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What a Joy to be in an Iranian Corner of Hell!

February 4, 2021
Firouz Farzani
3 min read
A bus carrying Filipino tourists in the city of Karaj, Iran, falls into a sewage hole in the city in 2017
A bus carrying Filipino tourists in the city of Karaj, Iran, falls into a sewage hole in the city in 2017

A stone’s throw away from my flat in Tehran, there is a pedestrian bridge over a busy highway.

The municipality owns a market area on the far side of the bridge, where it rents stall space to fruit and vegetable sellers. Urban planners took the people of our neighbourhood into consideration when they designed the bridge. Knowing that we would return from shopping at the market with creaking knees and heavy bags, they installed, besides the stairs, two elevators to carry people up to the pedestrian walkway.

It was a nice idea. In theory. But as usual in this shoddily-run country, it’s become a joke. One day, someone forgot to oil the elevator and it jammed. There are no repairmen available for days, so the elderly had to haul their groceries all the way up the stairs and back down again, huffing and puffing.

Last month, access to the escalators was suddenly banned. It turned out that the municipality had not paid its electricity bill at the Ministry of Power, so they were turned off. That lasted two weeks.

Some days, the escalators are working fine but the gates to them are locked.  A watchman who stays in a kiosk under the bridge is supposed to open them, but when he’s busy – queueing at the bank to deal with arcane state deductions to his already-meagre salary, for example – the escalators remain off limits. No one else seems to have keys to the gates.

And sometimes the problem is caused by one of the power outages that plague Tehran.

You should hear the swearing as the old people toil up and down! They heap curses on the heads of politicians – from the local mayor all the way up to the Supreme Leader.

The other day, an old man took pity on me as I sweated up the stairs and told me a funny story to distract me.   

Once upon a time, an Iranian died.  He had been a sinful man and so was sent to that corner of hell reserved for Iranians. In that part of the underworld, sinners were punished with boiling oil poured down their throats through a special funnel.

Not far away, Western infidels were locked up in their own section of hell. One of them looked over and was astounded to see the newly arrived Iranian man wandering about, whistling and singing, hours after he should have started his punishment.

“What’s going on with you?” shouted the infidel during a break in his own torture. “Why aren’t you writhing in agony like we are?”

“Ha,” said the Iranian. “Well, first of all, there’s rarely any electricity to boil the oil. And even when there is, the man who’s supposed to pour it doesn’t show up. Or they lose the funnel. It’s great!”

By then, we were at the bottom of the stairs, next to the stalled escalators.

I asked the old man: “How on earth does our government, with its stunning inefficiency and incompetence, manage to keep people’s anger at bay?”

“Ah”, he said. “Our officials may be hopeless in delivering services. But they modelled themselves first on the KGB, then on Putin. When it comes to oppression, they have learned from the best.”

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