10 Mar The truth about (travelling through) Iran
While traveling through Iran you will not see a single female hair. All women wear long coats and look like walking trash cans. Everything is desert, desert and more desert and people are hostile against strangers, especially if they are from western countries. If you are in trouble nobody will help you and it is very difficult to talk to someone at all. Driving a car is like attempting suicide, especially in the capital Teheran which is not more than a maze of small streets and clay houses. The Koran is taken literally by everybody and and once the ear-deafening yelling of the muezzins starts everyone throws himself on the ground in order to pray in direction Mekka.
Nothing of what you just read is true. I invented all of it.
We travelled in our camper van overland from Europe to China and back and we crossed through Iran twice. The second time we deliberatley took the longer way home through Turkmenistan because we wanted to go to Iran one more time. You guess right. We loved it!
To be honest, for me it wasn’t surprising at all that the people in Iran are very friendly and hospitable because I already heard of it. However the degree of friendlyness and hospitality was still a surprise and nothing short of amazing. It is true that many women wear coats, but they are very short and only barely cover the hips and come in countless beautiful varieties. As a guy I think that over all the women in Iran had a much better taste in faishon than women in Europe or the USA. In general they looked more modern and classy. Of course all women do wear scarfs, it’s the law, but many explore the limits very openly to the point that the scarf only covers a little bit of the head. Also the scarfs were so beautifuly made and worn, that I perceived them much more as a faishon object than a symbol for Islam.
I believe it is simply impossible to travel through Iran without talking to perfect strangers or being invited to dinner by them. Really try it, it’s impossible. Be it for a cup of tea, or a parking or highway fee, if an Iranian sees an opportunity to show hospitality he will take it. We even were gifted free fills of diesel for our van. However it only cost 1 dollar or so. 😉 Ulterior motive? Well there were two incidents where we felt like the person only tried to shed good light on himself and Iran. But in most cases it felt like heartfelt friendlyness and hospitality driven by a genuine curiosity an urge to get in an exchange with strangers.
Everything is desert? Of course not! Just north of Teheran mountains raise up to a height of 5500 meters and the descend to 0 meters down to the caspian sea within a 100km. At Irans latitutde this immense slope, 5500m in 100km, leads to a natural spectacle that I have never see before. We drove from snow covered alps-like mountains down to the caspian see within a couple of hours. Within just a couple of kilometers the snow covered mountains transformed into brown gras-deserts, then pine forests followed by autumn coloured deciduous forrests. Another couple of kilometers farther down the same forrests were still lush and green and a bit farther down the forrest startet to gain a tropical character. Finally reaching the caspian sea we stood at the beach between palm trees with our minds blown. It wasn’t even evening and in the morning we had our feets in the snow and we were in Iran.
Unfortunately the amount of trash the Iranians left in their favorite picnic spots was mind blowing too. Such a mess we had only seen in greece before that. And yes, picnic spots. The Iranians LOVE picnic and it seems to be the countries favorite recreational activity to picnic where ever there is a spot of green or beautiful.
On our way back we got lost on purpose somewhere in those mountains between the caspian see and Teheran. We camped at an altitude of about 2000m and experienced the most beautiful view of the mountains and an incredibly clear and undisturbed stary night.
Teheran is a huge modern metropolis with six lane highways straight through everything. Small streets you will find just as few as clay houses. Modern buildings of glas and steel are more like it. Driving is quite tyring yet manageable though. I heard many times how “brutal” the traffic in Teheran was supposed to be, but I didn’t see it that way. Sure they use every centimeter available and a three lane road is being used as a four lane road without a word or honk lost, if it helps to make the traffic run more smoothly. If a driver doesn’t go with that flow and tries to impose his own, western, rules onto the iranian traffic he will soon be at war with every other car and it doesn’t help anyone. Which is probably a metaphor too. I’m a bit proud to say that I have managed to drive through whole Teheran twice and only honked three times. I had to admire how fluent the traffic in Teheran was even when the roads were crowded. Crowded were the roads only in the big cities, overland the roads are almost always very empty.
Being a pedestrian in Iran is quite a challenge though. Cars won’t slow down a bit for a pedestrian and crossing a road in Tehreran on foot requires a very special technique similar to those old road-cross computer games.
Speaking of computer games. Driving in Iran sometimes felt like being in one of those oldschool car race games because they only featured a small selection of opponent cars. I guess due to sanctions, the choice of cars in Iran is limited and you end up seing a handful of different models all over the place.
And as for those muezzins. Before we went to Iran we drove through turkey and I have been in rather islamic cities in India before. The muezzins in Iran are very reserved compared to the ones I heard in Turkey or India. In India it often felt like the tried to destroy my eardrum when the drove their PA-System into distortion. In turkey they were certainly very loud and unmissable. In Iran the muezzins songs were kind of beautiful and we even enjoyed the vibe if we heard them at all.
By the way: within 3 weeks in Iran we only saw one person ever pray in public. In conversations with Iranians we soon realized that the situation in Iran is no different than in other places. There are as many political and religious opinions as anywhere else. For example we talked to totally normal citiciens who were about as much a moslem as most europeans are christians. They are just born that way and don’t really care about religion very much. They may pray from time to time or visit a mosque or may believe in “a” god, but they are not too serious about it. Many of those live a life which is satisfying enough for them so they don’t see any reason to rebell against the religious rules of the governement even though for them the rules don’t make sense. Of course there are also very religious people who take Islam very seriously and wholeheartedly live by it. But on the other hand we also met many people who didn’t care about Islam or religion at all, they were only muslims on paper.
