I arrived back to Tehran about a week ago. My flight landed in the evening, and after going through immigration (spotting twice as many foreigners as the last time I was there) and picking up my luggage, I met with the driver who was waiting for me. As we stood descending in the elevator, which was playing a tinny version of Unchained Melody, down to the parking garage, I felt a distinct surrealness. Thinking of my family, friends and elderly dog that I had just left, all the familiar questions of self-doubt and uncertainty that I had experienced upon my first arrival in Iran started popping seamlessly in my head. After hitting the road, the taxi driver struck up a conversation, and I gingerly responded to his questions with my out-of-practice Farsi. All of a sudden, a car sped up to us from behind until we were side by side, and the woman in the driver’s seat rolled down her window and urged my taxi driver to do the same. With both cars going about 120 kmph on the highway, she asked for the way to Imam Khomeini’s mausoleum. While the driver shouted back the directions, I couldn’t help but smile as I started to sense an indescribable feeling of being right back at home.
Upon reaching my dusty flat, I unloaded my luggage and went straight to see my neighbours who I had truly missed. They gave me a wholehearted welcome, and the lady of the house, Shohreh – although she was clearly about to go to bed before I arrived – insisted on making me dinner. This was something she had offered on a regular basis before I left for summer, but I would always politely decline. This time however, I was far too exhausted and frankly hungry to turn down her kind offer. It seems I’d opened the floodgates, as ever since I’ve had dinner brought over to me almost every night – all ready on a plate with adjacent vegetables, so too late to refuse. I’m completely overcome by their thoughtfulness and constantly trying to think of nice things to do for my neighbours, especially since my typical dinners (which many a time consist of packaged miso soup and crisps) can’t even be placed in the same category as Shohreh’s exceptional cooking.
Over the following week, I quickly got back into the swing of things. I’ve happily found that my muscle memory still recalls what it takes to navigate my way across the tumultuous roads. These had once prompted my mother to ask in exasperation upon her visit, “do you cross these roads every day?” I had replied in all seriousness, “only on the days I go out”. Within the first week I also had the somewhat customary profound, existential conversation with a taxi driver, so all was par for the course. My classes had already started, and after a little reunion with my classmates I was also happy to find only one 8am start on the schedule this term. Though the Farsi classes have yet to be scheduled – so fingers crossed. I’ve also been catching up with all the people at my local corner shop, dry cleaners, fruit vendor, bread bakery and flower shop. After not seeing me for three months, the staff at these places genuinely greeted me more emphatically than some of my casual friends would back home. The young Kurdish boy who works at my corner shop even peeled his eyes away from the television screen, which was displaying a Barcelona-Roma match (he is a huge Barcelona fan), to ask me about my travels. The more of these encounters I had, the more I realised I really was experiencing the basic human connections I was seeking that had partly motivated my decision to come here.
I ended my week with something most definitely outside of my normal routine. A friend of mine had invited me to go see a Jean-Paul Sartre play at the Farhangsara-ye Niavaran, a cultural centre in North Tehran. An Iranian cast was performing ‘The Unburied Dead’ (Les Morts Sans Sépulture), or Mordegane bi Kafno Dafn in Farsi. While my friend was afterwards slightly critical of the acting, as we sometimes tend to be with products of our own culture, I was taken aback by the excellent Farsi-language portrayal of the philosophical themes involved in the story about a group of dissidents captured and tortured by German soldiers during World War II. It was my first time watching a Sartre play, and can honestly say I never thought I would be doing this in Iran. That being said, I did see a Farsi production of Death of a Salesman during my first term at Tehran’s national theatre, before ever having seen it in English. With my minimal language skills at the time, it’s safe to say my confusion over the plot line was insurmountable.
As my weekend begins, some friends and I are gearing up for an overnight bus trip to the historic city of Tabriz in northwest Iran, where we plan to spend a few sight-seeing days. More to come soon.