Iran Life

To paraphrase that old despot and war criminal (gassing Kurds in Mesopotamia in 1920 the Iraqi Revolt) Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill; ‘Iran is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’

J and I are just back from an amazing, wonderful, depressing, fascinating and stimulating trip to the Islamic Republic. The contrasts and contradictions have been profound. From the intransigent, unbending, unhearing ‘discussion’ on a train with an imam from the holy city of Qom, who has made a life-long study of the Koran, to the quiet kindness of a desperately poor desert-dwelling camel-herder and his nephew. From the ritualised wailing of thousands of pilgrims at the shrine of the murdered Imam Riza in Mashad (the shrine attracts more than 20 million pilgrims every year, second only to Mecca, and the murder happened more than 1200 years ago!), to the residents of the ‘Art House’, a shrine to dissent, anarchy and Sponge Bob ‘somewhere in Tehran’. From the insanity of Iranian drivers to the peace, beauty, camels and flowers of the great Dasht-e-Kavir desert and the northern Arborz Mountains. And from the quiet dignity of a gentleman widowed by the wicked Western sanctions that condemned his wife to death by denying her the medicines she needed to treat her cancer, this country with its monumental wonders, culture and delightful people has engraved itself on our hearts and minds. I hope that I can pass on some of what we found so that you too will want to leave your footprint in this incredible place.

iranian beerLest I get carried away with it all (and carry you with me), I need to relate a story that was whispered to us over an intoxicating glass of ‘Islamic beer’ (non-alcoholic) that might add a little bit of perspective. It goes like this:

‘Not long ago there was this devout, god-fearing, pleasures-of-the-flesh denying imam lying contentedly on his death bed. He knew for sure that he was headed for heaven because everything that he had ever read told him so.


houriSoon enough he passed over the great divide and awoke to find himself where he had always dreamed of and longed to be. He was surrounded by beautiful, flower-filled meadows with gently flowing streams; blossom-laden trees provided dappled shade; gentle music and song filled the air; those who shared this paradise with him spoke softly, smiled often and never argued. And then there were the gorgeous, nubile houris wandering about the place – afterlife was just perfect.

Too perfect, in fact, because our pious cleric was soon pretty much bored to death with it all – déjà vu all over again because even the houris, like his newly liberated wife (who, incidentally, thought she had died and gone to heaven when he popped his clogs) failed to tickle his libido! He took to wandering about alone, muttering and arguing with himself, shunned by the other denizens of paradise.

One day, as he wandered some distant corner of perfection, he chanced across a wall with a great iron-studded door and a small window that stood ajar. Above the door was a sign that read ‘HELL’ in large red letters. From the open window the cleric could hear the sounds of great merriment, singing, music, lively discussion – arguments even. A veritable party in full swing! Drawn by the sounds he looked in through the window and was amazed by what he saw – and even more by what he didn’t see – if this was Hell then he felt cheated by being dumped in awful, boring, perfect Heaven. It was time to take action and so he rang the bell.

His call was answered by a smartly dressed door-devil sporting a shiny evening suit who explained politely that ‘No!’ he couldn’t just walk in and wander around. He’d need to go back to Heaven and apply for a visitor’s visa at the Hellian embassy. This he did and in no time at all he was back at the frontier door where he was duly stamped in for a two week visit by the unsmiling and rather bored looking immigration devil.

Our cleric had a whale of a time – he partied, laughed a lot, was treated like royalty, ate exotic food, drank finest Shiraz wine, chatted-up the girls, watched the odd raunchy stage show and generally made up for lost time. Sadly, his visit was soon over and as he left, his head ringing with cries of ‘Come and visit us again soon’ and ‘We’ll be waiting for you’, his suitcase felt as heavy as his heart.

Back in heaven he was soon bored out of his brain with the mind-numbing routine of the perfect afterlife. He longed to be back in Hell partying with the best of them. So it was that he went back to the Hellian embassy where he applied for permanent residency. The smiling and very charming diplomatic devil asked him if he was sure because such permits were one-way, there would be no going back if he changed his mind. Fuelled by the memories of his two weeks of holiday the imam signed on the dotted line, picked up his documents and headed for the doorway to Hell – he was happy and smiling and felt as if he were walking on air! Ahead lay a new afterlife that was one to die for.

At the entrance to Hell the door-devil examined his documents, smiled, closed the great iron-studded door with a clang and ushered him through the body scanner and into Hell proper. As he stepped through he was met by a wall of noise, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Devils with pitchforks and cattle-prods were tormenting people at every turn  and the smell of burning, tortured flesh was everywhere. As our cleric recoiled from the reality that confronted him, he turned to the devil aghast – ‘What is this place? When I was here before everything looked wonderful to me. I so wanted to be here.’

