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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie

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 Travel Diary : The Persians and their Calif

Contrasted.

This would surely be the word I would use to describe Iran. This country goes on two different gears. On one side, there is a powerful religious conservatism, and in the other there is a more liberal underground movement. There are the “power-thirsty” Muslims, and the “generous that would open their door to a stranger” Muslims. There are the disastrous Iran described by the media and the hospitable Iran described by the travelers.

There are the Iran politic and the Iran people.

Both of them are connected, because politic governs people, and people are governed by politic. Traveling by hitchhiking helped me to understand this country, through the eyes of its inhabitants. As this way of traveling always gives me a great diversity in the people I meet, I could meet the pro and con Ayatollah.

Here is Iran, perceived through the eyes of a traveler who perceived it through the eyes of the locals.

 

 

Calif at the place of the Calif.

When religion mixes up with politic
In February 1979, the fall of the Shah leads Iran to the creation of an Islamic Republic. This means that the Ayatollah Khomeini got introduced cheerfully as the new head of the state. At his death in 1989, this is the Ayatollah Khamenei that carried on his work. Those two “guide of the people” are very conservative. In more than 30 years, they shape the country as their interpretation of the Koran, so comes the term of Islamic Republic. Behaving as a good Muslim means from now on to behave as the Ayatollah say.

A bit full of themselves, those Ayatollah are easy to spot anywhere. Their faces appear where it can be. Impossible to miss them.

From the border town of Sarakhs, I get introduce to Khomeini and Khamenei

As those two leaders already got involves with some war facts, it is possible to spot numerous propagandist drawings describing their “fights for freedom”.

In Teheran, it is possible to see the child-soldiers sacrificed during the Iraq invasion. They are presented like martyrs.

After having traveled through few dictatorship states, I recognize the goal that those megalomaniac men are seeking. Establishing themselves so visually is without any doubt a way to become the “big brother” in the mind of the population. However, the respect they will own will be everything except natural.

Prohibitions and obligations
The government of those Ayatollah is made of many prohibitions and obligations, that the Iranians have to follow very carefully.

The Iranian woman has to be fully covered. In Mashhad or Qom, the most religious cities of the country, it is advised to wear the tchador. In Teheran though, a long coat and a veil can be enough.

Besides, this in the capital that I felt this obligation less respected. Even though the women are still cover from the head to the feet, I noticed many Iranian ladies with a bandage on their nose. With great surprise, I learned that esthetic surgery was fashionable, even though showing a bit of hair was still forbidden.

A woman wearing tchador in Shiraz

Even the journalists have to be completely covered. I realize this during an interview filmed in Mashhad


This desire to not tempt the man, and to keep the couples being faithful to each other, is also noticeable in the metro. One carriage for the men, one carriage for women. Impossible to take advantage of the crowd to get too close from a person of the opposite gender.

In the metro of Mashhad, the men and women are separated. Here, a door indicates the carriage for the women

The men/women interactions are indeed very regulated. It is not possible neither to simply walk in the street with a person of the opposite gender, except if this one is a member of the family.

The government believe it is safer and better to keep the men with the men, and the women with the women. However, this is not the case for homosexuality. This is illegal and could lead to death penalty.

As Ahmadinejad was saying recently: “There are no homosexual in Iran”.

Repression touches a lot of areas, and of course the control of information. The main media is controlled by the government, who doesn't hesitate to use the headlines to share his opinion.

The sources of information from abroad are forbidden, internet is censored, music, cinema, everything is controlled.

The hate of the enemy is encouraged, and the Iran government seems to cultivate carefully its relation with this one. United States, Israel, Iraq, the threats are often pronounce towards them.

In Teheran, the walls of the former US embassy are covered with painting, letting think that the former occupants are not very welcome anymore

Naturally, it is also forbidden to talk to strangers, to give a ride to one of them, or to invite one at home. Though...

I have the impression that Iran was the country where the population was caring the most about my presence. In the bus, in the metro, on the road, many young Iranians came to talk to me, wishing to discuss, to know where I come from, to know a bit more about my country... What a refreshing curiosity!

However, it always seemed to be done inconspicuously, far from the eyes of the government. I will always remember the reaction of my host in Isfahan, when he saw two policemen in the opposite sidewalk: he started to run away!

 

Hitchhiking in Iran

On the paper, repression seems important. In the real life, the Iranian goes sometimes around it.

But was it enough to travel in this country by requesting solely a ride from the local? And if yes, how?

Technically
It is not advised to use his thumb in Iran. This is impolite, even though an Iranian will understand that a foreigner doesn't know about it.

I chose to use the same gesture that I used in the rest of Asia. The full hand towards the ground, while looking at the drivers in their eyes.

The petrol-stations and the pay-tolls can be good strategic places to stop the vehicles. I noticed that it was often some yellow and blue boxes, supposed to received the donation from the drivers, who wanted to bless their oncoming journey. It was a very good place where to start talking with the drivers.

The donations boxes are a good place where to speak with the drivers in Iran

However, stopping a car is not something easy in this country. The concept is unknown, and the low cost of the public transportation (which is generally also good quality) might lead the local to strangely consider the foreign people waving their arms on the side of the road.

Once you find a vehicle, the roads are usually good and the distances easy to travel

The roads are quite good in Iran

Socially
Once you find a vehicle, there are also good chances that your driver gives you a good example of what means “Iranian hospitality”.

Several times, I got invited to eat, have tea, visit the surroundings, or discover a local piece of culture.

A young Iranian stopped on the way in Neyshabur. He invited me to meet his family, fed me, made me visit his city and found me a truck going further

The major difficulty is communication. I had my letter explaining my project translated in farsi (Iran language). This helped me a lot in my research. From this moment, hitchhiking was much easier in Iran.

Hitchhiking is also possible in Iran!

Once again, hitchhiking became a gate towards the understanding of a new culture, a gate towards the Magic of Persia


 

1001 Persian nights

Iran has a very old culture.

While wandering in this country, I sometimes had the feeling to find myself in the middle of a 1001 nights Tale.

A visual spell
Delicacy of the arabesques, artistic details, poetic colors. It could be a mosque entrance, of a bazaar arch, my look was constantly ending on architectural masterpieces that are totally part of the Persian background.

A mosque entrance in Isfahan

The Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz

In the Imam Reza complex in Mashhad

The Sheikh Lotfollah mosque in Isfahan

Exotic smells
The Persian cuisine offers many typical meals that were awakening my hunger, even though I had just finish to eat.

An Ash seller in Teheran

The Perenj (rice), kabab meat and the Sangak (bread) come back often on the Iran meals


Traveling independently in Iran helped me to go over the prejudices about this country, and to discover a lifestyle and the delicacies of its culture.
Surely the government is repressive. A my eyes, the Ayatollah abuse a lot of their power. I found disturbing to mix political power and religion. I also found disturbing to want imposing ideas with strength. Iran doesn't need this. The population is bright enough to inspire the rest of the world.

Indeed, a great part of the Iran population is very curious, willing to learn and share their culture. The youth seems to brightly appreciate more the Khayyam poems than then Hollywood blockbusters. It was a real pleasure to converse and to socially exchange with those educated Persians.

And what about hospitality! It reached the clouds. Maybe Iran was the most hospitable country I could visit during this world tour.

This country charmed me and I have the desire to come back there one day to spend more time, having the feeling that I just had a glimpse of a very interesting culture.

However, the time came for me to keep on my journey. This one is now almost finish, as Europe appears slowly. I can't wait to see again my family, my relatives.

So, let's go for the last kilometers!

See you soon,

Jeremy



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