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Last Weeks 33-34 – Baluchestan & Good bye, Tehran


Weeks 33-34, 21.11 – 7.12

My last weeks in Iran were about to start. In the one when I had to write the final exam, I went directly to the airport after the exam. I wanted to fly to Zahedan, in Sistan va Baluchestan. I planned to travel around for nine or ten days and visit a friend on Qeshm Island in the end (Route).
So on Wednesday (25th Nov) my IranAir plane took off with only 30 min delay from the city airport Mehrabad to the regional capital of super dangerous Sistan-Baluchestan. What most westerners think of Iran, Iranians think of Sistan-Baluchestan. The first step, flying to Zahedan with as unsafe regarded IranAir of which an airplane crashed over Tehran in summer, was mastered without problems.Right to the photos

“U.S. citizens […] should exercise caution […] especially in the southeastern region where Westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people in Iran in past years. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border. [US State Department]
Border areas are particularly sensitive. The FCO advise against all travel to: areas within 100km of the Iran/Afghanistan border; […] the province of Sistan-Baluchistan; and the area to the east of Bam and Jask, including Bam. This area is notorious for banditry and is the main route for drug-traffickers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The towns of Zahedan, Zabol and Mirjaveh are particularly insecure.
Some Iranian officials and media reports have falsely alleged a UK connection to separatist groups in Khuzestan and Sistan-Baluchestan.” [British FCO]

Like in other cases, I can hardly agree with the description of the “ministries” of Foreign Affairs, but just terrify people. Later more to how cool this region actually is.
When I arrived in Zahedan at late afternoon, I met with A. and we went to the bazaar because I wanted to have the traditional Baluch clothes. The first merchant offered me the typical trousers and the shirt for 0,79Mio Rial (20$), a second one wanted said he’d charge me 470’000 Rial (15$) for a tailored combination. I was able to pick it up the next day.
Next day, I got it, but didn’t wear it yet. I didn’t walk through town a lot, but I did and was noticed by police. But they didn’t care. In the evening I met with friends of L., at whose place I slept. We went a bit outside of town to a place that is super crowded in summer and beautiful. But since it was quite cold, we rather went into on of the heated tents with some tea.
The next morning A. and a friend of hers invited me for a little hiking tour south of Zahedan. When we came back, we ate breakfast and then I hitchhiked to Saravan, which is about 430km south-east.
In Sistan-Baluchestan there are no gas pipes like in Tehran or in most other regions in Iran. People have to buy gas in tanks. In general the government in Tehran does ignore this province. One reason is that Baluchi people are Sunnis and on the other hand people are organized in tribes. That’s why officials from Tehran only have a bit influence. Former president Ahmadinejad identified that problem and now the Tehran officials talk to the tribe leaders and they to their tribe.
The unemployment rate is huge in Baluchestan. Most of the people smuggle Diesel to Pakistan for a living. They buy pick-ups to get a Diesel contingent, put it in tanks which they put on the loading space and Pakistan, here they come. The second part from Zahedan to Saravan I was sitting in a car that smelled like Diesel and on the front passenger seat was a full 50L tank. I was packed and very happy that my legs didn’t die off.
Of course there were some police checkpoints on the road. I mean “some” means on every main road at the entrance and exit of a big town. But they just didn’t care that a foreigner was sitting next to the driver. And when they wanted to see my passport, I just showed them a copy – and never had problems.
In Saravan I couchsurfed at cool people again, but roamed around alone. But honestly there was not much to see. Though in the whole five hours that I spent outside only school children approached me curiously. When it got dark, at around 6.30pm, I went out again for half an hour, but there was even less going on.
Continue reading


