TODAY'S FOCUS: Enough to Eat, But Not Enough Bomb Shelters
Mar. 29, 1985
VIENNA (AP) _ Life in Iran can be uncomfortable for people within range of Iraqi air strikes, but returning Westerners say there's still plenty to eat and drink for those who can afford it. The biggest shortage, they say, is bomb shelters.
''We were surprised how easy and how simple and how relatively good life was,'' said Margarite Rejtoe, who flew home recently from Tehran on a special Austrian Airlines flight.
Western air carriers brought hundreds of foreigners out of Iran last week after Iraq, its enemy in the Gulf war, declared the country's air space part of the war zone. For Austrian Air, West Germany's Lufthansa and other airlines, it was the last Tehran flight for an indefinite time.
For many people in Iran, foreigners and natives alike, the 54-month-old war has become just another of life's inconveniences, returnees said in a series of interviews.
''You can buy everything on the black market,'' said Mrs. Rejtoe, the wife of an Austrian trade representative in Tehran who had lived there since last November. ''It was relatively problem-free.''
''Sometimes there's a brief shortage of milk, sometimes sugar, but meat and all the other daily necessities are available,'' said Ulrich Boenner, an employee of a West German company building a battery factory about 28 miles outside Tehran.
The violent anti-Americanism that led to the seizure and 444-day captivity of American diplomats is still kept alive by government officials and Islamic leaders, but returnees say there are other current targets of hatred.
On Fridays at Tehran University, Boenner said, ''many people gather there, where usually a high government official gives a speech - they talk for a long time.
''Then prayers are held, followed by chants of 'Kill the USA, Kill the USSR, Kill Saddam (Hussein, the Iraqi leader) ...''
''Nobody takes it seriously,'' said one recent resident who declined to be identified because her husband, a diplomat, is still in the country.
Islamic restrictions on women's clothing are still observed, at least on the surface, said Boenner, 28.
This winter, women wore chadors to cover their hair and a lightweight coat to below their knees.
''But they still wear modern, Western-style clothes under the coats, if they can afford it. They are still style-conscious. It's not really all that strictly controlled. Sometimes you still see a little hair,'' Boenner said.
Boenner said there seeemed to be no shortage of medical supplies. His dentist and other doctors were sent on short tours to the front lines. ''They stay about six weeks and come back to their practices,'' he said.
Monika Scheucher of Graz returned from Mashad by way of Tehran on the last Austrian flight March 19. She lived in the far northeastern city for four months last year and since January this year.
Even in Mashad, on the opposite side of the country from the war zone, ''there were a lot of electrical outages, and water too,'' she said by telephone. She did not blame the shortages on the recent escalation of fighting.
''It was always so, as far as I know,'' she said.
Bottled water sells in Mashad for the equivalent of 70 cents for 1.6 quarts. That's more than twice as expensive as in affluent Austria.
''And it tastes bad,'' she said. Her family and other Westerners brought in instant coffee, because coffee was impossible to find, she said.
Heating oil was sometimes scarce this winter in Tehran, but there is plenty of gasoline, said Claus Daubert, a West German returnee.
''Streets are full of automobile traffic. The city is alive,'' said Boenner. The exodus of foreigners came on the eve of Now Rooz, the Iranian new year and most festive of the nation's holidays.
Lately, even the air raids arouse more curiosity than fear, several sources said.
They said people often go to roofs or balconies to watch the nighttime anti-aircraft fire, apparently because there was nowhere else to go.
Helmut Palzer, commercial manager of an Austrian company, told of recent Iraqi air raids in Tehran:
''People left the city during the night in their cars and drove into the mountains ... or they just sit in their homes and see what happens. There is also a certain apathy in this.''
Mrs. Rejtoe said her family lived in an American-style bungalow without a cellar. She and others had recently been taking shelter in the basement of the West German Embassy at night.
''The air defense system is not like in other countries,'' said Palzer. ''It needs improvement, to put it mildly.''
''There is no civil defense in the ordinary sense of the term. They can only switch off lights. There are sirens, but they are sometimes sounded only after the detonation ... there are hardly any air-raid shelters.''