Live from Tehran, Day 1

Sign in window of leather goods store in North Tehran. Sign is turned sideways.

It’s hard for me to get online and the connections are slow here so this blog entry is kind of long. Check my Twitter entries too (I can’t say the word “tweet”) at @jonbsnyder.

The 9 hour flight to London wasn’t that bad, even though we didn’t get much sleep. The rough part was getting off the plane and realizing we had a 7-hour layover with nothing to do. Did anyone want to take the Underground into London? Of course I did, and when Jackson said he did too I had the excuse I needed. Tom, Zach, Jackson and spent over two hours on the tube, roundtrip, just to emerge from the subway for less then 10 minutes to see Big Ben and the huge Ferris Wheel on the Thames. Tom thought it would be cool to ride the mammoth ferris wheel, but we both agreed it was moving so slow that we would likely arrive in Tehran before people on it now finished their ride. Big Ben, which I had never seen before, was this huge, dark, amazing, gothic monster—beautifully inscribed by several hundred years of air pollution. Some may say 2.5 hours on the tube and 20 pounds is a high price to pay to see it for a couple minutes, but I believe in squeezing every last drop out of your travel dollar.

The early afternoon traffic includes many cyclists. In two minutes I have a couple cool pictures of London bike commuters.

“You know what’s weird?” Jackson says, “You know the chicken on the airplane? I never had such good food on an airplane before.” On the night flight to Tehran no less. Economy class.


Today is one of those incredibly long eventful days where the human mind struggles to capture all the impressions of such variety of new sights and experiences. It’s the sort of day that only happens when visiting a new place for the first time. I hope I’ll never forget the smell of the air when we first stepped out of the airport. It smelled good because we had spent over and hour after everone else on our flight had left the airport going through customs. We are the only Americans arriving this morning, 4:30, to this large new Imam Khommeini, with the biggest array of parked jumbo jets I’ve ever seen.

I think everyone remembers being fingerprinted for the first time.The young security officer apologized to Shahrokh about having to do it to us. He says that the government makes them do it because the U.S. fingerprints all Iranians and uses bomb-sniffing dogs on them. (Muslims believe dogs are unclean.) He is also having to get forms to fill out on us that re long and tedius and he lets Sharokh fill help fill them out to speed things up.

The first of many acts of Iranian kindness on this day took me by surprise. Jackson was getting ready to be fingerprinted, right hand on the scanner, when the security guard realized that children did not need to be fingerprinted. Sharokh translated and Jackson let out an disapointed “Ohhhh,” like he does when I tell him there’s no desert or we can’t go to the arcade today. The sound didn’t need translation. The security guard said he could still get Jackson’s fingerprints anyway. Big fist pump from Jackson. And that’s the how Islamic Republic of Iran got my child’s fingerprints andhelped us get our day off to a great start. What is more delightful than a random act of unneccary beauracratic kindess?

Architecture you’ve never sseen before is always thrilling. No more to me than the bright yellow exercise equipment populating every rest stop on our way into Tehran. Tehran traffic seems like forward-flowing anarchy to American eyes. Constant near-misses are mitigated by the fact that cars arent often able to move fast enough to cause a really bad wreck. I see one guy on a bicycle in an hour driving through the city. Most two-wheeled vehicles are one of the millions of small engine mtorcycles that seem the best way to get around Tehran.

Two wonderful Iranians are assisting us. Houman, our tour guide, and fixer extraordinare, and Bijan, the super-friendly bike-touring guy who is getting us meals while we stay in a vacant central city appartment.

“Nobody’s ever done this to Iranians in America. I feel that it is special that they are doing it for us,” says Jackson. Not entirely true. Bijan and Houman are friends of Nasim and Jafar, the Iranian cyclists who rode their bikes around the world for peace and were treated really well in the U.S. But Jackson brings up a great point. How do you reconcile the kindness that Americans can receive abroad with how we treat visitors at home?

I’m thinking about this later in the day when a group of young Iranians who we say ‘hi’ to in the park asks us to join them and share birthday treats and volleyball just on the basis of us being Americans. Turnsout Houan knows some of them and they all are a part of an Iranian environmetal group called Save the Cheetahs, devoted to documeting and preserving the last 100 or so Iranian cheetahs.

I’ve never had so much fun just knocking a volleyball back and forth. When we leave I give the two birthday folks squirrel buttons

Jackson playing with Shahrokh’s cousin Bobbi and having birthday cupcakes in the park with the Save the Cheetah folks.

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