, work and living in strange places, I've just recently been kicked out of my grandmother's where I suffered a temporary stay while seeking new residence. Her official reasons for not wanting to endure me any longer were: 1. that I piss standing up (back-splash I guess, although I do wash the surrounding area of the hole in the ground) and 2. that I spend too much money. I found these reasons odd as she is unable to verify either. My next available living option adds an additional 3-hours commute to my day and quadruples the travel expense, thus nullifying 50% of her argument – I'm not sure I'd want to contest the other.

OK, it's been a sore subject for me lately and one I actually contemplated calling and pleading "help!" over.

Congratulations on being the number one downloaded Podcast, I hope you get around to finally dishing out some promised ice-cream and all the best of luck in your campaign of freeing Tibet from Chinese occupation.

Keep up the good work.


Russell Brand's weekly radio show on BBC Radio 2 can be found here.

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Watch that 'q' change to an 'n'.

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"So back over to Tehran. Tell us, would you say that your writing would be different if you were sitting in London?", came the voice on my mobile as I paced the cold echoing hallway having nipped out from the Latin beat and salsa of a Thursday night gathering. I wondered if my anonymity was a good enough example while conducting the cosy conference call of three – plus the few hundred thousand tuning in maybe. A friend then opened the door to see where I'd gone, "Daveed?", they shouted. Damn that echo.

"Yes", was my simple answer before elaborating further, "but it's not necessarily the establishment I adapt for, I worry about antagonising with the people and their culture". I've pondered this matter for a while now and am amused at how my 'freedom of speech' is not restrained by a well placed few, but maybe by the ideology of the mass – it's chickens and eggs though. "But there are ways to present things to... you know?", I semi-smugly added in conclusion.

Also on the BBC I see much the same thing but from the other end. As the homepage repeats 'Iran' (watch that 'q' change) with greater frequency I've taken to visiting its 'Have Your Say' public comments section, a forum for all manner of sqitted mush. Of late there's been a few of the, "How should the world deal with Iran?", "What now for Iran?" and a "Here's a neutral question about Iran, how on earth can you say it's anti-American?".

"45-minutes away, Yellow Cake, Alooominum toobs, satellite images – do they think we're stoopid?"

I use these features as a measure of sorts, a measure of how much stronger the Americans are at the game. Oddly enough when 'Have Your Say' first appeared it was the measuring point that frustrated me. As the entries are monitored and were previously measured before posting, we witnessed a for, against, for against series and no indication as to what the mood was. "There are surely some matters that clearly get a weight one particular way?", I wrote to the Head of News around the time, indicating that maybe their tweaking distorts the picture. You might for example have had 8-displayed responses to, "45-minutes away, Yellow Cake, Alooominum toobs, satellite images – do they think we're stoopid?". Four of these responses might say, "let's blow those sand monkeys further down the evolutionary ladder", and four-hundred could have said, "read the receipts!".

Things changed.

Fourth in the 'most recommended', backed by 179 people to date – John, NYC, USA:
"Another question set up so this "Have Your Say" can become a US-bashing forum. Why should we fear Iran having nuclear weapons? Because they are a fundamentatlist, theocratic state which severly curtails freedoms and human rights. The US, on the other hand, is still a bastion of freedom and human rights despite what is highlighted by the foriegn press. Which do you fear?"

In first place, backed by 261 people to date – Russell, Winnipeg, Canada:
"The world should do nothing about Iran. Iran is a sovereign nation and it is entitled to have nuclear power consumption. Just because the USA is war-mongering doesn't mean the world has to listen to their made up lies. The country the world should fear is America! Their government is crazy!"

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Me on the family's surveillance equipment.

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"Gather your things, I want you gone tomorrow, you can't stay here anymore, you upset me". It was meant seriously but said in passing, a sort of, 'oh and by the way, I never loved you', sort of way. This third occasion however, I happily responded, "Certainly, I'll be gone tomorrow", and I meant it.

