Elham let me know that I could start my clerkship at the hospital in the upcoming Saturday and that left me with a few days to gather my thoughts, get used to the heat, learning the best ways of wearing my veil and figuring out how the currency works. Camellia and Mahsa invited me and Sule to join them to the Sa’d Abad museum complex which is what used to be a summer mansion for royalties. I was still pretty tired from the day before but we headed out early in the morning to visit the museums. We took the metro to Tajrish which is in the north of Tehran and continued to the museum by taxi (as a side note, the north of Tehran is known as the nicer part where a higher income grants you fancy and comfortable homes in impressive apartment complexes).
The metro (and buses for that matter) offers “women only” compartments which I’m sure ensures women a sense of security and comfort considering the rules and norms of the Iranian society that puts a certain distance between men and women in the public scene. Many women prefer this option when travelling alone as entering the mixed compartment is in practice only done by women who are accompanied by a male relative, husband or pooooossibly a friend, though very uncommon. As a foreigner however it is acceptable to enter the mixed compartment though interestingly I also felt more comfortable doing so in the presence of other male companions. People stare, supposedly out of curiosity though, rather than making you feel ashamed.
On the metro, you’re bound to bump into men and women who are walking down the metro aisle carrying hoards of items fitted onto their bodies, boosting their carrying capacities to the max. These are the famous metro sellers and believe it or not, people do in fact buy socks, dishwashing brushes, jewelry, perfumes and underwear on the metro, and probably for a good price too as you can hear them bargaining from the other side of the wagon.
We finally reached Sa’d Abad and Camellia and Mahsa managed to get me and Sule entrance tickets at the “Iranian” rate which saved us a serious amount of Rials (or Tomans… money in Iran is confusing!). We then strolled through the enormous complex of “104 hectares of spectacular mountainside parkland” according to the Lonely Planet (LP) guide. We went inside the White palace and the Green palace as well as a few other galleries in separate buildings within this massive luscious area. These palaces were both royal residences that were primarily used during the summer in the so called Pahlavi period. The mansions and galleries were built at different times in the early-mid 1900’s and have spectacular interiors, items gifted to the royals from all over the world and the like. I felt it was all sort of similar to the likes of Dolmabahce and Topkapi in Istanbul so I didn’t feel all that bedazzled about visiting this place, but by all means worth the trip only for the sake of getting out of the city I think. Especially if you’re into mirror-tiles on the walls… And the floor. And the ceiling.
Arash the Archer outside the White palace
That evening the incoming students were invited to Sahar’s house for a party. She is the IFMSA Local Exchange Officer in Tehran and takes care of the incoming students so it was nice to finally meet her. Her family’s apartment is so shiny and nice and located in a neighbourhood in the north of Tehran, with an amazing view of the city! Sahar and her friend Mohammad had prepared some delicious dishes and we immediately felt at home, chatted and were introduced to some really nice Iranian music including a band called Pallett which I am not totally in love with- I’m even listening to the album Mr. Violet now as I’m writing this and feeling slightly melancholic *.* After a while the rest of the incoming students came along and we had a really nice evening. The guys went ahead to barbeque the chicken kebabs and I think this was the first time I tried the non-alcoholic mojito and beers for the first time in Iran! Super delicious by the way. We weren’t even expecting there to be lots and lots AND LOTS of food this evening so I probably ate the equivalent of 3 dinners in one night. They also served us some Faloodeh which is a type of Iranian ice cream made of thin rice noodles… and saffron of course! YUM.
It got quite late and way beyond the dorm’s curfew which is at 10pm but we were having so much fun at Sahar’s place and were constantly hesitating to leave without actually going anywhere…. Entering the dorms later than this can be a problem for the Iranians though not so much for the foreign students, which is something I had to learn how to deal with as I got a bit paranoid about what the ladies at the entrance would say whenever I came back “late”. The boys’ dorm was much more lenient about this than the girls’ dorm and the ladies at the entrance kept looking at us oddly whenever we came back late asking us to show them our “green card” which I didn’t even receive until 2 weeks into my stay…….. There would be an ongoing gesticulation war every time we arrived later than 10pm because they didn’t speak a word of English and we were complete beginners in Farsi. I can’t even begin to explain the frustration because they’d eventually let us inside the gate (like, what else were they supposed to do) after writing down our names in a book as some form of scaremongering. Apparently they make an angry phone call to your parents when you break the curfew rule more than x number of times. To be honest my mother would probably die of a heart attack if she got such a phone call in Farsi, probably thinking I’d been kidnapped or killed so I warned her early on that this was nothing to worry about!
Anyways, the girls ended up staying at Sahar’s place that night. Sabina, a Slovenian exchange student was going to leave Iran the following day so she went straight to the airport and Sahar drove the rest of us back to the dorm in the morning before heading to the hospital. What a sweetheart!
In the afternoon we met up altogether at Valiasr square where Nina and Negar picked us up to take us to a place called the “roof of Tehran” which is at the base of Mount Tochal. We took buses and taxis as far as we could and then walked the last hilly bit to a flatter area with restaurants and lookout posts. People come here to socialize with their families in the evenings and on weekends; they play badminton, eat, go hiking and during winter people even go higher up the mountain using the telecabin to go skiing! According to LP it’s even the fourth highest skiing field in the world which is something I’d never think of…!
This was also the day I saw a selfie stick in real life for the first time. Nina totally rocked it and got us all into pretty much every photo she took. We watched the sunset here and it was magical indeed. Negar also helped me getting a simcard and INTERNETZ and I went around like a fat kid who’s been without sweets for a week who finally got his hands on a bucket full of cookie dough…. Everyone probably thought I was a lunatic at this point.
In the taxi to Tochal with Negar, Asbjørn and Marco