|Vast crystal blue skies
200 kilometers of open shores lining the Persian Gulf
July 17, 2002
After twenty days in Tehran, where the average square footage per person is so
nominal that it must violate some human rights rules somewhere, you consider squeezing
into a city cab with only 4 others a lucky break, crossing a street is more of a
health hazard than downing a liter of bleach.
And yet worsening your claustrophobia is the lack of personal space, where people
comfortably discuss and ask about any and every aspect of your life, and you have
to bare that "buyer's gaze" at every party you attend, where well meaning
mothers varandaaz (check out) the latest import, and refer to you as their "aroos"
(bride) before the end of the evening.
Right about this time, I found heaven in the Persian tropics! With over 200 kilometers
of open shores lining the Persian Gulf, vast crystal blue sunny skies, processions
of magnificent palm trees, amazing cuisine, and a vibrant culture, Bandar Abbas was
infinitely more than I had expected.
Upon our arrival we were unexpectedly greeted by an acquaintance, which had heard
of our visit, and for the next 48 hours we sampled true Bandari (port) hospitality.
My host, Homa hotel -- a souvenir of the prior regime, with its well kept gardens,
the palm and eucalyptus trees, the willows, the huge court yard, the sign that directs
you to the namaaz khaaneh (prayer room), the evening dinners and pool side live concerts,
and that Homa emblem sitting proudly atop the building, is indeed exquisite!
Although I had heard much about Dokhtareh Bandar (girls
of Bandar Abbas), seeing them in person was a different story. They have the hot
tropical weather to thank for their slim built and tanned skin. Some wear the traditional
burqa (vs. the religious kind that women wear in Afghanistan). Some wear silk colorful
chadors and bangles. Some balance their day's purchases flawlessly on their head.
And all walk tall with perfect posture and stride. (NONE let me photograph them!)
The highlight was my afternoon trip to the island of Qeshm. We traveled across the
intoxicating Persian Gulf by a lenj, as the sun was setting, and the humidity was
perfect enough as to just make the air fragrant. As I was standing on the deck of
the boat and having a titanic moment, for a second I could hear the song Khalij (Gulf),
in my head... "Nafasam raa az khalijeh hamishegiye Fars Migiram" (I get
life from the Always Persian, gulf)!
Qeshm, the largest island in the Persian Gulf, is a free port, which went under development
in the past 7 to 8 years, as yet another way to improve the Persian economy, and
for foreign goods to enter Iran via the gulf. At the time, hopefuls using loans at
35% interest rates, built supper malls and boutiques and restaurants, waiting to
cater to the rush of shoppers.
However, something in this scheme doesn't quite work. As millions of dollars worth
of the latest electronic equipment, textiles, and foodstuff enter the island, there
is a restriction on the amount of goods that can actually be taken off. This bottleneck
effect has ruined many affairs, but it has also become a source of income for others
in this ever-creative society.
"Parachuters" are large families, natives
of the province, that get paid to go shopping in Qeshm for businesses in other cities,
as they are permitted a larger buying quota than visitors. At the end of the day,
thousands of families with over a dozen kids, exhasted, line up at the customs to
load their goods on to the boats. It's interesting that a family that appears to
be at poverty level, leaving the island with 17 identical large screen TVs, doesn't
even raise the customs officers' suspicion.
We ended the night at Olive Park, on the shores of the Always Persian, Gulf, embraced
closely by the beautiful mountains... the indescribable smell of air was intoxicating:
humidity, sea salt, cool spring breeze, and apple flavored tobacco from the water
pipes. I then joined the men, on the carpeted beds, and drank the best tea I have
ever had, in cups which I'm sure were not washed ;o)