A sculpture in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.

flickr View my photo journal

"So where abouts in England are you from", asked the gentleman propped at the bar, "Oh I'm not from England my friend, I'm from Iran", I semi proudly responded, cautious to not seem too snooty as I glanced around at the various leathery northern England sorts that out numbered me. I got a similar response then as with all the other times I was asked while away, which was a slight pause in anticipation of a punch line.

I think the slight sense of cultural elevation carried over from stepping into Bombay's attempt of an international airport and seemed to continue throughout my trip. I can clearly remember the smell of Tehran as I first stepped out of the airport nearly 5-years ago and I'm sure the smell of Mumbai will remain just as long. India was to be a recorded for me by smells and it begun there as a waft of warm moist air literally hit me, filling me with memories of my hometown as I sensed the sea being nearby. If I found freedom from the Islamic Republic is was in air quality – I could breath in the literal sense – which was odd as most Indians I met complained about Mumbai's pollution for which could be seen lining the sky so thinly as we landed. I kept tasting the air as we made our way to the terminal at which the smell blended to a slightly soggy, chlorinated whiff, much like that of a water park.

I was in Mumbai for two days where I met my sister who'd been in India for nearly month already. My visit was to coincide her birthday, Christmas and meeting with my mother and a brother from England. My two days in Mumbai were to be followed by four in India's former Portuguese ruled Goa - now very much a tourist spot recognised as much by many Iranians before I left.

There was no consistency in anything I thought as rich and poor shared every square metre that could be found

During the lengthy journey from the airport to the hotel my sister filled me in on her adventures with many a surprising story of her lone travels. I was lost between following this and nine months of catching up as I tried to absorb the scenes from our tin can of a taxi in which the driver repeatedly sat on the horn or shouted some form of abuse when not. There was no consistency in anything I thought as rich and poor shared every square metre that could be found. Animals would do the same as dogs or cows lay rested where they would least be hit. Billboards tried to keep the standard up with their flashy graphics and English slogans but directly below would be families housed in corrugated metal sheet shacks with men idling, women cooking and children playing in the dust. Our journey ended as we reached a part of town that closely resembled Europe with its Gothic sculpted exteriors presumably gifts of the colonial past.

Those two days continue with much of the same as my sister and I chopped it up between rejected the barrage of harassment, "hello, come take at look at these", and the, "sir, can I help you - buy this!". It was a peculiar environment where I would remain baffled by how English was spoken everywhere, even with natives among one another. Think accented nationals would wonder the museums informing their children of the exhibits in English while I would accidentally respond to people in Farsi through confusion of a second language.

Continued IN GOA...

Labels: , , , , ,


My brother standing in the Indian Ocean.

flickr View my photo journal

"All the usual, the people in Iran that you don't know have once again asked me to say hello", I redundantly informed them as much of the nine months of catching up got repeated as we took an equally long journey from Goa's airport to our seaside villa we hired in a lively part of town. My mother and brother had timed the flight with ours and their ensuing stories would compete with my tales of Iran and my sister's of India. The journey through Goa to the villa was illustrated with palm trees and narrow terracotta soiled roads would occasionally be blocked by heavy traffic and the occasional elephant being rather a different scene scene from Mumbai, lush and tricky.

As the family rested from their long journey I took to the moonlit sea shore and followed the far off sound of life pulsing in the distant. I followed the louder sounds, struggling with the soft sand as music from the passing beach huts blended into one another, "you want a drink sir?", they asked one by one and even on one occasion; "yes, yes my friend, you want some ecstasy". I reached the thick of it where nationals were leaping around to their fusion beats before I decided to head back. While returning I found that most of the huts had closed for the evening with tourists wrapped up asleep on the brollied sunbeds. I'd reached an open space and aroused a pack of dogs where the bark of one triggered many more as they set after me. I carried on slowly, not looking back, nor making a move to arouse them further, "OK doggies, I'm leaving", I nervously said as I felt every centimetre of distance between us. Just as they let off, fireworks exploded close by, setting the dogs off once again. With the increasing darkness I'd gotten lost, over stepping my noted marker, Jack's Shack, "Is it raining out there", asked my brother when I did eventually arrive back; I looked in the mirror to which I was dripping with, no doubt, nervous sweat.

In daylight things were very different, the sunbeds still had occupants but they were far from wrapped up. I did as one is suppose to do and tucked into a book and lay still for a few hours only breaking for the occasional swim in the warm water as the sun set upon the ocean. Sadegh Hadayat's Blind Owl described his mother's Indian background as beach traders interrupted offering massages, trinkets, nuts and even Christmas carols.

We took to a popular night club in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere to celebrate both my sister's birthday and the coming of Christmas. The local preference of trance music intoxicated the punters beyond the free bar where the staff juggled bottles if only to compete with the flame swallowers on the lower level. I made up for the nine months, intoxicating myself enough to not be conscious of my mother shuffling to the beat and then her chatting with the twitching guy that was coincidentally from our home town.

"you're killing me!", they would gasp as I made offers on the limited rubbish they sold

Christmas happened, or so I was told. The following day we set of to the market for some harsh haggling. I thought I'd gotten the knack for it until I got treble-teamed by three young female traders, "you're killing me!", they would gasp as I made offers on the limited rubbish they sold. With each piece of crap I bought to fend them off they would pass that item to the next dragging me to their nearby stall. They were curious as the Iranian money they caught glimpse of; I explained who the picture on it was of – "how much is it worth?" they asked, to which my answer led them to reject it even as a gift.

I caught up with the family later and sat in a large beach hut where my sister was found in the linked internet cafe downloading her excel 'finance' spreadsheets, updating it then uploading it again. My mother had joined her there; checking on the Boxing Day football results as I sat with my brother observing the drop-outs skinning up as the sun came down. With the smell of weed, joss sticks, spilled beer on the tables and varying international dishes passing before us, both my brother and I turned to one another and agreed that we really didn't fit in. It was interesting sitting there observing what nice weather, nice scenes and relative currency strength brings. Among the culture of intoxication that has become associated with Goa I sat there breathing it all in; we were all breathing a freedom of sorts, and although mine may have been comparably modest, it was just as intoxicating.

Labels: , , , , , , ,



Keep banging on the walls of Fortress Europe.

flickr View my photo journal

"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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Our Turkish friend standing on the wall of Babak Fort.

flickr View my photo journal

"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.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,



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

flickr View my photo journal


"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.

Labels: , ,


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

flickr View my photo journal


"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.

Labels: , , ,



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

 flickr  View my photo journal

"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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,



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

 flickr  View my photo journal

"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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,