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I went back to Tehran after 9 years
The moment we entered Mamani's (Grandma's) place we smelled our childhood



Bita Ria
January 17, 2007

Hello to my darling Torben,

I've written you a very long email, because I was so excited and it everything is so different from Melbourne. Here everything is pretty much the same. Fashion is the same if not more advanced. I really like the hairstyles here. The young people look really good. I see couples hand in hand, some hugging and touching each other on the train. Nine years ago you couldn't do any of this without getting harassed by morality police on the streets.

Technology is also advanced. Everyone is got the latest mobile phone, even my grandpa's phone is better than mine! Sometimes I feel out of place here -- actually a lot of the time. I feel like a tourist, it doesn't really feel like home. I can see myself coming here and visiting every year or so but not living. I always say to Miss N and parents that we could have a lot of fun together here. I would be safe with you and we would go exploring the country together.

I want you to get a picture of what Tehran is like so I've written a really really long email for you. I hope you don't get tooo bored.

21 December , Melbourne time: 4:30am (Thursday)
I have to start by telling you how much I love you and how much I miss you. Right now I'm on IranAir plane, we still got about 6 hours to go. I am getting really tired of flying. The headscarf around my head is really annoying, it's choking me.

22 December -- 12:15 Melbourne Time, 4:45 Iran time.
Last night we or should I say this morning after a half an hour delay we arrived in Tehran. It was really freezing, a bit foggy but no sign of snow. People said it has snowed in the past couple of weeks -- we just have to wait and see.

The airport entrance was so retro. The plane itself was better than Malaysia's, but the airport is old -- a lot of European planes were transiting in Mehrabad, like Alitalia, Saudia, Emirate, Austria ... They had to drag the steps out for us, then at the entrance to the passport checkpoint we had to pull the door open, they didn't have electric doors! There was a plane full of Iranians waiting to be checked out. I had never seen so many Iranians all at once. The queue was long and after probably what took for me an hour we got our passports stamped. While we were waiting Miss N had to pay the toilet a visit, when she came back she was trying to hold back the tears. I said "what's wrong"? She had a sad smile on her face and wet eyes. I said "did you fall in the hole?" while trying to hold my laugh. She said "No". I got worried, I asked "did someone harass you?", she again replied "No". She had almost tried my patience, I said "What happened then?" -- she sighed then said "it was terrible, I went in there, I kneeled down and after I was done, there was no toilet paper."

It was the first shock after entering Iran. Miss N said if only we don't drink tea the problem will be slightly solved. I added, we should only accept dinner invitations of those who own a 'Toalet Farangi' which means the western toilet. Luckily 14 years ago or so my grandparents had installed a Toalet Farani after hearing from my uncle that, that's the only way they're willing to come to Tehran. Thank God. I shall continue to use Toalet Farangi as long as I can fight it. So far I have not used the Islamic toilets in Tehran. I have to be honest -- I did use it in Malaysia, I really had to, it was terrible.

We got our luggages scanned, to my surprise they didn't even bother to go through our stuff and hassle us about this and that. I thought they might confiscate my book 'The chaser' with a front cover of John Howard in a 'Chador' -- Chador being the black material that covers you from head to toe, the stuff the really conservative women wear in Iran. I took it anyway risking my luck, thinking they might not recognize it's a man and think I am ridiculing religious laws. I had tucked the book inside a pocket in the back side of my laptop bag.

I was really pleased. From the Customs area I could see the glass that separates us from the waiting visitors. I felt like a celebrity, since there were crowds of people looking at us from the other side. I looked briefly but I couldn't find any of our relatives. Then I saw dad waving at someone, then I went in front of dad to see who he's waving at and I saw one of the amoos (uncles), then I saw my cousin behind him. I jumped and waved, they saw me too and excitedly waived back.

Mum and dad were stuck in some dilemma to do with luggage weights -- we could wait for them or leave them there and go get embraced in kisses, hugs and flowers. So we left them there and made our way to the glass opening. It definitely was a celebrity moment.

We got two taxis, Granma and Granddad, along with me and Miss N left in one of them. The driver was sitting on the left, that didn't really strike me as strange, but seems to strike everyone else coming front Europe or Iran. They always say it's so strange that in Australia the driver drives on the right.

The moment we entered Mamani's (Grandma's) place we smelled our childhood. It smelled like a blend of homemade cooking and something else. It smelled like nothing else. Everywhere has a smell here. Mamani's place, Aunt's, Tehran's winter ... The front yard looked somewhat smaller to what I was expecting. I saw flashes of myself playing with the kids, I wondered what's happened to them. The 'Yaass' tree next to the gates was dried, the street was only changed a little, the apartment on the corner now had stone walls.

