Algerianna‘s recent posts on the upcoming elections in Algeria coincide with elections in two other countries which, I think, have the closest political landscapes to ours. Russia’s Putin is celebratinghis victory, and his “I am officially the Prime Minister but I am the real President” trick he played in the past four years could have been adopted by Bouteflika in 2009 had he not had that too big ego of his. And Iranian Ahmadinejad and his friends are apparently losing the legislative elections to a more conservative group. The fact all those conservative/less conservative/reformist wings belong to the same system under Khamenei‘s control remind me of Algeria and how the next elections might change the parliament political distribution but not the system.
So I am taking this opportunity to write about my visits to Iran. I’ve been to Tehran a few times and my last visit was over a year ago. It coincided with Ouyahia’s visit and also with the assassination of some Iranian scientists. It might be safe here to tell that I am not connected in any way to either events.
I lacked the time to go sight-seeing so this post will not add up to those many articles you could find on-line and which describe the beauty of the country. Also, as I am an Algeria-centric, I will only mention things which I could relate to Algeria. I will however discard some aspects, though very interesting, for anonymity reasons.
When an Algerian policeman saw the Iranian visas on my passport, he asked me which, between Algeria and Iran, was better. I replied kifkif. He didn’t like my answer and I had to say Algeria’s better before he let me go. And indeed, I do believe there are not so many differences between the two countries.
I felt like the people in Iran didn’t know much about Algeria, that remote part of the Arabstan, but they know the name and were curious about the country. I happily answered most of their questions.
A friend, with whom I spoke about the visits, told me Iran needed a president like Bouteflika. Someone who can be friends with everyone, locally and internationally. I think he’s right, calming down the international pressure on Iran would help this country go forward.
My only contact with Iranian administration was at the airport to apply for the visa. It always went well except one time when the agent wanted to talk on the phone to my sponsor/host. It was 1:00am and I didn’t have the man’s mobile. The agent told me, “if he doesn’t answer you will take the next plane to your country” to which I replied, “fine” (Algerians are used to this behaviour from their own administration). He called nobody but still made me wait for 2 hours before he stamped my passport.
Every time I came back from Iran I knew my cholesterol and co. rates had increased for everywhere I went I was offered tea and all sorts of nuts/pistachios. I found their food very tasty despite it all being based on rice and kebab this or kebab that. But what I liked most was their soups which tasted like Algerian ones. I don’t know what happened to Zamzam cola but I only found Coca, Pepsi and Mirinda competing there. One thing struck me though, all those alcohol-free beers available everywhere I went.
You know you landed in Tehran when you hear the cabin crew informing female passengers that they have to cover their hair. The fast transformation that follows this message looked bizarre to me. Then I got used to it and to the reverse on the way out.
Compulsory scarf is what comes to mind when we think of Iran and its revolution. I therefore raised this topic with the Iranian women I met during my visits. The answer I got most often was that they’d take it off at the first opportunity.
Once, a woman told me she was attached to her scarf. Interestingly enough her scarf was covering all her head and not 1/10 of it like the rest. She complained about how difficult it was for her to find decent dresses. As we can see in Algeria, hidjab is sometimes a very tight jeans with tight… (I don’t know how these female garments are called). Anyways, she said everything in Tehran’s tight and she had to order her dresses at a dressmaker.
I noticed and smiled at the “made in China” I could read everywhere. Wherever and whoever you are, China’s there to manufacture everything for you.
Other than that, I didn’t find anything different vs. Algeria. More than 50% of the people I worked with were females and all had university degrees, and I could tell the most brilliant ones were females.
I said I didn’t have time to go sight-seeing but I visited some bookshops. The shops were packed with books and customers. Most books were in Persian but some were in English and Arabic. In one shop I found the English version of Orwell’s “the animal farm”, so it is not banned there. I haven’t seen the book in Algeria but I don’t think it’s banned, or is it? As a former physicist and relating to my current job I was impressed by the literature in Persian I could find on these topics. Similar subjects in Algeria are only treated in French…
Which brings me to the university. The people I met there kept complaining about how the educational system degraded and how tough it was to find highly skilled university graduates. They all blamed it on the obscurantist ayatollahs (the turbaned as they called them). But those young graduates I met, most being females, were interesting and well-qualified in their fields. So I do not know. It’s like those, at home, who blame our system’s decadence on the Arabization process, when other factors play a role too.
I felt the people very attached to their Persian heritage. Books and souvenirs from the pre-Islamic era can be found everywhere. It’s not like in Algeria where Pre-Islamic era is considered useless, when it is not the pre-1962 period that is not ditched altogether. Just to say that I felt the people proud about their heritage, and were very eager to share it with me.
It’s interesting that I didn’t find anyone supporting Ahmadinejad. All blamed him and the revolution for everything. They complained about education and their students being less and less knowledgeable. Economy and corruption had a fair share in the complaints too. Nobody believed the press: once I showed my surprise at the many newspapers and magazines we can see in a newsagent’s shop, and I was told that they’re were all the same spreading the same lies. Made me think of Echourouk and Ennahar 🙂
My other surprise was at how the older Iranians despised Khomeini and his revolution. They seemed all to regret the shah and tried to find excuses to explain whatever was blamed on him in the past.
While cursing the system, a taxi driver told me how he struggled to have a decent life and blamed it on their “pouvoir”. He said he visited the UAE a few times a year to smuggle perfumes and some other products…
Arab Iranian Spring:
At the restaurant, a young waiter asked me if Algeria offered good opportunities for the youths. He was ready to “yhrag” to Algeria had I answered positively. He told me he regretted that he didn’t apply for a Canadian visa during the unrest that followed AhmadiNedjad/Mousavi ‘electoral’ battle.
Roads and transportation:
I don’t know how many accidents occur in Tehran every year but I can tell you that I was ready to die almost every time I wanted to cross the street. I believe Tehran could compete with some India biggest cities on this aspect and may even win. And once you cross and are still in one piece, there is the challenge of getting a taxi. Just like in Algeria, many taxi drivers will tell you “mashi triqi”, they say it in Farsi though 🙂 so you’ll have to be patient or, if you are an adventurer, you could hail the faster and cheaper motorcycle taxi. It surprised me to see those men and women sitting behind the biker with their arms around him.
Speaking of taxis, it was funny to find out that, in Iran like in Algeria, you have to pay two to three folds the normal taxi fare when you leave the airport to the city…
At some occasions, as I wanted to remember a little of Algeria, I decided to take the bus in Tehran. If you know how buses are crowded in Algiers then multiply it by two and you’ll know what Tehran buses are like. The other difference is that females and males have separates areas. I wondered what couples and families did to travel together…
I forgot to mention their music (I attended two or three weddings) but I didn’t like it so better nkhelli el bir beghtah. And one last point, how do they do to have all this hair? I looked ridiculous with my haircut