Glamorous Outside, Disastrous Inside

If you look at the desert across from the exit at the Imam Khomeini International Airport, you can see colorful buildings on the other side of the road. At the first glance, the buildings seem to constitute a beautiful town, but if you take a look from the above in a landing plane in the airport, it will strike you as a town under construction that may not be habitable until the next two years! You will see an appalling situation once you enter the town. Mehr Residence in Parand (Robat Karim County, Tehran Province, Iran) resembles everything but a habitable town. Perhaps, the entrance sign of the town should read “Town is under construction” instead of “Parand Maskan-e Mehr”. At the entrance, there is a security kiosk with two guards. When I started taking photos, one of them approached me and asked the usual question: “Why are you taking photos?” I replied, “I am a student and take photos for a research project.” Unlike any other guards, he stopped his inquiry and simply left. Evidently, he couldn’t care less who entered the town, so there was practically no security in order. The colorful façade of buildings at the entrance gave them an exuberant look to conceal their dark constructs of life. This colorful façade may conceive the buyers. The first person existing one of these buildings in a rush was a thirty-something-year-old man. I asked him, “How is the inside?” He replied, “Ruins!” Looking at the block, I said, “It looks good on the outside.” Walking quickly, he said, “All walls are damp. The bathroom tiles came off, and thousands of other problems. Just move a little further, and you’ll find out.” This is the first phase of the town, and he added, “All those who got a unit in this phase either had some strings pulled or bribed someone.” The first phase of this town consists of only 10 blocks, most of which have gas and water. Apparently, their residents are relatively satisfied with their units. I started talking to another resident of the first phase. He was unhappy with the basic facilities of his block and said, “I moved in three years ago. After one month, all electric wires short-circuited, and I had to spend 500 thousand tomans changing all wires.” The asphalt on many streets was worn out, and most of the dirt roads in the entire town had so many bad bumps described as axle shaft breakers by taxi drivers. Since the town was not built in engineering principles, the boulevards are not properly arranged. Apart from the first phase, it is impossible to distinguish the other phases. After leaving the first phase behind, you see the unfinished buildings with only walls, abandoned materials, and dusty homes. “The state fooled us. This town has fewer facilities than even a village.” These are the words of an old man strolling in the ruins of a building. He added, “I paid 20 million tomans six years ago. I sold everything I had. They have me this condominium three months ago. It is not habitable at all. The walls are not even plastered.” As we were talking, a dog barked and scared him away. Upon arrival in the town, you notice the presence of many dogs that run towards cars and bark in groups. The unfinished buildings and life in hell are proper terms to describe this town. A little further, we entered a block with no residents through the window with the photographer. The first floor was plastered and half-ready, but the walls at higher floors were recently concreted with no tiles on the floors. We were exiting the building when we heard a voice from one of the units. Reza was 35 years old. He was living in one of those units. He let us in his home. Except for one room that he plastered himself, the other parts were still unfinished. I wonder if he really lived there. “I heard they started selling the units that people refused to receive, so I decided to get mine. I only sleep here at nights, and my family lives in Robat Karmi.” He added, “They agreed to send workers for plastering and completing the building three months ago, but the work is postponed every week.” He said, “The walls collapse with just a blow.” He then showed us a loose brick in the kitchen wall. I touched a wall that was not plastered. You cannot even call it a wall. Living in this home is not even imaginable. I asked a woman in the town about buying groceries. She replied, “There are only two stalls around here. They sell only snacks. To buy one kilogram of potatoes worth 1000 tomans, you have to go to Robat Karim by taxi for 700 tomans.” I asked her about not having gas, and she said, “Gas capsules are brought every week, but they have not been delivered for a week. I now cook food at my sister’s in Tehran and keep it in the freezer.” Surprisingly, you don’t see any kids playing in the alleys. I asked why there were no kids playing around and she replied, “Last month, dogs attacked a kid. I have not allowed my kids to go outside ever since.” As we approached the other phases, we saw further unfinished buildings. You could tell from the covered windows that families were living there. I entered a building and started talking to a resident. Chagrined, she said, “There 12 residential units here. Last year, eight families settled in, but there are only three families, and the rest left due to the many existing problems.” I asked her why those five families left, and she replied, “The ceilings of all units are made of fake walls. There were sewer pipes above. They were all so rusty that they started to leak. The ceilings were not fixed well, so all of them leaked at all floors when people at higher floors were using their bathrooms. The walls were so thin that you could always hear the neighbors, who were always fighting over this inconvenience.” She finally added, “Life here is a living