Oh boy, haven’t written anything for this blog for roughly two months! It’s not because there was nothing to write about, quite the opposite, was in too much bind to do it. However, a surprise was to find out that the number of viewers during this period hasn’t decreased decpite that I wasn’t writing as intensively (well, I didn’t write that intensively before also, just twice-three times a month).
Anyway, the last couple of months turned out to be really interesting. The champion, however, was my trip to Iran. I planned to visit Iran for the last two years, but have managed to go there only in the last October.
My impression after this some-ten-day-long trip is: Iran is gorgeous and so diverse! It’s not that I saw that diversity by myself, Tehran and some part of Mazandaran province, where I managed to go during these ten days, are only a tiny part of the country. Eventually I got some impression of Iran as a whole after buying Our Homeland Iran book of photographs by a splendid Iranian photographer Nasrollah Kasraian.
Anyways, even that small part of Iran I saw is too manifold to be described in one blog post. Thus I decided to write about its only one, yet very representative aspect: the taxis.
If you think that New York City is a capitol of taxis, you should go to Tehran. In contrast to yellow NYC cabs, in Iran taxis are less apparent. But their diversity in color, size and age is well-complemented by strong individuality of each driver, including his/her manner of driving.
I experienced my very first Iranian cab in the morning of my arrival to Tehran. On the bus to there I was lucky to make friends with an Armenian guy (cheers, Vahram!), who spoke both Russian and Farsi and helped me with translation. He gave the cab driver, who rushed to us as soon as we got off the bus station, the address of my friend (who was very kind to host me during my trip) and negotiated the price. The taxi driver did not overprice much, despite the we both weren’t locals (may be because of his inner honesty, or may be because he was negotiated in Farsi). But what he did was whirling for half an hour around the area looking for the address. Asking passers-by about directions didn’t help a lot, since he, the driver, failed to follow them and for some time we got entangled in the street-web of North-Western Tehran. Finally he managed to get me to the destination point, but by then I thought that there is so much similarity between Tbilisi and Tehran cab drivers, who often don’t know the city they work in.
In Tehran the motorbike taxis are quite popular, and at some point they are rather convenient means of transportation during the rush hour. Here’s a quote from The Lonely Planet guide to Iran: “The most expensive form of transport I used in Tehran is on the back of a motorbike taxi. … In jammed Tehran this is certainly an adventure worth trying, you will feel like James Bond in a chase scene.”
I didn’t have happiness of trying the motorbike taxi in Iran, but regular cabs drove with no less enthusiasm and speed. Though being from Georgia, I was somewhat prepared to chase-scene-like kind of driving, and didn’t worry too much. Only during the rush hour my heart sank each time a driver was sweeping ten centimeters past and cut in front of other car. It’s not that I was worried about my safety much (again, I’m from Georgia, ok?), but was rather worried about driver’s ability to pay for all these possible scratches and dents he could make on luxury cars around.
At some point, while sitting in a shared taxi (when few people, who are going in the same direction, share a cab), I noticed that the driver was looking frequently something at his steering-wheel while driving. Then he looked at the road, then at the steering-wheel again. I leaned forward and saw him doing a crossword puzzle. He was carefully inscribing words down and across, raising his head from time to time to see where to brake or steer. The speed wasn’t too high due to the rush hour, and the passengers were quite relaxed, looking into the windows and talking to each other. May be they would protest, if the cab drove at 70 km/h or something. But, hey, I’m writing these lines now, which means that the driver knew what he was doing.
In Tehran there is a relatively new service called Women’s Taxi. If you are a woman and want to drive safe (both for your health and reputation), you can call the company and a cab with a woman-driver will pick you up. No men allowed in Women’s Taxis.
To be honest, I first thought that the women taxi was a government’s initiative that is quite keen on keeping the nation’s moral healthy. However, it turned out to be a private business. Well, marketing is marketing everywhere and if a niche is free someone will occupy it.
Generally, it is not uncommon to meet a woman taxi driver in Tehran (not sure about the rest of the country). Many of them work as just regular, not only for women taxis.
I once rode in a car driven by a woman. She drove like crazy – like any other driver in Tehran – cutting in front of other cars, jerking a car from side to side. As a bonus, she had a stew pan situated right on her lap as she drove (it was a shared taxi, all seats occupied, so there’s no room for the pan except for her own lap). I hate to think it was hot. However, I could tell it was large enough not to bring too much comfort to a driver.
But despite that her driving was as tough as any other Iranian driver’s I’ve experienced before, for some reason I felt myself really comfortable with her. Rarely I had that kind of feeling in taxis anywhere else, but here I really felt she knew what she was doing. She had very strong character, something I couldn’t explain rationally. So I gave up finding reasons for this and concentrated on observing her.
The mystery of the pan was revealed soon. At some point she apologized and asked if anybody was on the real rush, because she needed to bring food to her children, who are home alone, while she’s at work. When she approached her house she honked and a 6-7 year old boy came out, took the pan, listened to something the woman told him and went back to the house. After that she drove us to our destinations.
I didn’t have time, and opportunity, to find out much about her, nor even her name, just that she raises her two children alone and that she works for the whole day as a taxi driver. What I thought at the moment mesmerized by her concentrated face was “Wow! What a great character! And what a great story there can be behind her!” That too, of course. But there are great stories, whose characters you may forget as soon as story’s done. Her I remember quite often even now.
Oh yes, just recalled, while driving through the traffic-jams at some point she looked at us in the rear-view mirror and said: “don’t you worry, I’m a good driver.” She didn’t really have to mention that.
P.S. Other taxis
There were other ones, of course. Some more, some less interesting.
On my way back I took a plane from Tehran to Yerevan. In Yerevan airport a pack of taxi drivers dashed for me. My Yerevan friend, whom I was going to, warned me not to pay more than 2500 dram for taxi from the airport to his place. When I asked a random driver about the price, he immediately named 7500 dram. After 10 minutes of negotiations I was taken to my friend’s for mentioned 2500 dram. Knowing that many Georgian taxi drivers would do the same reminded me that I was returning to the former outskirts of the Soviet Union.