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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"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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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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