We entered Iran with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was remembering all the scared looks my friends gave me when I mentioned Iran in our travel plans. On the other hand, I had all the positive blog entries about the Iranian hospitality in mind, that I have read over the last few months. After hearing so much about this country we were excited to go out and explore and develop our own opinion upon it.
On the day of the border crossing Matt and I were so excited that we forgot about an important detail: Money. Due to American sanctions, it is not possible to withdraw money with an international card in Iran. No VISA, no Mastercard, no PayPal, nothing. We knew that before we crossed the border, but we simply forgot. Thank God, we had some spare US-Dollars at the bottom of one of our panniers. Matt did the math and tried to sound optimistic when he told me that our daily budget is 3 US-Dollars between us. I put the biscuit that I just took a bite from back into the packet. We were on rations for the first time on our trip.
We thought we are probably going to eat rice for brekky, lunch and dinner for the next 55 days until we get out of Iran. But then we found out about the Iranian hospitality.
We got offered to stay at people’s homes multiple times every single day. At every house we have stayed our hosts cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner. One Lady in Talesh even precooked lunch for our next day on the road. Car drivers stopped at the side of the road and gave us fruit, biscuits, pistachios, juice, pomegranates, chips and dates. Some Iranians even told us to wait for a minute in front of a shop, and came back with some snacks for us. One night we had a coffee in a little café as we really needed wifi. When you are on a 3 US-Dollar budget, going to a café is lashing out. When we wanted to pay the waiter said, “be my guest” and gestured that we don’t have to pay anything. None of these people knew that we must be a bit tight with our money. We haven’t told anyone about our little 3 Dollar-problem and still, everyone acted as if they knew.
One night we told our host that we would prefer not to go out to a restaurant and cook our own dinner because we must save some money. He asked us about our situation and we told him our embarrassing story. In the next morning he handed us a prepaid credit card charged with over 200 US-Dollars and said we can pay him back later. We told him that we can’t accept that. It is just too much, and we are not sure we will ever be able to pay him back with the transaction situation in Iran. He insisted that we take the card with the words “I want your mind to be free of worries when you travel through our country”. This man only knew us for one day and he offered to lend us such a big amount of money without being sure he will ever get it back. I still can’t believe it. We accepted and will do anything to make sure we can transfer the money back to him when we get to Dubai and our cards finally work again. Thank you again so much for your trust Mostafa. With the Iranian credit card our budget is now luxurious 8 US-Dollar per day between us.
The way people treat us in Iran baffles Matt and me. This country has a hospitality and a kindness towards strangers that I have never experienced before. Of course, we got curious why Iranians are so hospitable. The reason is simple: The Koran says that “Guests are Friends of God”. And this is how people treat us here. As if we were sent by God.
Beside the delicious food, the hospitality and the kindness of the people of this country there are aspects that seem strange to us. There are a lot of rules in the public life of Iran. Men and Women should not associate with the opposite sex before they get married. Male and female do not shake hands in public. Boys and girls are not allowed to have girlfriends and boyfriends. Girls and boys don’t go to school together. In public buses men sit in the front and women sit in the back. I asked a girl my age why and she told me men and women feel more comfortable in the bus this way.
Women must wear the hijab (headscarf, dress or skirt and long sleeve) in public. Some girls told me that they would never wear that if it wasn’t in the law. In some towns women are not allowed to ride a bike or a motorcycle. Also women are not allowed to study engineering in some universities. A boy explained to me that it doesn’t matter because girls are not interested in those kinds of things anyway. He also told me that only men can be judges because women are too sensitive. A 15-year-old girl asked Matt about his job. After he answered she looked at me and asked: “And you are a housewife?”. I said no and she returned “what are you then?”. It would have annoyed me if it was an old man who asked this but it broke my heart that these words came from a 15-year-old girl.
In our first two weeks in Iran we had already visited two private English institutes as we were hosted by two different English teachers. In public school children learn very basic, non-conversational English. To have a chance to really learn English, children must visit private English classes in the evening after public school. The students (10 – 25 years old) were extremely interested in us foreigners as they do not often get to use their well-practiced English. After talking to the students there was always one common question: “Selfie?”. We must have taken about 70 selfies with students in the 14 classes that we visited, no joke.
Although Iran has some rules that are hard to comprehend for Matt and me, we love this country already. Iranian food and tea is amazing, and the people are by far the most hospitable we have encountered on our journey so far. To sum it up, we can’t wait for more.
Talk to you soon,
Matt and Jasi