My journey to Iran went very smoothly.
Any other country and no one would have batted an eye at that statement.
Yet I decided to visit Iran – of all countries to chose from, and peoples reactions couldn’t have been more diverse. I got everything from „What a great opportunity! Enjoy your stay!“ to „You surely like to take risks, don’t you? Why are you travelling such a dangerous country?“ or even “Surely young people usually prefer to to on a beach holiday“
Reason enough to do some awareness training and take you with me on my journey through the country of contradictoriness. The country of hospitality, insane traffic, tea and slipcovers.
My travel started at 7am – with coffee – and my boyfriend Grimm driving me to Dusseldorf. We found the check-in counters for Mahan Air in the most remote and furthest corner I’ve ever been to at DUS airport. The line was reasonable, naturally – because who would want to travel to Iran anyway? Except for German-Iran citizens who plan to visit their families? And some crazy Germans who like to live dangerously and stuff…
Let me quickly explain to you how I came up with the idea of travelling this underestimated country. The University of Applied Sciences and Arts Dortmund, where I study photography, applied for a cultural exchange program funded by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) with the Art University Tehran and I am one of 24 students to take part in this.
My fellow German students, my university prof and I spent 12 days in Tehran to work on projects with the Iranian students (you can see all our collective work and reports on our workshop blog). In exchange we would welcome the Iranian students as guests in Dortmund in June / July.
I couldn’t be happier to have the opportunity not only to explore a foreign country, get to know a new culture (and eat all the food) but also to work on photographic projects with other students. So how in the world could I have said “No”, when my prof asked me?
Yet that first step into the security line was still accompanied by a queasy feeling. It meant wishing farewell to my Grimm for the longest time since we met. It meant wearing a head scarf for the next three weeks, whenever I would enter public space. It meant meeting foreign people and a foreign culture. But this feeling is just another part of the whole experience.
Arriving in Tehran
The 5 hour flight was uneventful and time literally flew. At the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran I met my project partner Mina and her brother, who were so kind to drive all the way out of town to pick me up.
Neda’s place in South Tehran
When I entered the tiny one room apartment in the southern (poorer) district of Tehran I was welcomed with a hearty, bone-breaking hug and a warm, bright smile and a hearty hug by Neda, a round-faced, kind and most hospitable carpet designer. Yes, my first Iranian host designs Persian carpets! How cool is that?
Neda was the first person who showed me the sheer endless hospitality of Iranian people, which I would experience for the rest of my stay.
She offered me her bed for the night (trying to refuse was futile – trust me, I tried) while she and Mina, who stayed at Neda’s place for the night, too, slept on the floor in her living room. As a European you might imagine how uncomfortable I felt accepting this generous offer but I would slowly learn that this was just the natural way Irans treat their guests.
It was rather late already, around 9-10ish but Neda had prepared a huge dinner for us. Us in this case means Mina, another befriended couple (Maya and Amir) and me.
In Iran you usually dine together in company. Food has a significant value and is more or less celebrated, at least when I compare it to the average everyday food ‘rituals’ in Germany.
Before we even started dinner I was already offered tea, homemade cookies and gaz (Iranian nougat). For dinner we moved down to the floor and feasted on countless different traditional dishes, from Ash (a kind of soup) over Shirazi salad and delicious tender chicken and more dishes I couldn’t really name.
Though there wasn’t too much talking in English, since I was slowly getting a little tired I felt very comfortable and cozy surrounded by plappering friends. Farsi, the language spoken in Iran, sounds very soft and melodic and I didn’t mind at all that I didn’t understand a word. I just enjoyed myself and was looking forward to what was lying ahead of me.