Tehran – Monday April 19

I took another pass at the bazaar and mosques in the morning, but my heart wasn’t in it – I was ready to leave. I ended up reading in the hotel lobby while waiting for my noon flight to Tehran.

At the entrance to the airport I stepped up to the x-ray machine expecting to just walk though like I had in Tehran. Instead I spent the next ten minutes as the guards examined everything in my bag. As if unpacking weren’t bad enough, they would periodically find something that interested them and would either hold it up for the other guards to see or ask me why I had it. They wanted to know why I had five key chains with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini on them.

At first I tried to be good-natured and reminded myself that I was a guest in Iran but the farther they dug the unhappier and quieter I got. When they were done and I was re-packing, one of the guards said, “Thank you,” several times, letting me know that at least on his side there were no hard feelings.

After I checked in and got my boarding pass, I sat and tried to calm down a little – I was still pretty mad. After a few minutes my flight was called and I queued up to enter the departure lounge. Stupidly, I figured I would just walk through this x-ray. As I was picking my stuff up off the belt of the x-ray machine, I was stopped again. I started to protest that I had just been checked, but no one spoke any English so it was useless. Then the guard just picked up my bag, my daypack and my fanny pack and walked away with them. I tried to follow but I was stopped. The guard motioned I should wait. I stood there for a few minutes trying to decide what to do and then the guard motioned that I should set down. Finally I did, but I was real unhappy.

An Iranian came up and sat next to me wanting to talk. He asked how I was doing so I told him – I bet he was sorry he asked. Anyway he went over and talked to the guards, asking about my bags. He came back with the same story: please wait. He wanted to know where I was from and to just talk a little. I didn’t want to but thankfully, he kept at me. If he hadn’t I would have sat there steaming.

Finally the guards came back with my bags. The plane was starting to load so there wasn’t much time to check things. Just before we boarded one of the guards came over and showed my Iranian companion a knife that they had found in another passenger’s baggage. He said that was what they had been looking for. Well, anyway I had my bags back and was on my way.

My first hint that something was wrong was in Tehran when I tried to take a picture and I got an error message on my camera. I had a sinking feeling that they might have opened my camera and ruined the roll. Ha! I should have been so lucky. Back home when I went to pick up my film the clerk said, “Oh, we tried to call you. There was a problem.” Problem indeed: all the film except for two half-rolls were blank, presumably overexposed by the x-ray in Shiraz. I was heartbroken. It took several weeks to get over that loss.

When I tell this story I am frequently asked if I think that what happened was deliberate. That question shows the amount of distrust Americans feel toward Iran. I believe it was simple stupidity and not malice – but it still hurts to think of all the great pictures I lost.

In Tehran I checked into the Kowsar Hotel and, after dropping my bags in my room, I asked about a taxi to the Carpet Museum. I hadn’t scheduled my arrival in Tehran very well. I would only be there a day and a half. The problem was that the Islamic Museum, the only one I really wanted to see, closed early on Monday and wasn’t open Tuesday. In fact, I had read that most museums were closed Tuesday, my only full day, so I had to make the most of Monday afternoon.

There was a taxi stand in the lobby and they told me it would be 20,000 Rials. I was shocked and told the guy that that was way too much – that was more than it cost to get from the airport into town. He dropped his price to 15,000 but that was still too much so I said, “Forget it, I’ll walk,” and headed out of the hotel. As I was crossing the parking lot a driver came running out and said to me, “Mister. 10,000, Ok?”

When I got to the Carpet Museum I found it was closed, but the guard said it would be open then next day – how confusing. I decided to take a leisurely stroll down to one of the main streets and back toward my hotel. I noticed two things as I walked. First, people were less interested in me here in the big city: I guess that’s to be expected. Actually it was somewhat of a relief to be ignored again.

Second, Tehran was quite pleasant to walk around. I had expected a huge, ugly place and instead found the air was clear and the walking pleasant. Immediately I wished I had planned more time here.

When I got closer to my hotel I headed south on Vail-ye Avenue, one of the main shopping streets in Tehran. Along the way I stopped in a few shops. In one I found a beautiful little kilim. After bargaining for awhile, we agreed on a price and I walked out with my new purchase under my arm. Then I headed back to the hotel.

There was a Chinese restaurant in the lobby and I thought I would give it a try. I love Chinese food and think its great fun to have it where ever I travel. Anyway, I’m sorry to report it wasn’t very good, but I’ll keep trying anyway. Besides, how many people can say they ate Chinese food in Tehran?

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