11 Feb 2009

Who's that at the door?

TEHRAN, IRAN – Our team in Iran this week is all-female – the producer is Sarah, the camera operator is Philippa and then there’s me. Which has raised no eyebrows at all with interviewees or policemen but is causing a little consternation at our hotel.

The problem is our translator, Nasser. When he’s in the room helping us translate taped interviews, we have to leave the door open so anyone can see that we have our heads covered in the presence of a man who is not a relative. But the chap who came in to vacuum the carpet in the early afternoon was obviously shocked to see such a decadent scene.

A few minutes later, another chap arrived with a bag of tools. “I understand your TV is broken,” he said. No, we said, our TV was just fine. We needed to be left alone so we could do translations. He backed out.

Another 10 minutes, another chap. “The bathroom,” he said. “I’ve come to sort out the problem.” No, we said, there is no problem. His eyes darted round the room. What were the foreign women doing? Were they corrupting a young innocent Iranian youth? He couldn’t decide.

Which is, presumably, why we got another visit from the TV-mending man. By this time everyone was laughing. They know that we know that they know what this is all about. The hotel management are covering their backs, in case we do something to incur the wrath of the police, and they get the blame.

You might think it would be easier if we had a female translator, but you’d be wrong. We did, but the security guard by the lift in the lobby wouldn’t let her go up to the room at all. Goodness knows what they thought she’d get up to. But you know how it is with women – you can’t trust them, heads covered or not.

– In Iran, if you Google any phrase including the French word “les” it gets blocked. I just tried “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” – an old French film – and sure enough the screen came up in Farsi telling me it was filtered.

Why? I’m told it’s because Iran’s morality police don’t want people searching sites about lesbianism. So anything that starts with “les” is blocked. Come on, you know it makes sense. 

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