Holy heck. The crowds are massive. It's like the busiest "tourist attraction" I've ever seen. Thousands crowding the streets, heading to the Holy shrines. And along the route are all the normal souvenir type shops. You can get your photo taken, then have it photo shopped into whichever part of the Mosque you want. You can buy gifts for those at home, icecream, tacky plastic toys, junk food, jewelry, phones, watches, clothes, and the whole area around the holy shrine is a mass of humanity, all the women and girls in black robes, reminding me of nuns habits.
The roads are at a stand still or crawling. Even the ones that are moving are a thriving mass of cars, buses, taxis, and pedestrians, and the scarey weaving motorbikes. Pedestrian crossings? Pfaff. Don't bother. No one will stop. Just cross where it's convenient for you. Seems diagonally across a major intersection is the most popular place. But don't relax. Chances are there will be a motorbike bearing down on you on the footpath (I was on the back of one doing just that, last night).
I didn't enter the mosque, the crowds were just too daunting. Men and women enter through different gates, and the men were getting frisked, so I assume the women were also. There were lots of people in wheelchairs. It seems that visiting this special shrine is a big event in your life, if you are an Arab. The hotel's are full to bursting. People were camped outside the shrine, obviously having spent the night. I can't think of anything to compare this pilgrimage to in the western world.
I'm learning to read Farsi, the language here in Iran. Well the numbers anyway. The only number similar to ours is the one. Zero is a small diamond, five, an upside down heart, seven, a deep V, the nine leans left, while the right leaning nine is a six. The street names, which all look the same, are numbered. It's no use trying to remember a building on the corner with the "Tip Top" sign. The script on buildings is completely incomprehensible. Today I was looking for a Pharmacy to buy some dehydration sachets. I had to look in every shop door. And when I found one, I had to fight to get to the counter, and spread my elbows wide to protect my position when I got there. There must be alot of very sick people in need of very urgent medication in Mashhad, the amount of pushing and shoving happening.
Once again, the money is very confusing. 34,000 is $1. 340,000 is $10. But in common usage, they leave off a zero, so they ask for 10,000, and you give them a 100,000 note. Sometimes, for the same amount they just say "one". Several of the notes are a very similar colour, or so dirty and crumbled, I can not as yet recognize them. But I am starting to recognize the Farsi five, and two on them. Woohooo.
Then this evening my host asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. Okay. We meet another guy, and walk to the Metro.....I didn't even know there was one here. I start to board, but am redirected. I was about to enter the "Women only" carriage. Oooops. For the last two days, my host has been trying to explain the complicated world of young relationships. Basically, marriages are still arranged, but most young people do have boy or girl friends, they just can't publicly announce the relationship, and if asked openly "is this your girlfriend?" will deny any relationship. Almost all the time these relationships will not proceed to marriage. Young people are hoping that this will change, but the religious police are against the idea.
We wandered around a huge park, with hundreds of other "young" people, and even visited an old fashioned "theme park" and rode on the largest ferris wheel in the Middle East. On the way back to the hotel, we risked arrest again, by sitting in the "Women only" section of the Metro. Jeepers, I'm a rebel. I'm getting out of this city tomorrow, before I'm caught.