News in brief from Oman

Mutrah: 
A white couple was pleasantly surprised yesterday after entering a Chinese restaurant in search of asian cuisine and instead discovering a secret, illegal little bar. Heinekens were 6 times below the black-market rate at only £1 each, and an unknown 8% beer was only 80p. The couple said Omani bar culture is very different to that in the west, ‘Yeah, it was dead silent, dark, and most of the guys were alone. There were no female toilets. But the staff were very helpful, they guarded the toilet as I did my business. Meanwhile, my boyfriend just sat at the table getting pissed. When he went to the toilet, all the men followed after him. It was an hour before they all came out. My boyfriend was all weird after that, he was wearing different clothes too. He said we needed to leave immediately’.
For a fun night out in Mutrah, visit Shangri La. 

Cricket: 

L1012043A very important stage of a local match suffered a frustrating delay yesterday as a Muslim unexpectedly walked across the pitch… very, very slowly. A ‘young’ Australian ‘photographer’ was the only player to benefit from the unexpected turn of events, later revealing ‘I’ve been wanting to get a photo of a female Muslim all trip, but it’s a strict no-no. This was different – ‘Well, you walked into our game, so you’re fair-game, love. Next time, walk around’. The Muslims husband received word of the photo and the Australian is now in hiding, last seen at the Shangri La Bar.

Gas:
Airport officials are investigating accusations of fart valves at airports. The investigation was prompted after a very small white couple delayed a plane after an animated argument at the boarding gate. Witnesses told of bitter dispute relating to the source of a toxic gas that had infiltrated the airport. ‘Yeah, it was quite animated, hostile even. His faced scrunched up and he said, ‘Do you smell that?’ She said, ‘What, am I short of smell?! Of course I smell that. It’s vile. You need to go to the doctor’. He said ‘No, you need to go to the doctor. It wasn’t me’. She said, ‘ It wasn’t me’. ‘He then began accusing everyone in the area, violently shaking their bodies before decrying, ‘Well, everyone is either lying, or there are valves in this airport releasing fart smells, becuase this place stinks!’. The investigation continues.

Extreme Weather:
In more airport news, authorities are considering the radical plan of introducing weather boards at all terminals in an effort to ensure the public are able to take the necessary precautions to combat the violent temperature fluctuations between terminals. The move comes after 6 people died from extreme cold in terminal 1 yesterday, due to the ridiculous temperatures of air conditioners. In scenes reminiscent of a Soviet winter, masses of people were seen huddled together in winter coats, pleading for mercy. Meanwhile in terminal 2, extreme heat meant that there was a 2 hour queue at the drinking fountain. A belligerent Australian was heard saying ‘this is ridiculous!’

Wi-Fi Thief:
There have been multiple reports of a wifi thief operating in Muscat cafes. Witness report sightings of a short, belligerent white man suspiciously lurking outside cafes, wearing nothing but a pair of cowboy boots and anxiously holding an iPad. His actions are reportedly in order to feed his addiction to news and current affairs by downloading his latest newspaper and magazine subscriptions to the iPad. His suspected accomplice reportedly stands 5 metres away keeping a lookout, against her will, as the wifi thief anxiously awaits his progress bar to complete the download of the days news and views.

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Forbidden Sleep

The 2 month bump is beginning to kick in. Extreme lethargy is starting to take hold – it’s like a leech is under your skin and sucking all your energy. This is not helped by UAE/Oman’s insistence on having their busses depart at ungodly hours. Each morning, the alarm will be met with a tirade of abuse from its recipients.After the anger settles, the shock starts to set it. There is utter disbelief – ‘I cant believe it, it can’t 5am already. I’ve barely slept. There was a dog fight right outside the window that lasted the full 10 rounds. When a winner was finally declared, the bloody joker with his Call to Prayer started singing an extended rendition of his greatest hit’. ‘Give it a rest with the bloody singing mate, it’s 5:00 in the morning! I’m gonna call the cops!. As with every Monday morning in the real world, it’s denial all round, ‘Im not getting up, stuff the bus, and fuck the whole trip, it’s not worth it. I’m staying in bed. I can’t go on like this, I’m coming apart at the seams. Look at me, i’m hideous!!’. Then, rationalising the impact of missing the bus begins, ‘We can stay another night here, whats the worst that can happen? Muscat is a pretty city’. Then, it’s like rationalising a murder cover up ‘Ok, ok, it’s agreed. The alarm never went off. It never happened. Just walk away, get back into bed, close the curtains and forget the sun is rising. We’re going back to sleep, got it?!’. ‘Oh, i don’t know, what about the itinerary?’ ‘Are you crazy! Fuck the itinerary, we’re too tired. You can’t argue with the body kid, that’s an argument you’re not going to win’.

