Thursday, June 21, 2007


For some reasons the vast majority of Iranians are convinced that all foreigners are German (a puzzling fact given that we haven't actually met any here). In fact, the most common way for people to ask you where you are from is "Allemagne?" (we often get this in drive by form shouted from a car or motorbike when we are walking on the sidewalks). When we explain that we are from Australian ("No, not Austria!") the response from the interrogator is usually one of the following:
  1. "Mark Bosnich! Harry Kewell!" OR gloating references to this tragic football game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1997 (if I'm in a grumpy mood I'll mention this more recent game in Adelaide)
  2. "Australia good! Iran bad!" (protestations to the contrary are not always successful)
  3. "I have a friend that wants to study in Australia, how can he/she..." OR "I want to study in Australia, how can I..."

Given the current situation economically and politically in Iran, and the bleak prognosis that a lot of people have - its understandable that people have the latter response. After many conversations about moving to Australia or other Western countries, we have become worried about the apparent ignorance that a lot of Iranians seem to have about what they are aspiring too.

We have lost count of the number of times we have explained Australia's restrictive immigration requirements and the bias towards skilled migrants. By far the greatest knowledge sharing that is required in these types of conversations though is associated with cost of living. We commonly get asked "How much does a [insert profession of person asking] make per month in Australia?" What follows is a detailed explanation of our graded taxation system (never %100 comprehension on this one) and the response is normally wide eyed amazement when we reveal the salary estimate in US dollars. Before people then get too excited and try to hop into our backpacks, we try to list off the average prices in Australia and other countries of food, housing, healthcare, petrol etc...

After these conversations most people still seem determined to move out of Iran. The one exception came last week when we were picnicking with the holidaying families of three Azerbaijani (not Iranian - an important point we learnt!) teachers from NW Iran during the drive back to Zanjan from Takht-e-Solomein (they very kindly gave us lifts after our share taxi there (no problems) and different share taxi back (uhhhh...) plan came badly awry). Anth and I were having our usual cost of living in Australia conversation after they told us that teachers only make 300 dollars a month. We then told them that we couldn't afford to buy a house in Australia and that it would probably be a long while before we could. What followed was an awkward pause and a sympathetic "Oh. I see. We are really sorry to hear that!" - this was a very novel Iran/"rich" tourist dynamic for us! About half an hour later one of the teachers admitted quietly to me that "Maybe Iran isn't so bad - I can buy a car, and a house, and we can go for picnics with our friends anywhere, and we have been driving for 3 days and it only cost us 3 dollars!" This was the first and only time an Iranian has said anything like this to us. (Below is a shot of the wonderful families of the three teachers)

We do not live here in Iran and we can only begin to imagine what it must feel like to to have our daily freedoms severely curtailed - but it was still reassuring to hear someone say that Iran is not THAT bad (at least materially). We were having a conversation a few days ago with an Iranian living in France who claimed that Iran and Thailand are third world countries - we expressed incredulity and immediately countered with "If you want to see third world go to [insert name of neighbouring country to Thailand here]!"

Its possible that all of the negativity that Iranians feel about their country, and their inability to make comparative assessments first-hand with other countries (its VERY difficult for them to get visas) has clouded their sense of what is possible and how things can change. We were having a very poignant conversation with a friend of ours over coffee and she told us that all the young people in Iran are leaving as they don't see any hope. She then told us that she and her husband made personal decisions after the Revolution in 1979 to stay and try and make a difference (an important aside: her husband has spent a total of 8 years in jail and was behind bars for the birth of their only child).

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