A Policemen's Tea Party

The trip to Tehran the following day was long and dusty.  

The landscape comprised mostly of desertlike nothingness, punctuated occasionally by mud hut villages, all universely beige and flat-rooved.  The general colour theme to Iran was ‘Neutrals’, as though a mid-90s interior decorator had gone overboard.  

We saw a hut with ‘Down with Israel’ painted fairly unambiguously across its walls.

We got flagged down by the police, and deemed it best to stop.  They were stern and unsmiling, and checked our passports formally.  They asked us where we were going, in a manner that suggested we were unlikely to make it there unimpeded.

We beamed graciously and remained unworried.  We asked them where the nearest tea shop was.  The second-in-command accidentally offered us some of their tea from a handy flask.  We thought it an excellent plan, ignored the system of ‘tar’of’ conveniently, and parked up the bike.  There stood we, drinking tea with two Iranian police officers, at the side of the motorway, whilst trucks whizzed past us. 

Communication was a little stilted, so I fetched the as-yet-useless Farsi phrasebook.  I threw all of them at our stern Number One.  What’s-your-name, where-are-you-from, do-you-have-children, are-you-married,… the whole shebang. 

Between us, we mellowed that hard old officer until he melted like butter.  He purred: ‘I am very happy’ in English, and, as Adam put it, ‘you could have rubbed his belly and patted his head’ by the time we wobbled off, high on tea. 

We congratulated ourselves on having played a small part in convincing Iranian governmental officials that the British were not the devil…

We stopped at a service station, which in Iran is a petrol pump, a toilet block, and a tiny dilapidated shack selling the worst excuse for biscuits I will ever have the sad misfortune of eating. 
 I met several ladies in burkhas in the toilets, who shook me by the hand and were incredibly warm and welcoming.  They discussed something quite important with me that I sadly didn’t understand a word of.  They were lovely. 

Sadly two minutes later the petrol attendant, buoyed by our obvious banknote confusions at the pump, ripped us off by a scandalous 10 pounds. 

He had messed with the wrong tourist.  He was more than a bit flummoxed when I marched up to him, stupid hat in place, and grabbed the requisite notes straight out of his hand.  To his credit he didn’t try and stop me, but that may have been because I was actively foaming at the mouth…

It was ridiculously hot.  We were having to stop every half an hour to re-load our bodies with the water that had sweated onto our clothes.  The sweat stains had begun to resemble tie-dye. 

We stopped again, Adam went to to the toilet, and I sank to the kerb and sat, dishevelled, in a messy heap. 

Two beautifully attired Tehrani women approached me to check if I was ok in perfect English.  They asked me how I was finding hijab.  Having been tutored by guide books never to engage in anything resembling a political conversation, I politely (and very eloquently) said: ‘Oh well, its fine, you know…’ 

They said: ‘We hate it.  We hate it. But we must wear it.  It is so hot.  Our government makes us wear this.  They are protesting about Ahmejinebad now, they are rioting.’

Just then Adam returned, and they disappeared, quickly.  When a man is present, it is customary for a woman not to speak unless spoken to. 

They managed to issue a warning about Tehran before they left. 

Many people in Iran do not like the current government, and make it very clear to you on meeting you. 

Possibly though we get a warped perspective- only the more pro-Western Iranians would want to speak to us in the first place, after all, and they would naturally be the ones unhappy with the government. 

He is back in power now.  The elections had been held the previous week, and the day before we arrived had been the Saturday when protesters were killed in the streets for ‘rioting’.  

A few people had warned us about Tehran. We were keeping our eyes and ears open, and prepared to turn around if the situation seemed dangerous.  

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