Iran, isn’t that the country at the axis of evil? – Part 3

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

Part 3: The Science and Research Branch of Islamic Azad University

The SRBIAU is located on a mountain in Tehran (about 2000m high) from here you have a tremendous view over the entire city and the weather up here is usually very clean (and mostly windy). You can see the haze of the city and the sea of houses spreading nearly infinite from the mountains base.

Great view from SRBIAU / Faculty of Engineering down to the city of Tehran. On the front in the middle you see the big mosque with the new cable car passing nearby (pole in front of mosque). Right in front of the mosque there is a wonderful viewpoint with some small gardens and waters and the big round shaped Central Library building on the left hand side of the mosque.

Just imagine: a whole mountain for the University, there is lots of space and new buildings arise everywhere. There is even enough place to build a big mosque halfway up the mountain. The downside of locating a university at a mountain is of course that you have to go up there every day. So, there are about 50 Busses transporting lecturers and students in a constant stream up and downwards at a snail’s pace of about 10 to 15 km/h both ways. They can’t even go down faster because of safety reasons. As of course in Iran no one would pay any attention to a road sign with a speed limitation, there are intentionally build-in huge bumps in the road which make it absolutely impossible to go faster without risking to damage your car or bus severely. It takes about 20 Minutes from the main entrance to the Ebn-e-Sina building. I was told that despite of all safety measures sometimes accidents happen. Once a bus driver got a heart attack during going down the hill. The bus was only stopped some meters before the abyss due to a dirt wall left over from construction works. Especially in Winter the «SRBIAU mountain» is usually covered with snow and the passage gets even more dangerous. There are days when you can’t go up or down by car (yeah, let’s have some days off…). At the moment, a new cable car is being installed, so it will be much easier and safer in the future. It is said to be finished during my Sabbatical stay. An Austrian company is building it and hopefully two Austrian weeks equal to two Swiss weeks… Maybe they could build a ski-slope additionally, that would be another good reason to study at SRBIAU (I’m going to suggest this to the SRBIAU president when he’s the first to test the cable car).

Building the cable car. It looks more like a battlefield than a construction site as we know it in Europe. In Iran things procced slowly but constantly and the cable car will be a big progress in terms of safety, speed and capacity. I guess the commissioning of the cable car will be “as usual”: first the main engineer and his family have to take a test-ride and if they survive than the president of the university will have a trial ☺ (It is said that in former times this procedure was done in testing railway bridges in Iran. The engineers and their families had to stand under the bridge when the very first train crossed. Maybe a good idea for the bachelor projects of ZHAW students???).

Indeed, some 10 kilometres to the east from SRBIAU hill and still in Tehran, there is a big skiing resort called Tochal with chair lifts and descents from about 3800 to 1900 metres. I’ve heard that in Winter even guests from Switzerland enjoy the relaxed atmosphere which does not very much differ from some well-known ski resorts in Europe (except of the cost and the «Flying Hirsch» at the après ski bar of course).

Ok, back to our visit to SRBAIU: I really don’t know if the risk of suffering from a heart attack in Iran significantly differs between men and women but at present I feel more safe to go up with the only female bus driver here… Although she does not look like she is very gingerly treating the bus (especially when she wears that pilot style sunglasses), her driving style is much more smooth and balanced than that of her male colleagues.

The only female bus driver at SRBIAU. She looks extremely cool when she wears her pilot style sunglasses (red arrow) and her driving style does inspire much more confidence to me than that of her male colleagues.

So, let’s have a trip up the hill to the Ebn-e-Sina building and my office… After managing to enter the bus with my preferred driver and taking place, we first have to pass the entrance control. Although there are many very important looking men in uniform, with intentionally or unintentionally three-day growth, everything is highly automated. Every car which is allowed to pass has a special light-blue SRBIAU-mark at the windscreen and a camera based vision system opens the gate to the «heaven of knowledge».

Entrance control highly automated and secured by lots of security personnel. Also, the first road bump to pass.

The «race» up the hill begins. Of course, the bus is severely at a disadvantage compared to the cars but when it comes to road bottlenecks due to the continuing building activities on the way to the top, the car drivers are well advised to either take over very quickly (and taking care not to run into the frequently arising bumps and other «little» obstacles) or to stay behind the bus in a secure distance and wait for another chance. In any case it is not good to compete with the bus the hard way because even my preferred female «bus pilot» would not cut back at all. Second race challenge is the first 180 degree turn of the serpentine road. In the first sunlight of the morning the artificial shaped mountain terrain looks more than being on a recreation trip instead of being on a campus of a university.

The first 180 degree turn in our race up the hill. Please notice the under-motorised student car trying quickly to take over on the far-left side of the road to not risk any interference with bus.

The next station is the central library building. Here we stop to drop or pick up students and lecturers going to or coming from the central library. This is also the first station of the new cable car.

The central library, one of the most representative buildings of the SRBIAU. It has a floor space of 42,466 square meters, a land space of 8,592 square meters and altogether 8 floors

The journey goes on and we pass the viewpoint and the cable car station near the central library. I always wonder if the poles are high enough to let the busses pass when the cable car is in operation. We will see…

The view point with its central dome and surrounding small gardens and waters. A nice place to rest and have a look on the city of Tehran. The cable car is crossing the street at that point and runs via the mosque on the other side further up the hill.

