Monday, June 19, 2006

Road Trip

I have spent the past couple of days with my new Iranian friend, Kazem, pottering around the town of Rafsanjan and its environs. Rafsanjan is the centre for pistachio production in Iran and its nuts are reputedly the finest in the country (and therefore the world). For those of you who perhaps follow events in Iran slightly more closely then the name might sound familiar as it is the hometown of one of Iran's ex-presidents, and defeated candidate this time around, Mr Rafsanjani (people aren't always very imaginative with their surnames over here, like our old friend Mr Khomeini from the town of Khomein).

Unfortunately I'm going to have to go into political mode here, so if that bores you just skip this paragraph. During the last election the final showdown was between our friends Mr's Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani. So-called experts in the West were putting their money on Rafsanjani because he had made some conciliatory noises towards America and was therefore seen as a "moderate" and Ahmadinejad was seen as a "conservative". The problem about this view of things was that it was complete bollocks and that the only reason these people were considered experts was because they could actually find Iran on a map. Firstly Raf' is as conservative as they come, being a big-time cleric and head of the powerful Expediency Council. But the reason people really dislike him with a vengeance can most readily be seen in the town of Rafsanjan. An unimpressive little town in the back of beyond before the Revolution, Rafsanjan is now flush with money, a university, many factories and even a museum built by none other than Raf' (most galling is the fact that the museum is dedicated to his tenure as president!). A lot of property in town belongs to him as well, of course. But you won't find either him or his family there as he owns plenty of stuff abroad as well. Anyway, Raf' is the symbol of the hypocritical corruption and croneyism that runs rife among the ruling clergy, and so it is no surprise that Ahmadinejad got elected as he seemed to be more honest and straightforward. Although now comes the time for the old dictum about power and corruption.

Right, back to my travels. I met Kazem at my hotel in Kerman whilst watching the football on TV in the downstairs lobby. He's about 40-odd, has an estranged wife and kid and is rather well-off (being somewhat related to Mr Rafsanjani above). So when he offered to take me around some of the more far-flung sites of the region I was initially somewhat cautious because you can't be too sure of the people who stay in some of the dives I sleep in. But he turned out to be a very gracious and accommodating host, refusing to let me pay for anything and using his name to sometimes get us into places that were closed. Though however nice he was, I find hospitality, especially the excessive Muslim kind, rather claustrophobic after a while. Plus Kazem had a propensity for prolixity, so he'd be chattering away to various people and I'd be biting at the leash to be off again, though that possibly has more to do with my general restlessness than anything else. And I must say that I enjoyed our little road trip. Oh, and I have to say that a lot of people in "less civilised" countries put Westerners to shame with their limitless generosity. We are far too often preoccupied with our petty lives to make time for others.

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