Views are different on many things. We talked to a couple of women about the scarf being compulsory. Some saw it as a burden, others felt secure with it. All agreed that being forced to wear a scarf is the least of their problems in light of still having to fight for basic woman rights. There certainly is oppression in Iran not only of women, but even certain harmless opinions in general. However it was shocking how little we actually felt that oppression while travelling through Iran. We came to know about it only twice when we met young “Persians” which is how I secretly call them. They told me that for them Islam has been imposed on a very beautiful Persian culture more than 1000 years ago and destroyed it in the process. For them Islam is an unwanted ruler in their Persia and they feel as the true patriots of their country by remembering their oldest heritage.
These people feel oppressed because they have to follow the rules of Islam and they told us that they believe that true Persians instinctively reject religion. They even opposed the word “Iran” itself because it was the name that replaced Persia when it became islamic. We actually visited a piece of that old Persia at the ruins of Persepolis which was very impressive and far bigger than the ruins in Athens for example by the way.
Once I told a guy that we were a bit afraid of travelling through Iran with a van with Swiss number plates because we had seen videos of Iranians on streets burning a Swiss flag after a law banned minarets in Switzerland. He was a “Persian” and he actually thought it was a “good law” (I don’t). He said we shouldn’t be worried at all because there are always some extremists who have no hobbies but burning foreign flags at every opportunity. Usually less than a 100 people gather, make a lot of noise while being filmed from a beneficial angle. Those images then go around the world leaving a completey wrong impression. And he was right. Not a single Iranian had a negative reaction about us being from Switzerland. For most we were just watches and chocolate and they very often mainly concerned about us probably believing that they are terrorists and wanted to ensure to us that they are indeed not.
When we are reading news or talking about foreign countries over dinner we always tend to lump together all people in a country. But this is so utterly absurd once you actually are in that country. In every country different people have very different views on politics or religion. We can not afford the lazyness to ignore that. Americans want war in the middle east, muslims are terrorists, Iranians are oppressed and need to be freed, whatever, it’s all far to unprecise and yet such statements tend to lay the foundation for political decisions, even war.
I know people who travelled overland through Syria before the war and their stories sounded very similar to what we have to tell about Iran. And a bit later some foreign power had the idea that they need to intervene in what was happening in Syria causing a complete mess in the process. And before that in Irak. Having seen Iran with my own eyes it would break my heart to see another country invade it or try to “help” or “free” those Iranians and Persians. Their country is their business, they have to make their own decisions and, if need be, revolutions. Any interventions are counterproductive because the cultural processes need time not force.
But what about those nukes you ask? I don’t know and I don’t care. We did see nuklear powerplants in construction though. A resident told us that they used to be constructed by germans but because of the sanctions the russians took over and now did a worse job. The residents were afraid of a disaster. As for the bombs. Personally I’m not afraid of probable Iranian nukes. Just think about it. What would happen if Iran had nukes and used them in an attack on Israel or the US? The reaction would be massive and Iran wouldn’t stand a chance against what would be coming at them from all sides. Iran of course knows that. Therefore I believe that we don’t have to worry that Iran would ever use nukes in an attack. Nukes would be a mere scarecrow (as for all others who have them) in order to be left alone. So just leave Iran alone. Problem solved.
While travelling through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, western China, Kyrgizistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, all Islamic regions, we had pretty much only positive experiences with people and officials. You see, in all those place live just people. Women, men, families, children, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and they all only want what everybody wants. To live a life, to feel secure, to have a roof over their heads, to work, to eat, to drink, to fall in love, to have children, to celebrate. And that is what we saw them do no matter in what place they lived, what religion they had and what governement ruled them. If people feel like they need change they will have to make it happen on their own. As long as other powers don’t bring war to their doors or support one or the other political side in their own interest or according to their own ideals it will remain their own process and it has to.
Of course we never met a terrorist or extremist of any sort. These are a minority and today it is very clear that their hate against the western world was mostly caused by interventions of foreign powers in their countries. Every time someone loses a loved one, a new possible terrorist is born. Those who capitalize on them, those who lead them are often in a position to do so because of vacuums of power left by rulers who had been weakened or removed by foreign powers in the first place. We were afraid of the islamic regions before we travelled there and the fear we had was clearly caused by what we heard in the media. Then we saw it, them, with our own eyes and all that we saw were human beings living their lives in various different ways. I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that the western media was consciously trying to feed an anti-islamic mood, but maybe they simply don’t know better themselves.
In my opinion we westerners have to realize that the islamic culture is not in the same place as the christian, western culture. The western world has moved away from religion for over 300 years now. Religion has become less and less central and important for the majority of people and complex political systems have replaced it in state affairs. To get to this point Europe has gone through wars and revolutions and it has taken a lot of time. Islamic culture is not at this point in most places. Religion is taken more seriously to the point that it is used as a governing system as it was in Europe over 500 years ago. Religion is still far more central and important for more people and political systems have yet to be formed and accepted. We have to be patient for the islamic cultures to go through the same processes Europe did or hope for even better processes to happen. Just imagine a 1600 europe where aliens had removed a couple of monarchs, aristocrats and the pope. Total chaos would have been the result. And that is what has happened in Irak, Afghanistan and Syria. It has to stop.
I’ve never been demonstrating on the street for any political cause, but after my experiences in Iran I can say, that if Iran was invaded I would be on the streets waving a love and peace flag.