Hrach, Myrko, Benoît and I had just travelled across the border from Armenia to Iran. Walked across, in fact, and our arrival had been rather epic. Upon a brutal impulse, I had decided to join the little troop in Yerevan. I knew that I had to take any opportunity coming up to wrestle myself away from Armenia and its capital city. It was time to go, but I was reluctant to do so. Seizing the opportunity as it came along, Hrach and I had spontaneously decided to join in with the two French mates in Yerevan who were on their way to Iran. We tool place at the back of an old Lada they had bought in Georgia. The old squeaky thing on wheels somehow successfully transported us over snowy mountains passes until Meghri, with the help of frequent refills for the leaky radiator. At one point, shortly after Yerevan, we had to bribe a police officer so that he would let us keep the car. Hrach’s fierce bargaining had brought the price down from an insane five hundred dollars to something more reasonable.
Since I was the only one to actually be carrying a valid driver’s licence, I was to drive the last seven kilometres to the border, in case an overly keen officer would ask for the legal document. At the gate, while the guard was checking the vehicle’s papers, I turned the engine off. It never started again. And we could never remove the keys either, for that matter. This car obviously didn’t have the least intention of entering Iran! One night later, after further numerous unsuccessful attempts at starting the engine, the guys decided to leave the car on the customs’ parking lot, planning to push it to the next village to sell it there, at least for its parts, on their way home. I don’t know what became of that plan, or if they even found the car where we had left it. We had also learned that one most probably needs to leave a ‘caution’ when driving a vehicle into the country, about three times the price of the car. None of us was carrying that type of cash. Actually, we probably were, because since there are no international ATM’s in Iran you need to carry with you all of the money you intend to spend. But we needed all our cash for later, to support our stay. So, we walked to Iran.
Once we were out of Armenia, in that little piece of no man’s land, I sketchily arranged a scarf around my head and another one around my waist and looking a lot more like potato-bag than one of the elegant women populating Iran, I walked over the bridge with my new friends by my side towards a big double-portrait of Khomeini and Khamenei, first in a long series of painted images of the two supreme leaders. There was nothing particular to talk of at the customs, except a rather complicated process: a first officer, a second one, a nice man who did his best to properly repeat my father’s first name until he had found a reasonable way of writing it down using the Persian script, then the fingerprint part (but this time with a state-of-the art electronic device instead of the good old (and dry) ink they used in Turkey where I had applied for the visa), and then a last stop at the second officer’s to get my passport back. Absurd dialogs included, of course;
- City you were born?
- Hm… Next big city?
- Hm… (still doesn’t know and too hard to transcribe). Next big city to this one?
- (relieved) Oh, ok.
At the exchange office, the first Iranian man we met took upon himself to explain the currency system: it was that day 29 000 dollars for one rial, but no one uses rials, everyone talks in tooman, one tooman being 10 rials. I changed only 20 dollars to start with, and with that I received quite a thick wad to push down my wallet. It was probably the first and last time that I would own millions of any currency. When he explained the whole thing, it didn’t make much sense to me. I only understood that I was going to be pretty rich in this country, because the rates were definitely to my advantage. Towards the end of my stay, I finally got the point: rials are a subdivision of toomans. In France, before the Euro and even before the “nouveau Francs”, some people used to talk in centimes instead of Francs (one franc being 100 centimes). Growing up, I still heard some old people using centimes, so rials are about the same, only one tenth and not one hundredth. Now, why would anyone use a subdivision as the official currency, I have no idea, it doesn’t make much sense to me, but I have never been that interested in finance or economics. The man who explained everything at the exchange office and whose name I unfortunately forgot was well-dressed, very polite and keen to help. He let me use his brand-new smartphone so that I could call Küç and tell her that Hrach and I had finally made it to Iran, where she had pretty much been waiting for us for the last week or so. It was decided, following our Good Samaritan’s advice, that we would share a taxi to Tabriz between the four of us. We didn’t know it yet, but the man’s kindness and readiness to help us out was actually quite representative of the attitude of the whole nation towards its visitors.
Welcome to Iran!