My Sabbatical at Science and Research Branch of Islamic Azad University (SRBIAU) in Tehran – by Wernher van de Venn

Part 2: Leisure and Culture in Iran

Biking in Tehran. That’s real friendship: my friend Mehdi bought a new bike carrier for his car just to show me all good trails in and around Tehran (he himself has no bike…)

And of course, there is the leisure and culture program. I am constantly fully booked because I get invitations from friends and relatives and we go and see everything in Tehran and try it out. For instance, I brought my mountain bike from Switzerland with me and we explore all bike parks and routes in and around Tehran, and although mountain biking isn’t as popular in Iran as it is in Switzerland, there are many good and challenging bike trails!

One of my favourite bike trails became the route down from Emamzadeh Davood. Emamzadeh Davood is a village with the mausoleum of Davood-ebne Emad and is located on 2650 Meters in the mountain region north west of Tehran. On weekends (Thursdays and Fridays, yes, it’s like Saturdays and Sundays in Europe) the small village of about 200 inhabitants is crowded by 2000 or more pilgrims mostly from Tehran. The (offroad-)route down to Tehran is a wonderful but physically very demanding 14km downhill (with a little 1km uphill in the beginning) with its endpoint about two kilometres away from my apartment. When I go down there I am totally beaten-up and dirty at the end, but it is so fantastic.

Emamzadeh Davood in the Tehran mountain region, a shot from my helmet cam. The small golden tower in the middle of the town is the tomb of Davood-ebne Emad. The people there live exclusively from (pilgrimage-)tourism. You have to pay if you want to go into the village and the village itself is just a big bazaar (as we know it from Lourdes).

The trail is not always very trustworthy, but great nature

Wild dogs at full speed included

Last weekend we have been at the Caspian Sea visiting relatives from my friends who are rice farmers. Amu Maschti (uncle Maschti) and his wife San Amu (wife of uncle, I really don’t know her first name because all people just call her San Amu, even me, after lunch and dinner I used to say: «San Amu, daste schoma dart nakone»). And there is really no doubt who wears the breeches at home… Amu Maschti is the nice and friendly head of his big family and all people get up on their feet when he enters the room (including me), but one thousand Amu Maschtis couldn’t compete with one word from San Amu.

My friend Mehdi and me at Amu Maschtis home. Traditionally you sit on the floor covered with beautiful carpets and can rest your back at a «poschti». Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the floor on the so called the «sofre» which is a kind of oversized tablecloth covering the valuable carpets during eating.

The meals are awesome (as everywhere in Iran). San Amu and her «team» (which are all the wives of Amu Maschtis sons plus some female relatives) have the kitchen under full control. No male is allowed to enter the kitchen, not for religious reasons, but solely because males would destroy the magic skills of women to prepare the food (isn’t that feministic?). It is a tradition in this region of Iran to serve duck when visitors come. Ok not only visitors but the whole family is present and with family I don’t mean family as we know it in Europe, a close family member is also the neighbour of the brother of the grandson of Amu Maschtis third degree cousin. So please guess how many ducks died on that day… And, due to the fact that my friend Mehdi doesn’t like duck, also one chicken lost its life. The day after we saw little chicks running after a duck mother and when I asked what happened, I was told that their mother was unfortunately close to the kitchen the day before.

Under Amu Maschtis competent supervision and not dressed appropriately, I was allowed to do my first trials as rice farmer. It is not as easy as it looks, especially the walking in that sticky mud, but as I was told it is very good for the skin at the feet to get stuck in the mud all day long.

By the way, not only that I was for the first time in my life wading through a rice field and planting rice (in my pyjama pants!), I was also, for the first time of my life, experiencing another endeavour which you would not expect to find in Iran… Amol, the home of Amu Maschti is not far away from the Caspian seaside with some of the tourist beaches. 20 years ago, I remember the beach was strictly separated in men’s and women’s parts with large protecting shields reaching far into the water of the Caspian Sea. You couldn’t do anything else but swimming, there was no real beach-life nor some ice-cream seller. Today men and women are allowed to use the same part of the beach together, you can get ice-cream and all the things you «really need» at a beach, there is nearly no difference to a beach anywhere else in the world, including… a jetski rental!

Mehdi and me at the Caspian seaside

My friend Mehdi is a passionate jetski rider, what do I say, no he is jetski pilot. From the beach, the waves do not look very big, but if you are bombing with high-speed across the sea, each of these small waves becomes a launching ramp for the jetski. In the end, I can’t even say what is harder, the tremendous back pain from bending down and pushing rice plants into the water covered soil in Amu Maschtis rice fields, or the even more tremendous back pain from the high-speed jetski-mania taking off at every small wave and clashing down on the water as if it is concrete. Unintentionally falling off in tight turns included… Fortunately, I did not have a camera with me, because firstly it would have gone overboard anyway on the first wave and secondly, I won’t have to explain these awkward falling-off-scenes later on.

The city of Tehran is tremendously huge (officially about 15 million inhabitants, but unofficially in the range of 18 to 20 million, who counts…) and there is much to discover: Of course, the bazaar of Tehran, one of the largest in the middle East (I could never find out alone), museums and the National Library, shopping malls and recreation parks, restaurants and tea and coffee houses (nothing about Starbucks, here is the real tea and coffee scene). There is really nothing that does not exist here (even what should not exist, according to our opinion in Europe). Don’t let me go into too much details, you could be arrested as confidants… ☺

… more to come.