Phone bills, of the shared variety, are surely one of life's more volatile elements - a dangerous combination of numbers so correctly; so annoyingly correctly displayed. By tossing one of these babies into semi-unstable commune you'll have the makings of a hit reality-TV show, or in my case, an eviction notice from my grandmother.

"Daveed, we got our phone bill, it's three times as much normal?".

I instinctively responded, "No worries, leave it to me", it wasn't wholly likely I was responsible but I saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the living expenses that my family repeatedly refuse to except.

"On the odd occasion I use a different type of internet card: with this one you pay in the bill, not upfront", I explained to a confused flock of eyes, "let my friend explain – they gave me the card", I added, sure that the friend's experience and native tongue would help.

"You're a fucking idiot, you stupid fucking idiot, how dare you insult the family and involve a non-family member in this matter", my father responded as the ordeal went transnational. Seemingly my dear and distressed grandmother had littered my father's answer-machine in England with, "fucking messages", about the whole, "fucking thing".

"You just don't trust us!", my uncle later added having concluded that I called my friend to check they weren't extorting money from me. Whilst away that day at work things had festered following the misunderstanding, but those numbers were still so correct while my family were so annoyingly not.

I'd compromised my cultural exploration, cautiously keeping to the imposed curfew of 9pm and when not, ample notice was given

I'd seemed to be getting better at the temporary living arrangement, arriving with gifts in hands, helping with the kids homework, keeping my belonging out of the way – certainly I could've done more. In many ways I'd tried to keep the peace; keeping up with my grandmothers demands; keeping an eye on the bigger picture. Most frustrating of all, I'd compromised my cultural exploration, cautiously keeping to the imposed curfew of 9pm and when not, ample notice was given. There's more, but not now.

From all this I take a collection away with me, it'll make a book maybe: reflections upon the logic of an unknown-aged woman - 'A Dangerous Combination: Ignorant and Opinionated'.

Later, comparing the 'mobile calls' column on that wretched piece of paper I'd reached a new conclusion, it seemed that my dear cousin's semi-secret nightly calls to the mobiles of his girly friend's had mounted up, and it was me who was now paying for it.

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During the 4-hour crashing of heads in Dubai.

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"So the bumper cars start, sending the father spinning backward out of control – y'know, kinda goofy like", our Liverpudlian senior-creative enthusiastically illustrated with accompanying jolts and an animated smile. I followed the explanation as we flicked through the booklet, staring down at what appeared like my illustrations, my writing and my hard-work. Our northern friend walked us through an unseen variation of my brainchild, "they've shit on it", I mumbled under my breath in horror.

"Then we see the father making eyes with the boys, y'know, 'I'm after you', y'know, it's that father-son thing, like... y'know, it's gloves-off". I raced further ahead in the booklet, "the boys high-five!", I nudged at my colleague in alarm. Not wanting to interrupting the amateur dramatics, I quietly took it up with our Dubai-based colleague to my right, "they high five!?", I whispered. A strong indian accent responded, "y'know we...", he paused to find the words – 'jazzed it up', 'made it more lively' maybe. 'Shit on it', were the words I refrained from putting in his mouth.

Crafted for the Iranian market and well within the limitations of Iran's culture ministry.

I was sat in the pre-pre-production meeting amidst a cocktail of nationalities representing different interests, gathered to tweak and refine a television advert to be aired in Iran for a Sony camera. It was nearly a proud a moment for me as the excessively long 3-months that it had taken to get to that meeting, my efforts had shone through. Of the 9-concepts proposed the 3-short-listed were of my making. The concept finally selected was a carefully choreographed one, merging cliche with parody resulting in a multi-layered, humorous advert crafted for the Iranian market and well within the limitations of Iran's culture ministry.

It was then the turn of the director to explain his 'treatment', this was a likely clash I'd been concerned about for some time – frighteningly aware of how they've previously butchered concepts. My planned precision in shooting sequence and scenes, all synced to specific music – detailing camera-angles and shot-durations – had left little room for a director's input.