Inside Mamani's apartment I looked in the rooms, and then I went into the kitchen and its balcony. The view of the balcony consisted of a grey wall and two other tall apartments further in the view, I looked down and I saw the parking. Nothing had changed here. Standing in the balcony with the fridge on the left hand side and a bunch of junk on the right made me feel like little Bita again. I used to sneak into the balcony and find the chocolates and stuff Mamani had hidden for tea -- "Hidden" because if she had not nothing would ever remain with Miss N and especially me in the house. There was a thrill to this search. I opened the fridge door, I saw a box of 'Ferroro Rocher', a box of Iranian chocolates, mixed nuts and a bunch of other things. This time there was no thrill to opening the fridge door. Any minute I thought I am going to get told off by Mamani, nothing happened. This is one of the other privileges of being an adult.

I looked at the time; it was already close to 7:30 am. I had unpacked my bags and occupied 4 drawers. Miss N and baba (dad) were sleeping; the rest of us decided we are not going to sleep since it was already morning. I had a shower; I saw the Toalet Farangi in the corner and smiled. Aghajoon (Granddad) was ordered by Mamani to get a few pieces of bread. I said I'll join him. So I put on my coat and jeans. I was about to put on my pink headscarf when Mamani pulled out the headcarf I used to wear almost a decade ago. I grabbed it, smelled it, I was disappointed to have not get taken back to those times.

I met Aghajoon in the yard. The street in front of Laleh Park hadn't changed, the car Gallery, the Real-estate, the supermarket -- they were all still there. Miss N later pointed out that the ice-cream shop was no longer there. I don't remember. We turned right on the corner and there was the Barbary Bakery (Barbary is the type of the bread). It was a very precious moment for me. Every Iranian in exile wants a piece of this barbary instead of the processed Lebanese bread and the hard fake Turkish bread we get for Middle Eastern bread in Australia. I felt like framing the Barbary and putting it on the wall -- so instead I took a picture. (Ahh! Aghajoon just walked in with 2 barbaries!! -- by the way it's 8:10am -- 22nd Dec -- Friday which is a Weekend)

An hour later -- I just finished breakfast. I had walnuts, goat cheese and barbary, it's the best breakfast ever. It's not like the crap you get in Melbourne, the Cornflakes and Kbars, Nutella and any other processed crap.

That day after having breakfast, we as a family decided to exchange our dollars with some Iranian money and also visit Dad's parents.  I insisted we walk. The streets were noisy and packed with people and cars. Our second shock was when we were crossing the road. The light was green so we started crossing the road, half way through the road two cars turned in our direction, and we all really freaked out. We are getting the hang of it though, now we run in front of cars so they know they need to stop.

Later we caught Tehran's underground train, known as the 'Metro'. It is really cool. The great thing about this system is, the whole thing travels underground -- it's amazing. They spent years digging the whole Tehran underground. The train travels from all Tehran's main points, there's a stop just outside our old house and also one at the library and the bookshop I always used to go to. It also definitely helps Tehran's traffic problem. Mum and I got really surprised when we saw an ATM and a ticket machine just outside the stop. We both got so excited we laughed so loud everyone turned around. It was an embarrassing moment with mum and I pointing at the ticket validators at the front. I thought only Melbourne had them. I never thought I would ever be so excited about validating a train ticket.

The train came, and the crowd was huge, so we stayed back. People pushed in, the doors bipped but there were still people trying to get in. The doors wanted to close but because of all the flesh in the middle, they couldn't. The doors probably tried about four or five times when one of the guys on the platform decided he should help. So like you would tuck your clothes in your bag to pull the zip, he pushed the two people sticking half out, inside. He pushed a few times until the doors finally closed. It was so hilarious we laughed until we started crying. We had to capture it on camera and send it to the 'Funniest home video shows' and we would have definitely won the $100,000 prize.

Trains came quite often, I would say every five minutes or so, which is good considering Tehran's population. We got in and the waiting crowd followed. There was absolutely no room to move. A couple of guys grabbed my ass, first I thought I am imagining things, then the second time I turned around to the guy and yelled at him while going close to his face "hey keep your hands to yourself". Other guys around heard me, one of them offered his place to me, which was in the corner of the train. I didn't want to move. A guy entered the train on the next stop, the minute he walked in, he saw I was in complete discomfort and told to the guy next to me, "why don't you let her stand over there!" in a scolding voice and I moved. I didn't get harassed for the rest of the train ride. We got off and we decided we are not going to catch the train during peak hour ever again.

We got to the Bazaar, I took out $200 US dollars to exchange. The man inspected the dollars and said "I won't accept this one; this one looks a bit old". I was really shocked; I took out another $100 and gave him. Then he gave me 180,000 Toman. It looks like quite a bit but it's an average person's weekly wage. Looking at the bazaar I decided I don't want to buy any clothes, the prices of the more European boutiques in up town Tehran will work out the same or even more than what I would pay in Melbourne. Plus I have plenty of clothes I just want books and CDS, which are dirt cheap here.

By the way tonight was "Shabeh Yalda" (The longest night of the year), we were invited over by our relatives but we didn't go, we had guests. Miss N and I were too sleepy so we went to bed early. After all we had to catch up on lost sleep.

My dear darling, next time we'll go to Iran together ...

I love you darling, see you soon,


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