Saturday, May 30, 2009
DAY 184 THE PEOPLE OF IRAN
If travel was a disease then I'm riddled with it. But no country has ever exceeded my expectations as Iran has. Anyone who says 'The world is a small place' has never really travelled much. With almost 200 countries in the world, I never make a point of returning to a country, no matter how good it is. But Iran is the exception here. I'm definitely coming back to Iran. The reason - Its people. I'm not talking about Iranian politics or religion. This blog is not about that. There are plenty of other websites on that subject. This is about the people. Everyday I was approached and welcomed by the people. Although 99% of the time it was from the men. When I get home from this trip I might check out some blogs of women who travelled solo in Iran because I would be curious as to how they found it. Its easy for a bloke to travel in Iran but women are still, in my opinion, treated as second class citizens. They sit at the back of the bus, they must always have a head scarf on and I noticed they can't join a funeral procession till after the last male mourner. I know some of the areas I travelled through get zero tourists and the fact that I'm travelling on a bike and on my own, means that sometimes the over friendly locals can just get too much. Its overpowering when you are literally dragged into somewhere for tea. Then there was the guy who rode his motorbike along side me for 15KMs even though he hadn't a word of english. I generally communicate using sign language but that isn't easy when you're cyclIng and you're already using both hands to wave at everyone else. Then there was the guy who insisted on buying me new sunglasses. I have a large cracK in the frame of my glasses. I like the fact that my glasses are broken but still usable. It helps dispel the notion that tourists are walking ATMs. But one time I stopped to take some photo next to a street vendor selling shades. An overfriendly local just wouldn't accept that I wouldn't let him buy me new glasses. I had to literally pedal away from him fast. All the offers of food and water when I'm on the road are very welcome but its just the repetition of the same mind numbing pigeon english/farsi conversation that wears you down.During my 21 days in Iran I must have been offered about a dozen invitations to peoples' homes. I was given enough food and water to almost fill a shopping trolley. Not once during my entire time here did I pay for cay (tea). It was always on the house. The people of Iran just continually amazed me with their welcomes and hospitality.
So why are the people so overwhelmingly friendly. I think it can be summarised into 3 main reasons;
Firstly, its a Muslim country and one of the pillars of the Muslim faith is that every Muslim should at some stage in their life visit Mecca if they are able to. And so the people automatically welcome and help the traveller (even though I'm heading in the opposite direction to Mecca)Secondly, these people have been horribly misrepresented by western media and politian's. Its just natural to try and save your good name. And there are so few tourists, they rarely get a chance to welcome people to Iran. I remember one day I was invited into a workshop for some tea and the guy there said; 'Apart from a few tourists asleep on passing buses I was the first he had seen and he was delighted to welcome me to Iran'. These people know they have been unfairly labelled. I have been asked by Iranian people 'why did I come here. Was I not afraid of terrorism in Iran?' And I am constantly asked 'what is my opinion of the Iranian people'. The highest compliment I think I can give to an Iranian is to say that 'I love the people of this country and I'm going to recommend Iran to everyone', which just so happens to be the truth.
And thirdly, these people have a goodness and a curiosity inside them I've never come across before. It is so overpowering it can almost just be uncomfortable sometimes.But all things considered, I loved Iran and the people of Iran are the most welcoming people I have ever come across.