Shar-e hert

Exactly nine months ago, as I am walking through the dark, cold corridors of our department, a flashy brochure catches my eyes. I eagerly grab the brochure and notice that it contains information on an upcoming epidemiology conference in Ahvaz, Iran. I tell myself that I have not been in Iran for the last nineteen years. If my research abstract is accepted, my travel and accommodations will be paid for. I send my research abstract and it is accepted.

I tell my supervisor about the conference.

“Where is this conference again?” he asks expecting to hear Hawaii, Boston, Sydney or London.

“Ahvaz,” I reply.

“Where is that?” he eagerly asks.

“Southern city in Iran” I say. “This will give me an opportunity to visit my country.”

I think to myself, who in the right mind is going to give you money to go to a Middle Eastern country when you can go to a conference where your research can have an impact.

“Sure, that's a great idea, but will you have any problems returning,” he says.

“Oh no, I am exempted from military service; I should have no problems,” I confidently add.

Eight months later, I find myself days away from my trip to Iran. This is not just a trip to Iran but I am also moving Montreal back home to Western Canada. I am tired of not understanding French and the cold nights where the temperature could get as low as -45C.

My last days are spent packing my suitcase and also shipping my stuff back home. Eventually the day arrives. I take a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. The seven hours transit is tiring but somehow it passes and a second Lufthansa flight is ready to take us to Tehran.

It has been long since I shared a flight with so many Iranians. The flight attendant comes across the isle and greets everyone. “Good morning” he mutters. The passenger behind me replies “Chaakereem”. I smile and realize from this moment on I am entering a new world.

Finally, we arrive at Mehrabad. The airport doesn't seem like it has changed much from nineteen years ago. I enter the passport check line up. The officer greets me and reluctantly looks at my passport.

“Make sure you get your exit permit few days before you leave from the Passport Office” he says. “Should I go in a few days?” I mumble. “No, go to some Mehmounis first, you can go a few days before leaving”. I tell myself that at least he is a nice guy. But spending a day or more in the Passport Office frightens me. Oh well, lets not worry about it now.

Down the escalators I find myself at the baggage claim. The first thing that attracts my attention is the number of ads and billboards promoting foreign goods. After fifteen minutes the baggage finally arrives. Behind me are two British citizens. One of them points to small oval shape object on the rails that seems to be part of the wheel of a suitcase. “That looks like a grenade,” he mumbles to his friend mockingly. “They say as long as you don't interfere with politics things are OK here,” his friend replies. I smile; the Brits are indeed a smart bunch.

I finally find my luggage and come out of the gate. I am amazed at the number of people waiting to greet their loved ones. I must have seen at least three hundred heads.

Finding a taxi is hopefully the last stage of my trip. In finally negotiate a good deal with a driver. He puts all my luggage on his Peykaan. I have not ridden in one of these babies for so long. Surprisingly, this one seems to be a new model but it doesn't look much different from the model from twenty years ago. In fact I think the Peykaan is the only car where the older models perform much better than the newer ones. The driver seems nice. I tell him I have not been here for 19 years. “Be Shahre Hert Khoshaamadid,” he says (welcome to the city of chaos).

As he is driving away from the airport, I see my first glimpses of the city, past the Azadi Square into the Hemmat highway. Surprisingly I do have vivid memories of 19 years ago and at least this part of town, has not changed much. I am surprised at the volume of traffic at 3am. The traffic this time in the morning is worse than the rush hour traffic in Toronto.

I eagerly report my observation to the driver.

“You think this is bad, wait until tomorrow at 9am, you can lose a camel in these streets.”

I love these Persian expressions, they are funny. The very fact that they are true make them funnier and more interesting.

Finally, after forty minutes I arrive at the Saee Hotel apartments which is actually situated in the center of town close to Vali-Asr Square and Vanak Square. After checking in I enter my room on the fifth floor. I go to the window and get a nice view of the city at night. I can barely see the Damavand Mountains and even some satellite dishes are visible on some roofs.

I am finally here in Tehran. After nineteen years, I am back. The glowing lights can be seen as far as the base of the mountains. I turn in as tomorrow will be a busy day and the day after I have to go back to the airport to catch a plane to Ahvaz >>> Index

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