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                    Finns in Montreal
                                             



Mielenkiintoisia artikkeleita Montrealin suomalaisilta:



IRAN

First of all, Iran is an interesting country which I visited in October 2000, but certainly not primitive or exotic like India or Yemen.

If one chooses Iran as their first country to visit in the Middle East then one would be in for a cultural shock but it would be less pronounced than if one went to India or Yemen first, countries that I had previously visited.

First of all, let me say that Iranians are an absolutely wonderful people. They love tourists so that they are always welcoming you and are very warm, kind and generous. Many people, especially students, will make a point of approaching you, asking first from which country you are coming. Canada always receives a very favourable response, something I also experienced inYemen. Americans on the other hand keep an extremely low profile, understandably, and actually I only met one group of them, they being very reluctant to admit they were from the United States. Then they ask you what you think of Iran and the Iranian people. Many students love to converse with tourists, giving them an opportunity to further their understanding English. In Iran the students were university students while in Yemen they were school kids who asked the same questions no matter where in Yemen you were, such as, what is your name, how old are you, are you married, what do you do in your life, etc.

The topography of Iran is very varied. In the northwest one encounters vegetation like one would here in Quebec. Also there are many Kurds and many are of a much lighter skin colour than your average Iranian. In other words, many of the Kurds would not be considered a visible minority in Canada. Then there is the Caspian Sea, the beach resort. One spot on the beach comprised a large area extending a fair distance into the water that was cordoned off with fences and draped with heavy curtains so that prying male eyes could not feast on the Iranian women swimming there even though they were completely covered with clothing from head to toes. To travel from Rasht on the Caspian Sea to Tehran necessitated going through the mountains. Absolutely breathtaking. And in many places there was snow on the mountain tops.

We flew from Tehran to Kerman in the south thus saving at least fourteen hours of sitting in a bus. It was the smart thing to do as the scenery wouldn't be anything to write home about plus the fare was a little over thirty dollars, Canadian, for a sixty-five minute flight. Then one soon understands why the fare was so inexpensive as the best brand of gasoline could be purchased for five American cents per litre.

From Tehran we went to Bam, an abandoned sandstone city. It is now an archeological site and is very interesting. Bam is the route of the drug trade. In the small hotel we stayed in the gates were locked for the night and we had armed guards patrolling the front. My room was on the first floor facing the backyard and I was not comfortable at all, considering the danger that lurked around. I kept the windows locked all night, not that it would have made a big difference.

Then we motored for hours and hours through semi desert to Isfahan and Shiraz. Both cities were very interesting. The mosques were fabulous, especially the one in Shiraz which was lit up at night. Inside the mosque was a feast for the eyes. Breathtaking. But since everyone walked around in barefeet there was a certain specific odour one would never forget. All the ladies, including those on our tour, had to put on a special chador. The ordinary one was not good enough, not pure enough. Our visit to these two cities was much too short. One should stay at least four days in each place.

There are bazaars throughout the country but I still feel the most interesting and picturesque was the one in Sana, Yemen. I kept returning there day after day. It was only a five minute walk from the hotel.

The food was excellent in Tehran as we stayed at a four star hotel. However I found the food was even more interesting in the southern Iranian cities probably caused by the great influx of tourists. There was much more variety compared to the small towns that we passed through as most of them had a choice of three main courses one of which always included the proverbial chicken.

No alcohol was permitted but one can always manage to obtain some at black market prices. Tea is everywhere but not coffee, at least what we are used to drinking. What you get at the hotel is Nescafe.

The men dress like they do here but long sleeves must be worn although in Tehran one can get away with short sleeved shirts. I did. However it is not recommended that you wear shorts. If you did, you would become so uncomfortable that you would go back to the hotel room and change. It happen to one fellow from Montreal.

Public transportation in Tehran is very interesting. The busses are divided into two sections. The smaller section is for women and children while the large section if for men only. No mixing is permitted by law. And no one of the opposite sex is allowed in a car or a taxi unless it is a close relative.

Apparently there are prostitutes but I never encountered or saw any. But what I found very interesting in that young bucks can obtain temporary marriage licenses to tide them over until they get married. The contradictions in that society absolutely amazed me and it definitely is a man's world there. Apparently arranged marriages are no longer in vogue but there is an investigation of the bride or groom to be. Usually someone is paid to do the investigation and neighbours are the main source of information. Men, if helping ladies out from either a boat or bus grab the lady's wrist. A man never puts his hand into a lady's hand. And in restaurants the men are served before the women. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden. Often the first offence is forgiven but the second offense results in a two year sentence.