To the photos of part 2
Next day, it was Sunday (29th Nov), I wanted to get to Pasabandar, which was 460km from Saravan and with ~1900km the most distant town from Tehran. I wore my Baluch clothes, but hitchhiking was difficult that day. But difficulties just lead to new experiences so I hitched a motor bike for the first time – until a police checkpoint. But the police men there were relaxed – I didn’t even need to show my passport or a copy. We chatted a little bit, I told them that I don’t like to go by bus, because I want to practise my Persian while talking to the drivers and then they stopped a car for me. It took me half of the way, to Sarbaz.
There I wanted to continue near Pasabandar by bus, but it didn’t come for a long time. That’s why I started waling. Then it arrived, but didn’t stop for me. It got later and later and I looked forward to spending the night in my tent and was already searching for a quiet and abandoned place, when a Baluch guy stopped persuaded me to come to his village and to sleep at his house. The man’s name was Jaseme, was 27yo and had a son.
The stars were very bright, the toilet on the yard and literally the whole village came for dinner to Jaseme’s house. We ate with our bare hands, and never saw the wife who most certainly cooked that delicious food. It was a interesting and curious gathering in that conservative community. It was very hard not to forget to only use the “clean” right hand for eating.
One guy was employee at the small medical centre in the next village. Although Sistan-Baluchestan is neglected in many things by the central government, medical supply is important and guaranteed. For example the number of Malaria infections was reduced to 5 per year, where as on the Pakistani side of Baluchestan it’s way higher and a serious problem.
The next morning after breakfast I was taken to the main road again, but the stopped bus didn’t want to take me for unknown reasons. To make things short, the next 200km I was take by taxi for cheap 100’000 Rial (3$). Then I hitchhiked to Pasabandar, which is only 5 minutes by car from the Pakistani border. I arrived during sundown, took some photos, walked around and then got lucky to catch the same drivers who took me to Pasabandar and were now heading to Chabahar. At its bus terminal I wanted to take the night bus to Bandar Abbas, but again I had bad luck. I was told that night was no bus, I should come back the next morning. That’s why I talked to a truck driver who was standing outside, but he said, no truck would go to Bandar Abbas at night. I accepted the offer to sleep in his truck’s trailer.
On Tuesday (1.11) I could finally start going to Bandar. But I was kind of forced to hitchhike again, because I was told again, that there were suddenly no buses. However since between Chabahar and Bandar Abbas there’s basically only one road and no big towns, I could be sure that there will be trucks going directly all the 700km. And after some waiting, it happened. The two drivers were Kurds and fortunately only the old one drove (for 10 hours straight), because other wise I would have missed the last ferry onto Qeshm for sure.
On the island I visited Annelie, a friend that I met in Dehkhoda. She has a very good restaurant with her Iranian husband called Shabhaye Talai – Golden Nights and it was a pleasure to see her again.
On Thursday (3.12) when I went back to Tehran by train I wore my comfortable Baluch clothes again. The farewell photo shooting with Annelie made the watching Iranians totally confused, because they are not used to people with red hair, wearing clothes, that are also worn by Afghans. At the train station I had to rise my voice a bit, because a police officer that checked my bags and me, touched me where no man is allowed to.

Back in Tehran, I was surprise by all the police with machine guns. ISIS/IS/Daesh had threatened Iran while I was travelling so was needed to pretend subjective security with these people at every metro station. And of course I was checked nearly every time. But now I know at least how the Muslims in Europe have to feel after an attack.
Else I met with friend, went shopping, enjoy the snow and went back to Berlin a little sad.
Thank you very much!

Week 21-22 – No problem? – Yes problem!


Weeks 21-22, 5.9 – 18.9

During the week not much happened again. I wanted to use the weekend to finally sent out some applications. On Wednesday (9.9) I went to the birthday celebration of a friend.
At 10.30pm I took the bus home. It was extremely crowed and that is special even for Tehran. Though I got inside. Before I received a message but I would answer it after having got off the bus. So I got off and wanted to answer the message, but there was no phone any more. And my wallet was nearly out of my pocket, so someone seemed to be greedy. So I ran after the bus, but of course didn’t catch it. Police officers, that I passed and told my problem didn’t do anything but smiling stupidly and asking for my nationality. Of course it was naive to think they would e.g. follow the bus, stop it and check everyone’s phone (only vibration was on) only because a foreigner said his mobile would have been stolen – possible in no country. So I went to the last station to check the buses because maybe my phone just fell out of my pocket. But it wasn’t in any bus. The police there didn’t help me much, I had to ask some traffic police officers to help me. They told me I had to go to the police district where my phone had been stolen – so back to Enghelab square. It was already 11.30pm. In the little police, you can call it booth, was one young soldier who called his boss. He came after another like 45 minutes, gave me a piece of paper stating my story and told me to go to the main police building of the district the next day. I was happy, that the door of my dorm was open otherwise I would have been really upset.
So the next day (Thursday) I went there, had to sign another paper and should come back with the bill of the mobile phone some day. I was happy being able to speak Farsi, since nobody was able to speak good English…
The rest of the day I spent in Zari’s apartment and when I returned in the evening I bought a new phone. I had enough SIM cards left and saved the contacts before my summer holidays, so basically I really only lost money and time. For around 62$ I got a used HTC Desire 310 with 16GB memory card – which was not a bad deal in my opinion.
On Friday (11.9) I configured the phone again, meet with Zhihui and went with my room-mates and some others to a café in the evening.
The pursuit of the bus combined with heavy breathing caused some breathing problems the following week.