hell.” A while ago, an owner of Mehr Residence units told me that they finally owned a home even if it was in ruins. I still wonder whether it is worth owning a home in hell at all costs with such difficulties. How much a square meter? The price here is set per unit! Wandering around the town, we sat two young men moving out. I asked one of them how much a home was there per square meter? He replied, “It depends, but something around 900 thousand to one million tomans.” He warned me, “If you’re a buyer, be careful because there are no ownership deeds, and some of the units have been sold to several people.” He said he was not a resident and was only there to help his brother who bought a unit there. I asked his brother how much he had bought his unit. He replied, “I paid 60 million tomans for an 80-meter unit.” The previous administration announced that the owners of Mehr Residence units were not allowed to sell their homes, but he said, “We got a notarized consent form with a 99-year lease for which I paid the entire fee.” I asked him about the place he bought, and he said, “I have spent one million tomans painting and wiring the place. I now use gas capsules, but they promised to provide gas through pipes before winter.” To my amazement, he said that he had seen nearly 30 units in this town before he closed a deal. He then added, “Most of the owners here want to sell their homes. The places are not priced per square meter. They are priced per unit. For example, a unit is worth from 50 million tomans to 100 million tomans based on its location, facilities, and construction progress.” There is probably a high chance of fraud in such deals that have no deeds and not authorized by the state. The man said, “An owner sold one of these units to nine people and got 20 million tomans from each. He is now on the run.” It is surprising to see that there is fraud in a town with no facilities, no security, and even no chances of closing deals. In the end, the new owner’s brother said, “Whoever buys a unit for 1 million tomans per square meter is out of his mind. You can buy a place with a legit deed and all facilities for 1,200,000 tomans per meter on the other side of the road in Robat Karim, but here…!” You thought as if the people were living in the way that villagers lived a century ago. A little further, we saw a horrifying scene in the town. Probably, it set backs the clock to a century ago when people went to streams and rivers to provide water. There was a line of people standing around a hose of water and holding plastic buckets and gallons. They gathered around us once they saw our photographer. “Sir! Please publicize our problems!” said a young woman who got there with her little kid to fill in her bottles with water. I didn’t ask her anything but she added, “We don’t have any water here. This hose is available from 11 AM to 4 PM so that we can come here to get water. The units that were built and given to people within the last three months of Ahmadinejad’s administration only have electricity, and people resort to this hose to get water.” Another woman standing in the sunlight with her two kids said, “We don’t have any water, and we are charged 50 thousand tomans monthly for electricity.” There are no telephone lines in the entire town, and there will be none apparently in the forecastable future. I asked her why she was standing in the sunlight, and she replied, “It’s cold at home because we have neither gas no water. During the sunny days, I take out the kids so that they can be a little warm. At night, we put on three pairs of socks to avoid getting frostbitten.” I looked at my cellphone to see if I received any signals, but the MCI’s motto that says Nobody Is Alone makes no sense here. I asked a man waiting on the water line, “What do you do if something goes wrong?” He replied, “Nothing! We can get Irancell signals at some spots in the town, but it even takes many rescue centers two hours to get here from Robat Karim.” He told of a women bitten by a dog a few nights ago, “The ambulance showed up after two hours, and the poor woman finally fainted from severe pain.” He then said that many buyers were forced by Omran Parand Company to give promissory notes worth five million tomans because the materials became more expensive. He then added, “I have placed a water tank at home. I have also built a clay wall within one of the rooms and use firewood to keep the family warm!” At the town entrance, there are taxis that go to Robat Karim and come back to Parand. I asked a driver what their working hours were, and he replied, “We are here until 4 PM. If you want to leave the town after 4 PM, you have to stand by the road so that a passing car may give you a ride to Robat Karim.” He added, “The price for an exclusive ride to Azadi Square in Tehran is 17000 tomans. It is 5000 tomans to Robat Karim.” Inhabitable means the social justice. The town was supposed to shelter 60 thousand families and be ready to use within six months in accordance with the common standards, but many of the buyers are still in turmoil for nearly five years. Perhaps, there are only 1000 families residing here. With his typical populistic gesture, Ahmadinejad once said in Ilam, “The Mehr Residence Project is among the successful actions taken by the state to fulfill the social justice”. We spent two hours wandering in a ruin that should be called the “Disgraceful” Residence. Upon leaving the town, I was thinking about the social justice and the past eight years. Here is a town with no gas, water, and telephone lines. For electricity, the residents of a 50-square-meter unit are charged 50 thousand tomans a month. This may mean “justice” is the dictionary of Mehr Residence.

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