The meeting was more correctly a game of Chinese Whispers – I'd previously sat in our offices in Tehran, being the animated guy, getting provisional confirmation on the script, having gone through all the subtleties – careful to illustrate the details and their meaning, preempting any creative conflict. Yet our indian colleagues had added their 2-Rupees' worth, passing it on for the French director to have his 2-Euros' worth – hugely deviating from the client's prerequisites.

Over 4-hours we'd resolved these embellishments, regrettably concluding on a compromise of everyone's ideas, leaving a tough lesson for me to learn and the ashes of a provisionally excepted concept.

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An Alam being lifted as sign of respect for Imam Hossein during Moharam.

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"The Iranians are not blessed with the greatest of capital cities", I reflect while strolling late at night with friends, gaining on the 1, 2, 3 - pause of the Moharam drums. "Tehran has facilities...", a friend responds, "yes, but there's nothing defining, no great landmarks, a tourist could skip through Tehran on the way to Shiraz or Esfahan", I interject. Tips of feathers appeared on the road ahead, lit by the street-lights – reds, yellows and greens braking the dull night and guiding us to the proceedings. We continued listing attractions of Tehran as the beat drew upon us – the Azadi Tower – 1, 2, 3 - pause, Darband – 1, 2, 3 - pause.

The Islamic calendar had once again afforded us with days off, of which we chose to spend in the city of Arak. Packed six to a car we took it in turns to contort for space as we made the short trip a friend's, friend's historic house. If Tehran struggles to inspire an itinerary then Arak is the rotting corpse of a plan that never took off. We concluded this when we chanced upon the defining crossroad that seemed to double the city's size.

the repeated chaining of one's back, the chanting, the lifting of large scaffolding adorned with religious paraphenalia

It was just past this crossroad that the drum beat originated, encroaching on midnight the streets crawled with the now traditional sight of boys checking out girls, girls checking out boys, boys checking on other boys and girl checking the girls checking the boys. There was the more obvious traditional spectacle of Moharam happening centre to the road – oblivious: the repeated chaining of one's back, the chanting, the lifting of large scaffolding adorned with religious paraphenalia – and there was what went on around it. The centre of the road was the man's domain as tradition was observed, squabbling to take the weight of the decorative Alams or in some way assisting in the procession as it slowly rolled down the street, 1, 2, 3 - pause.

Arak's lack of anything kept us inside, comfortably hidden from the serious seriousness of these days. We were captured in a period lost to Iran, walled in the historic house once run by a somebody. Excluding us you would struggle to find anything suggesting we'd reached 1980 but mostly we were somewhere in the early 20th century. I kept looking up, mildly entertained by having to stretch the head back to glance the high ceilings. I also sized the house up by trying to reach into a sprint in the hallways and occasionally trying alternative routes to enter a room. I enjoyed the doors that didn't fit, that scuffed on the floor, didn't lock and gapped holes. I stared at the faces that stared at us from the walls – large mustaches, upright gents lined nicely, wholesome beard, military uniforms – all black and white, interrupting the de-saturated tones of the countless rooms. Arak has at least one place for the itinerary, and I reveled in it during every drum pause.

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A metaphor if you wish.

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"Salaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam!", "Seh-laaaaaaaaaaam!". "How aw wooooooo?", "What's the noooooooows!". "Gnawawaaaaaaw, doooodoooboo...". These are grown professional women, married too – this is what I remind myself as I cringe at my desk and push the earphones in further. A hand arrives to my shoulder surprising me, "Day-veeeeeed?", "Yes, morning... nothing, fine, thanks, you? yeah... so...". It wasn't going to go down well but I've finally brought myself to ask, "are all Iranian women like this, I mean, is it cultural?". Mostly it is I am told, two or more women are prone to trigger in close proximity, ascend in pitch before shooting compliments at any possible difference. "Ooooo, is this new? I like your hair! Nice colour!".

"Do men like this, I mean, why are they like this?", I asked, worried to sound critical when really I am fascinated by what it might imply and how this might be. I thought about it, considered my current living situation and saw a link, I have regressed – returned to my early teens.

