Rules over rules: clothing regulations, restrictions on photography of official buildings, airports, military bases and demonstrations, ban on alcohol and no import of “dirty magazines” … Iran might not be the first choice of many travellers. Others however, including me, seem to be even more attracted to find out more about this closed country.
During the past 3 weeks, I have talked with many people and stayed in their homes. I was part of people’s regular lifes and thus learned a lot about their culture and habits. Today, I want to concentrate on my first days in Tehran. Because what is more critical than the first 72 hours in a new country?
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I’m at the airport in Tehran, with my visa on arrival in the pocket. (→ I explained earlier how I got that!) A cousin of a friend picked me up from the airport. His car is old, with dents on the sides. When he winded down the window pane, the pane dropped into the window slot and disappeared. A hard thud indicated it hit the bottom of the door (never seen something like that before…). We stopped in the middle of the highway, he got out of the car, opened the cover of the internal side of the door and pushed the pane back upwards in its original position. “We don’t have the spare part for it here in Iran”, he explained.
The car has become a key symbol for me. Due to sanctions, foreign cars are very expensive. The ones produced domestically are of inferior quality. One can choose between boxy Saipas and Iran Khodros (Iranian brands) as well as copies of old versions of Peugeot 206, Renault Megane and some chinese brands (produced domestically).
The traffic is very chaotic. Cars are driven with no regard to the lanes – you can often spot three cars next to each other on a two-lane road. Overtaking maneuvers are dangerous; often cars just pass a few centimeters away from each other. It reminded me of bumper cars at the funfair. I already saw the accidents happen in my mind’s eye, just I (luckily) never saw one happen in reality so far. Nonetheless, “the death rate [in road traffic accidents] is the highest of any country in the world“.
In the middle of the night, we reached my home for the next days: the family of an Iranian friend from Germany. His mother opened the door to me. For this purpose, she had wrapped a large cloth around her that covered her body and hair. I noticed it must be because of my male companion. As soon as the cousin said goodbye and the apartment door fell shut behind me, the cloak had disappeared.
The next morning, the mother already awaited me in the living room. Although she still seemed tired, she jumped out of her armchair and prepared breakfast: barbari (bread), feta cheese and tea. Amusingly they don’t seem to mix tea with sugar directly, but instead, nibble the sugar cube and drink the tea. The breakfast was really tasty. Over the next few days, the mother would either wait for me in her armchair or get up from bed immediately when she heard I was up.
After the breakfast, we went to see the old bazaar (a market). In Iran, men and women are seperated from each other in busses: men sit in the front, women at the back. The bus did not go as far as we wanted to go, so we took a shared taxi for the remainder.
A shared taxi
This typical way of commuting in Tehran goes the following way: Stand right next to the street, wait until a potential taxi driver honks the horn, point in the direction or say the district, in which you want to go, and if he goes in the same direction, he will stop and you can get in. Since many people share the taxi and cost this way of getting around is relatively cheap – and you can pretty much get in and out almost everywhere.
In the streets I saw many women almost completely wrapped in a black chador (a crescent-shaped cloth). Only the face remained visible. I had read in a blog that especially women in Tehran like to play with the clothing regulations and dress very modernly (or attractively, according to our Western perception). That was not really my impression. I was mostly shocked. Still, what distinguishes many Iranian women are faces with heavy make-up and dyed hair. And nose jobs. For some reason, small “snub noses”, which reminded me of Michael Jackson, are very popular.
I felt uncomfortable under my headscarf. Somehow I felt imprisoned, stuck into something I am not too keen about. The population should be allowed to decide for themselves how they dress up. Before the revolution, in the era of the king, the hijab – for example – was forbidden, now it is obligatory. Many think like that in Iran, but demonstrations are cursed with prison.
After all, I surprisingly spotted some couples holding hands. Kissing in public is prohibited. At one point, the mother told me that her husband has never told her that he loves her. At least this seemed to have changed for better in the new generation. Love marriages and arranged marriages are equally common nowadays.
We reached the old bazaar. Similar to other old buildings, it was richly adorned with mosaics which I adore so much about Iran. It was fabulous to look at and gave the place a joyful touch next to the monotonous brown building facades and black garments.
I have to admit that during my first days in Iran, I was scared to go out on my own or to take the subway on my own, mainly because the family in their caring nature always looked for someone whom could take me out. When the father heard I planned to travel on my own through whole Iran, he got very worried. However, when I reached in Tehran for the second time, being all on my own, it didn’t feel like I needed to be scared, I took the subway on my own, people were helpful and everything was alright. You have to take your usual precautions as a solo female traveller as in every other country, that’s all.
German people for some reason are very popular in Iran, and each tourist is labeled to be German at first. The time an Iranian man noticed I was talking in German, he freaked out. He had taught himself German to almost native speaker level and was currently looking for a job in Germany. Very proudly he explained in German:
„Forget everything you have ever heared about Iran. It’s exactly the opposite. Everything is positive!“
People are extremely welcoming, enjoy taking pictures and having conversations with foreigners. Nevertheless, Iran stays a country in which people’s lifes are happening behind closed doors. For many, emigrating seems to be the only solution. Yet, a number of natives seem to enjoy their “freedom”, to be able to do anything they want as long as it stays behind those aforementioned closed doors.
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Could you relate to this article? Did you maybe travel yourself to Iran? Let me know your thoughts below in the comments.
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