On Saturday I bought new internet and calling credit. Unfortunately I changed a phone configuration that failed so my phone was like in a coma. Everything really went great! So Sunday I went to Zari until dawn again and at 2.30am I had a working phone again.
It was good so on Tuesday evening (15.9) I could meet for an art inauguration in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
Finally the following weekend (17. and 18.9) was a quiet one. Thursday I went to friends of a a friend and on Friday I learnt for the midterm exam.


In the end I want to give some information about the public transportation in Tehran at night. There are five metro lines and six fast bus lines (BRT – Bus Rapid Transport). Whereas the metro is only running from about 5.30am to 10.30pm the BRT thanks God 24/7. The BRT covers a great area in Tehran so one can easily move without taking a taxi. Another awesome advantage is how regular the buses are going all night. I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes!

BRT network map (as of September 2015)
Metro network map

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Week 9 – Part 1/1


Days 61-67, 18-24.4

This week wasn’t really exciting. While a normal shopping tour on the Tajrish bazaar I discovered a box with little chicks and ducks and other birdies. They didn’t even cost 2 EUR and are so cute – apart from the non-stop noise of them. Unfortunately my flatmates aren’t in favour of the idea of having a little farm in our living room although it would be spacious enough. They are afraid of the dirt caused by them and little bugs who would “welcome the chicks presence”. Even though we will never win the price of the cleanest apartment and at the moment there are so many disrespectful and agile mosquitoes, that a few more insects won’t bother anyone.
So the farm seems to have to wait some time. Zhihui liked the idea though, but since she’s not living here, she needn’t bother the side effects of the keeping. Instead she suggested having little rabbits which are only about 5 EUR. They would be more easy-care. But on the contrary they don’t produce eggs and we could have given the chickens just everything we didn’t want to eat any more. Time will show, if Zhihui really buys a rabbit. It would be funny in any case.


Background photo: Southern view from the roof-top


Since there’s nothing else to tell, I want to give some additional insights into everyday life of a ginger in Iran.

First I want to start with the experiences on the bus ride from Kashan to Tehran, that will be the same on mostly every bus ride during the day in Iran.

  • After the bus left the terminal, it didn’t went directly – as it would have done in Germany – to Tehran. Since Iranians are mostly coming a bit late, the bus went quite slowly the first kilometres after having left the terminal and an attendant talked to mostly every pedestrian, if they want to catch this bus to Tehran. Suprisingly (or not) many people got into the bus like this. And even on the highway the bus stopped several times to pick up some villagers. How much they had to pay is beyond my knowledge, but I assume it’s not more than everyone else paid.
    Having arrived in Tehran, it may be that the terminal has no metro station nearby. No problem, the bus then just stops at one on the way for people to get out and continue.
  • While the driving skills of Tehranis seem non-existent, they don’t exist on the highway for real. On Fridays the Tehranis drive back into the capital hence the highway is crowded. The buses are only allowed the use the right and middle lane. But as in the city likewise on the highway there is no logical or anticipatory driving manner. Driving on the right lane seems to put a curse on people since only few cars are using it. That’s why the middle and left lane are overloaded. The issue is, that these are used by people who – according to European standards – should drive on the right lane because of their low speed. Thus I sat in the front of the bus seeing all this chaos, I couldn’t sleep, it draws my total attention. The Iranians are not stupid, but during such overland rides they seem to remove their brain beforehand. The bus driver was always like honking for slower cars out of the way and giving flash-lights. At least two times we nearly had an accident.

Then some facts to my eye-catching look (hair).

