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A visit to Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Tehran, Iran, Islamic Republic, Training,

As both a representative of a UN agency and a British national, I was, to say the least, a little uneasy at the prospect of running a training course in Tehran. My own organisation had referred the Islamic Republic to the UN Security Council for its failure to fully comply with its obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. I was far from sure as to the warmth of welcome that I could expect.

I flew into the international airport at Tehran in the dying hours of a December afternoon. The air hostess offered me a final glass of wine and a knowing smile before we entered Islamic airspace. I enjoy a drink, but had no illusions that I would be enjoying another before boarding the return flight a week later.

It was my very first visit to Iran and I had no idea what to expect, but was sure that it would be quite different to the images conjured up from the preconceptions of watching CNN. After clearing passport formalities and baggage collection, I was met by a staffer from the Environmental Institute where I was to lecture. He had a home made sign bearing a crude approximation of my name, written on a piece of paper with a black marker pen – very high Tec, I thought. He shook me warmly by the hand and insisted on taking my luggage, placing it lovingly in the boot of his battered Toyota. His English was impenetrable, but a vast improvement on my non-existent Farsi. It made conversation next to impossible which was just as well as we emerged into the nightmarish Tehran traffic.

Tehran is a theocracy. This was immediately apparent from the number of mosques that we passed and from the ranks of the faithful old women who sauntered across six lanes of highway. It is surely a caveat of the faith that if you get mown down on a highway, you must go straight to paradise. I was struck by the number of buildings which were in the process of construction and the huge billboard posters of the Supreme Leader, sporting a rather incongruous pair of sunglasses – a perfect marketing opportunity for Foster Grant, surely.

Tehran is ringed with mountains. I was surprised to learn that you could ski there. The vast majority of the population lives in the capital and, just like LA, it has big concerns with air quality. One day on our way to the institute, we had the highway virtually to ourselves and I learned that the government had declared a holiday to stave off the worst effects of the smog.

The training course went well and I was left with an impression of the Iranians that I met as courteous and hospitable people who were proud of their country, interested in the outside world and not wholly uncritical of their leaders.
As I flew out of Iran, I was pleased to have made the trip and pleasantly surprised at the excellence of BA Bordeaux.
Published: 2008-11-16
Author: Mike Campbell

About the author or the publisher
British scientist with a doctorate in chemistry, the quintessential Englishman abroad, I have worked in Belgium, France, Austria, Monaco and the UK. I have written many reports, papers and articles on a diverse range of scientific, technical and medical subjects. A skilled analyst, I have lectured in Europe, Canada, the Middle East and Africa on trace analysis. My hobby is creative writing and I have completed to novels and numerous short stories which are just waiting for a wise publisher!

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