I have now spent almost two weeks bip bopping around the central parts of Iran. Before I came here I was nervous, almost content with the fact that I didn’t have to go if I didn’t really want to. Weighing my options, the possibility of shortening my stay and going back to old familiar roads; Italy, Hungary, France, Germany. I didn’t feel more reassured when too many people I told about my travel plans soon exclaimed that I was more or less stupid, crazy and was sure gonna get myself hanged, raped and killed, not in any particular order. There is something about Iran which makes people react with resent and mistrust in Sweden. There is something about religion, oil, hijabs, occidentalism, the middle east, and the fact that “Iran” easily can be mistaken for “Iraq”, the famously troubled western neighbour. Every body knows what’s going on in Iraq, and naturally, it also has to go on in Iran. But as different as USA and Canada are at the moment, so are also Iran and Iraq. There is no political or religious resemblance, Sunni and Shia are far apart and IS is somewhat of an Iraqian security issue that doesn’t spill in to Iran. I’ll refrain from deeper comparison between the two until I’ve actually visited Iraq. ANYHOW. Point is, not just my parents, but co workers, friends, distant friends, even strangers were not intrigued by my choice of destination, but almost offended and angry that I’d chosen such a country to spend time and money in. Do I now support death sentence for homosexuals? Do I now want to suppress my own gender by dictatorial clothing laws? Do I now hate the western world and support jihad? Well, as much as I try to spread the idea of conscious travelling, I would like to underline the importance of personal experience. No, I don’t want to spend my money in a way that supports an unjust and oppressing regime. I agree that Iran as much as many other countries has many faults and in many ways represent a world and a reality that I do not want to live in. But I need to find out, how this country actually works. Who are these people behind these unexposed borders, who are they living under these conditions?
And then my flight lands and suddenly I am here. I put on my headscarf in a loose manner, leave my hair sticking out a little. I have a hipster shirt covering my butt with skinny jeans, just as most people have back home. The women of Tehran is all madly beautiful, in well done make up with fiercely coloured clothes, giving the regime a long finger. My host in Tehran directly asked me if I wanted to have a few beers and hang out in the garden, dressed in any bloody way I wanted while listening to blues and watching Vikings. In the bazaar most shop owners prefer to stare at the TV, watching Premier League, than to stare at me, and if I want to buy anything, the price is fixed. If I look lost, people come up and ask if I need help, and if they can’t help me they actually say so instead of making something up to please me (I’m looking at you, ASIA!). When I need to take a bus, I take a seat among the other women and a girl sits down next to me. If I need a taxi, the drivers are usually quiet even though they speak excellent English – they just don’t want to bother me. Before they drive off they make sure I know where I am going and that I am at the right address. If I need any help, shop owners call everyone they know for finding out what I need to know and if I nod and smile at a stranger, their face lights up and warms me to the core. Everything is just so bloody normal I can’t get over that this is the IRAN that people were so freaked out about. This is the IRAN which was gonna hang me for not wearing a chador or a burka. This is the IRAN which is a terrorist state hunting white people. Uhm.
Iranian people are more than their regime, they have a history that traces back to being the centre of the world, cultural, political and economically for hundreds of years. What ever happened during the revolution – what ever happened since, is a part of the past that most people have incorporated into daily life, transformed and normalised. No people are their politicians, no people are an abstract idea of how to govern, how to rule. No people are an ideology or a structure. These people are happy to have you here, they are happy to share and show you that Iran consists of completely normal people, secular, educated and independent. The people that makes up Iran is completely ordinary, well behaved, polite, warm and helpful. Though all these things under these circumstances makes them completely extraordinary.