You are allowed to have four wives but each must be treated equally. In other words, if you provide the first wife with a house then you also have to provide the others with their own house too. Naturally you have to be rich to enjoy such a privilege. One fellow in charge of computers for the use of tourists in the hotel admitted to me that he works ten hours a day, everyday of the year, holidays included, and has a wage of fifty American dollars per month. At that salary one could only afford one wife. It was my understanding that the annual salary was between one and two thousand American dollars per year. Their cost of living may seem low for us but so are the wages. They were amazed at the salaries we earned but then they didn't realize that our expenses are so much higher than theirs. Telephone calls and ice cream cost ten cents each.

For all the contradictions noted when it came to segregating the sexes, the one that really amused me was the unisexual bathrooms, something I have never seen in a western country. The toilet stalls were private and unisexual but the sinks were in a common room where both sexes together made use of them. The private stalls had floor to ceiling walls. Before entering one, it was necessary to knock twice on the door. If someone was occupying the stall, they would answer you by knocking twice. Instead of doorbells, many homes had knockers, separate ones for male and female callers. In this way the people at home would always know if the caller was male or female.

The guide was puzzled as to why Iran only receives .01% of the tourist trade when Iran has 15% of the major tourist sites in the world. I can see why but I never answered him.

I did allude to the fact that Iranians are one of the most friendliest people in the world. There is an exception however. And these are the drivers. Absolutely crazy. There were traffic lights but they were in use only during rush hour. After that it was every man for himself and if it happened that there were a set of traffic lights still functioning after rush hour that did not deter drivers from barrelling through a red light. Traffic lights were a mere decoration and to be ignored. To cross a busy intersection I would wait until a bunch of Iranians would reach the corner. Then I would walk alongside the Iranians who would in a group start crossing the street. You definitely felt you were taking your life in your hands if you decided to go on your own. You literally had to put your hand out and wave to the driver to stop to indicate that you wanted to cross. Some drivers would slow down while others merely blew their horns and drove around you. Sometimes they didn't use lights. Pedestrians have absolutely no rights there. Cars come barrelling down a side street unto the main street without stopping. They blow their horn at the same time to tell you to get out of their way. Forget about the 100- yard dash in the Olympic games. Any pedestrian tourist in Iran can do better. In fact all tourist should receive a gold medal for surviving Iran.

One evening we went to a restaurant and we went there by taxi. It was frightening. Absolute chaos. As I mentioned they went through lights at great speed and missed other cars by inches, squeezing into the tightest places.. And they were so relaxed while I was having about fifty heart attacks.

A lot of the female tourists claimed they would never return to Iran as long as they were forced to wear the chador which was dark in colour, black or grey.. They found it very uncomfortable especially in the desert heat. When we had a meal in a private home and some of the tourists wanted to take pictures of the family, all the females had to go and put on their chador. To be photographed without a chador is unforgivable and if the picture is published in a newspaper or is displayed on the Internet that person will not only lose their job but will have no hope of ever being employed again. So one could readily understand all the females putting on the chador before picture taking. Same thing before the plane arrived in Tehran, an announcement was made and all the ladies started to put on their chador.

We did visit a Zoroastrian village and then went into a dwelling. Very interesting. It used to be the religion in Persia before the Moslems took over. Also visited an Armenian ghetto. They happened to be celebrating a cultural day. It was nice to hear Christian music again. It was an oasis in a sea of Moslem culture.

The English used was very interesting and I never knew the English language had so many varieties in spelling the same word. This from one menu which I found fascinating:

  • Meet Roest & Rice
  • Meet lambroast & Rice
  • Meetqchicken Roast & Rice
  • Musclelamb
  • Stce (meet & pietas) & Rice
  • Steik with Ring peper Souse
  • Mashron Sause & Steik
  • Chicken Hen
  • File Minion
  • Honey Best (probably they meant Brest) Chicken.

Just because they were listed as such didn't mean you could order all of the above.

In tourist areas, the English language was practically incomprehensible for those whose mother tongue was English. I'm certain the German, French, Spanish tourist would not be able to understand what was being indicated.

The brochure describing the facilities and services available at one of the hotels I stayed in was priceless. It was hilarious. Unfortunately I no longer have it with me.


Text: Wilfred Yrjölä, Treasurer, St. Michael's Finnish Lutheran Church, Montreal.
© Copyright Wilfred Trjölä