Among the transports that somehow had become my routine in Tehran due to the Turkmen embassy visits, the shared taxi trip today might be the most interesting trip. In Tehran, shared taxi is much more common compared to the usual taxi we have in Indonesia. Shared taxi is a taxi which travel on same routes all time and may take up to 4 passengers. By this way, people travel comfortably with cheap price.
Unlike most chances in traveling in the Islamic Republics, in a shared taxi a woman can sit next to a male passenger. I often got interesting stories from other passengers. In Iran, compared to Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is much more space of freedom of communication between men and women.
I flagged down a taxi. There were three female passengers in the taxi. All were middle aged. The woman sat on the front seat was surprised that I spoke Farsi. She asked where I learned Farsi. I said I used to live in Afghanistan. Suddenly the woman sitting next to me hugged me and kissed me.
“Seriously??? You lived in Afghanistan?” That is my homeland. O Afghanistan, my beloved land, What is the situation there? O child, please tell me, whether it is safe there, whether it is good there.”
The woman kissed me again.
I showed her the photos I took in Afghanistan, all were photos of Afghan people. The woman, full of emotion, kissed every single photo in my album. “My greetings to the Afghans,” said her. She even kissed a photo of my mom, “My greetings to your mother as well…”
The woman said that she was from Helmand Province. She was Pashtun. Knowing how the Pashtuns lived now, so strict about their religious and traditional values, I couldn’t imagine that the woman next to me, who held my hand tightly, hugged me, kissed me, and shared her emotion, was from the same ethnic. In fact, she had lived in Iran for 26 years and the tradition in Afghanistan the time she was there, was not as strict as it is now.
She was hysteric. She kept telling us, fellow passengers and driver, about her life as a refugee in Iran. She was successful Afghan now. He two sons were now in Azerbaijan, had factories and cars, spoke many languages, was close to diplomatic circles, and earned so much money. Her other son was trying to get into Canada and might be successful. Her daughter got married already and lived happily with her husband, this happy mother said.
The driver congratulated her and wished for her best luck.
When she saw a picture of a woman under a burqa in my album, she became so excited and proud. She showed the photo to the woman passenger at the front seat.
“See! We, Afghan women, wear like this. This is our culture,” the Afghan woman said. She was not wearing burqa though. And she kissed a male passenger next to her. But she was proud about the burqa. The Iranian woman replied, “I know. Afghanistan was our homeland also.” She might mean that Afghan culture, as Persian speaking nation, was from Iran also.
The taxi arrived in Vatanpoor street, where the Turkmen embassy located. The Afghan woman prevented me from paying. “You are my guest! Driver, let me pay his fare.”
I thank her and ran quickly to the Turkmen embassy.
At last, I got my Turkmen visa already. It was just a 5 day transit visa, but required much energy and struggle. The visa was a small paper, handwritten, and stated exact date of entry and exit.
I planned to start the journey to the country day after tomorrow.
Tonight Tehran suddenly became as dangerous as Baghdad. It was not war nor attack from USA, but because of new year celebration. Tonight, Tuesday night, one week before the Persian New Year of No Ruz, is known as Chaharshanbe Suri Festival. Nooruz is a celebration dated before Islam and the traditions was full of Zoroastrian, thus pre-Islamic, culture. For Chaharshanbe Suri for example, the custom was to celebrate it with Zoroastrian tradition of fire dances. But since Islam time, especially since Islamic revolution, pre-Islamic culture slowly was wiped from Iranian life. Fire dances are now replaced by fire crackers. People put the crackers everywhere, and the crackers exploded at random, producing noise and booms as random bombs bombarding Baghdad.
My host said, “Don’t go out tonight. It is too dangerous.”