Arriving in Tehran

Tehran Travel Blog

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Hugh on day 1 of his hospital stay
We left Brisbane on a midnight flight fairly excited to be travelling again but slightly nervous about travelling with a very active 18 month old and the three of us feeling in various stages of misery from a bad cold.
We had a brief stopover in KL (gotta love that transit hotel thanks for the tip off Kaz) and then overnight in Dubai. The next night we boarded an Emirates flight to the so called Axis of Evil, Iran. Just how evil could this place be? I had never actually read anything bad about it - only their wacko president, and lets face it, the people are not the government right? I had read many travel blogs on the net and books people had written about their travels in Iran, and the number one theme was the extraordinary friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people. Not to mention fascinating sights reeking in history.
Obviously we got the “Iran? Is it safe???” line of questioning, and “But what’s to even see there???”. I must emphasise however that we certainly did our research and concluded that it was safe. I also noticed that the Australian Government travel warning to that popular holiday mecca for Australians, Bali, was higher than Iran, which actually made the ‘reconsider your need to travel’ list. Iran definitely seems to have an image problem to the rest of the world!
Iran is one of the few places in the world where there is a strict dress code according to Islamic law. This mainly applies to women of course (though men aren’t allowed to wear shorts - poor them). Fortunately this is not the same as what the poor Saudi and Afghani women have to put up with, in being covered from head to toe. However hair must be covered and you must also wear some sort of coat and long pants. Oh and socks - you don’t want to show off those sexy feet.
While waiting for our flight to board in Dubai, not only did we notice that we were the only foreigners, but we also noticed that, at that stage at least, this strict dress code was not being applied. Obviously there is no dress code in the UAE, where our flight origninated. Although there were a handful of women who were already dressed ‘islamic’ most were not and if they were to wear the clothes they were wearing once they hit Iran, they would certainly be arrested - bare arms, cleavage ooh!
The flight took and hour and a half, and it wasn’t until the last 10 minutes that there was a flurry of coat and scarf putting on. They certainly waited until the very last minute. I must admit, that even though such a dress code sounds so dour, many of the women actually looked pretty good. I was certainly outclassed. The traditional coat is called a manteau and is fairly formless and reaches mid calf. The govt encourages sombre colours.
In reality however, although some women wore these, many seemed to get away with as much as they could. The coats were shorter, tighter and not always black, and were often the latest style trenches or coats, and worn with skinny jeans.
The headscarfs also, are supposed to cover all of that alluring hair, and although the more devout women certainly made sure that this was the case, using pins etc, many others, again, pushed the boundaries as far as they could. Like I said, all of the hair was supposed to be covered, but you know… sometimes you just don’t realise the scarf slipping and before you know itand half of your hair is on show. I noticed that hair was often styled to be seen.
Many women also go the complete opposite and wear the chador. This is not compulsory though. This is an all encompassing black cloak but it has to be constantly held together with a hand, or as I noticed, teeth. There were no women on our flight in this get up. Being the capital, many women in Tehran are fairly fashionable and look down on the chador as quite daggy. Of course in a city of 10 million there is still a fair amout of women who do wear them.

Anyway, back to our arrival in Tehran. I very self consciously donned a black winter coat that I found in the back of my closet and wrapped a pashmina over my head and then we were off the plane. I was sure I looked like a dork.
So here is my account of our first impression of the Axis of Evil:

We lined up in the line that said “foreigners”. There were a few other foreigners that I didn’t notice in the departure lounge, mainly asian businessmen.
Hugh at this stage was fast asleep and I was carrying him. A policeman made a weird gesture at me. He was waving downwards. I didn’t know what he meant and I internally started to panic and wondered if I had some hair showing. However realising my confusion he made it more obvious. He went to the front of the line, told the guy who was waiting next to move back and told us to stand there, next in line to get through immigration. (Then I remembered that in some countries, the sign of “come with me” is opposite to how we do it). Well that wasn’t so evil

When it was our turn we handed over our passports, with our newly received “Islamic Republic of Iran” visas. The immigration official in the booth started typing something into his computer and then said something to me in Persian. Again, I was bewildered. I thought perhaps he wanted to see Hugh’s face to prove that the baby I had in my arms really was the owner of the passport. I started to move around but then he said in broken English (which was 1000 times better than our non existant Persian). “I have finished with you, Go. Sit down.” Could he tell just how heavy Hugh is now? Not too evil either. Not that I knew where he meant I was supposed to sit down, and I didn’t think I should be wandering off into the bowels of Tehran customs without my passport (which he still had) so I waited a little bit away waiting for him to finish with Cameron.

After a while, Cameron was finally finished, and we started to go down an escalator to get our bags. The airport is set up such that a glass wall is all that separates the ‘outside’ from the ‘inside’, so as we were going down, we could see a man waving to us wildly and holding up a small Australian flag. This was the man who would be our driver and guide for the next 18 days (I have edited out his real name and any personal information about him). I will call him H.

I came across him (or really, he came across us) on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum. This is a wealth of information, and I was asking a question about how easy it would be to hire a private taxi in each town to take us to the next one. Buses certainly didn’t seem to appeaking with an active 18 month old and also, the distances are huge. We had also recently found out that the exact time we were going corresponded with Persian New Year which was an apparently bad time to travel to Iran because it is hard to find hotels and transportation since most of the population uses this time to travel the country as well.
Unfortunately I couldn’t change our flights so it was either not go at all, or find some way around the problem.
I received a message back from him that said he would be happy to be at our service. Even if we didn’t use him, he said it would be nice to meet us anyway. I was also investigating the possibility of getting a car with rear seatbelts (not always a given) so that we could install a baby car seat. In his reply he mentioned that he had a new-ish air-conditioned car, and that yes, there were seatbelts in the back.
He referred us to his website and it looked pretty good. The testimonials were excellent, and I emailed one of the people who recently went with him. She wrote back with glowing reports about him, so we decided to go with him. I did worry however if he would be happy to drive us around during the New Year celebrations which would take him away from his family. However he assured us that it was ok and again that he was happy to be at our service. He did recommend however booking our accommodation right away and recommended a tour company that was helpful and reliable.

