Traveling in Iran

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.

Broadens the mind, huh?

So that’s what you like about Iran. I see. Making an impact on people’s lives, showing them a different way.

It’s quite interesting that you chose to tell the story of your journey to Iran in the Share your Ryde mission. Were those two weeks so identity-defining for you?

Yes, it was very indentity defning. It’s hard to explain, but just to be there and be a woman in Iran was extremely interesting. The fact that I had to cover myself from head to toe, that I was the property of the nearest man not and independent person really. Just, the social stigma around the fact that I was a woman was interesting to experience. And imagine to grow up in a country like this, as a girl where you can’t sit next to a male stranger on the bus or going on a date with boy you like can result in a police charge. The fashion police (well, morality police) consist of 300 thousand police officers (It’s almost the same as the population of Iceland) and make sure that your hijab is on your head and the sleeves of your shirt are long enough. And yet, people continue living. The black market there flourishes and of course, breaking the law is a daily routine for many people.

The situation of women’s rights in Iran is not good at all, but I believe it is a whole lot better than in some other parts of the world. I don’t know if I can change something, but I want to give it a try. So yes, it changed my life.

Bloody amazing :slight_smile:

Couchsurfing across Iran.

Absolutely amazing, thank you so much for writing this, and I hope we’ll get a chance to talk about it together at the conference.


Do you have pictures from your trip?

Thank you :slight_smile: It was very interesting. A bit illegal, but that just makes it even more fun!

And I’ve added some pictures below :slight_smile:

Fantastic! You made me wanna go there RIGHT NOW!!

It seems that they got really impacted by you as Western people and they saw how “they” are living there, which triggers and sometimes it doesnt make sense to them.

I would like to ask you if apart of the great experience, did you get in a way influenced by them as well? For instance, how pure they are or how they fight dynamically (or not) etc… This would be interesting! As wherever I go I try to keep the best out of it and perform them in my daily life if possible :slight_smile:

Go! Iran is a fantastic place, people there are so nice! You’ll be approached on the street for dinner invitations and they’ll pay for you taxi! It’s just ridiculous, but that’s how it is. A guest is a gift from god and they treat us with such respect and love that it’s incredible.

This really changed my life, I must say. I didn’t think that it would at the time but it has. I can’t wait to go back, and I hope I’ll be able to study farsi in Tehran this summer :slight_smile: If everything goes as planned… What was very interesting is this double faced world they live in.  It’s like the roman god Janus, the one with two faces. One offical face that does whatever the government wants you to do and then the real face of Iranian people. The real face of Iran is something that I got to know in my stay, like going on Facebook in a public computer visa VPN, to be offered alcohol and drugs, go outside wearing shorts and without hijab. To break the law that were worth breaking to just live life like I wanted to. The official face of Iran denied me entrance to tea houses, men refused to shake my hand, directed questions about me to my male travel companion.

Imagine to live in such two faced world where you’re constnatly scared for you government, police and the rest of the world. We have crazy ideas on what Iran is, how everything is there. Many people don’t distinguish Iran from Saudi Arabia, but I’m pretty certain that the difference between there is huges.

I met some girls from Iran who live, work and study in London and they all seemed quite progressive so I never imagined that their society is so conservative… it surprises me! of course, I wouldn’t put it in the same level of Saudi Arabia but as you describe it specially women look quite pressed in a “men’s world”. Yesterday I read this report on the women’s Muslim society of Indonesia and it came to my mind your report (it s not THAT relevant but it is obvious that two faced society as you describe it) check it and I am interested in your opinion about that! The author talks about how women were very open to discuss such things as sex etc if asked directly by a Western girl but they would never do it in their society as they feel afraid and stressed by men’s power.

Iran is a very big and populous country. There are nomads in Iran and educated, progressive people as well and then more conservative, traditional muslims. It really depends if you’re in Yazd or in Tehran if you’re allowed to go to a tea house, so there’s a major difference within the country. But still there’s this two faced world of the society. I found it very interesting that of all the questions my friend was asked about me (because men directed their questions to him, not me, even if it was about me) they usually asked about my education. Education gives power and the fact that at the same time Iranian women are oppressed in many ways, it’s very accepted that they have to be well educated.

It’s not like women are oppressed in that sense they don’t have any power or right to be educated, it’s the social stigma around the simple fact that they are women. They have to cover themselves, the husband or the father traditionally does all the talking. Men were reluctant to hand me things, but would rather hand it to my male travelpartner first and then he was supposed to hand it to me. It’s not necessarily a sign of oppression in their mind, but extreme respect for the man’s, well, property of the woman. It’s not always like that, it really depends on the family.

While we get to know the progressive part of the Iranian population, there’s no doubt a big part of Iranian women whose lives are very opressed, by society and religion. These women are not the ones that approached us on the street to say hi or are the ones living in London, Paris or Berlin, studying. Women from Masshad

Above is a picture from a friend of mine who was in Mashad. When this picture is taken, it’s above 40°C outside in August and they are covered from head to toe, even wearing masks. I’m not sure how comfortable this is in this heat, but you know, I’m from Iceland and I start to wear summerdresses as soon as the heat is above 10°C :stuck_out_tongue: S

Iran changed my life

We share the same experience. I was in Iran last summer and it was an incredible journey!

Now, by reading your mission, I can remember the voices I’ve heard, the colours I’ve seen, the feelings I’ve felt. Persepolis, Shiraz, Esfhan (“The half of the world”), Yazd, all these places are strongly fixed in my mind.

Anyway my best memories are for the people I’ve met. So real, so kind, so strong, so helpful, so similar to us.

I can only say that Iran is definetely a great place to visit!!!