On a nightly bases I am subjugated to relentless interrogation by my family, all manner of personal questions arrive resulting in unwanted advice or criticism. I've been here before – "it's how they show their love". But my loaded stories of how I've lived alone or with friends, cooked for myself and others, cleaned up after myself, paid bills etc. are met with a curious silence, one of disbelief. From my friends, it's the same, walking anywhere near an oven is met with applause.

"No, when we go to university we leave home, I mean, we want to"

"No, I went to a university about 5-hours away from my hometown", I explained to a friend as I slipped into another comparison of then and here, "you travelled 10-hours a day for university!?", came a subsequent gasp. It was a serious response to a serious response but I laughed upon realising what brought it about. "No, when we go to university we leave home, I mean, we want to". We thought about it, drew silent comparisons and then retreated in the comfort of our familiar ways. Why would I choose to leave my family they must have thought? Naturally I thought much the opposite.

There is no gap, no discovery, no room for mistakes. The people of Iran have a seamless transition from one home to another, from their family to their new family. One is mothered, then a motherer - being mothered till a worrying age or mothering at a worrying age. But there is no means for something in-between, a lesser quality apartment, more time on chores, a greater expense. Women cannot so easily live alone or in groups, nor can they live with any one outside of the family. But then why would they? I mean, what would bring them to think about it?

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How I see the world.

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"Are they coming? Are the Americans coming?", is a question I'm being increasingly asked - yet the answers to my family's anxious questions change with each day. "Can I go back with you to England - in your suitcase?", asks a distant relative - she's a big girl, but I tell her what she needs to hear.

The increasingly obsessive reading on Iran's near future – or lack of – has led to me being an alternative news source among my relatives. 6-months ago I might have entered their homes dressed in a dooms-day A-board, bringing silence to those that dared inquire, yet shortly after I'd abandoned the opinions in favour of history and facts – thinking it better to distinguish words from events.

I've abandoned this distinction for now though as it appears that the words are the preparation for damaging events.

The '2nd Holocaust' I've heard is a popular mix

Take a few selected moments – possibly true but not essential – frame them in the right way, chuck in some "officials" – whack the blender on [loud whiring noise] and in a remarkably quick time we have a stinky, mucky pulp. These concoctions are tasteless yet easy to digest with many exciting and emotive names - the '2nd Holocaust' I've heard is a popular mix.

For the everyday folk of Iran the noise is disconcerting and rather familiar, yet although we are not the ones swallowing this stuff, we're the ones that suffer from it – even before any bomb has landed.

But we don't recall being asked what power source we'd like and also don't recall anyone suggesting countries be wiped off maps, but we expect to be held responsible for it. We are simply observers, sitting in the stands, able to root for the home-team – to shout, to comment even, but the games goes on despite us. It's the Supreme PR Machine playing at home to the Empire's Noise Engineers, yet worryingly the referee and commentators seem more involved in the game than maybe they should be.

"Two military ships are on their way to the Persian Gulf from the US, – one with anti-missile capability", I inform my family, leaving out any speculation. They are coming, they are here, we are surrounded – I imagine the game will commence once the supporters appear to be sitting comfortably.

RELATED LINKS - These guys say it better than I:
Lost in Translation – Wiped off the map?
Ahmadinejad's interview with SPIEGEL
Iran and impending war
Oil business and war
Wikipedia on Campaign Again Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran
Scott Ritter: Sleep walking into disaster in Iran
Stephen Zunes: Analysis - possible attack on Iran

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Also found near Haft e Tir, strange luck around that place.

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"Were you with a girl?!", "Were you with a girl?!", I heard again, yet a little louder as I was about to walk across a dimly lit road, 8pm, a short way from Tehran's Haft e Tir. A young man had begun walking beside me and was seemingly addressing me, I politely turned to face him assuming he needed help, "I'm sorry?". "Were you with a girl?!" he repeated angrily, his tone shattering my presumption. I paused for a short moment, wondering why he might be asking me this, his question was one expected of a Basiji (religious police) yet his dress was of a different kind of trash, – too clean shaven with careless mix of fake 90s clothes to accompany his Imam Ali necklace.

