Iran has been an incredible experience for us, already unlike any other. It is, as the cliché goes, a land of contrasts. We began by crossing the relatively recently opened border crossing at Kapikoy, Turkey as I wrote about in the last post, rode down a spectacular valley alongside a pretty-much dried up river. We were greeted by everyone, waving and shouting “Ha-llo, Ha-llo”, always a salutation each, or sometimes an enquiry; “Welcome to Iran, your country?” We even passed a couple of military jeeps, loaded with machine guns and kids in camo, “Welcome!” they yell as they wave frantically. Slightly surreal..
We’ve always known not to believe everything you read, but I have to admit that, on some level, i’d been put a little on edge by all our nearest and dearest’s warnings to be careful in Iran. However, the nerves were soon put to rest by the hospitable nature and overall welcoming tone of the locals, it’s clear that the average Iranian loves tourists! Zooming down the valley, one family stood by their picnic spread (a favourite pass-time) and handed us each a nectarine as we whizzed past! Yum!
The first city we came to was Khoy, after an easy and beautiful introductory ride into the country, and we were greeted by a crowd, one of whom was M (don’t want to write his name; for reasons which will become clear), a student mastering in English literature at the university in Tabriz. He was so excited to be with us, he walked us to the tourist hotel; telling us it would be much more appropriate for people like us (?!) than the dirty one we had been checking out, which, he continued, was for Iranian tourists. Too tired to argue, and hoping for the prospect of wifi (no chance!) in the slightly more upmarket one, we followed him and checked in. M was very sad about the unfortunate timing of our visit; he had to catch the bus to Tehran for his cousin’s wedding at 10pm that night, and promised us that, on a different day, he wouldn’t have allowed us to give our money to a hotel and instead we’d be staying in his house! What a sweetie.
We explained that we were tired and dirty; so he gave us time to freshen up before meeting him later. M took us to visit the tomb of Shams Tabriz; the teacher of the poet Rumi, famous in the West, and on the way wowed us with his incredible, if a little archaic, English, I giggled a few times with the words he came out with, straight outta Dickens. He didn’t mind one bit, and welcomed my little lessons on which phrases might sound out-dated. Meeting M was a really great introduction to Iran for us, over pizza he explained a little about the current political situation and the oppression of the people – he was incredibly liberal-minded, there was talk of the arab spring and whether it might spread here, he hoped so.
After hearing about how the regime had banned everything from alcohol to satellite TV, and how, an unrelated boy and girl who are caught out in public together can be forced to marry on that same day, I let slip some phrase with the word ‘dictator’ in it, M froze and then glanced around the room to check no-one had heard, and then firmly told me; “It is better that you drink your juice”. (i.e. we may all know that a spade’s a spade, but here we simply must smile and call it a rabbit.)
After this slip-up we left the juice bar and M walked us around various shops trying to sort out various things for us (an Iranian sim-card, internet cafe…) before apologising and hurriedly saying goodbye before rushing off to catch his bus.
What an eye-opener of a conversation; hearing first-hand about the weighty oppression of the people. To quote M; “Never mix religion and politics”; “This country’s stuck in the dark ages”.