  • In the beginning it might have been funny to be approached and looked at by many people – especially girls and to be asked for photos (usually by girls). But by and by it just gets annoying. There’s nearly one metro ride that I can spend with listening to music or learning vocabulary. Usually some man talks to me, even when I have earphones in. Of course they are curious what there’s going outside their country and why a foreigner visit their country/city. They understandably don’t know that I’m daily approached and asked these questions. Even pretending not to speak English doesn’t hold them from talking. And if someone starts a “conversation” usually others will join, so even when I change the metro, I’m not let alone till I go out.
    The questions are always the same: Where I’m from, what I’m doing and why, if I like Iran (of course) and then about sanctions, politics and relatives abroad, sometimes not serious invitations. A few times even these relatives in Austria or Germany were called and I should talk to them.
  • It gets a little better pretending to be Austrian. Many people don’t know it and can’t make a connection with football or – which is somehow funny – Hitler. But of course it’s more popular than Montenegro. But I don’t want to get into a situation where someone suddenly talks Serbian with me; but it surely only depends on my further endurance. While Francesco is considered as Iranian, I think I can’t do anything but maybe dye my hair, which won’t happen though.
  • But my endurance was nearly reached this week. I wanted to do homework and relax a bit in Laleh park. But of course it didn’t work out. After two minutes two soldiers sat down next to me. They, as many men in Iran, couldn’t speak English. So babbled, well only one, the stupidest of them. As far as I understood, it wasn’t even something interesting but mostly vulgar. For his self-reflection, that didn’t exist, I’ll summarize a little part of the conversation:
    He ask, if I felt annoyed by some people. Funny that this question occurred after 15 minutes and that I’ve obviously being into doing my homework and had books and my pc laying around. I even mentioned that I came here to do my homework. However I said yes, I sometimes feel annoyed. Then he told me I should remember these people, he’ll give a “special treatment” to their mothers…Of course I didn’t say, he therefore could start with his own mother
  • Last but not least the mobile phone numbers. Most of the people of the metro or bus conversations want to stay in contact with their new best friend. Hence it’s useful to have a piece of paper and a pencil near you, to write down their details. In any case I try to avoid giving them my number – very successful until now. By the time I have a second SIM card as well, which I can use for “emergencies”.

This may sound arrogant, but I’m living here, of course as a foreigner, but I’m not here as a tourist. If each one of the 14 million inhabitants talks to me for 30 seconds, I’ll have to stay for more that 13 years in Iran. I’ll speak Farsi perfectly, but my life would probably be ruined and my contact list been burst.
Obviously and naturally the Iranians aren’t aware of this issue and I cannot ignore them completely (yet), but I cannot react as polite as in the beginning any more in these situations.
By the way, I’m not alone most obviously foreign student feel the same.

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Week 3 – Part 2/4


Day 17, 6.2, Friday

Mostly, we relaxed of the hiking and I spent much time updating my blog. In the afternoon, I had an appointment with Zari and Saba in Café of ASP building. Roman had an appointment there as well, so we both went together. But due to the heavy traffic, I arrived one hour late.
On the way home I talked on the phone with Karlsruhe, so though the late hour I didn’t take the bus to the connecting station. When I arrived there at 22.30, the last bus to Velenjak was already gone. I didn’t want to take a taxi so I went by foot. In total I took me two hours to get home. And I still had to do homework so at 1am I finally went to bed.

Day 18, 7.2, Saturday

I still feel the hiking. Roman and I went shopping on our way home and I finally managed to begin to digitse part of the Farsi vocab. In addition I finished work for Karlsruhe so I was up till 1am again.

Day 19, 8.2, Sunday

School, bazaar, homework, at 1am to bed

Day 20, 9.2, Monday

I didn’t do my reading homework, because digitising was more important to me. So at class I stammered like hell and had to repeat the homework.
Due to having changed money, I got a million Rial note.
After class I went to the American embassy again. I was 50 minutes early with some others so we went for a sandwich (I took falafel with cheese for 1,30€).
At the embassy we got a guide and a kind Danish with Iranian roots translated. The ground floor was used for and by normal embassy stuff and staff, but the first floor was the heart of espionage of the CIA. Pictures of people, that were meant to be killed by the US and its allys during the Iraq-Iran war asking for truth, were hanging in the corridor.
During the introduction the guide mentioned that the movie “Argo” would be nonsense approved by the Canadian ambassador and his wife. The truth is, the Canadian ambassador only criticized the downplaying of his effort, not the content itself. Although the success would have been 90% Canada’s labour and only 10% of the CIA, the movie would show the opposite. Only the wife of the ambassador mentioned it would have been better to declare the movie being based on a true case than declaring it completely true.
We were shown the rooms: soundproof meeting rooms, rooms with reinforced doors to communicate with the headquarters and receive orders, rooms to fake passports and other documents.

The time of the shah was over in February 1979. The Iranians didn’t want to be oppressed by a leader that would follow imperialists and especially in the end beat down the opposition (clerics) brutally. They didn’t want to live in a dictatorship. That the Islamic Repbulic with its Supreme Leader (currently Ayatollah Khamenei) can be considered a dictatorship as well, is not mentioned. The members of the parliament and the president himself can be voted by the Iranian people of a list that has been approved by the Guardian Council. The members of this council are appointed by the already selected members of the parliament and the Supreme Leader. He is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, that consists of mullahs, who are vetted by the Guardian Council and who are then “elected” by the people. To make a long story short: The Supreme Leader, his leadership circle and vassals can appoint what the parliament and the president do. They survey themselves, command the army, the constitutional court and in addition have a second army of followers that secures their power. In public, their decisions are rarely discussed.

