The big Iranian heart

Km 4310 – Buxoro, Uzbekistan

WEATHER & GENERAL STUFF

IRAN – new country, new adventures. Honestly, we didn’t know much about Iran before our cycling trip. The only things we heard in Germany about Iran was from the news and that is politically lead. After our prior research on cyclists’ blogs and their hymns on Iranian hospitality we came to the conclusion: we really have to go to this country. The people are just wonderfully hearty, they love foreigners. Because of curiosity, we were stopped several times each day, talked to and asked all about our project as well as invited to uncountable meals, over-night-stays, etc. (we couldn’t even accept them all).

Iran is a country of contrasts. On the one hand there are traditional families, conservative and mighty religious leaders and reduction or civil rights. On the other hand, most people are very well educated, many think critically and you can find a modern economy, where almost everything is available.

Since Persian, the language oft most Iranis, uses arabic signs and is written from right to left, it puzzled us a lot. But numbers are written from left to right and though it was difficult to read them at first, we did learn them – e.g. a five looks like a heart upside down.

The weather (except for Tabriz which lies at 1700m altitude) ist comparable to a German summer. Very warm, sometimes even too warm (especially with a hejab).

TABRIZ

  • With a time difference of 1,5 hours we arrive in Tabriz by train in the morning. In the train station people are astonished by our bikes and students talk to us. Among them Sajjad who would have loved to skip classes to accompany us to town. He was very worried about our well-being and even weeks later, he still contacted us…

  • After 24 hours Jana already summarizes her little culture shock as followed: duty to war a hejab as one of the many dress rules for women, seperation of man and women in the bus and a very strong internet censorship are the top three differences to Turkey.

TEHRAN

  • After two nightsin Tabriz we take the bus to Tehran. Iran is even bigger as Turkey and distances are enormous. At the bus terminal many men surround us, each of them want to sell us a ticket for THEIR bus. Everything works out fine. We can even speak some of our little Turkish, since Azerbaijani-Turkish is spoken in Northwest-Iran.
  • We arrive after sunset in the enormous metropolis Tehran and quickly find our to our hosts. Hamed, Majid & Hamid live in a cosy little appartment. Immediately we can feel the relaxed atmosphere. We sit on the floor and the first thing we do is chatting for a long time. We laugh a lot. Some time later we sleep with five people all next to each other (like sardines in a box) in the small living room. Not the comfort is importan, but the easy-going, funny atmosphere, the human side of all.
  • Additionally, we exeprience life stories: Hamed just finished his military service. That means in a couple days he can pick up his passport. As long as you didn’t finish the two years of compulsary military service, the passport is almost not available. Only with the passport you receive a chance to leave the country, a chance to experience freedom.
  • In Tehran we spend the whole first day to prepare our Uzbekistan visas (copies, phone calls, etc.). The next day we started to run around. Shortly after 6 in the morning we sneak out of the apartment and take the metro to the German embassy. As country citizens we are allowed to pass the long queue directly to the counter. After waiting for one hour and paying 50€ we continue to run with the „reference letter“ to the Uzbek embassy. There we are asked to go to the consulate which is very difficult to find since it’s a little hidden. As we finally reached it, 10 minutes were left until they close. But still, we managed to lance our Uzbek visas.

ESFAHAN

  • After an inconvenient misunderstanding (someone declared his private home to be a guesthouse and rented it) we where so happy when we met Diana and Mehdi, our hosts from Tabriz. From that moment on our bad mood turned into a good one. Mehdi called their hosts (Ahoo and Reza) and they immediately agreed to host us as well. After a little bit of sightseeing, we took the bus to meet our saviors. Ahoo and Reza welcome us so warmly in their comfortable house. We sink into the sofa and can feel the wonderful atmosphere immediately. Our souls can breath deeply again and is flooded with positive thoughts again.
  • The most beautiful day in Esfahan was the one without sightseeing. The last day of our stay, Ahoo and Reza organised a huge picnic for us. So we sit next to the river the whole day, eat, chat, play cards, and even „found“ the first Ultimate Frisbee Team of Esfahan. Reza and I sit next to the barbecue and later next to the river and we talk about nature, how fire and water have such a simple and hypnotizing effect. We really hope to meet those two again.

SHIRAZ

  • The four of us (with Diana and Mehdi) take the night bus to Shiraz. We arrive early and therefore exhausted at the busterminal. We take a taxi to our host’s home. Ehsan, whom we contacted beforehand, studies in Germany nowadays and asked his parents to host us. „My father speaks English and my mum cooks Persian! They are searching for some
    new children, because the last one left them to Germany“ he wrote. His father, the 62-year old Asad, didn’t wait long to talk about philosophical subjects. Do human beings who are responsible for so much suffering (e.g. wars) have „the bad“ naturally inside themselves or is it taught by society? Asad is just sure about one thing: no religion of the world would allow to kill people. All the philosophie books he read didn’t help to answer his questions. If uneducated or well-read, the answers to the most important questions in life are missing…
  • After breakfast and a couple hours of sleep we leave to discover the city with Diana and Mehdi. A huge shrine complex impresses me. In the huge inner court yard you can find two mosks among other buildings. Both are completely decorated with mirrors. No centimeter is left out – it’s glittering everywhere, a mosaic of millions of mirror pieces. In some corners men are sitting, praying or reading. In other mosks I also saw them sleeping. The carpets on the floor are making it easy more cosy. For us, mosks are warm, friendly and peaceful places. As i walk out, I pass the „room for religious questions“. Two women are waiting in front of it. Would Asad also pose questions here? Is God almighty? If yes, why is he allowing wars and destruction? And if he is not mighty enough to finish the suffering, is he a God then?
  • We come „home“ late, because we come in to traffic jam after a long day in the city. No problem for Asad – he had already missed us and a second later his women presents us a little royal meal. „How was your day?“ we ask him and the old man answers with sparkling eyes: „A very good day, because today you arrived to be my guests!“

