Above: Iranian teenagers play dodgeball, where the losers get pushed into the fountain.
I’ve heard from so many people that Iran is one of the friendliest countries on Earth. I knew that going in. But I didn’t quite comprehend what that meant until I got there.
Iran is an absolutely gorgeous country. There are stunning landscapes, stretching from the Caspian Sea, to landscaped cities, across to deserts and then up into several mountain ranges. But perhaps the most beautiful thing about the country is its people. There were days where it was honestly difficult not to be stopped by locals wishing to introduce themselves, take photos with us, or to welcome us to their city multiple times a day.
Kerman was one such city. We’d had a few encounters like this earlier in Tehran and Yazd, but the bazaar in Kerman involved several local grandmas coming up to us with their faces beaming smiles. What would normally have taken about 10 minutes for us to walk from one end of the market to another took us about half an hour, because we kept stopping to talk to people.
Only a couple of days into our trip, my glasses broke. The small screw that held them together at each hinge had fallen out somehow and could not be found. I spent most of the day wearing my prescription sun glasses, but when we entered the bazaar, it was too dark for me to see. So I tried to walk around with slanted glasses, only attached to my head on one ear, holding the other side down with my handwhen I could. This particular bazaar had many gold and watch stalls, so I decided to ask if any had a screw the right size.
The second stall I tried, a middle aged man look thoughtfully at the two pieces I presented him, then rummaged around in his tool kit and what appeared to be an odds and ends jar. He selected an old safety pin, then began to bend and cut it into small loop. 15 mins later, my glasses were back on my head, without me needing to hold them. I tried to pay him for his time and ingenuity, but he refused. I thanked him profusely, humbled by his generosity. (Update, 5 months later this ad-hoc repair is still holding up!)
On a bus ride in Tehran, we befriended half the women’s section (the front half of the bus is for women, the back is for men – and the women’s half was much roomier!!). A lady handed a phone to one of our group, and insisted she speak into it. Turns out the lady had called up her friend who spoke English, told her that some foreigners were on the bus, and then within 10 minutes we had an invitation to tea the next day we sadly couldn’t keep. We met a teacher at a college nearby, who introduced us to all her friends of course, and the twenty minute or so bus ride flew by. Meanwhile, the guys were jam packed into the men’s section, standing in the summer heat, while we had plenty of room to move around and chat with our new friends. Turns out segregation has some benefits!
One member of our group very nearly befriended every child in Iran, and gave out several koala toys and kangaroo drawings, to the delight (and sometimes confusion) of many mothers. I think it was the simple act of stopping to pay attention to them that made them smile, as we smiled when teenagers asked us for our photos. We met so many people, and a few of our group even exchanged emails and contacts with some people.
Even when I thought this spate of sudden befriending would come to an end at the airport, just half an hour so so before boarding, a teenaged Tehrani girl sat next to me and immediately started chatting. Her and her father were visiting her family in Germany and Italy, and we got talking about everything from Iran, to accents, to history and career possibilities.
It just goes to show how far a smile can go. Iranians are so open and warm, and are the easiest people to get along with. Despite the presence of some propaganda, Iranians are too busy welcoming everyone to their country to resent foreigners. There’s definitely two sides to the story, despite how Western media reports news sometimes. I have no hesitations about going back at all!