there is one mission for this day and that is to exchange my money. it may seem like a simple task, but as i learn with each passing minute, nothing is that easy here. my cousin and i head out early in the day towards the nearby market area known as tajreesh. it's a 20-minute walk from my uncle's house, but she's lazy and opts for catching a cab. or should i say "catching a cab." the way it works in tehran, just about anything on wheels can become a makeshift cab. all manner of
people, looking to make a few extra bucks, will pick up passengers along their way to wherever and take them as far as their paths are one. a man on his way to work, a couple going out for dinner, a family taking an afternoon ride, every car that passes is a potential ride. what you, the passenger, must do is stand by the side of the road and as each car passes, lean down and state your destination. if you are in luck and there is a match, someone will eventually slow to a halt and let you in.
then the real fun begins.
driving in this city, in this country, is unlike anything in the states. take new york, multiply it by boston and raise it to the 27th degree: this is driving in iran. the wide boulevards become improvised demolition derby tracks, with rusted peykans (the national car), sparkly pegeots and pieced-together franken-cars weaving in and out of each others way, racing towards some unmarked finish line. traffic lights are mere suggestions and lane lines nothing more than decoration.resolute drivers squeeze five cars side-by-side in a three-lane road and at intersections vehicles careen violently toward one another, jerking to a stop with barely a breath's space between themselves and utter disaster. all the while, pedestrians dart across the road, never bothering even to glance at the oncoming traffic.
this is where i find myself first thing in the morning.
after 10 minutes and barely 10 meters worth of gain, my stomach, already delicate from inhaling the world's third most polluted air, is on the verge of turning. one more slam of the brakes or one more thick, sweaty passenger added to the cab and my breakfast of feta cheese and lavash will be making an encore appearance. by the grace of allah, we finally arrive at our destination and my cousin leans forward to hand the driver the equivalent of 50 cents. we slide out of the car and i peer out at the money store sitting across the six-lane (or should i say 10-lane) boulevard we must now navigate.
"how about a cross walk?" i ask.
my cousin laughs, grabs my hand and says "close your eyes, it'll be over in a minute."