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The Empress comes calling

Actually, the Shahbanou - Empress of Iran - comes calling.

The school where we worked was on a new development at the edge of the desert, and could only be reached by a rough track. Then, one day, it was announced that the Empress would be visiting, and a road appeared overnight. It wasn’t a very good road, and it began to crumble almost immediately, but it didn’t have to be a good road – all it had to do was look good from the Empress’s helicopter.

Two days before the visit, all the local residents were moved out of their houses, and army snipers were moved in. The evening before the visit, the Savak (secret service) arrived at the school. They were smartly dressed, very polite and had an excellent command of English – and I have never met a more frightening set of people in my life.

On the day of the visit, we were told we could bring nothing into the school. When we arrived there, we discovered that the secret service had broken every stick of chalk, to make sure that nothing was concealed in them.

The empress’s helicopter was to land in the central square around which the school was built. In fact, two helicopters arrived, and went through an elaborate aerial dance, so it was not clear until one actually touched down which would land first. The moment one of them did touch down, six secret service men sprang from it and adopted the crouch you always see in spy films. They may not have had pistols in their hands (I honestly can’t remember) but it certainly felt as if they had.

The empress having finally disembarked, she made a tour of the school, while we did our best to act like it was a normal day ...

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