Despite not fully recovered from the chest infection I picked up in the south, I arrive back in the smog of the capital more confident and at ease with my surroundings than when I came here two months previously. As usual, I don’t have a plan. I stay with a host in the centre for a few days, meet up with a couple of friends I made in Isfahan and wonder around the shops and parks of the centre. Things are now even cheaper than when I entered the country. One Euro was worth 37,000 Rial then; now it’s worth 50,000. You can get a cheap hotel room in Tehran for 150,000 (3 Euro at today’s rate). It’s amazing Europeans aren’t flocking to Iran in their droves for a cheap holiday but the power of propaganda obviously overrides any logical decision many people make. For Iranians, a certain bemusement accompanies any feelings of shock at the continual devaluation of their currency. Sitting outside a currency exchange on a busy street one day, it’s interesting to note that nearly every one who passed slowed down to look at the current rates with a blank expression on their faces. The slow collapse of their currency is out of their hands but many are wondering how much worse things can get before there’s a drastic change.
On the metro to go to another host’s place, a young chap in his early 20s sits beside me and starts asking the usual common questions. On a metro anywhere else in the world, it’s likely I’d be suspicious but here a certain innocence and curiosity prevails when it comes to people’s attitudes to foreigners. Behdad is a bio-genetics engineer who dreams of going to Germany for a better life. He tells me he’s not sure if he’ll ever make it, because of the economic conditions, but for now he’ll keep trying and continue to work towards his goal. He invites me to his mother’s flat which he shares with her and his brother. She’s a nurse and his brother is currently doing military service. When I arrive there a couple of days after meeting him (I just text him and ask if it’s ok if I go later that day), his brother and a couple of his cousins are having dinner on the floor and measuring out small glasses of home brewed beer. The next day I go along with Behdad to his German class while I wait to hear back from his cousin who is keen to host me. You must be wondering, like I was, why the hell I’d go to a German class with an Iranian student (I was too) but he was pretty excited to have me there. I spend most of the class sleeping at the back but during break I got talking to some of his class-mates. Within a few of minutes of talking to them I’m invited to stay with a couple of them, as is the Iranian custom. After I say farewell to Behdad who’s leaving for the city of Mashad for a little holiday with his mates, I go to the centre to meet his cousin, Mohsen. Mohsen is a hefty, cheerful chap ,the same age as myself, who lives with Negin, his Azeri girlfriend. He’s one of the few young Iranians I meet who isn’t interested in leaving the country. He’s content with his life in Tehran, but like nearly everyone else I meet, despises the government. On the evening I arrive, Negin’s cousin Farah and her husband Nyma join us for a meal she has has prepared. It’s a meal that’s so rich in flavor and variety, I can’t believe she’s not a professional cook; in fact, I can say with all honesty, I’ve never had a meal that tasty and satisfying in any restaurant before. Nyma and Farah are also very interested in hearing all about my travels and enthusiastically recommend places I should visit around Tehran, and then invite me to stay with them so they can take me to these places. I can’t believe my luck to find a hosts who are willing to take me to places that would’ve been too awkward to reach on my own on public transport. The next day we drive up the mountains outside the city to a popular village to walk through the narrow paths, past mules carrying gas canisters and other utilities up and down the rocky slopes.
On another day Farah and Nyma drive me to Iran’s most popular ski resort a couple of hours from Tehran. The only time I’ve ever skied before was about 15 years ago on a dry ski slope. I’d no idea if the lessons I took then would be of any use now but after about an hour and much falling over, a lot of it comes back and I begin to enjoy myself. With the sun shining and it being the weekend, the slopes are packed with learners and regulars alike. There seems to be a lot less regulation here than there is on European slopes. When I meet up with Nyma again, he tells me he seen a child fall from the ski lift from a height of about 20 feet into the deep snow below; luckily the child was uninjured. I myself am lucky to come off the slopes without any serious injuries, as I’d a few close shaves with other skiers and edges on my way down. I come off the mountain relieved at just having a few bruises, aching limbs and a sunburnt face, happy to have skied in Alpine-like conditions for a grand total of around 15 Euro.
After spending another day with Nyma and Farah, visiting friends of theirs near the grey Caspian Sea, we return to Tehran. A couple of days after that I get a bus back to Shiraz where my flight leaves in a few days. Tehran has treated me very well and I enjoyed my time there. If it wasn’t for the manic traffic and subsequent heavy smog, it’d be a great place to live.
Note: Names of people in this post have been changed