Times, they are a-changin’ in Iran and sadly and gradually the traditional shops are giving way to more modern retailers. But on a more positive note and if you look closely, you will also notice that more than the local high street is changing. People’s attitudes and outward behaviour are changing and it is very noticeable to us after only a year away.
It is more noticeable to me as probably the only westerner in the town and being fair-skinned I have always been the subject of many stares. There is no malice or rudeness just curiosity. But this time, there is something more. We experience an openness not seen before, a more relaxed feeling on the street with the women wearing their brightly coloured hijab further away from the hairline and daring to wear tighter fitting manteaus. Men and women are now openly holding hands as they walk along the street and a number of inquisitive Iranians have stopped to talk to me both as I walk along and in the restaurant/ tea house.
They want to know where I am from, what do I do and all welcome me to Iran/Esfahan. They love foreign visitors to their country and if I accepted their kind offers of tea I would be doing nothing else but visiting until we leave. I spoke to a young couple who stopped us in the Bazaar and found out that the husband works for the Iranian Inland Revenue. I explained that my first job was with HMRC and we laughed that as expected, Tax Inspectors are universally disliked. A woman with her two sons stopped me further down the street to welcome me to Iran. “It is very nice to see you here” she says as her eldest son keeps repeating “Hello, how are you?” He is learning English at school and determined to make the most of his opportunity to practise. A girl started a conversation whilst in the tea house and during lunch, a girl studying English at Esfahan University came over and asked if she could sit with us and and ask some questions.
This direct approach from strangers has never happened on previous visits although you could see that they wanted to. Something has changed so that people feel willing and able to open dialogue between us.
This can only be good for everyone and I welcome it.
Here in the UK, we often hear complaints from local councils, especially in the larger cities of London, Birmingham and Nottingham for instance, about the damage and inconvenience that wild pigeons create. Many people feed these urban “pests” and the very acidic and vast amounts of resulting pigeon poo corrodes stonework of buildings, clutters drains and guttering and can make smooth pavements into veritable ice-rinks. There is nothing more embarrassing than rushing to work and slipping over on pigeon poo. Although, I have tittered a few times watching arms and legs flaying when someone tries to prevent the inevitable fall. The food left uneaten also encourages mice and rats, and dead pigeons can contaminate water supplies. So, what do the Iranians, and particularly those living around Esfahan, do about their pigeons? They build Pigeon Towers. There are many, many such towers in and around the Esfahan area and all are individually designed and architectually unique. Unlike the UK, pigeons are revered in Iran and are a sign of good luck so these pigeon-palaces are considered well deserved. I was lucky enough to see inside one of these towers which just happened to be undergoing some internal maintenance when we arrived. Even Feri had not seen inside one of these so it was an experience for both of us.
The main purpose of these towers is to encourage pigeons to nest in the honeycombed interior, where each bird has their own “pad”, about the same size as a small shoe box. Not wanting to soil their living area, the pigeons then poo on the protruding lip of their nest, and the tower-keeper can then easily brush all the poo to the floor, sweep it up and use it as fertiliser for locally grown crops.
The Esfahan area is well-known for its melon and cucumber yields, and I can say from experience that they are deliciously sweet, crisp and full of flavour.
Power to Pigeon-Poo!
Married to an Iranian, it has taken a few years but I finally got my a**e into gear and agreed to visit this mystical but highly controversial country. I had very mixed feelings about the visit but went with no negative pre-conceptions about the ordinary Iranian people. Those I have met in Europe are wonderfully friendly, compassionate, fun-loving, respectful, hard-working and have all, without exception, welcomed me into their fold. I have no desire to enter any political or religious debates and I purposefully went with an open mind and intentions to embrace and respect their culture, just as I expect others to do here in the UK. In short, I was prepared for a really unusual adventure and amazing cultural experience.
I was also aware however that two weeks in a foreign country, immersed in a vastly different culture, with reduced at-your-finger-tip communication with my support network and the obvious language barrier combined with being out of my routine, would put huge pressure on my ability to cope which in turn will spiral me into a depression. Was this a genuine concern?
I didn’t want to be a visitor, I wanted to be accepted as an honorary “Iranian” Was this too much to ask or expect? I wasn’t sure but I found out for myself. The following posts give you a flavour of what I encountered, which was a lot more positive, inviting and welcoming than the general media portray.