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Hidden treasures of Iran

I’m going to Iran.
Are you crazy? Out of all the countries on this planet? Isn’t it dangerous? What’s the situation over there?

This is how most of the people that I tell what my plans for the summer are, react.
Exactly like the rest of them, this friend of mine knows little, if anything at all, about this country.
And the thing is you can’t really blame her. The newspapers and mass-media in general serves us only these unfortunate events. Those events that bring out the worst in us: “See how three men were hung in Iran”, “A woman was sentenced to death after she married a man of a different religion.

What’s really going on in Iran? I don’t know exactly, that’s why I want to go there and see for myself. I won’t believe the news and all that the media tells me, I trust blogger’s articles and stories based on facts, from people who have been there. And all of them tell the same story: Iran is a beautiful country, and Iranians are very nice people who genuinely want to help you.

And for the girls who read this blog: A few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine and she was curious about why I want to visit a country where women have no rights. She even accused me of encouraging such behavior by traveling there and accepting their status quo.
I could argue about women’s rights in our society. And I feel that unfortunately with all these rights of ours we became sheep on consumerism and marketing’s conveyor belt. We get more rights from shampoo and tampons.
And that’s exactly what’s fascinating about Iran. They respect their faith and beliefs and we judge them for that. We’re great at judging other people!
For me, traveling is very much also about seeing with my own eyes, feeling for myself and then making an opinion, not believing brainlessly every prejudiced idea about a country.
In August I want to go to Iran and in October I’m going to India. I’ll let you know how I felt, what I saw, what I understood.
Back to the subject of this article: so far, Iran is an unsolved enigma for me, and to finish this long intro, I’ll tell you about some of the stuff I read about Iran. Please feel free to add stuff, fill me in, share your stories, send me links. I want to gather as much information that I will process like I choose… 🙂
One of my favorite parts is from Imperator’s blog:

“We were walking by the busses and the guy asked us where we’re going. Kashan. He then asks some guys in uniform and tells us that there are numerous rides, and the next will be leaving in 15 minutes. We follow him up the stairs to buy tickets. We get to the booth and the guy buys us 4 tickets – they’re not much, 2.5 Euro a piece. He hands us the tickets, tells us that the bus is downstairs and leaves… <<Wait! We have to pay you! No need to, it’s a gift; People also helped me when I traveled>> and then he ran away, leaving us with our jaws hanging. 10 Euros is an important sum of money for an Iranian! How many of you would pay for some foreign backpackers’ bus tickets in Romania? Welcome to Iran!”

Another one from Imperator, but from a different article:

“Many women haven’t left their home for many years out of shame of not having their heads covered and have gone out when european hats were accepted… It seems strange, but we must consider the fact that for centuries, Iranian women were used to having something around their head and all of a sudden it was forbidden to them… how would many western women feel if starting from tomorrow, they would have to walk topless down the street? To men, it would be cool, to many women, maybe not… It’s like that in Iran too… actually it’s estimated that if women would be allowed to walk around without something around their head, only 30% would give up the hijab.”

So why do we condemn something we don’t understand? That’s what I keep asking myself. I honestly tell you that I keep reading about Iran and it makes me want to go there, to understand, to see.
I enjoyed this article from start to finish and I really encourage you to AT LEAST browse through it. It’s about women and their status over there, about traditions that still exist, but are being elegantly “bypassed”:

“When I was heading to Iran for the first time, full of anxiety, I was just looking for a different, exciting experience. I wouldn’t have guessed that from underneath a rusari, magnaeh or chador, I would uncover a paradoxical and surprising world. I couldn’t imagine that only by being covered I would have access to a world that will slowly show it’s beauty, in small doses, enough to fascinate me and make me fall in love with it, carefully being mysterious at the same time”

I’m truly fascinated and these articles unravel a world totally different from the one I first imagined.
There are also opinions of people that know people who have been there and didn’t enjoy at all. Because they are wary all the time and misogynistic. I don’t know why, but after all the articles I’ve read, I feel like we don’t actually know what misogynistic means. I think they’re trying to protect women, but in a curious way, I have to admit. Women in Iran go to school and study really hard, because that equals freedom, they work in the same places as men, and sometimes they even have high management jobs.
But still, everything is really weird, because Iran dazzles us once again with news worthy of Science-Fiction movies. Nuclear programs, high-tech missiles capable of destroying american military bases, everything seems Science Fiction.
And all of this combined with “Taarof”, a persian form of extreme politeness, a system of exchanging compliments back and forth. For example, cab drivers refuse the money for fares (even though they don’t mean it), you insist, he insists back and so on, until he gives up and accepts the money. This way of behaving is not necessarily new to us, we also have this rule, that you have to decline twice and accept the third time. To be honest, I do that too. I rarely accept the first time I’m offered something, but people don’t always understand this. I try not to do it so often, especially if I know I want that cookie, and that won’t hurt anyone.
Now let’s talk about traffic. Before I went there, I also heard traffic in Turkey is impossible. I didn’t drive, but I was very aware. Big city streets are indeed packed, but not that different from what we see in Bucharest. The thing is, Iran seems the same. You need to know your car, have some balls, and pay very close attention to other cars. Be very careful, because it’s easier to avoid than to fight it.
Here’s another interesting article I recommend, if you have time:

“Outside the cities, driving in Iran fairly relaxed. The roads are generally in good condition and it is not extremely busy on the roads. In the mountain areas, the roads are often steep, making the use of low gears necessary. The trucks are often the types from the ’60s, ’70s and ‘80s, and usually smoke like a chimney. Driving in the city is a disaster. Traffic rules are there, but are not enforced. To the extent that we have experienced, there are three important “rules” that are used by Iranian drivers:
1. Drive and park wherever possible (including sidewalk or bus lane). Keeping your lane is stupid and will take you nowhere.
2. Never look in your mirror. The only direction in which you look is forward. So if you change lanes or want to drive up a street, then it is the responsibility of the person who comes from the back or was already on the street, to avoid collision.
3. You never want to ride behind someone. Overtaking is a natural thing and driving behind another car is for sissies. So, passing other cars is necessary, even if this leads to extremely dangerous situations, not only for them, but also for your own family.”

So the things I learned so far about Iran:

  • I need to wear a veil (hijab), have my head covered at all times
  • Politely refuse at first, accept if my common sense tells me it’s appropriate
  • I need an international driver’s license
  • Men and women are not allowed to share a hotel room, unless they are married. I find it interesting that they want their traditions and customs to be respected, even by foreigners
  • I won’t show any skin (except for my face, obviously), won’t be too friendly to men, keep the distance
  • Food is delicious
  • It’s not polite to sit down at the table until the host invites you to, nor should you sit next to people of opposite sex
  • You should eat only with your right hand
  • Don’t eat everything on your plate, otherwise you’ll keep getting more. Leave some food on your plate.
  • I’ll be amazed because I didn’t know anything about Iran until recently and anyway the things that I assumed are probably wrong. Though I saw pictures and watched videos.

Please feel free to share your opinion, tell me what Iran is like. What do you know about this fascinating country?

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Photos: 1 si 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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