I gathered that he might have seen me walk my friend home and opportunistically presented a Basij front to try and extort money from me. "Ah yes, that was my friend", I confidently asserted, letting him know I was not intimidated. "Ah, your friend was it?!", he responded in cocky aggressive manner. I let out an tired laugh, turned around and carried on about my business, unperturbed. With my first step I felt my sleeve being grabbed as I was pulled back towards him, I struggled a little to shrug him off but he managed to rapidly turn me to face him again.

The very moment I felt me sleeve tighten around my arm I realised things were going to be different – shit – I thought. My suspicion was confirmed, I was in the process of being mugged and upon facing him again a rapid succession of thoughts raced through my mind, complimenting the arrival of an adrenaline rush. I sized us up (he had the advantage), noting every detail on his person and curious as to whether weapons were being held, yet maybe my first error was found here I later thought. I'd excepted that a physical confrontation seemed likely and instead of paying attention to that around me – ways of escape or people to help – I indulged the moment he'd forced upon me.

It was then that I called upon a helpful technique for evading problems like these – a technique so far proven successful with persons of authority. "I'm sorry, can I help you? Did you say you were lost? Is there a problem?", question after question in the finest of my Queen's English – I turned it around maybe. Again he asked me, louder still, "I'm sorry I don't understand you, can you talk English?". "Where are you from?", he asked angrily, "Are you lost? Do you speak English?", "Where are you from?", he aggressively repeated in frustration.

"Ah, you're from England! Hello, hello, very pleased to meet you, my name is Ali, I am your friend – we're friends!", he said in Farsi, and sometimes it happens like this, but I wasn't taking my chances. In my confusion of pretending to not understand him I walked the usual, shorter route to my destination – down a dark ally. He grabbed my arm and threw me up against the wall, "Give me your money!" – my new friend was in need, yet oddly enough I let out a little laugh, the sort found leaving poker games prematurely.

I'd limited my options quite considerably leading to me having to revise the maths – working out what I was holding, what he thought I might be holding, what I might relinquish to avoid a scuffle and at what point I would consider a scuffle. It seemed we'd settled on a couple of day's wages yet thankfully my mobile and bag containing a hard drive went unnoticed – maybe.

Just as he'd plucked the money from my wallet, popping it into his pocket, I saw two seniors appear from behind him, passing by. I stared at them and they at me, we all carried on with our business. I'd missed a moment and so did my friend Ali who'd made a sharp exit showing the courtesy of shouting goodbye – in English – from a distance.

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Playing Risk with my Christianist family, I'm the red player.

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"Watch out for those Christian Fundamentalists on the flight!", popped up the warning message on my screen hour before I was to embark on my winter break to Dubai. "Don't worry, I can spot them a mile off" I tapped, "they're the ones with the pink clean-shaven faces, muttering lines from the Bible", I japed – quietly concerned at the potential damage the corner of a bible could do.

My break from Iran has coincided with a short break from adding words here. Although nothing seems to have changed since I last wrote about my political exercise, I've noticed many changes outside of these borders – one less important change being an arbitrary alteration in a calendar. More interestingly though the British government have decided to abandoned the use of the the term 'War On Terror', yet more interesting still I've noticed a near universal adoption of the term 'Islamist' from the media corporations. This term I've rarely heard before yet by some remarkable coincidence the sources I click through seemed to have employed the usage near simultaneously. I spent my Christmas day spotting Islamists and was surprised to even find a couple in the car radio – in some way I guess they are destroying our way of life.

'Islamic Fundamentalist' without the fundamental part I gathered, meaning maybe all muslims are fundamental or a new art movement is sweeping the world. As I am currently a citizen in an Islamic Republic I guess they also mean me, and as the country I've arrived from will soon have Islam as the dominant religion I guess they also mean a certain majority of their future selves.