Forbidden sleep is the best kind of sleep, because you really, really appreciate it. Like the sleep you sleep when you should be studying, or should be at work. It’s a deep, relaxing sleep. You’re slightly worried that the receptionist or your boss is going to come banging on your door wondering why you’re still in bed. But apart from that, lucid dreams and complete comfort ensue. ‘Oh, that was gooood, we gotta do that again’. ‘Yeah, stuff the trip, lets sleep’.

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Cue the Violins, it’s Over

Never have I been so sad to leave a country. Each time i leave Australia, I’m slightly devastated, and it was very difficult leaving England, but to feel such a deep sense of melancholy after a 30 day trip is without precedent. Without precedent I tell you! At the airport I had a wifi connection, and as if on cue, I read the the news that the US and Iran might be close to a deal, a deal that would surely avert an unnecessary war. I tearfully embraced those around me. They were confused by my show of affection, some were scared. I forcefully hugged them anyway. It created great tension in the departure lounge and caused everyone to gravitate to one side of the room.

Good to see Obama finally doing something that begins to justify his Nobel Peace Prize. Obviously, Congress and Israel are still foaming at the mouth for war, however – as with any childcare centre, the children will scream and the adults will talk. Sometimes it’s just best to let the children scream, because to pamper to their every need is to just encourage them to keep screaming. Eventually, they stop screaming and move onto something else.

My distrust of large chunks of our media has now reached critical levels, we have irreconcilable differences and as such have agreed to part ways. If someone asks if i want to watch the news, I’m going to say, ‘I’m sorry, watch what?’. They’ll clarify, ‘The news you dick’. ‘Oh, i’m sorry, I don’t recognise the news. It’s illegitimate’. ‘Ok, wanker’. ‘Gullible fool’.

As my plane left Iran, I burst open the door for one final act of passion by waving my fist triumphantly to the people below, ‘There’s always hope!’. They all shooed me away, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re going on a bit too much about it now, go off and see your girlfriend, we’ll be fine’. Security came and asked me to sit down. I hugged them. They pulled their guns out and said, ‘This is the last time, sit the fuck down or we’ll nuke you!’. ‘You mean you really are building a bomb?’. ‘Yep. Now sit!’. As the plane took off, i listened to The Beatles track ‘Imagine’, bopping my head and singing loudly to the chorus. Staff asked me to switch off my phone, I said, ‘Hold on, hold on… this is the best bit of the song…IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE…’. She nodded to security who immediately stood up. I complied, ‘Ok, ok, it’s off’. I looked out the window and mused, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright. Yeah, everything’s gonna be alright’.

For the past 30 days I have been in Iran. These are my stories:

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Forced Participation

I’m a staunch critic of forced participation. At one of my guesthouses, I was forced to leave a comment in the book. Well, I wasn’t forced, but my host kept mentioning the book, asking me to flick through it, and went as far as telling me to take it with me into the room one night. ‘You can leave a comment if you want’. ‘Oh can i? Gee, thanks. That’s really great’. It felt like a Larry David moment from Curb Your Enthusiasm. I could imagine larry awkwardly holding the book and turning to Cheryl, ‘what, I have to leave a comment in this thing? I don’t want to, I don’t know what to write’. ‘He’ll be offended if you don’t, just write something. Give it some thought tonight and write something special tomorrow.’ ‘Something special? i barely know the guy. I’m not happy about this’. I ended up writing ‘A little less of the unannounced entries into my room would have been nice. 10pm is not really an appropriate time to just casually stroll into my room, unannounced, and ask how I am. What if I was having a wank? Ever think of that?’

That was the last ever entry into the guest book, the guest book has now been retired.

*Obviously, as an obedient young catholic boy, I’d never be so dirty as to masturbate (I’d have a priest do it for me).

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Iran & Tea: A Love Story

Iranians are obsessed with tea, the amount of times I was force fed the stuff. The obsession reached crisis point one afternoon when I was being driven to a bus terminal. We were running late for the bus, so naturally I was a little on edge, mainly because I’d seen enough of the desert and desperately wanted to get out. ‘This sand is really starting to get on my nerves. Look at it, it’s everywhere. In my shoes, my pockets, my camera… this is ridiculous. I want nothing to interfere with me getting the hell away from this desert, 10 days is enough’. Because we’re running late, naturally my driver decides to stop and have some tea. Wtf? Not only do I not want yet another bloody tea, I don’t want to have one at the cost of me getting out of the desert. No chance – into the tea shed we stroll, and a massive glass of tea is handed to me. ‘For fucks sake’ I think, ‘this is ridiculous’. I really, really don’t want it. My stomach is already filled with the stuff, every time I move I feel it slushing around.

