Why I visited the one place people warned me to avoid
“YOU’RE going to Iran??”
These were some of the most common responses I received when announcing my upcoming plans to visit the country.
In the build-up to my trip to Iran, I was left feeling more than a little nervous.
How wrong you were
For those of us living in the West, at least, we have been brought up on news and media focused on the “Western” agenda. Anyone — or countries — that do not quite fit into that agenda, are labelled as “dangerous”. Case in point: Iran.
Sometimes, it is our preconceptions and judgments that are in fact the most dangerous thing.
Far from being a “dangerous” place, I was overwhelmed at the beauty, hospitality and friendliness I encountered from my two weeks travelling in Iran.
The “propaganda” we are fed about countries such as Iran is no more true of most of the everyday people (or even leaders) you will come into contact with, anymore than harsh generalisations about certain western leaders are reflective of most of that country’s citizens.
The true meaning of being ‘polite’
I hadn’t realized quite how rude I’d become. After living in the Netherlands for seven years, I’d become accustomed to doors being slammed in my face, being pushed in front of, and asked to pay my accurate share of the bill. Heck, I’d even been billed for attending a house-warming party.
All nationalities, however, can take lessons in hospitality from Iranians.
When was the last time you asked a taxi driver “how much?” and he said “it’s nothing”? Of course, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want paying. But that’s the concept of “T’aarof”.
T’aarof is an Iranian form of civility where it is customary to offer something two or more times out of politeness. (Visitors beware: it also means it’s customary to refuse offers at least a couple of times.)
But beyond T’aarof, the Iranians I was lucky enough to talk with were some of the most polite and kindest people I have met. Stories of Iranian hospitality are legendary among travelers.
The beauty of Islamic architecture
In Europe we rave about beautiful cathedrals; in Asia, over Buddhist or colorful Hindu and Jain temples. Globally, the beauty of mosques doesn’t get much airtime. But come to Iran and all that changes.
Arrive in Shiraz, Yazd or Isfahan and prepare to be dazzled — quite literally — at the Shah-e-Cheragh mausoleum in Shiraz, which is bejeweled from floor to ceiling. Or take one step in to Half the World — Isfahan’s world-famous grand square — and prepare to have your breath taken away by the incredible blue hues and intricate tile work of the Shah Mosque.
You’ll start to reconsider your wardrobe
Iran is famous for its mandatory hijab (modest Islamic dress). So, for many female visitors at least, a change of dress sense is required.
All visitors need to cover their arms and legs (men short sleeves are OK), and ladies need to cover their hair, wear loose long tops to their mid-thighs and generally ensure that not much skin is showing.
I went through my wardrobe beforehand to realize that actually, not much of my clothing fit the bill. But once there in Iran, I realized how pleasant it was — not necessarily to cover my hair, but to wear long, light and loose fitting clothing.
For starters: no sunburn, despite being in Iran in midsummer! For others, it was a reminder about how nice it was to be able to wear, for instance, shorts during hot weather. Either way, a trip to Iran will likely change how you look at your wardrobe and the clothing choices you may take for granted.
On the hijab, I also realized how wrong I was about stereotypes of women and conservative dress.
We tend to assume that when a woman is wearing hijab, or especially where there is compulsory hijab, a woman is not free and is repressed. We have the wrong idea about women’s clothing in Iran.
This could not be further from the truth for many Iranian ladies, who are some of the most educated in the world. Just because a headscarf is worn, does not mean that there isn’t plenty of mixed gender socializing or partying that goes on in Tehran, or that women are not free to roam around in many parts of the country.
Iran is hard to beat
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about traveling in Iran is that you’ll find few places match up to the precedent it sets for future travel.
With its culture, silk-route heritage, tasty kebabs, eye-watering mosques, buzzing bazaars and most of all, the friendly and hospitable people of Iran, you may just find yourself lamenting: if only more places were as welcoming as Iran.
(Excerpts from full article by Ellie Cleary from news.com.au/travel)
PHOTO: The people in Iran are as kind and hospitable as anywhere.