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Coffee In a Strange Land

Mike Novack

This Ain't No Stinkin' Denny's

On a trip to Tehran, not too long before the US Embassy was taken over, we spent the night at a hotel in downtown Tehran. On the way in to town from the airport we saw women washing clothes in the gutters, and a block later you'd see a guy relieving himself in the same gutter. Well, what do you know? The water flowed downhill (just like it does, by some magical process, ALL OVER THE WORLD) in the direction of that lady washing her clothes. Right then, we should have known something wasn't right, because this wasn't like any place else we'd ever been, and water was not supposed to flow downhill in this part of the world! It said so in the approach charts.

The driver seemed to be taking a lot of twists and turns instead of making a bee-line for downtown. This was not a cab, it was a blue crew bus, with USAF printed on the side, so, unlike the normal crew worried about this sort of thing, we were not worried about the fare. We asked what was going on and the driver told us they were instructed to take a different route to and from the airport on every trip. Somebody knew something we didn't know. The reason for that seems all too clear to us these days, but then it seemed bit strange. I guess nobody could read the letters "USAF" or see the color blue so we did not think a thing of it at the time.

The next day the nav (we still had them back then) and I went down to the hotel coffee shop (if you could call it that) and ordered some coffee.

View from Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. Copyright: Bryan McPhee

They poured us each a cup and he picked up a sugar dispenser (one of those ones with a little flip top on it) and poured a bit into his coffee.

Full Disclosure: The picture above is a little Photoship pic I created, for fun. The fly was not visible in our sugar dispenser, until it found it's way to freedom in the nav's coffee cup.

Along with some dirty looking sugar out popped a dead fly or two. Our Tehraneese phrase book only had "There's a fly in my soup", so we were stuck. The nav waved his arms wildly and got the waiter's attention, beckoned him over to the table, and pointed at the mess floating in his coffee.

The guy took the cup and sugar container over to a cleanup tray, dumped the coffee into a bucket, then filled the same cup with more coffee. Then he picked the remaining flies out of the sugar and brought the 'fresh' stuff back. We left Tehran hungry that morning.

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