We eventually made it to our hotel in Tehran. The traffic was diabolical. It seemed like there were 10 million cars on the road, and most of the journey was stop start.
I also noticed that lane markings are really just for decoration so a 3 lane road really fit 4 lanes. Cars squeezed into spaces so tight you could reach out and pat the person in the car next to you on the head (if you so desired).
Hugh was very good on the flight but this was really because he was sick. He had this bug for almost a week (picked up at childcare, of course and subsequently passed on to his parents) but apart from a runny nose and a cough, he seemed the same as ever, playing, up to mischief.
However on the leg from KL to Dubai (with a wait on the plane in Karachi), he seemd particularly sleepy and he had a fever. I kicked myself for not having the childrens Panadol in my hand luggage, and there was really nothing else we could do except take off his shoes and socks and roll up his sleeves and pants to try and bring down the fever. His fever did settle and we stayed overnight in Dubai.
We did some sightseeing in Tehran with our guide on the first morning we were there. We visited the Golestan Palace and the huge bazaare. Tehran was surprisingly not as unattractive as I had expected. The sky was brilliant blue (which always helps), many streets were treelined, and in certain directions, the snowcapped Alborz mountains would loom almost right above the city. The traffic, though, terrible.
Hugh was again, very listless, looked absolutely miserable and uttered no sounds the entire time we were out. He was flushed in the face and felt hot and just cuddled into Cameron who was carrying him around in a sling. More worrying was that he had been off his food and was barely even drinking. His nappies were barely wet.
We got back to our hotel and took another look at Hugh and decided right then that he needed to go to hospital. He was most definitely dehydrated.
We jumped in a taxi (city rules meant that private cars such as our guide's were not allowed to drive in the city during certain time periods) and went to a hospital near by. I didn’t get great vibes from the place as we walked in, but reminded myself that a plush foyer is not guarantee of quality care. We paid our fee of around $8.50 and a lady took us to a door with the name of a doctor that said ‘consultant paediatrician and meurologist’. He was an elderly man and kind, but didn’t speak much English - just a few words. However H, thank goodness, was there.
He listened to Hugh’s chest and told us that it was clear. Said that he had a pharyngitis and wanted to give him a shot of penicillin, a sedative to help him sleep (he didn’t need that) and Panadol. I could tell Cameron wasn’t happy and he kept trying to say, a few different ways, that he was worried that he had got much sicker so quickly and that he thought he was dehydrated. The doctor shook his head, pinched Hugh’s skin on his stomach and said it was ok. He said that tomorrow he would be much better after the Penicillin, which he wrote the script for,
We thanked him, took the script, but outside, I asked Cameron if that was all ok, and he said no and that we should go somewhere else.
The Lonely Planet recommended some hospitals (which I hadn’t thought of before we went to this one) and I asked our guide which on the list would be closest. He said that the Day General Hospital was close by so we hailed another taxi and went there.
Now this one seemed more what I guess I was hoping for. It was big and yes, the foyer was plush. It had a lot of departments, even IVF.
We saw a doctor in a short amount of time. He spoke some English and listened to his symptoms before he took out a thermometer and stuck it under Hugh’s arm (this wasn’t done at the other place). He read it and said gravely, “39.5 I have to admit him. There is no choice”
After a bit of tooing and froing signing forms, paying money, signing more forms (all of which we couldn’t have done without H) Hugh was admitted to the paediatric ward. Before we knew it, he had a chest xray, had blood taken and attached to a drip and started on IV antibiotics.
The poor little thing just slept and slept. The paediatrician came in that night and showed us his blood results. His white cell count was 21 (normal is up to 12) and most were polymorphs. He told us that he could not discharge him and that he had a bacterial infection and needed to be on IV antibiotics for 2 to 3 days. He knew we were tourists but said that he was sorry, he must stay. Obviously we were going to miss some of our trip, but the most important thing was getting Hugh better so we settled in. One of us could stay at the hospital and we decided that would be me, and Cameron would go back to the hotel later. H stayed with us for quite a while. He was just so helpful and even though we said repeatedly that he didn’t have to stay and to please feel free to go, he insisted on staying “for a bit longer”

I had a fairly broken nights sleep with nurses coming in regularly checking Hugh’s temeperature and dispensing the antibiotic into the drip. None could really speak any English and I obviously can’t speak any Pesian, which was a bit hard.
The next day Hugh seemed a lot brighter, though you could tell he was still a bit sick (he only had 2 doses of the antibiotic at this stage.
He was different child to the ond the day before and was up to his usual antics. He managed to convince his parents to let him out of his cot, and was into everything as usual. One of us had the duty of following him around with his drip stand so he wouldn’t pull it out of his hand. He despised that thing and quite a few time I saw him deliberately and decisively push it out of the way, placing it firmly into a corner, and then carry on in the other direction, only to be most annoyed when it would end up coming with him.
He also got so bored in that room, and became quite grumpy. This is a boy who loves getting outside, but that was not possible. However all these were signs that he was on the improve. The doctor visited again and said that he needed to stay another night and that we could leave the following day if we wished as long as we took more antibiotics (oral ones) to give him.
So that’s where I am now.

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Hugh on day 1 of his hospital stay
Hugh on day 1 of his hospital stay
photo by: macajam