Every time I leave Saudi Arabia, it takes me a few days to adjust, no matter where I might be. Small things interest me, normal things that I’ve gotten used to not seeing. More detailed things are to follow, but for now, here are a few initial thoughts:
Iran is clean (I couldn’t help but think “Japan-like”), the women are stunning and try their best to push the limits of the law with regards to dress, there are lots of Peugeot 206s on the roads, they have trees and fallen autumnal leaves that you can kick like a kid.
I attended a ‘couchsurfing’ discussion entitled ‘Power’. Men and women mixed in a cafe openly discussing anything around that topic that took their fancy. It seemed that people were interested in open debate and nothing seemed to be taboo. There was a little debate about how normal this was when I asked. The conclusion seemed to be perhaps a little unusual for Shiraz where we were, but not Tehran where we were heading. They seemed interested in Scotland and its vote against independence. I confess, that was how I introduced myself. It’s not a lie anyway, and a “Mexican” was also there. A blatant American.
A man in a hotel asked me why I was standing next to the heater because I should be used to the cold in my country. I told him I lived in “Arabistan” in the desert and his reply was priceless. “What…with…the Arabs?” Incidentally, “-istan” is Persian, and shows the influence Persia had on the wider region. It just means “the land of”. Afghanistan is therefore the land of the Afghan people, Turkmenistan the land of the Turks etc. We’ll just leave Pakistan I think.
Zoroastrian symbols are visible in every town I went to. I was a bit ignorant about this before I went, I didn’t realise it was legal to still be a Zoroastrian in Iran. It seems that people who display the symbols mostly aren’t, but it’s a sign they are proud of their heritage and culture, and is a legal two fingers to the current regime. The visibility of the symbols implies there are a lot of people waving a lot of fingers in rage against the machine.
Iranians are smart, even the men selling things in the bazaars and street stalls were generally well-presented. They are “civilised,” which isn’t a pleasant word as it implies others aren’t. However, it was the word that sprang to mind looking around. They have culture, education and a sense of decency that other places don’t. It really makes you wonder why on earth we’d villainise a people when they’re clearly the same as us in many respects. It became more and more apparent that the actions of the powers that be (mainly the former power that was) did a lot of damage to their image, and Iranians feel it, and are uneasy with it. I would be horrified if a section of the globe tarred me with the same negative brush as western political leaders, past or present.
I often wonder about those first few days out of Saudi Arabia, as I never know if it’s culture shock of entering normality again, or culture shock of the new place I’ve arrived in. I saw a lot of history, and I’m not going to repeat it on here, look it up yourself – it’s ancient, rich and fascinating. As the dust’s begun to settle a bit, and now that I’m back home, I’ve decided to comment on a further three things: The Shiite Islam (double i^^) I saw, the Armenian Orthodox man I met and Iran’s subversive cultural revolution I witnessed…