In November 1979 the US embassy was bursted by Khomeini friendly students and hostages were held for 444 days. Coloured people and women were released soon, but high-ranked employees and CIA members were still captured. Though they would have been treated very well with e.g. high quality food from other embassies whereas the students only ate normal food. Even a Christmas celebration was held.
Of course we were told about the Iraq-Iran war ind the early 80s. The Iraqis under US implemented leadership of Saddam Hussein wanted to use the seeming weakness of the Islamic revolution to occupy oil-rich territory and coast. But thanks to Khomeini’s leadership and Allah, who for sure fought for the Iraqis as well…, the Iranians didn’t loose territory but strengthened mentally, but with many casualties, having made head against Iraq and western supporters. Apparently chemicals weapons came from Germany, mines from Belgium, jets from France and underground hangars were built by Italians. Nobody seemed to be on Iran’s side. But revange for crimes against Iranian civilians was forbidden by merciful Khomeini. Instead it is said he let children and teenagers clean mine field on foot and told them they’ll die as martyrs (these victims may be shown on the pictures in the corridor as well).
After all the hostilities and sanctions, now-a-days due to peaceful use of nuclear energy, although many countries including North Korea and Pakistan even have nuclear weapons, the shouting “Down/Death with/to America/Israel” is not against the people but an exaggerated desire for new politics and governments. The greetings at Iranian New Year of President Obama in 2014 (and surely in 2015 again) are worth nothing, considering the hardened sanctions and military threats.

Day 21, 10.2, Tuesday

Since on Wednesday the Islamic Revolution is celebrated it is the last day of the school for this week. I didn’t do anything.
In the evening I could get a preview of the things that may happen tomorrow: At 9pm Iranian students for their dorms just opposite were shouting in a chorus: “Allah u akbar”, “Marg bar amerika” and “Marg bar Israel”. (It’s often translated as “Down with USA/Israel” but “marg” means literally “death”) In the background fireworks were lighten the sky of Tehran. It has been quite an absurd picture, but didn’t lower my excitement for the next day’s parade. Although last year three students were captured by police.

#By the way: The normal public buses are separated. One part is for men only, the other for women only. In smaller buses, like the ones I go to school with, which are like the big Mercedes vans this separation doesn’t exist. In the metro there are two parts for women only: at the front and at the end. They can enter everywhere else though. This is an advantage for them in my opinion. During rush our, the mixed parts are always completely full. In the ones of the women there is always enough space.
Let’s stay at the metro. The stairs, as I already wrote, are hardly used and people look weirdly if you do so. Sometimes there are even queues in front of the escalators. Fun starts, when the escalators start working. The people seem to be in such bad physical shape, that even a difference of 5 metres height causes them to gasp heavily.
I learned my first swearword: “an”. It means shit and is also an abbreviation of AhmadiNejad.

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The Beginning

The last year (2014) has been quite remarkable and maybe the best ever since. Let’s say it was due to I was able to concentrate the time I was occupied and hence could generate lots of free-time. Journeys to to Russia’s new region Crimea, a 700km bicycle tour through Germany, hitch-hiking in south-west Europe and spontaneous trips to Sweden and the USA have been the result.

But it couldn’t continue like that. Therefore at the end of October I applied for the first of six Persian/Farsi language course in Tehran (Iran) at Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute.

I didn’t receive an answer until the day I was hitch-hiking home for Christmas (22nd December). So one day before New Years Eve I gave them my passport. On Thursday 7th January my dad picked the passport up – it contained this visa. Immediately I booked the flight to Tehran via Kiev, with Ukraine International Airlines for the 20th, arriving in Tehran IKA January 21st at 1.30am.

On the other hand I had to organize getting my stuff out of the room I was renting. Fortunately I only had a bed, a desk, a small table and some sort of shelf. I sold the bed and arrange the rest to be thrown away.

On January 14th I left Karlsruhe for Berlin by train with heavy luggage, leaving two wonderful years with new friends and great memories behind.

Finally, it’s not considered to be a just-for-fun trip because I don’t have nothing else to do – at least not completely.

Feel free to comment, subscribe or ask questions about details or what-so-ever (blog@johannes-nickel.de).

Background picture: American Indian fountain with beer crate, Werderplatz, Südstadt, Karlsruhe – 2015, all rights reserved