Arriving in Tehran
Thousand ideas swirl around my head when thinking of Iran. Never have I been to any Islamic country myself and believing what the western media tells us is not an option! Research on the internet doesn’t answer my questions about how the people live in this country and is not reliable as I find out right away on the airport. I paid a lot of money to apply for an e-visa in advance. But they issue visas on arrival on the airport. Wtf?! The only difference is that it may take 30 instead of 10 minutes for the official to approve the application. A visa stamp fee and an extra insurance needs to be paid anyways, only in Euro! My equanimity gets tested when the guy behind the counter doesn’t accept my travel insurance only because it is written “worldwide coverage” without exceptions and not explicitly “Iran”. Later I will come to understand his strictness towards this issue.
First thing I walk up to the next ATM and try to get some local currency. Doesn’t work. Dubious, suspiciously friendly guys offer me taxis and try to exchange money from the black market. Everybody tells me that there wont be a single ATM in Iran which accepts visa cards. I fight with myself to believe this, but for now my hands are tied. I change the last 10€ I have left to Rial – but this wont get me through the week! I can see myself living on the airport, begging for food while waiting for the flight out of my financial prison, next week. Luckily I got a contact. George who I had met on his sailboat in Jamaica connected me with his best friend who lives in Tehran. I just need to purchase a sim card to call him. Next happy surprise: The system is blocked for foreign passports. “Wow! No internet – ok, I´m screwed”, is my first response, “How naïve am I to be so badly prepared for this unknown country!?” I take a few deep breaths and dig out my lost faith. I found it buried under ego scatters, covered by the fear-fog of my uncertainty.
With clear vision a last option comes to my mind. I´ll take a taxi straight to my friends address and hope that he is home to help me pay the ride. This moment I look up and read the words “Kindness Ambassador” on the board above an entrance. Three young girls, like angels, are super dedicated to solve all my problems. They make me feel welcome with tea, ice cream and completely turn my first impression of Iran. They find out that it is possible to withdraw money at the Central Bank of Tehran, let me call my friend so he knows I´m coming and translate his address to Persian for the taxi driver.
An hour later Mehdi and his family open their home for me. Being guest in Iran is a memorisable experience. It is amazing how friendly, interested and thoughtful the people are! I almost feel bad to accept all the kind offers to please their guest. Invitations over invitations and heaps of Persian delicacies like Kuku, Melon Seeds, Mirza Ghassemi and Lavashak. Even when there are language barriers, everybody tries with great effort to make each other understood.
Today, celebrating “Eid”, the most important fest in Islamic culture is what most traditional Muslims do. Families and friends come together to enjoy a lot of delicious food after one month fasting during Ramadan. Many “Modern Muslims” in Iran don’t follow these old traditions as strictly anymore. They instead just have a good time together with food and watch the soccer game Iran vs. Morocco. We cheer and cross our fingers together for Iran – luckily they win.
Sanctions – Attack on Irans Economy
Later I meet another friend, Yaser (37) who enlightens me about the actual, political and economical situation in the country. He gives me a street view picture of the examples how the new US – sanctions affect everybody in Iran. From the perspective of a young professional he sees no bright future – work to survive, not to live.
“The US denies access to financial systems to any company doing business with Iran” (NY Times) This crippling statement and the rest of the re-imposed sanctions has wide reaching effects for Irans people. I felt the depressing mood, saw the change and experienced resulting problems myself:
- No money transfer is possible across Iranian borders which also means trade can´t happen. Iran becomes economically isolated from the rest of our world. (E.g. Mehdis business can´t send payments for the raw material (tile production) which they import from Italy, Spain and China).
Big foreign companies like Siemens, Bosch, Peugeot etc. stop investing, shut down their businesses and leave Iran. Investments and many Jobs are lost. Previously produced products are not available anymore.
Insurance companies have trouble because they loose access to international funds.
-Tourism becomes very complicated for foreigners and Iranians can´t afford to leave the country.
- The Currency is drastically loosing its value. Prices go up and wages down. (Yaser explains, where he earned 1500$ he would now only earn 400$).
Restrictions are weakening mainly the working class, small and new businesses. A revolution which could lead to new political developments and economic growth is foreclosed.
It is shocking to me how this economic warfare can paralyse a striving country from one day to the other. Having learned how severely the sanctions hit Iran I now understand the minor problems I experienced on the airport. No international money transfer, no trust in insurrance companies, no sim card contract for foreigners.
Who knows what the future holds for this country? I sincerely hope for a positive change of the current situation, whatever it may look like and the chance to further develop international relations.
Diverse Landscape – Beautiful North
Trying to enjoy the beauty of Irans diverse countryside and rich culture Yaser takes me up to the city Rasht. We enter a long tunnel, drilled in the massive mountain. On the other side lays a different world. Dry, rocky soil in the plateau of Theran turned into lush green hills, fertile fields and forrests. Weather, landscape and vegetation change drastically the further we drive north. The huge mountain chain blocks the clouds carrying water from the Caspian Sea and creates a variety of climatic conditions suitable to grow different vegetables, fruits and nuts. Every area we pass offers one specific agricultural product. Big olive jars are stacked on the sides of the road. A bit further lies Lahijan which is famous for their walnut cookies. Grape vines, plums, cherry, apricot and peach trees cover the hills. Close to the Caspian Sea, which is the worlds biggest Lake and home of the sturgeon fish caught for Caviar, are rice fields to be found. I am impressed by the agricultural diversity and even more by the delicious, food the province Gilan is known for.