Wow, Iran! We’re not even sure where to begin – too much to say about this country!
While cycling was not all that great in this country connecting Central Asia and Turkey, we were massively impressed by the people and by the stories they told us. We found that two things impressed and got us thinking the most.
One was the incredible hospitality we got to experience in this country.
Getting in touch with the locals never proved to be a problem. Just sit in front of a store or a bakery and after a while people would just come up to you and start asking questions: “What do people think about Iran in your country?”, “what do you think about Islam?”, “are people in Europe like in the movies?”. Eventually they would ask us where we planned to stay for the night and telling them that we would sleep in our tents was rarely an accepted answer: “You can’t sleep in a tent! Come to my house, you are my guest!”
Accordingly we only camped out three nights while being in the country for three weeks! One could even recognize the original colors of our clothes as people offered to wash our clothes for us on multiple occasions.
Before entering Iran we were concerned that we would have a hard time finding enough food as we entered the country during the fasting month of Ramadan. When we look back now this concern seems really funny as we were encouraged to eat as much as possible every time we got invited. We probably even gained weight in Iran as we developed a really big craving for Bamir, a typical middle east sweet that is served in the evening after sunset!
Other than being invited in the evenings, people were also very kind on the roads! Buying us drinks or ice cream and yelling “Welcome to Iran” or “I love you Mister!” out of their cars! Iranians also showed their support by honking at us, a practice that we are not really convinced off 😉
The other thing that left its marks on us were the stories so many people told us about how their lives were limited by rules and regulations imposed on them.
We were fortunate to meet people who told us very directly and honestly about the restrictions but also about how it’s really handled by many people.
For example it’s officially forbidden to watch international TV channels, have a Facebook account or to drink any alcohol. Even more rules apply for women. They always have to cover their hair and sports like cycling or climbing are off limits for them.
In reality however, if there is no officiall store to buy alcohol, many Iranians might just use a traditional family recipy to make their own wine. If they don’t want to wear a headscarf, they will wear whatever they want upon being in their homes. To watch international TV stations, they will just hide a satellite dish in their jards. We got to meet very impressive and brave women, who actively decided to ignore many of theses rules, taking off their headscarfs when no police was close by or hopping on their bikes anyhow! We even got to meet three female climbers who told us that they had been arrested by the police on the charge of climbing two times already… When we met them they where on their way to the local climbing crag!
Nevertheless we were told and could see that all those restrictions and rules, even though circumvented in many instances, still made life really hard for many of the especially younger people we met! Often we were asked by the Iranians what we liked the most about their country. On one occasion we asked a young women the same questions back. She thought for a while and then answered: “To be honest, nothing really!”
It was quite depressing to hear from almost every person, who received higher education, that they saw little perspective in the country and wanted to emigrate as quickly as possible. Some could see a bit of hope but rather for the generation of their children and not themselves.
It was very often that we were told that we should be thankful and happy that we got to grow up and live in a free country. Really something we don’t think about too often – but they definitely got a point there!