7-new members of an average age of around 3-years had enlisted before my eyes

Another change was noticed in my absence, for the first time a Quo'ran was used to swear-in a Democratist – a successfully imbedded Islamists maybe? I'd managed to embed myself also, I'd evaded the racial profiling as I walked down the alter on Christmas day joining the Christianist side of my family for what turned out to be a torturous couple of hours. Their leader seemed a little unstable, imbibed I assumed from what I'd witnessed during the recruitment procedure they called "Christening". 7-new members of an average age of around 3-years had enlisted before my eyes, surely they know not what they are doing I pondered in concern.

My prior concern for the damage one might afflict from the corner of a book, I guess, is shared by few, yet for varying reasons an increasing amount of us seem more concerned with other parts of these books altogether. Although I've browsed through a few of them I'm not too happy about an imminent suffix that is sure to misrepresent me.

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Prior to the elections, the Tehran streets awash with candidates' faces.

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"How did it feel to have voted then?", I asked a friend as we left the small school tucked away from one of Tehran's main roads. "Like having done my duty, painful though it was", she responds. "Yes, it is like volunteering a gun to a person that will shoot you in the foot because the other one will go for your head – no different to how it was for me in England really", I add, inviting a nervous laughter between us. Like a song that's over reliant on its chorus we faded to silence and I'm certain she filled this moment with the same thoughts as I as we reflected on our recent political action. We'd gone against our family's aggressive protest as well as the tireless repetition of "what for?" and "why? spilling from the lips of our peers, had we wasted our time, or possibly made things worse?

Having handed birth certificates, pressed our inked-sodden fingers and been issued voting slips we departed from the line of female civil-servants fully equipped to relinquish our fate. Two parallel walls hosted a huddle of people jotting down codes from the 10-large posters filled with details of an astounding 1200-plus candidates.

Phone calls were made to confirm spelling as scraps of paper collected scribbles of hope. "Why are there 5-boxes available for the code and each of the candidates only have a 4-digit code?", my friend gasped, far from reassured by the vague verbal instructions given by the onlooking security. We raced around shouting numbers to one another while collecting the 15-names needed to adorn the Tehran council. 1200 wasn't enough however, we were giving it up in style with the occasion offering further exercises of democracy – two extra ballots were available to embellish, a further 2-candidates were needed for something missed last time around and also 12 of the supreme league – not wanting to feel left out – were in need of some flattery.

"No, if you vote for women only then the government will brag to the west about how this system not only functions but is inclusive and progressive"

Prior to the big day I'd planned various strategies for how I'd vote. "No, if the head in your drawing of a sheep falls between a box then they may count it a your choice", I was oddly informed. "No, if you vote for women only then the government will brag to the west about how this system not only functions but is inclusive and progressive", came more advice. "Pick the reformist candidates" I was repeatedly told, "but I want to vote for somebody I want, not for somebody who is opposes the person I don't want", I ranted, reminding myself of the strategic voting that distorts the political outcome back on the UK.

"My statement cannot be lost with the unaware or unconcerned", I answered to the angry people that accusing me of giving credit to a system they've long given up on. "Apathy and conscious avoidance register the same with the absence of a 'none-of-the-above' box", I plead. "Increasing the turnout must surely represent an active public and an active public should invite a more conscientious government, spoiling your ballot is surely an available option", I conclude.

It nearly seemed like a worthwhile option until I heard, "20,000 Basij have been brought into Tehran to vote!". Of course, I hadn't noticed, I was not registered to vote at any specific location, I'd freely walked into a school, handed my birth certificate and began my art project. And of course, any other Iranian is at liberty to do so also, potentially giving Tehran a 150% turnout for example. Indeed, maybe the gun was never in my hand – maybe we had wasted our time.

I'd left the school having endured a test, and to the question of democracy I'd indulged it with my answer of action. I sit and wait to see the results yet even though my answer may not be counted, the certainty that at least one person had to decipher my choice, for me at least, counts.

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