Twenty two million people would scare anyone, when driving into the heart of Tehran and the majority of them are all on the road all at the same time, trying to elbowing themselves to the head of the queue at every traffic light. I had been warned by many people about how manic and dangerous this traffic was going to be. Dread set in, but I planned my route into the heart of the city using my not so ‘trusty’ maps inside my guidebook. I was prepared to get completely lost and spend hours going around in circles, but I kept my chin up and kept positive, driving in and around these lousy car drivers.
I did get lost. I was given wrong directions by the traffic police and went down a one way the wrong way, got pulled over by the motorcycle traffic police but surprisingly, I got to the heart of the city and sitting outside a hotel all within an hour of entering the outskirts of the city!
The Syrian Embassy was demanding a letter from my embassy stating who I am. This is kind of ridiculous as your passport is an international identity, which should prove who I am to anyone. But I was going to play the Syrian Embassy’s games. I raced to the New Zealand embassy before it closed for the weekend, paid the $50 fee and received my letter. A letter I couldn’t understand why it cost so much, but at least I’m prepared for my visit to the Embassy on Saturday after the Iran weekend (Thursday / Friday).
I didn’t want to sit around in Tehran alone in over the weekend in an expensive hotel and on top of it all, it was raining. Stuck inside in my cold white tiled boring hotel room for two days was not going to be fun, so when Neda answered my request to host me at her house, I was so happy to be able to experience staying with a family in the heart of Tehran!
Neda is a 24 year old talented artist who works at a school. Neda opened my eyes to how a young intelligent woman struggles with the pressures from her traditions, culture and government. We spent many hours comparing our totally different life styles and cultural traditions.By the end of my five night stay with her family, I started to realise she is going through the same struggles I went through as a 14 year old in New Zealand.
Neda’s mother looked like Neda’s elder sister. She was stunning for her age and the fact she has three amazing children. She helped me understand that Iranians only eat hamburgers and kebabs like we would eat fish ’n’ chips, once a week not every day like all travellers to Iran! Iranian food, or just Neda’s mothers food is amazing. I would recommend anyone to go and try her dizzy and stuffed tomatoes, capsicums or eggplant (my two favourite dishes of hers).
I was lucky to briefly meet Neda’s father, he flew in from Germany on my second to last night. In a true Muslim form, he refused my natural Kiwi hand shake, and explained to me that Muslim men do not touch woman who are not in the family. I had got used to not shaking the hands of people in Pakistan, but somehow I forgot at this moment!
Neda was kind enough to give me more of her time and drive me to the embassy when it opened on Saturday. They flatly refused to let me in, and made me wait for 30minutes in the pouring rain. Luckily for me the guard wasn’t so nasty and let me sit in his booth with the heater on full. They called me over and told me I had to be an Iranian resident before I could get a visa. I couldn’t believe it, ‘You told me on the phone, all I needed was a letter from my embassy, photos and the fee. I have all of these and now you’re telling me I have to be a resident?’ ‘Sorry, we must of mistaken who you are’. ‘No, you didn’t otherwise you wouldn’t have asked for this letter from my embassy’. I was pretty mad at this point, but I kept a good tone and a level head, but nothing I said could change their mind.
I emailed the New Zealand embassy and asked them for help, I just got a $50 letter off them, I wanted them to work for the fee! Hamish, the councillor was amazing, he managed to get me another appointment at the Syrian Embassy the very next day. I stood outside the little tiny window after handing in my passport and letter, and waited for three hours, pacing up and down trying to keep warm.
Along comes Nath and Gonzague, and they get given a visa form, one I still haven’t received, and told to wait. When the window opened once again the phone was passed out to me, a man’s voice said ‘Im sorry mam, but you and your friends cannot get a visa for Syria here. Good Bye’ and hung up. Great, I just spend five days mucking around for this with nothing to show for it.
Nath, Gonzague and I looked at each other and laughed, we were pissed off but all in a desperate needed of a chai and Iranian hamburger and of course some sightseeing so we headed for the bazaar.