‘Ah!’ smiled the devil, ‘when you were here before you were a tourist. Now you live here!’

koh-i-noordiamondThe moral? There are more facets to exploring another culture that on the Koh-i-Noor diamond – always look under the bed and behind the curtain! We’ll do our best to offer more than just amazing mosques, incredible columns, scintillating ceilings and the like – although there will be plenty of those!

Next post the story begins. Welcome to ‘Iran Life’.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps having tried for several days to sort out a glitch that has happened with WordPress whilst we’ve been away, this post is sans any media/images etc. Frankly, I have no idea what to do – I’ve tried everything I know including reinstall several times. I can’t use html or add tags either and the thought of having to start over is just too daunting and time consuming with our limited bandwidth and lifespan!

pps as you can see we’re up and running again – for WP users it was the ‘Wordfence’ security plugin that caused the problem.


‘Jesus Wept!’

As my mother used to say – ‘Jesus wept!’ Well, he would have done if he’d had to deal with this Turkish bureaucracy!

local bureaucrat

I know, I know! Sweeping generalisations are not the way to go – but bureaucracies the world over are a pain in the arse, mainly because they are created by arse’oles – and that’s not a generality, it’s a bloody fact!

Before I go any further and dig myself into a hole, I want to say this; J and I have never paid a back-hander to anyone in the 15 years we’ve lived here. In that time we have always been treated with consideration, kindness and understanding by the rank and file bureaucrats that we have dealt with and today has been no exception.

As Bill Clinton once famously didn’t say, ‘It’s the system, stupid!’

So, what did the system do to us? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin . .

As I said a moment ago, J and I have lived here for nigh on 15 years and in that time we have owned three cars – our present one is just a year old. In those years we have driven all over Turkey and J has done her share behind the wheel. We have been stopped at countless police/jandarma check points and our documents have always checked out. We have also never had an accident, which is just as well because we have just learned that J was not insured for all those kilometres!

How could this be? In 15 years didn’t we ask? Didn’t we check? Of course we did! And everyone, including the police told us there was no problem; J was covered on my insurance. And she would have been – if we had been married!

Before going any further here, I want to make something clear – we are not, and will not be married as a matter of principle. We have been together for many more years that over half of the population of Turkey has been alive – we have children that are older than many of you reading this – we have always shared equally everything we have ever owned, from homes to debts to money in the bank. We have never felt the need to justify our relationship to anyone. Apart from that, J wouldn’t marry me if I was the last bloke on the planet!

Anyway, back to our bureaucratic adventure; we are law-abiding in the main because the last thing either of us (or you) wants is to get dragged into the legal bureaucracy here in Turkey. We needed to get ourselves sorted – and quickly!

Inquiries to insurers and to contacts at the police HQ established that we could put the car registration in the name of a Turk (Yeah! Right!), in which case anybody and their dog could drive the car; or we could get J’s name on the documents as a joint owner and then the insurance covers us both. Remember, if we had known all this at the time we bought the car it could have been done then (take note ye ‘living-in-sinners’).

Off we went to the Notary to do the business. Even though this was the first time they had done such a thing for a yabanci (foreigner) it went fairly smoothly apart from the delays caused by the central computer system which kept crashing. Eventually, hours longer than it should have taken, we were ready to pay the modest fee and have our new document stamped and ready to be taken to the police for their part of the process.

Except that the names of J and my mothers and fathers on the central computer in Ankara did not tally with the (correct) names in our residence permits! There was no way that process could or would move forward until that was sorted, and so off we went to see our nice policeman to request his help. Should be just a matter of explaining that all of the local documentation was correct but that some clerk had been careless inputting those details; right? Wrong!

same faces, same furniture, same system!

Our local people had to tell Muğla, who then have to tell Ankara who will then instruct the clerk to correct the error, with a fair wind and a star to guide us, the process will not be compounded by further errors. It will be Monday at the earliest before that gets done – when it eventually is, we’ll be able to go back to the Notary, pay our fee and get our shiny, new joint ownership documents to what has always been (in our minds if not those of the bureaucratocracy) our joint property.

‘Job done, then’ I hear you say. Well, sort of, because within 30 days we then have to go the Traffik Polis HQ in Muğla and get our new registration document, anyone out there interested in the odds?

Hmmmm! . . . I sense another post coming on!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Called To Ordure

If there’s one thing that embarrasses the average English man (I can’t speak for English women) it’s going for a crap . . . Why are you laughing? This is already difficult enough!

I’ve just finished reading about the glories of the bidet on a blog I follow and it got me reflecting on how things used to be, faecal-wise, when J and I first came to live in our quiet backwater – and just how much things have changed and improved.

Back then, public toilets were only to be found adjacent to a mosque. They would have an attendant who collected money for doing nothing other than maybe changing the bit of rag that passed for a hand towel once a month. These attendants were obviously recruited from sufferers of Anosmia – and it was patently more than their job was worth to splash a bit of ‘Brobat’ about now and again. My experiences of these places was fairly limited as I generally preferred the option of dying from some toxicosis or other brought on by bouts of severe anal retention.