We are already half-way to the Ebn-e-Sina building. Next station is the Fath sports complex. You can’t see it from the street in its entire size. It provides over a total floor space of 3,505 square meters including a 1,700 square metres hall with 1000 seats for handball, volleyball, football, basketball as well as adequate spaces with courts for squash, weightlifting, archery, wrestling and combat sports. A separate indoor swimming pool with a floor space of 2,555 square meters including sauna, pool and jacuzzi is located in an additional building. The outdoor facilities surround the buildings and cover a total space of 40,000 square meters including courts and grounds for soccer, volleyball and handball all equipped with seating space for fans, changing rooms, showers, etc.

The Fath sport complex. From the street, you only see one building of the wide spread and multifaceted sports arena. I was told that due to the height of the complex it is possible to have a special altitude training for professional athletes.

Just again a 180 degree turn and we are on our way to Ebn-e-Sina. As you can see in the pictures, the Azad University is keen to keep the campus in a good shape. It is not easy to maintain the wide area with lots of roads, buildings and green spaces within. Especially in late spring and summer when the sun shines merciless, the sky is cloudless and no rain will fall for weeks, all the green spaces must be watered constantly. And the water must be transported from down the hill to the top. There is a of course an irrigation system for the main spaces, but spaces like we see in the following picture must be watered by hand and with water trucks. So, during summer in the morning you can see usually lots of workers with green skirts spreading the precious water over the green spaces and plants. There is always a smell of the rising damp in the air like we know it from after a summer rain.

Turn off to Ebn-e-Sina building. The morning sun stands low but already heating up the air. On the top of the hill (top left of the road sign) you see the Farhikhtegan Hotel, a big hotel complex for students and guests. It is not the lens of my camera, but the windows of the bus are not clean, so please apologize for the water stains.

When we reach Ebn-e-Sina the bus begins to empty quickly. No one wants to stay longer than necessary in the curtain covered but hot and stifling interior. Usually a constant wind is blowing at 2000 meters and brings some fresh air, but even then, it is very warm. So everyone, including me, moves quickly into the airconditioned buildings.

The Ebn-e-Sina Entrance Hall. I am usually one of the first of the staff in the building. Only the entrance control and my friend, the floor manager, who serves at least every two hours fresh tea to me, are present.
My office at SRBIAU. Although there is a huge shortage of space, the head of my department managed to provide me with an ample office. The crossbeam in front of the window belongs to a structure which runs through the whole building and makes it earthquake-resistant.

Not only the security control at the entrance is fully automated, also the canteen is. You can order your lunch for as many days as you want (or as much money you have) via web interface (unfortunately only available in farsi, so that I always needed a translator). You then go to the canteen and just hold you RFID card to the reader and in a snatch, you get a diversified and rich meal, of course mostly with rice. The prices are very moderate. For a full lunch with rice, meat, chicken or fish, salad or vegetables, some bread and yoghurt you pay about 5 Swiss Francs and it is really good. Just take care about Ramadan (for those who don’t know Ramadan: it is the Islamic month of fasting). If no meal is available and even nothing to drink and the canteen is closed it is very likely that you are in Ramadan. You are not allowed to eat, drink and smoke then (and some other things I don’t mention here) from sunrise to sunset, the particular times are indicated by the «Asan», best-known as the singing of the Muezzin on the minaret. To make it a little bit easier to meet the right time you can download apps for Ramadan which play the Asan to indicate when you are allowed to eat and when not. One has to be especially careful at public places or buildings not to eat, drink or smoke during daytime. After sunset (more precise after Asan in the evening), it is very usual that you meet with friends and family for the joint dinner the so called «Iftar».

You may say that’s easy, you can eat and drink during the night. But Ramadan in summer is very arduous, especially when you can’t drink for about 16 hours. All the people you see in the streets or at university look exhausted and lethargic during that time. And it is no wonder that as soon as Ramadan begins, all people long for the end of this time.

Ok., that’s the official version and you are well advised to keep the rules in public life… Inofficially it looks again a little bit different and that makes of course the difference between what is told us in Europe about people in Iran and how they really are. After five days of fasting during the mandatory times of the day (because the Mensa was closed and even my friend the floor-manager just showed up every day but without the usual two-hourly tea…), I was invited to the house of my friends in one of the best parts of the city. I arrived at about 1 pm and when I came in, I was immediately asked if I want to have lunch. Of course, I wanted to show that I respect the rules of Ramadan and answered proudly: «No thank you very much, but it’s Ramadan and I’m fasting», expecting that they were at least a little bit impressed. To my great surprise the whole family was not impressed at all, but laughed loudly at my answer. Since I obviously looked a bit confused, I was explained, after what seemed to me to be half an hour of laughing: of course, you have to keep the rules of Ramadan in the public, but at home in the family, who cares? Ok. lesson learned… people like you and me! After a short and unofficial research, I learned that about 80% of the people in Iran are not really fasting in that time. Have I just found another parallel to living in Europe?

… more to come.

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