YAZD

  • Yazd has a little old city with little lanes which are always surrounded by light brown clay walls. It is very calm and therefore we stroll around the area and just see what happens.
  • Together with Diana and Mehdi we meet Maghdad who would like to show us the area. He belongs to the Zaroastrians, a religious group, that already existed before the arabic conquerors braught the Islam to the region. Zoroaster, the religious leader, was born between 1000 and 1500 BC and established one of the first monotheistic religions.
  • The following day we visit the desert. We have to wake up at 5am in the morning, because it will be to hot afterwards. The little sand desert is touristically exploited, because visitors have to pay an entrance fee for the sand dunes. We try not to think about it and enjoy the dunes and watch the sand constantly getting hotter.

TEHRAN II

  • After a short night in the bus, we immediately go to the Uzbek embassy to pick up our visas. We are very early, but not alone. Jean-Pierre, a dutch cyclist, is already sitting there and smiles at us. He currently cycles with two Italiens who are still stuck at the Italian embassy. At the parking lot we can see a tent. Soon three more Italians climb out of it. They are on a roadtrip from Italy to Peking with their parent’s old car… of course, we exchange travel stories and informations. That’s how we get encouraged to try lancing our Turkmen visas today (without agency). We did get there in time, the embassy is closed for three days – so our attemps fails, but very just.

CHALUS

  • Whoever cycles through Iran by bike, will inevitably experience the huge hospitality of this country. Every day we received several invitations for food or to stay over night.
  • The second part of our journey in Iran (first part = visa issues and city touring in central Iran) starts with a bus trip to pass the mountains North of Tehran. In the middle of nowhere we get of, jump on our bikes and experience the nature (so differently than from the bus). Right and left it going up very steeply, forests everywhere and we are happy to finally sit in the saddles again and to camp.
  • The next morning we roll further downwards towards the coast. Somewhere behind Chalus we stop. Farshad, a young man in our age, walks towards us to invite us to his home. This invitation is meant seriously (no taroof: the cultural rule, to offer something, although you don’t want to offer it or cannot offer it. This offer experesses respect and appreciation of your counterpart).

SARI

  • We camp at the beach in Barbolsar and try to leave early, since it gets really hot around noon. Especially Jana suffers from the heat under her hejab. Additionally, there is dust, a lot of traffic, sometimes smal roads. We try to find a street along the coast that is clearly marked in our map – no chance. Many pauses, a lot of searching and guessing to then cycling away from the sea again after following an especially bumby gravel road.
  • In this mood (not to be able to really advance), a man asks us, to stop. Since this happens many times per day (e.g. to take a picture together or to ask us to tell our story) it is impossible to stop every time someone asks us to do so. We wave friendly, but continue cycling to leave a disappointed looking older man behind. Some minutes later, a car passes us and the same man gets out of the car. Now we stop and face (like so many times) the questions and in this case also the invitations! Eskander (Persian for Alexander) wants us to eat dinner at his house. He very actively just collected us from the street. We follow the family care in our speed to reach Sari after approximately 15 kilometers. The rest of the big family is awaiting us there, since Eskander and his wife Shohla have five children: Zaeir, Zaeim, Zobeir, Zahem and one daughter Zoja. We never got to know why all names start with a „Z“… During the evening and the following day we experience the dimensions of an Iranian extended family. There are many aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. whom we all visit when we are not busy visisting the family’s orange garde or the beach. Especially Eskander who doesn’t speak any English, is happy as we stay another night. Because that way he can keep filling our plates although we call „stop stop“ and try to hinder him in vain. Zahed, the youngest son (21) is the only person in the family speaking English well and therefore has to translate all the time. Everyone is extremely friendly, the food is delicous and were are total full at all times. As we head off again, the sons of the family kiss me good-bye with partly very tender kisses. And as we continue to role on the asphalt, we have a wonderful feeling. The affection of the family let our soul be a little lighter, enlightens and inspires us and is a good lesson regarding hospitality.

MASHHAD

  • Maryam – one of our hosts – picks us up from the bus terminal by bike (!). Later we get to know her flatmate Parisa. Again we experience their flat as a little oasis in the middle of Iran’s second biggest city. The first night we chat until 4 am. Especially Jana and Parisa are talking about (the non-existing) women rights in Iran. The final sentences „we have to live in that hell“ shows what this country means for women. We are just visitors and Jana, too, knows that she has to wear the hejab only for a certain amount of time. To live here as a woman? Difficult to imagine, although the people are so very warm-hearted… so it is not surprising that the two girls (as well as many other young people we met) are „Europe-oriented“, meaning they are searching for possibilities to leave their home country as soon as possible.
  • Coming to the end, a little story regarding the Iranian warmheartedness: Jana sits on my mobile phone, the display breaks. I leave to enter the next mobile store to met Mehdi. He offers to repair my phone within 10 minutes (for approx. 2€). Great! I watch the expert and learn. At the same time I tell about our journey. We easily communicate and laugh a lot. The mobile expert is enthousiastic, friends come, we take pictures, exchange addresses. The guys would like to invite me for dinner. I convince them that I just ate and would like to pay the service. But Mehdi doesn’t accept this – he doesn’t want money from me! Why? Because he is happy „like a donkey“ (in his words) to have met me. So I would like to buy a charger. But this attempt to give him some money fails too – he offers me the charger as a present (additionally to the display and the installation). Several times I insist – no chance, he refuses to take it each time… and all that with the huge smile of Iranian friendlyness. It really seems to make him happier not to accept the money… Would that be possible in Germany? I doubt it…
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