My trip to Iran started at the airport in Istanbul. We were the only foreigners on our flight to Tehran. The people there thought that we were standing in the wrong line, but as soon as they realized that we were on our way to Iran, visiting the old land of Persia, a group of people approached us, offered us help and asked questions. I was traveling with my friend, who is male and whose name is Karl. Why is it important that he’s a male? Well. The Middle East is a man’s world. I got the first taste of it at the airport in Istanbul. There was one man in particular that spoke to us. Not once he directed his question towards me. It was ‘How old is your wife?’ and ‘Is your wife a student?’ and ‘What’s your wife’s name?’. Questions I was perfectly capable of answering myself. But I was now a woman in a man’s world. I was on my way to Iran where I am the property of my husband. I am not married, I don’t even have a boyfriend. Karl and I are simply friends. Thus, we were breaking the law for consecutive two weeks in Iran. Not the only laws we broke. Perhaps the most serious crime I committed during my trip was to go outside wearing shorts and leaving my hijab inside. For whole ten minutes.
Traveling in Iran was a wonderful experience. It was unique. We decided to use Couch Surfing. For those not familiar with that, it’s a webpage where random people offer you their couch to sleep on in order to make your experience richer and cheaper. It was great, because we got the chance of talking to so many Iranian people that we otherwise would never had met. It was amazing because we got the chance to peek into their daily lifes. You know, the 80’s was just as prevalent in Iran as in Europe. They had the same big sweaters with geometric prints, ugly haircuts (there’s a reason why mullets are banned in Iran) and bright colours. The difference between my family pictures from the 80’s and 90’s and the ones I was in Iran? Not big.
Because I’m a carpe diem kind of person I decided to try hitchhiking in Iran. Well, hitchhiking is not a known concept in Iran. You pay for your ride, so it was tricky to make people understand that we didn’t want to pay for our ride but just ride along. It was amazing. The first time, while I was on my way from Isfahan to Yazd, a small white car finally stopped for us. We were offered a ride from a brother and sister who were on their way to Yazd. The girl, well, woman spoke English. What’s interesting about this is that it was one of three women I had the chance to speak to during my two weeks stay in Iran. We were approached by strangers all the time, but language difficulties were prevalent and cultural differences made it taboo for women to approach us. Her name is Parisa, she is twenty five years old and hasn’t had a boyfriend in five years. She invited us for drinks at her place the same evening, whiskey or wine, but we politely declined. We had other plans. Alcohol is not particularly legal in Iran. The day after we had dinner together at this fancy restaurant in Yazd. It was a unique experience because I got to talk to a woman my age about living in Iran. And what’s maybe more important, she got to meet me. A free western woman who can travel with back pack with her friend who she’s not married to. Our couch surfer in that city told us that for women travelers in Iran, just being there is important. For girls, seeing a woman walking around with a backpack and the Lonely Planet guide has perhaps more impact than I realized. It shows them indepence of a woman, something that many of them are not very familiar with. Parisa was very excited to meet us and the chance for her to talk to us was perhaps more important than anything we did in this trip. We had the opportunity to exchange opinions, news and views on living in Iran or Europe. I suspect that the impact of our dinner in Dad hotel in Yazd had more impact on her than I realized at the time but her interest in English, the world and interest in activism against the ruling government has increased since I met her last July, according to her Facebook posts and her e-mails. Parisa and I still exchange e-mails from time to time and now she is studying English translation at the University, after more than five years of working full time at a desk job in a factory.
Iran is a strange place. The most private place to buy a bra is in the woman’s cell in the metro. The bottle of whisky is cheaper in Iran than in Iceland, but of course more deathly to consume in Iran than in Iceland. People there are friendly and welcoming. They are proud of their history, their country, literature and language. We met people that loved Imam Khomeini and Ahmendinajad. Mostly, we met people that just wanted to be free. To be free to wear shorts and long hair, free to go on Facebook and Twitter. They want to watch American soap operas and reality TV. They just want to be normal. But people continue living even though police officers patrol their appearance and control who they talk to on the street. It’s strange how people continue on with life, having their daily drama and romances when living in a such an authoritarian country like Iran.
At Persepolis. I think I’ve never ever been to such a cool place.
Hitch hiking in an old benz truck. It was lovely.
Esfahan at dawn.