The bus to Katmandu

Zahedan

On yer bike - The bus to Katmandu

Zahedan Iran

Part 4 - Jan. 21 1993

Hi men, I hope you're still out there. I am, although learning how to write again without the aid of my hands and only using my two biggest toes has not proved to be an easy task, especially when its dark and I'm up to my waist in cold water. Where was  I before this all happened - oh yes, just about to get caught shoplifting...

Iran busI was inside at last. As the massive iron gate clanked firmly shot in the background, I felt a sudden deep regret that I hadn't remained an awful lot longer in Turkey. The Iranians from my bus waddled into the customs hall in front of me making the best attempt possible to avoid looking like they were wearing 10 shirts and 4 jumpers each to avoid paying customs duty on Turkish imports. I had agreed to help a few people out with some of their clothes smuggling. The customs officer was very friendly and we had an interesting chat about new leather jackets. He was also most impressed with my generosity to my girlfriend; two leather shirts and jumpers, 5 dresses and 3 head scarves was more than he normally would consider buying for his wife. Being a foreigner proved useful for once; exemption from a body search, first through the customs and only a cursory glance through my baggage.

Back on the road hours later, we were averaging 40km/security check. The third one was the most entertaining. One a.m. and a small stubby, bearded dwarf forced us off the road and spent 2 1/2 hours and three tea breaks rummaging through all the spat-out nutshells, fag-ends and empty coke cups under all the seats with a torch. As he left the bus, everyone chanting "Thank you Mr Security Man for searching our bus thoroughly and keeping us safe" in unison, it was difficult to feel a touch of sorrow for the guy as with now somewhat creased and stained uniform and a bit of toffee wrapper stock to his beard, he climbed back into his car, presumably on route to the nearest launderette.

Six a.m. and I was almost in the shit already as I stumbled, bleary-eyed out of the bus into the early morning sun and narrowly missed falling into the open sewer alongside the road. Breakfast at the road-side hovel looked exceptionally appetizing; something like a lump of putty on a bed of Castrol GTX grease with a liberal sprinkling of 3 in 1 oil, which someone told me re-assuringly was a chicken brain in melted butter.

It was Saturday already and day 4 of the bus journey. Despite this, my body was in great shape; about the same as that of the bus seat. I still hadn't arrived and my three day visa wasn't far off expiring! Stilt, 1 had invitations to stay with 5 people, 4 in Tehran and 1 in Hamadan and they'd all promised to storm the police station and get me a visa extension.

I made my choice to go and stay with a guy called Fashar and his family. I was pretty relieved for once to let someone relieve me of the burden of finding somewhere to sleep as Tehran is about 15 times as big as London and equally as horrible. Its all suburbs and no center and nearly as many people live here as in the whole of Holland. When we reached their apartment, the welcome was pretty warm too,a great meal and a a large glass of home-brew vodka. In fact, everything looked pretty normal, nice flat, video, none of the women were wearing black tents and someone was playing Chris Rea in one of the bedrooms. Some of the bedroom windows stilt had brown tape across them from the days when the Iraqis bombed Tehran, but peering into the street, there definitely didn't appear to be many fanatical mobs on the rampage.

Naturally, I had to accustom myself to some of the normalities of Iranian family life. One of these was the mysteries of Iranian slipper etiquette. Shoes are always removed upon entering the house. That's the easy bit. Beside the entrance to certain rooms, notably the kitchen, toilet, shower and bedrooms, there are one or more pairs of slippers, depending on how many people can fit into that particular space. The general idea seems to be that you (, upon entrance to one of the above mentioned rooms,) discard any other slippers you may or may not be wearing and don the appropriate pair of slippers. It is as always, the subtleties that are the most incomprehensible. Thus it appeared perfectly acceptable to wear the 'kitchen' slippers in the toilet so long as you only wanted to wash your hands and not have a crap, but a deadly sin to wear the toilet slippers in the shower. As for the bedroom slippers, I never got to see those being used. Maybe they're only worn during sex.

The following day, it was time to brave the visa extension procedure as my visa was due to expire, but I decided that a lie-in would be better. When I eventually located the Alien Registration office, a nasty specimen of Humanity suggested to me that it would be better to plan on leaving Iran in the very near future. I was most anxious not to soil the clean pair of underpants that I had put on that morning so I reminded myself that the guy in charge of visa extensions was merely a poxy little two-star general. He did however hint that if Fashar's dad's company would be prepared to sponsor me, then another two week stay would be possible although the paperwork would take a week to process.

I was forced to remain in Tehran for a further week so I began to live the life of a middle class Tehrani. With petrol at around 2c/liter, many social activities are carried out in the car. People spend hours on end just driving around for the the hell of it. In the beginning I failed to comprehend how it was possible that it took a mere 15 minutes to drive to drive to someone's house, while with a full scale gab in progress after everyone was seated in the car it could take up two hours for the same trip back. Later I realized that masses of people just drive around in circles. One day I spent over an hour sitting, driving while Fashar picked up his girlfriend, had a serious row, during which we drove around the block six times followed by numerous rounds of the same 3 km stretch of dual carriageway before she'd had enough and got out. There is also a well known section of highway in Tehran where all the boys drive endlessly round at night whilst the girls walk `innocently' along the side of the road waiting to be offered a lift by a potential boyfriend, especially if he has a`93 model car.

The service was excellent. On Monday, the clandestine video rental agency salesman knocked on the door with a shoulder bag full of the latest films, the next day was the turn of the of the bootleg vodka rep. It's a bit ironic, in the West, Christians are mostly people who try to stop you drinking alcohol, here its the Christians who brew the bloody stuff in the first place! Then there's also another guy who calls around with `decadent' rock music tapes for sale.

The night life's not bad either. I mean with a bit of development, it could seriously rival that of a crematorium. If you know where to look, there are also some good underground parties in private homes. If the bus into Tehran hadn't been so late, I could have gone to a large party in the north of Tehran. There was at least 100 people, it some some rich guy's villa and there was even a live band. I got invited to another one the following week, but I didn't feel like hanging around Tehran any longer even though I really wanted to go.

By the time I came to leave Tehran a week later, I'd already broken all the taboos, everything from getting drunk on illicit vodka, watching naughty videos and mixing with the opposite sex, through to changing money illegally on the black market and overstaying my visa. All the people I'd met had been amazingly friendly, all they wanted to show was that they were 'normal' and didn't want to believe in all the dogma forced upon them. Their main hobby seems to be learning English so that they can get a job abroad. I tried to figure out why in every picture I had ever set eyes upon, the Ayatollah Khomeini looked so glum. I've concluded that he was born without a dick and therefore couldn't see why anyone else should have fun using theirs either. Although I wouldn't have believed it 10 days earlier, I actually found it a shame that I had to leave Tehran behind and push onwards east, towards Pakistan.

P.s. Problem: it takes 7 days to cross Iran, my visa lasts only 3 days. How do I manage it? Answers on a postcard to:

Unwanted Foreigners Detention Center, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.