Iran and UzbekistanBy: John White (Sep 19 2022)
Having just come back from Iran and Uzbekistan, I thought that MAG members might be interested in these two extremely interesting and diverse countries.
All that I knew about Iran was that the Shah divorced Soroya, the Ayatollah Khomeni was a religious fanatic and that women were oppressed. Of Uzbekistan, I knew that both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan invaded three of its famous cities and that it lay on the fabled Silk Road. So I decided that a visit to these adjacent countries would improve my education.
Well, believe me, I was wrong about Iran. Apparently the Shah was most unpopular because he spent an absolute fortune on his palace to the financial detriment of his people, and Khomeni is practically regarded as a saint. The many women I met seemed more than happy with their status.
Ninety five percent of Iranians are Shi’ite Muslims, which means that the women don’t have to wear the veil but must wear either the chador (a complete cover-all which covers the neck but exposing the face and hands only, made of black material-the colour of Islam) or else a long dress, long sleeves, a scarf and woollen socks. They can also wear jeans with an over shirt down to past the knees and a scarf showing the face only. Men must wear long trousers, never shorts, and a shirt with sleeves either below the elbow or to the wrist. I’d love to know what they would think of our Mardi Gras! I’ll bet that it would start off a cultural revolution or two!
Most of Iran is on a great dry plateau 1000 to 1500 metres in altitude. The country is parched and arid yet is fairly fertile in the north near the Caspian Sea and the Alborz Mountains. Of the population of 66 million, about 10 million live in Tehran, an extremely chaotic, crowded and mostly unattractive city. Road rules seem to be non-existent. Someone asked me what was the highlight of my visit to Iran and I replied in all seriousness “crossing the main street without getting seriously injured or worse”. And its true! Red lights are of nuisance value only, and what about pedestrian markings? They are there, but just for decoration, methinks!
I was in Iran for two weeks from September 8th to 21st. It was quite hot with temperatures from 40° to 45° and not a cloud in the sky! A bonus was that the water is quite safe to drink.
There is no public dancing, i.e, folk, disco or ballroom, no ballet or opera, and certainly no belly dancing as in other Middle Eastern countries. I mean, how could you do a sensuous belly dance in a chador―even revealing your ankles is a sin!
Homosexuality is illegal and can be very severely punished, even by death. I understand the young boys screw each other or screw girls up the anus because all girls must be virgins (front wise) when they are married.
I went to a wedding: men in one room, women in another. In buses, men sit in front, women at the back. I asked what would happen if 2 men and 100 women tried to get on the bus. I was told that the men would sit in the front and as many women as could fit would travel in the back. Any remaining women would have to catch the next bus. Also, say you were with a lady and you were both foreigners, the same rules would apply! What if you didn’t know where to get off and she did and the bus was packed, so you wouldn’t see her get off? Its absolutely ridiculous, but the rules are the rules!
No professional women can sing in public in Iran. If they want to make a recording, they have to go overseas and smuggle the recording into the country in the guise of a blank cassette, which is then sold on the black market.
Alcohol is forbidden but they do have a light beer that is quite pleasant. The state TV shows only what the government wants it to show. They mustn’t see the infidels disporting themselves, must they! However, many people are secretly getting Sky Channel, so sooner or later there is bound to be some sort of cultural uprising.
Many sexually repressed teenagers are taking to drugs, which are smuggled in from Afghanistan. Near Kerman, not far from the border, the police checked our vehicle for drugs in the daytime. But at night, smugglers drive through unchecked. How is that for officialdom! I ask you.
Oh well, enough of Iran. Uzbekistan is completely different. I saw Bizet’s Carmen, Borodin’s Prince Igor and the Sleeping Beauty ballet in the magnificent Tashkent Opera House for the equivalent of Australian $2. I also saw much folk dancing and was even able to join in. The women wear bright and beautiful clothes, usually with an attractive scarf, but revealing their hair. Most wear a pretty skirt with a type of pantaloon underneath since this is also a Muslim country.
The official exchange rate is Suom 130 to the US$1, but you can get 545 on the thriving black market. Even the concierge on each floor of the hotel whispers “Change dollars, mister?”
I went to Khiva, now a living museum, and to the holiest city in Central Asia, Bukhara, famous for its rugs. Of course, Samarkand with the famous blue mosque on one side of its Rajastan (a large square) flanked on each side by two very ornate Madrassahs (Islamic teaching schools). The weather was quite cool for my eleven days there, about 23°.
I was arrested in Tashkent, the capital, for photographing the prime minister’s palace. I just thought it was a very attractive building and didn’t realise that I had committed a security breach. However, with my dubious charm and engaging personality, I was able to talk my way out of it but I was quite worried because they took my passport away for about half an hour, and then finally returned it. Phew!
Gay life in Tashkent was centred mainly in a park near the opera house. I am pleased to report that I stopped quite a few babies from being born. I don’t want to skite about things, but they did make funny noises when they were close. I wonder if they were saying “Allah be praised!”