They were uniformly grim!

‘Western’ loos had begun to replace the ubiquitous squat types offering customers a choice. Outside of the Turkish middle classes and the newly arriving foreign expats, adaption to change was slow – when you’ve grown up squatting – feet firmly planted on the floor, learning to perch on the rim of one of these new-fangled jobs could be a precarious experience.

Overcoming the problem of washing ones arse when there’s a wc pedestal in the way was neatly solved by the addition of a cold water tap attached to a little bit of bent, battered and verdigris-covered pipe that protruded out from under the back of the seat. This solution was pretty damn good, apart for one thing – the pipes wasn’t fixed and unless you were careful and planned ahead you could well end up with a great jet of water gushing into your trousers which were bundled around your ankles.

About eight or nine years ago, the belediye in the town of Köyceğiz near Dalyan, had a new public toilet block constructed. What a wonder it was; a thing of great beauty and elegance! With potted palms, polished marbled floors, expensive and tasteful ceramics, air fresheners, real as well as plastic floral displays, roller towels and hand dryers, soft lighting and softer toilet paper, smiling attendants who offered cologne and even Muzak!

my old boat 'La Fay' at her mooring

What a fabulous place. J and I were so taken with it that we used to take our family and friends, on my boat, to the town for the sole purpose of letting them use the best public toilets in the world (at the time). Some of them were even kind enough to say that it was the highlight of their trip!

Today, Turkey has come a long way in so many different spheres – not least as a world leader in the design and manufacture of sanitary ware (that is the correct term) and associated accessories (taps, plugs and toilet roll holders). I dream of the day when every public tuvalet looks like a page torn from an ArtemA catalogue – before you use it to wipe away the verdigris!


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

‘Toilet Time Travel’

the oldest 'squatter' in the world?

typical squatter
Made InTurkey - world class
the man who started it all - Thomas Crapper
original ad for a 'Crapper'

A Bit Of A Carp

Having a bit of a carp can feel like a very satisfying thing to do – unless one happens to be on the receiving end when trying desperately to maintain a reasonably positive mental attitude, that is. J and I had a bit of a carp recently whilst we were visiting İznik. Actually, it wasn’t a carp, it was a catfish and a big bugger at that – 65kg! But I digress –

Where was I? Oh, yes! Carping! When we hail from a different culture or country or county we seem to find it easy to have a grumble about ‘them’ when things are going off at a tangent to the direction that we know they are supposed to go. You know what I mean; you’re in a hurry and the road is closed, the diversion sets you off in the opposite direction and then the signs run out! The man said he was definitely coming tomorrow (İnşallah!), you waited in and he never showed! That expensive DVD player went wrong the day after the guarantee expired and the bloke shrugged his shoulders and pointed at the latest model! ‘Never like this back home!’ you grumble, ‘we had rights!’ ‘Everything was much more organised back home in . .!’ you carp.

Been there – done that – got the bloody tee-shirt that dissolved the first time it was washed in that BEKO (made in China like all the rest) washing machine! So here I offer you an uplifting little true story about the stupid way they do things in this arse-about-face adopted country of ours – are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin;

I have a very dear and courageous friend from my village by the name of Gülay. Gülay is engeli – disabled/differently-abled, or, according to the sign that used to be on the toilet block at Ephesus – ‘Defective’! I’m deadly serious, that’s what it said. Anyway, after the accident 11 years ago that left her paralysed from the chest down, Gülay taught herself to paint and these days she is pretty, bloody good at it! She loves to do portraits and the like and would dearly love to earn her living from doing these some day – meanwhile she creates beautiful and original gifts using stones, tins, buckets, jars etc. Gülay is anything but ‘Defective’!

Earlier this year she contacted a company in İzmir which produces really nice enameled buckets in various sizes. She explained her situation and what she did with them – next thing she knew a huge box full of various sizes and colours of buckets arrived at her house together with a note from the proprietor wishing her well and offering the assorted items as a gift. Gülay was stunned and did a bit of crying. She painted up a few buckets and sent them back as a thank you  to the ‘stranger’ in İzmir who had ‘not walked by on the other side’. A fellow human being who thanked his own lucky stars and decided to share a little of his own good fortune.

Today, she rang J and me and she was in tears again – we had just been to visit her with another friend to make arrangements with her to exhibit at the Çaliş Christmas Fair next month. After we left a cargo truck arrived with another great box full of buckets together with a note from her ‘Good Samaritan’ in İzmir saying that he often thinks about her and wanted to support her efforts to be productive and independent.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Next time I’m tempted to carp about crap (interesting that the same letters make two negative words that have the same meaning) service/system/bureaucratic balls/etc I’ll reflect that our Turkish hosts have a lot more to teach us than we have to teach them; including the fact that when it comes to carping, the very best carp kebaps can be found in İznik!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

learn more about Gülay here  and here