Posted on April 8th, 2009 No comments
Iran By Lindsay Mackenzie
Perhaps more than anywhere else I’ve led tours, Iran has a tendency to exceed expectations. From experiencing the grandeur of the sites we visit, to witnessing first-hand the dramatic pace of change in this young and politically significant country, to constantly encountering the unbelievable kindness of the locals, almost everything is surprising to travelers new to Iran, who have heard so much and yet know so little about the country.
Iran saturates the senses, from gardens drenched in the fragrance of orange blossoms in Shiraz, to the bright colors of the tiny village of Abayenah (population 300), to the taste of tamarind tea enjoyed with impossibly sweet dates on an afternoon break in Esfahan.
Many sites leave profound impressions: the immensity of the third largest public square in the world in Esfahan; the simple ingenuity of the ubiquitous wind towers in Yazd; the solemnity inside the tomb of Ayatollah Khomenini in Tehran; the power and historical significance of Persepolis.
It is the warmth of the locals, however, that leaves the most lasting impressions. Wherever we stopped during our two week tour a giggling group of local schoolgirls would creep closer to us as we listened to our guide’s explanations. Knowing that his voice was no match for a group of shrieking teenage girls, our guide would usually stop for a moment to allow the girls to ask their questions.
Generally, after being prodded by her friends, the bravest of the group of girls would shyly greeted us with a reluctant “Hello, how are you?” before hiding behind her headscarf. She would stay hidden for a moment, then her curiosity would get the better of her and she’d reemerge to observe our reaction.
“Well hello! How are you?” one of the members of my group would reply, their response always met by an eruption of shrieking and laughter from the girls. They would move closer to us and, emboldened by their first success, begin to debate among themselves how to construct the next English phrase. After a few more questions, any semblance of order and restraint would break down and they’d gleefully shout whatever came to mind between fits of giggles: “How are you! I love you! Where are you from!”
Then someone would ask for permission to take photos and after a moment of hesitation, the girls would smile, agree, and pulled their cell-phone cameras out from within their black chadors. A shoot-out would ensue, with both ‘sides’ pointing cameras at each other to document the encounter in a delightful chaos of camera clicks and broken-English, the small mob of kids just as eager to ask questions and take photos of us as we were of them.
My group of American and Canadian men and women were consistently greeted by locals with curiosity and kindness. One day in Yazd, for example, a man talking to his friends in the hotel lobby overhead a member of my group mention he needed to find replacement hearing aid batteries. The young man, who was not a staff member at the hotel, picked us up in his own car early the next morning and took us to a store he knew would have them. He expected nothing in return. Later in the afternoon on the same day, another member of my group and I climbed to the top of the Amir Chakhmagh complex during our free time, where we had a brief conversation with a group of local men who were serving in the Iranian army. After climbing down, one of the men asked us if we’d like to see the practice of a traditional sport called Zurkhaneh. We said we would, and followed him around the corner to a gym where a ceremony was underway. Without our knowing it, he paid both of our entrance fees. When we realized what had happened and attempted to pay him back, he told us to enjoy the ceremony and disappeared out of the building.
In perhaps no other place in the world is there such a wide chasm between outsider’s perceptions and the in-country reality than in Iran. I hope many more travelers have the opportunity to bring home new impressions of a truly spectacular country.