8th September, My mama’s birthday! Into Persia

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Today we would cross the border, something that we’d been holding a little apprehension about, never had we travelled through a country with such strict laws as I.R.Iran, so I was feeling quite nervous about what I should wear; hejab the ladies’ dress code means hair covered and loose fitting clothes. From information gleaned from the Lonely Planet and the internet, I had heard that Iranian women wore one of two options; either a long jacket called a manteau with a headscarf, or an all-encompassing black ‘chador’, literally tent. One source said you could get away with a baggy men’s shirt for a day or two until you found something more suitable, but I was worried about upsetting anyone. The thought of cycling (also an act that is not usually allowed for women in Iran) in a heavy jacket and headscarf through the desert was not a happy one. We had a beautiful ride down a valley to the border crossing, but just as we approached it, some young boys came up to us  gathering sticks and rocks in their hands. I’d stopped to take a picture, not seeing them, which unfortunately had given them time to get nice and close, and we knew their plans… I tried to talk to them and they answered, giggling away. A car pulled up between us and them and slowed right down, obviously aware of what was afoot, and spotting a get-away, we made a dash for it. They lauched their missiles, but none struck.

We came to the border, and went into the loo to change into appropriate attire. Even Joel was advised to change into long trousers and a shirt, rather than his vest. We had to sit and wait a while, while everyone in the office had a good look at a British passport – but after 20 minutes we were through. So perhaps to our surprise, the Iranian side of the crossing was exactly the same as the Turkish side. The media has really succeeded in making a monster of Iran, so much so that Joel and I were both feeling pretty stressed, and ended up snapping at each other a bit, whilst we discussed where to camp – not really knowing what was acceptable in Iran. We continued down the valley, tired and hungry; analysing the surroundings for camping possibilities. One car of Iranian men came past and warned us off camping here, making a throat-slitting action, saying “here, Kurds”. We knew better than to believe their accusations, but it still unnerved us somewhat, already feeling so low-energy. After a few more minutes riding, through some pretty terrible roads (one went through a stream!) we saw a little tent by the side of the road next to a heap of rubble, clearly a road-building site. A man with a wonderfully smiley face got out of it, and came to see us. He mimed that we could put the tent above the road on a heap of rubble. While we were putting Aggy up, he brought us chay and came to sit with us. We didn’t have much food, and what we did have was old and pretty crusty bread; when he saw it, he darted back down to his tent and came back with a big gas stove, a tin of tuna and some huge flatbread. We mixed in some sweetcorn and heated it up on the stove. I got my phone out to give Mum a birthday surprise call, but was dismayed to find that 02 seemingly connected with an Iranian network (shouldn’t really have been a surprise, considering the sanctions the rest of the world have placed on Iran). How frustrating. After a while, we mimed that we were tired, and Khalid tried very hard to get us to switch tents with him, taking us to look at his cosy little one, complete with mattress and other snuggly bits! We just couldn’t believe the hospitality, even from a guy on a building site, and after point blank refusing to sleep in his bed, we retired into Aggy, marvelling at the power of media hype, amazed at the only image we had of Iran being repression and nukes, when we were experiencing such an incredibly warm welcome from a complete stranger! We both agreed that if we ever get the opportunity to host strangers, we would take a leaf out of these guys’ book, and went to sleep, humbled once again.

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