Iranians have an extremely high tolerance to boiling water. The tea will be poured, piping hot, straight from the kettle, and they’ll neck it like an Anglo necks beer. I don’t have a high tolerance to boiling water, so I need to wait til mine settles. They all look at me shaking their heads, ‘Why doesn’t he just drink it?’. One small sip. Ouch, too hot. Just give me a minute. Another small sip. Ouch, still too hot. And so on. It is a humiliating experience. They’re all swallowing balls of fire, eating cubes of raw sugar straight from the jar, and I can’t even manage a cup of tea. My driver is ready to go, now he’s getting edgy about time. ‘See, if you’d listened to me, we wouldn’t be in this mess’. So for the next 5 minutes I take baby sips of the tea, burning myself each time, while everyone looks at me in disgust. I’d have loved to have just left it there, but you can’t knock back a tea in Iran, it’d be like a woman showing her hair, ‘How dare you!’. You don’t get a say, just drink the damn thing. Then when you’ve finished, drink another. I’d generally be ok with the first few, after the third I’d start getting worried. After the fifth I’m starting to panic. Then I’d hear the woman rustling around in the kitchen, ‘Oh no, I think they’re having another round. No thank you’. They just laugh and hand it to me anyway. I struggle through another. And another. And another. ‘Please, no more’, as tea starts leaking out of my eyes. I get up and smile, ‘Ok I’m leaving now’. They insist I stay for another…’Tea? Tea?’ ‘We’ve already had 7 glasses, are you people insane?! It’s a 5 minute walk to the loo from my room, i need to control my liquid intake, I’m going to be up all night’. That’s true, a devastating side effect from the excessive consumption of tea, means ill be weeing 12 times a day for the next 5 years. I’d be wandering through the yard at 3am, crashing into goats and chickens while looking for the toilet. ‘He’s at it again, that’s the fourth time tonight’.

Afterthought
Isn’t the point of tea, as in England and Australia, to accompany something you’re doing, I.e talking to a friend, watching tv, reading, relaxing, getting you through a day at work? We don’t say as we’re speeding along the highway, ‘hold on, just going to pull in here and neck a boiling hot cup of tea. I don’t get it.’ To be honest I don’t get tea in general. To me, it’s just flavoured water. If I never have another tea, forced down my throat or otherwise, I’ll be a happy man.

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Wow, it’s…

There’s two types of wows, there’s ‘Wow, it’s incredible, I’ve never seen anything like it. I could die tomorrow and I’d feel like I did enough. In fact, kill me now, I’ve peaked, from here I can really only regress’. Then there’s ‘Wow, it’s really average. Kill me’. After the initial exhilarating fortnight in Iran, I went through a few days where there seemed to be quite a few of the latter ‘wows’. Stuff just seemed average. Thankfully no-one killed me, though quite a few of my drivers tried. Rational fear is fear based on facts and evidence. For this reason, my deep fear each time I stepped into an Iranian car was quite rational. Iran is the car fatality capital of the world. There’s no mystery why, they drive like lunatics, and don’t wear seatbelts. I’d almost be sniggered at for putting my seatbelt on, and testing it out each time I stepped into a suicide machine, sorry… car, ‘The tough men die in the crash, only the pussys survive… with their seatbelts’. ‘Ah, If we should happen to brake suddenly while moving at this speed, there’s only one place we’re all headed – heaven, and there’s only one way to get there – by smashing out heads through the front window’. I thought about buying a helmet and padding for each journey.

Back to wow factors. I went through a period of extreme apathy, as i began to learn how to figure out when Lonely Planet writers were talking balls, and when they were talking sense. My theory is, being travel writers, they’ve probably read a lot of travel writing – Hemingway, Twain, Polo etc. And sometimes they just can’t resist exaggerating their writing so they can make it sound more poetic, and put it in their folio. Some of the stuff they wrote was just plain nonsense. I’d look at the attraction, then re-read their description, ‘wait a minute, you think this is the most exquisite thing in the world?’ If i was editor, I’d say, ‘Ok, put the joint away, sober up, and rewrite your piece. This time, make it non-fiction’.

