We left the movie theater and found a cab within a few minutes. As expected, Mom asked for darbast (meaning please don’t pick up other passengers along the way). I wish he had, because maybe the added number of people would have ignited his sense of responsibility. What happened next left me wide-eyed and short of breath. I thought I had seen it all in the two months of my stay in Iran, but our cabbie quickly proved me wrong.
He drove to the end of the street and came upon a one-way ramp off the highway. Naturally, he turned around but to my horror–instead of moving forward–he put his car in reverse and headed for the highway. Not knowing the rules, like if it’s okay to criticize a cabbie, I looked over at Mom, hoping her protective maternal instinct would kick in, but she appeared much calmer than expected. We were both fasting and had gone to the movies hoping to make the 14-hour day go by a bit faster. I wondered if hunger had affected her judgment. When the man started speeding in reverse on the ramp, I closed my eyes and just hoped fasting would somehow make my prayers more effective. Then I started praying. With all my might. We survived, probably only to be able to witness the next baffling site: a man driving with…well, gasoline leaking from his cap-less fuel tank!
Tehran traffic is similar to New York traffic–except much worse. Driving in Tehran is an art. I am not sure how people drive so closely together, most of the time creating extra lanes, without hitting one another. Side mirror kisses are acceptable practice, though during the length of my stay, I never once saw even that happening. Despite having five lanes of cars in a three-lane street, during rush hour you may encounter standstills. Even though the police give out tickets for not wearing seatbelts, some macho taxi drivers find it weak to do so. Don’t concern yourself with them. Wear your seatbelts.
For those who read my essay on Persian politeness, traffic shatters taarof into pieces. Since the drivers spend hours on the road they are more concerned about reaching their destination rather than the safety of other drivers or pedestrians. So, as a pedestrian, it behooves you to do everything to guard your own life. Always look both ways before crossing the street, even when it’s a one-way. As evidenced by our cabbie, one-way signs lose their meaning in a congested city. Also, do not expect the cars to stop just because you have stepped on the pedestrian crossing lines.
What’s more, the motorcyclists should not trusted. In the car, keep your purse away from the window. Remember how there are five cars in three lanes. Now imagine a motorcyclist trying to squeeze by. They are that close to you and your purse, and pretty skilled at taking purses. By the same token, keep your bags away from the street side while walking on the sidewalks. I am only sharing what others have warned me about. Personally, I never had an issue, even with the ones who showed up on the sidewalks. Yes, they sometimes do that too. Just step aside and let them go. It’s safer that way.
Oh and ladies, Iranian men “appreciate” women and are not afraid to show it. A slow moving traffic allows them time to stare and throw matalak (remarks) at you to indicate they like what they see. At times they may even be tempted to touch. As far as I am concerned touch is never acceptable. So, be conscious of your surroundings. Try not to respond to the remarks, which occasionally may get a little out of hand. Laugh internally and continue walking. Giving them an angry glare is certainly another option, although it does not necessarily guarantee a lesson learned.
Good luck ladies and happy travels, wherever you are.