You have been a captive audience. My reports on a short but intense nine-day visit to Iran may have solely influenced your thoughts and perceptions about present-day Iran, through my personal lens. To give you another perspective, and thus a 100% increase in view, here are various impressions in a guest post from Gee Kin (related travel partner):
My Iranian Visit, Four Takeaways
It’s OK to Go on the Go
This should not have been surprising. Both Zoroastrianism and Islam place a heavy emphasis on personal hygiene. In Iran, you benefit from the influence of both. Happily, in contrast to many other countries, public restrooms are not hazardous waste dumps.
You can walk out in front of a bus and live to write about the experience. At first glance, the traffic appears chaotic, with cars weaving around each other and jaywalking pedestrians. But after a while you realize it is chaos with rules and etiquette. More importantly, the chaos is infused with concern for each other. This nurturing care is an Iranian quality we witnessed in many other settings. Everyone violates normal traffic codes, but no-one blames or hurts anyone. No honking, no road rage, no self-righteous indignation. Everyone participates in a harmonious dance of missing each other by inches. I was initially terrified to cross the roads. I quickly became comfortable walking out into oncoming traffic confident that drivers would not hit me. Not something I would try in the US, China, or anywhere else!
Cash in the Hand is Cash in the Hand
It’s not foolish to carry a large amount of cash in your wallet. Due to economic sanctions, foreign tourists cannot use traveler’s checks or plastic. Everything must be paid in cash. Every tourist is a cash cow, so to speak. I imagined herds of tourists with bulls-eyes on their backs and thieves waiting to pounce. In actuality, you are less likely to be a victim of theft or assault in Iran than in most other parts of the world. There was no obvious police presence in the streets. With assurances from our guide and other Iranians, we quickly became comfortable in the streets, even in predominantly male crowds.
Stay calm, it’s good for health. The sanctions and a drought that has lasted more than ten years have caused tremendous hardship for most Iranians. For the most part everyone is staying calm. Life centers on social gatherings with friends and family at each other’s homes.
There is less visible anger and stress than in the US. Iranians speak softer than Americans. You don’t have to shout in restaurants. Even their emergency vehicles weave through traffic silently! No sirens blaring –just flashing lights. Our hotel room in Tehran looked out on to a freeway, yet we could sleep soundly with the window open.
Victoria and I were jolted back to reality as soon as we arrived at JFK airport. We followed a sign directing us to where we needed to go at Immigration, and then an official was shouting at us from across the hall. He came running over, flapping his arms over his head, and turned the sign 180 degrees and told us we were in a prohibited area! Welcome to America.
Here’s an outtake of one of our favorite moments. It was taken late at night, around 10pm, outside one of the shops in Yasd. It sums up our experience in Iran.