As with life, behind every grey sky is a burst of sunlight (unless you’re talking about London in winter), the tide of apathy promptly turned, and it turned in the oasis city of Garmeh. My guesthouse host had been talking down Garmeh the entire time I was with him. Lonely Planet said it was a must-see. Mohammad said I should avoid it – I was confused. And no internet meant I had no way of finding the truth. I went to Garmeh by virtue of circumstance, rather than choice. I’d decided to head further north to a more remote oasis, but they were was no accommodation available. So I decided to stop in at Garmeh for a night. It would be one of the more memorable nights of the trip.

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The Burning Spirit of Iran

Sometimes, the best stuff appears right out of nowhere and is completely unexpected. 31.10.13 is one such example. I’d made it to Garmeh, late, with few expectations. The dining area of the home stay  was full of young Iranians, (without hijabs) many of whom were keen to talk to me. We spoke for a while, before they told me about their plan to head out to the desert and sit around a fire, and I’m welcome to join. Ok. I didn’t bring my camera, partly because I wanted a rare night where i didn’t play the role of an annoying paparazzi prick, and partly because I had no idea how great the night would be. We walked and walked, before finding a couple of guys with instruments by a fire. For the next 2 hours there was music, laughter and tears. 3 guys played a set with instruments I’d never seen or heard of. The type of musicians who look like they have a deep affinity with the music they make. This wasn’t a garage band, it was something you’d happily pay good money to see. There would be moments where one person would lead the singing, then, everyone would sing. What amazed me was the quality of their singing voices. If a bunch of everyday Australians or English were sitting around a fire singing, I’d pay to leave. These were well honed singing voices, made more exotic because they were singing in Farsi. The songs, I was told,  were quite patriotic. Not the sort of patriotism that aligns itself with power, ego, or military; rather, it was the type of patriotism that aligns itself with the culture and people of their country – the only type of patriotism I could ever embrace. The lyrics were so moving, that several people were in tears as they sang. I was told some of the tears related to the attempted uprising in 2009, when the government brutally crushed those protesting the disputed reelection of Ahmadinejad. This was young, secular Iran in action – no hijabs, no sharia law, alcohol is legal here. This was one of those moments where everything feels surreal. Is it really happening? Is it a movie? Sitting by a fire in the Iranian desert, with a group of young Iranians, singing about the love of their country. A country they love so much, it brings them to tears.

It was 2:30 am before I wearily returned to my room. Waiting for me was a friend I’d been chatting to earlier. I told him all about the night, he said ‘Yeah, yeah. I’m sleeping on the end of your bed tonight. Night’.

L1010259

 

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Spontaneous Dance Theory

One of the things that struck me in Iran was the very reserved and private nature of the woman aged 40+. They’d generally be kitted out in black and almost go as far as hiding their faces when I was near them. Taking a picture would be out of the question. They’d certainly make any party in which they were present, very socially awkward, ‘So, do you come here often?’, cue horrified look, ‘No, no, aaaaahhh’, before running away. ‘Cmon love, ease up a bit, I’m just makin chit-chat. Jeez, tough gig’. Younger woman were different, but many of the older woman were definitely very withdrawn (around me anyway). One afternoon I found myself in a courtyard surrounded by them having their lunch. In a scene reminiscent of a feel-good Hollywood flick, they all randomly started clapping in sync, prompting one to rise to her feet and start dancing. Another then rose and began singing. Before too long the whole place was pumping to song and dance with smiles that would light up a Nordic winter. Just when you think you’ve figured them out, they all get up and spontaneously start dancing. I guess the fact that they were all dressed in brightly coloured clothes should have revealed that this lot were not very withdrawn. Nevertheless, I’d never seen anything like it. It was yet another surprising twist in my ever-changing impressions of Iran, and one of the more memorable moments of the trip.

