Since our last epistle was sent out in German, it’s time for an English update, especially since we are moving slowly but surely towards the dates of our trip home to the UK…
It is well and truly summer now, and over one year since we left Vienna. One down one to go.
Georgina has finally finished all her projects for Women without Borders and is moving on to her next life – as an expert on climate change and sustainable development. Well, if she is accepted she will start a distance degree at a UK university on this subject. In the meantime, real life in Iran has caught up and she found herself involved in endless coffee mornings and a potato stamp stand for kids at a charity bazaar for UNHCR, joined the ladies’ hiking team for trek and a tea, pitched up for the culture group meeting for Origami and Ikebana flower arranging at the Japanese Embassy and popped by the bridge club but decided that it was not for her. So you see, she has become a fully integrated diplomatic spouse! I hand over the keyboard to her:
No sooner than I had one week of that, it was back to work. We had lots of parties and receptions this month. For Alex’s birthday, we made a James Bond party!!!! We had cocktails by the pool, dinner with James bond movie clips projected on to the wall. We did a home-made James Bond theme tune karaoke, with the words from the internet!
When Alex was in Washington, he bought the green baize and cards and roulette wheel, so we had two gaming tables and of course bond inspired disco music with the disco screen saver beamed up on the wall. It was quite a feat to organize: but we had the luck to find a professional cocktail maker, who had run the Havana bar at Mojo’s in Hamburg. He was a big catch and very good-looking! His girlfriend is an ace sushi maker trained in switzerland, we hired them both! Some people really dressed up which was great, and even the Iranian men came in dinner jackets with black bow ties! Of course the whole thing ended up in the pool at midnight….
Tristan had a pool party too. Our pool is about the size of an opened newspaper, so we don’t have much chance to pose on our air mattresses. Though it is small it is heated so whilst our commercial friends are very swanky about their homes etc, they come to us to swim in November! Tristan is still very miserable that he does not have his own play station, but seems to have settled down a bit more recently, perhaps it was just a matter of time.
Actually he started to cheer up when we began to look at boarding schools in the UK. The school here is still under political pressure and we cannot be certain that it will be open at full speed next term. The last teacher finally got her visa last month and she should have come in September! So we wanted to look for alternative options. But in the end Alex said that he was not ready to be without the kids and any way the UN education grant was not enough to cover even one term! I on the other hand had already down-scaled to an apartment in my mind, figured out how to cover the exeats and sewed the labels in the school uniform….
Two weeks ago, we hosted the regional director for communication in UNICEF who came visiting from Jordan. Alex wanted a slick but relaxed atmosphere and a three course sit down meal for 15. After the Bond party, our budget was 50$! The problem for us is that we don’t have a bank account here and our salary is split between a cash payment via UNICEF office and our bank in Vienna. Iran is not linked to the international world of banking so if we run out of cash by the end of the month we cannot access more money from Austria without a long process. So last month after Alex’s bash (a bottle of clandestine red wine cost $25 and we had 40 guests!) we had hardly any cash left, so I had to be SUPER inventive to come up with a menu which would impress but be cheap.
The sanctions have had an immediate effect. Rice and chicken have gone up and petrol went up 10% over night. It is still only 52 cents a litre (35 euro cents maybe?) but people notice the transport costs shoot up! Iran has oil but does not have enough refinery capacity to make enough of its own petrol and has to therefore import from others: duh! There is a building boom as well (five projects close to our house groan!) and apartment prices are more than Washington or Vienna here too, I don’t see how people can manage such house prices when there is little left to shop with. How will it end? With the stirred up threat of an Israeli air strike, we are here in interesting times!
I am applying as well for a PhD in climate change and sustainable development of which I must do the master’s program first since I don’t have the right background. I will hear in August if I got a place, it is small and new university but has a good course so it might be tough for an aging arts student to make it in, but I am hopeful that my development record will suffice.
My plan for next year is to study and get some part-time work either for an NGO or UN organization to pay for the tuition and get some experience. Though both Alex and me will be gearing up the job search for the next time. Alex says he is ready to come back to Vienna but I know he will look at some other “first world” countries too. I would still like to do one rougher post, either in Africa or Latin America.
We have visited now most of the main cities in Iran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd and Persepolis the Iranian equivalent to the Greek Parthenon. In spring we went to and Iranian white sandy island called Kish which was modeled on Dubai before the revolution. Of course now with segregated beaches, no restaurant boulevards or watering holes, it is more of a building site with dolphin park for rich Iranians. So far we have only bought five carpets – very restrained I would say..!
We also went on an awesome once-in-a-lifetime wild camping trip in the hills near Damavand the highest peak. We pitched by a small stream: that was a river last year – in a green and purple valley. The view, the sound of goats bells and donkey’s brays were the only sounds beyond the buzzing bees that make honey from the mountain heather. It was sunny by day and below zero by night, as it is at 3,000 metres. We cooked over an open fire and washed in the stream.
The kids are doing well enough at school and at least do lots of very English school things like plays, sports days, school trips and learn times tables up to 12. (Other countries think this is weird being all decimal and all – I had to explain that in the UK we had feet and inches and dozens for a long time.) Maddy has trouble reading and remembering but with this teacher is coming on well and most of all has confidence in herself.
Alex’s job is a bit slow. The government is stalling on some agreements so at the moment all new work in on hold. He cannot travel, start new projects or get people in. So instead he is consolidating the team, reading all those old reports and filing no doubt! This was a newly created post and the more Alex reflects the more he thinks he is too expensive for the amount of work he can achieve here. Instead he is spending time moulding the department so it can run more cost effectively without him. It is hardly motivating work to do yourself out of a job, so I don’t suppose we will extend to a third year after his contract ends next may. Oh yes, and he was on several business trips now, apart from the US also Istanbul and Amman…
So here it is, a summary of our last months in Iran. Undoubtedly we forgot so many things in this account, but truly nearly every day brings something new. For instance, when I drove about 1 1/2 hours to get to the one and only German bakery in Tehran, which as birds can be thrown (!) is only 5km from my office. Or last week, when we had our first-ever foreign visitor to Iran, Andreas and his son Alexander from Vienna, who came to have a one-week play with Tristan and never saw anything else in the country but Tehran. It took us 2 1/2 weeks waiting for his visa until we found out that the option of just flying to Iran and asking for an 8 day visa is just as good and works flawlessly. He even got 14 days on the passport! Might be different for Brits, who knows.
Or this weekend, when Aidai showed up, a Kyrgyz girl who worked with me at the OSCE, first in Bishkek then in Vienna, and is now a grad student at Columbia university. She is now for 4 weeks an intern with UNICEF and tries to get accustomed to life under the scarf. She’ll stay with us until we fly off to the UK.
And so on, and so on. More when we see you next!