Iran was so much more than I expected! The women I was with are vibrant, passionate, full of life – I get tired watching them! Full of passion about midwifery, they tried to leach every piece of information about birth we know out of us. And so keen were they, I wanted to give them all the help in the world. But more of that later.
We arrived in the airport at 5.30 in the morning and came down the escalator to the baggage hall to excited squeals from our Leila. ‘Leenda, Leenda, Aleeson! You are here. We are so pleased to see you.’ Three of them had come to meet us. One flat tyre later, and off into Tehran in a taxi with a very cracked windscreen. And I quickly realised why! The traffic!
Imagine a three lane duel carriageway in Glasgow. Well, here five rows drive at speed along those three lanes, ignoring the marked lanes and if there is a wee space anywhere they just manoeuvre in and out without any signalling or anything. They seem incapable of staying within the lanes – in fact seem to use them to drive along at times. And then if there’s a minute space available, little motorbikes come bombing up the inside, the outside or up the wrong way!!!!! Most of the streets are one way but you suddenly find a motorbike heading straight for you. At times the motorbike decides there is no room so they drive along the pavement instead. I saw a motorbike with a man and woman and a baby, and the baby was lying in the mothers arms as if she was breastfeeding. And it is just weaving in and out of the traffic!
I always get put in the front seat because I am ‘the leader’ and so one morning I suggested to Alison to go into the front for a change and she said ‘no you are the leader,’ laughing, but that is not the real reason. She sits in the back seat and chuckles as yet another car heads straight for us. Pedestrians are totally ignored even on pedestrian crossings and just wander in between the traffic quite nonchalantly. I tried it a couple of times – best way is to just close your eyes and hope!
The one redeeming grace in all of this is nobody moves very fast most of the time so if there is a bump it will be relatively gentle!
So our first appointment of the first day was a breakfast meeting at the Presidents Office. The President has financed a Project to Empower Women in rural areas and we were to meet the Project Team to exchange ideas on undertaking this. Leila had been asked to be involved in this project and suggested this meeting. Now remember Alison and I are here to speak to midwives – neither of us has much interest in politics although we are keen to empower women and consider ourselves empowered and confident individuals. We also had travelled overnight and had not had time to change.
So a drive through the busy traffic and we arrived at very smart building where we met the CEO of the project (reporting directly to the President!) and five other members of the project team. Tea was served along with a plate of fruit. Every meeting started in this way. That fruit was our promised breakfast.
Introductions were made and the project summarised. They asked about leadership courses at our universities as they wish to send some women on these to become the leaders in their women’s project. Over to us! I must admit I was floundering at this but somehow managed to blether on about the usefulness of offering opportunities to half the population who seldom get the opportunity, the Princes Trust being a similar project and the fact that a positive birth experience can be empowering for women, in their future lives as mothers and managers, that being our reason for visiting their country. The CEO commented that he had not considered the effect of birth on empowerment and also asked if I could put them in touch with Princes Trust! All very civilised and all very surreal for this mere midwife! Everything had to be translated by Leila as well which took some getting used to – you tend to lose your train of thought! Very few Iranians speak English.
At the end of the hour long meeting we were presented with a beautiful book about the history of Iran.
We then visited a museum briefly and visited the Medical Council where we met the Chairman who took us for lunch with an Engish speaking friend! Lunch was a ‘carry out’ of typical Iranian food. Great hilarity and fun was had by these young powerful people. They also asked about our thoughts when first invited to Iran. A recurring question throughout our stay. These Iranians seem very keen for the world to see them in a more positive light.
Finally we were taken to our hotel to settle in for a couple of hours before being taken out to Leila’s uncle’s house for dinner.
This was our first exposure to the typical Iranian apartment. A huge open plan space divided into quarters. A comfortable TV section, a formal reception area with many beautiful and matching chairs and settees and coffee tables, and a formal dining area with large table and chairs. Then a smaller open plan kitchen. This particular apartment suggested wealth from the quality of the furniture and the large China and bronze statuettes which adorned the room.
Again tea, then fruit, more tea and cakes. Alison and I decided separately that this was our dinner so enjoyed two pieces of lovely cake, only to be invited at 10.30 to join them for dinner in the kitchen. There we were offered kebabs, kofta, rice, salad and BBQ meat. Accompanied by mint flavoured traditional yoghurt drinks. Yummy food. Loved it all except the yoghurt drink which was in fact similar to the ones I had been offered in Bulgaria last week!
Further delightful conversation – one of the daughters taught English so language with her was not a barrier. She also explored our thoughts about coming to Iran. She was an accomplished artist and showed us some lovely paintings.
By now Alison and I were having serious trouble staying awake so we apologised profusely and asked Leila if we could go back to the hotel. It was an 8am start next day so sleep was vital!