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Unattractive Attractions

Some people travel purely for the sites. It’s obvious at any major attraction, or any town that finds itself on the well worn path, even in Iran. The main cities of Central Iran are different to the rest of Iran. All of a sudden everything changes – the stores are full of souvenirs instead of local goods, the people are not wanting to talk to you bc you’re different, they want to talk to you bc you have money. The bazaar is less about watching locals in action, and more about watching the techniques they deploy to try and get you to buy a rug. I don’t mind, they’re just making a living, but from a travellers point of view, I don’t get it –  what’s the appeal with these places? Everything is choreographed and everyone is doing the same thing – standing around looking at stuff, patiently queuing to enter a site, or all sitting at the same restaurants. The village itself, that’s the site. There’s no 400 year old mosque, museum or ancient building, but theres a gaping mountain to wake up to each morning. There’s goats running across the road, there’s over-excited kids who’ve never seen an Anglo before, there’s other-worldy fashion statements, there’s the colour of the sky – these are the sites. Lonely planet is almost apologetic of such places, ‘there’s no sites’. Who bloody cares. You’ll never get a decent photo at the tourist traps. The best photos I shot in Iran were from random wanderings. You can randomly wander in parts of Iran and Turkey, in a way you cant wander in the west, because there’s less of a fear factor. In Australia, England or the US, I simply couldn’t randomly wander into someone’s land, or approach their house. People are protective of their land, in the US I’d probably be shot. In parts of Iran, I’d walk and walk, climb into some bushes, and then stumble across a family bashing pomegranates into buckets. Instead of being alarmed and being asked to leave their property, I’m asked to sit down and eat a pomegranate. Or, I’d see a Shepard with his flock, approach him, walk with him and end up back at his house for dinner. I’d say thanks and leave, then walk straight into another shepherd, ‘Here we go again’, as i bolt after him. You can’t go wrong with a Shepard photo. All the Shepard’s are different – some are just kids in a pair of track suit pants, others look like they’ve been guiding their herd since biblical times. This sort of stuff is just not going to happen at a tourist attraction. It may sound reckless to just wander into a strangers’ homes, but you need to be here to experience the feeling there is of safety and trust. Some of the fears we have in the west, are unique to westerners. They’re not universal, and shouldn’t necessarily be carried with us throughout the world. Fear for the sake of fear – if something is remotely possible, then fear it. I don’t want to paint a utopian picture, it’s far from it, but in this one aspect – fear, or lack there of, of each other; it’s another world. I felt completely safe, always. It’s a unique feeling. As that president said, ‘the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself’. (Disclaimer: I speak from the perspective of a male (obviously). Woman, unfortunately; need to be more vigilant).

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I Love Rules & Rights

In parts of the west, we should consider ourselves fortunate that some time ago, things were put in place that meant we respected and tried to preserve our environment, reduced pollution, regulated smoking, encouraged recycling, encouraged healthy eating and cycling, made people wear seat belts, enforced speed limits, made it illegal for children to work, gave woman equal rights, decriminalised homosexuality and allowed gays to marry (UK, parts of US, not Australia). They may seem like the rules of a nanny state, and may not sit perfectly with everyone’s prejudice’s, but the average person leads a vastly better and longer life because of them.

It wasn’t until I saw multiple people throw trash out the window of their car, that I took a closer look at the landscape, and noticed trash everywhere. Firmly embedded into the landscape. When the grand kids of the litter bugs reach their age, Iran will be swimming in the stuff. I read the government is starting to see the light with the importance of preserving their environment and reducing pollution – they better hurry. Same with regulating the driving habits of motorists on the highways. Iran is one of the car crash capitals of the world, and there is good reason – they drive like absolute maniacs. It’s one thing to cut in and out of traffic in a busy city, it’s another thing to do so when you’re travelling at 120km per hour, and surrounded by trucks and busses. Crazy. I’d like to know exactly how someone can be so consumed with making good time, that they’re prepared to pull out to overtake a truck, when traffic is clearly approaching from the opposite direction. This isn’t science, there’s no fixed outcome. You’re in the hands of Allah, and Allah is often vengeful in such circumstances. To try and help drivers see the light, the government places car wrecks on pedestals all along the highways. They haven’t seen the light.

It’s clear that many young Iranians despise their government – many of them told me so. Many of them want to leave as a result. But they hate their government in a different manner to the ways in which we hate ours. We may lament all the rules, taxes and laws that inhibit our ‘freedom’ – there’s always going to be a lobby group that says a piece of progressive legislation undermines the sanctity of freedom and tradition (when children were taken out of the labour market in 1819, wealthy factory owners were up in arms about government ‘meddling’ with the economy. I learnt this during one of my nerd nights mentioned in the post below), and Dinosaur conservatives/religious extremists may want to see woman and gays remain out of sight, but the reforms and regulations we’ve enforced over the years have made life better for more people. There’s a reason why so many people are prepared to risk death to live with us, it’s not because they want to sponge off our taxes, it’s because we offer them the only chance they’ll ever have at being free. Proper freedom. The freedom that says, individually, we may all need to take half a step back – pay relative tax, recycle, tolerate stuff we don’t agree with, so as a whole we can all stride forward.

Cue raucous round of applause, ‘You did it again, great speech Adrian!’.

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