Iranian Government’s Reach Touches Rural Lives
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LINDSEY HILSUM, ITV News Correspondent: The flock penned in for the night is released to graze on the pasture beneath the snow-capped mountains. But this way of life is dying. Iran’s countryside is emptying out. Young people want jobs and the excitement of the city.
At 19, Ali Reza Abdul Ali is the last young man left in the village. He works on the only large farm in the area.
ALI REZA ABDUL ALI, Farm Laborer (through translator): I’d like to go to a big city, have a good job. If everything went well, I’d get married. I really love football. My dream is to become a football player.
LINDSEY HILSUM: He can’t practice here. There aren’t enough young men to make one team, let alone two.
ALI REZA ABDUL ALI (through translator): We don’t get much chance to play football, unless it’s new year when people come home. Right now, there’s no one to play with.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The village of Kolejor is in ruins, silent and all but deserted. The rich were the first to leave; the poor then followed.
There’s no cottage industry here. The old grape-pressing plant was abandoned decades ago and left to rot. As we wander through lanes strewn with the rocks of tumbledown walls, Hoj Hossein Mobini and his friends recount tales of those who left the village long ago, their memories still vivid.
HOJ HOSSEIN MOBINI, Resident (through translator): There was a fellow called Alikhani who used to live here many years ago. Their house was beautiful. Look, they even had reception room for guests.
Their children have all gone to Tehran or Qom or Kashan. It’s only us old chaps left. There’s no one here younger than those two or me, 70, 80, 90 years old. No young people live here anymore.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Successive governments promised rural regeneration. The reformists who governed for eight years under former President Khatami talked of democracy, but the man elected president last year, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he would bring wealth.
The people here say they voted for Ahmadinejad because he’s poor like them. They thought he’d understand. And eight years of reform had done nothing to stop the decline here.
We drove to the village of Kaveh a few miles away, past orchards of almond and apple trees and a wasteland of plastic bags, detritus of the modern world.
In Kaveh, we came across 85-year-old Sayed Abbas Jaafari and his 64-year-old son, Abbas, making a wooden plough. They’re using an electric drill, where 10 years ago they would have had only a hand drill or maybe a chisel and mallet. But the design of the plough hasn’t changed in 4,000 years. It’s the oldest piece of farm machinery on Earth.
Abbas says, nonetheless, at this time of year, it’s better than his tractor, which gets stuck in the mud. He shows us the yoke where he hitches the donkeys. The gap between these people and the reformists in Tehran, with their talk of freedom and human rights, is huge.
SAYED ABBAS JAAFARI, Carpenter and Farmer (through translator): This is a village. And here we don’t talk about things like human rights. Khatami didn’t do anything. He gave some freedom so people could say what they wanted and do what they liked, but it just muddled everything up. He didn’t do the right thing.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Abbas says, if the next generation is to stay in the countryside, the government must give farmers the same benefits as urban employees.
SAYED ABBAS JAAFARI (through translator): Because we’re farmers, we get no social security. After you’re 60, you can’t work properly anymore. If we had social security, young people would stay. But because there’s none, they go to the cities and end up selling cigarettes, when they could be working here on the land.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The mast on the hill. Maybe it’s television which has given young people the longing for another easier life. With no jobs, the advent of electricity, telephones and, this year, piped gas is not enough to tempt them to stay.
On the street, my translator and I meet Rougieh Rahimi (ph) on her way to the village shop. She can buy most of what she needs here: candles, foodstuffs and other supplies. She pays for some of her shopping in walnuts which she’s harvested from the trees on her farm. The shopkeeper says at different times of year he accepts wheat or almonds instead of money.
The shopkeeper’s wife invites us in for tea. Her three daughters went to university in Tehran and will never come back. She doesn’t really want her two sons to return from school in town, because in the village there’s nothing to do but smoke opium, and many here become addicts.
AKRAM SABZEI, Shopkeeper’s Wife (through translator): Their situation is terrible. I really don’t know where they get the stuff from. Maybe there’s a group of people selling it; I don’t know. The addicts are in a very bad state. Their wives and children suffer, and society in general is upset. It disturbs the whole community.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The addicts and the poorest of the poor have to take whatever work they can find. One of the most dangerous jobs is stoking the furnace which heats the water for the hamam, the communal bath.
Abbas Rahimi is covered in bitumen. For the equivalent of a couple of pounds, he’s agreed to go down the hole to loosen the noxious fuel so it flows more easily through the pipe to the furnace.
ABBAS RAHIMI, Day Laborer (through translator): Sometimes, the bitumen is so hard, you have to be careful. If you get stuck, they can’t even pull you out. But I needed the money. I was asked if I would do it, and I said, “Why not?” I have to bring home the bread.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The local primary school’s out for the day. The children walk home past the mosque. Soon, they’ll leave the village for secondary school in town. Inside, the old men say their prayers.
Islam isn’t political here like it is in Tehran, but religion is the essence of life. Despite their relative poverty, many villagers have been on pilgrimages to Karbala in Iraq and other Shia holy shrines.
They’re not calling for an end to the rule of the mullahs but simply for a better life. They’re still hoping that the new government of President Ahmadinejad will be the one to bring it.