Tag Archive | Iranian peoples

Times, they are a changin’

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.

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Preparing for Iran

This time next week I will be in Iran. Being the second month of the Persian calendar year, “ordibehesht” we can expect gorgeous spring temperatures of  between 70-80  degrees with plenty of blossom on the trees and a general feeling of positivity following the end of winter. I have resurrected the Farsi lessons on my iPod, my case is 3/4 packed and I have chosen the places and sights that I want to visit whilst there.

It will also be interesting to see how the economic sanctions imposed on the country are affecting families and local businesses  day-to-day. How much extra do we have to pay for fuel, rice or meat?  Are there obvious shortages of certain food stuffs and what do I get for my Rials this time round?

I don’t want to spend all my time with family and friends talking politics and it is something I usually avoid but the opportunity to hear out their views on the current situation and how it affects them directly puts me in a privileged position of seeing things how they really are and not how they are portrayed on the news. It also gives me a dilemma. Undoubtedly the bullish attitude towards the sanctions would be to deny their impact on the Iranian people and  to “Keep calm and carry on” regardless. However, this is unrealistic and a bit more transparency and openness will go a long way to us understanding what is really going on behind the façade.

In the meantime I know that I want to  see more of Esfahan’s famous pigeon towers, go down to the Gavkhuni swamp where the Zayandeh-Rud (river) at places 800m wide dissipates into salt marshes, and visit the Flower Garden (Baq-e-Gol).

All this before breakfast on day 1!

Iran-the engagement party

The end of my first week in Iran, if it hadn’t been momentous enough, culminated in the formal engagement of Ali Reza, Feri’s nephew, and Arezou his intended bride. The hard work and slick organisation which had been carried out behind the scenes by all involved whilst a normal family life continued regardless, only became obvious when the celebrations began.

The betrothal ceremony in Iran is traditionally a far bigger affair than the actual wedding which takes place at a later date; usually one year later but it can vary between 3 months and 3 years.

To start the public proceedings on the Friday, 600 people were invited to an afternoon/early evening gathering held at an orchard “Bagh” which was specially hired for the event. The orchard was appropriately decorated to accommodate the Iranian traditions of the “Bride” and “Groom”. Ali and Arezou arrived together in a car decorated with bouquets of flowers; the bride wore a long, white dress complete with head-covering, the groom was smartly dressed in a dark suit. On arrival they took their place on the “love-seat” so that the guests could view the happy couple, offer them congratulations and hand over the gifts. The first part of the proceedings was attended by both men and women, but this all changed at the ring of a bell.

Once the bell rang, the men and women separated. The men, including the groom, disappeared behind the screen dividing the orchard whilst the women remained with the bride in their woodland “quarters”.  Women everywhere having been to the beautician, nails beautifully manicured, hair curled and coiffeured, were wearing wonderfully glamorous evening dresses and I felt a tad underdressed to say the least. I had also made the effort to put on “my face” and was quite proud of my efforts. Foundation, eye-shadow, mascara, lipstick; what I considered the “Full Monty”. However, I was rather taken aback when I was then asked if I wanted some make up to put on. I guess “less-is-more” has not reached these shores yet!

Now ready for the real party to start, some of the more sedate guests looked on from their seats and took the opportunity to catch up with family news whilst the dancing commenced. At the Iranian parties I have attended in England, I have managed, so far, to avoid Iranian dancing. Being in charge of the photographs and feigning ignorance works successfully there. Not so here. But more of my Iranian dancing lessons later.

As the only English woman amongst 300, it could have been quite overwhelming with everyone staring curiously at my very English features of fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks. However, the Iranian people are so friendly and welcoming and their interest and curiosity is only well-meant and not at all offensive that their polite nature made it a lovely and fascinating afternoon, for which I am truly grateful. I felt very much at ease with so much attention which is unusual for me and is testament to the amazing ambience which they manage to create.

It was also my good luck and great pleasure to be introduced to a lovely Iranian lady, Moazam. Moazam is an English teacher in Iran currently studying for her MA in English studies.  Moazam very kindly helped me to converse with the Iranian ladies who wanted to meet me and ask questions, and acted as my translator all afternoon. For her attentiveness, kindness and boundless patience I am indebted and hope that one day I can repay her benevolence. Kheyli motashakkeram Moazam.

So, back to the Iranian dancing. Modern Iranian music has a very western feel to it but the dance movements are very different to the discos and parties I remember in England (maybe I need to go more often) and are based on more traditional sequences. Some dances replicate the growing and harvesting of rice-but I gave that one a miss since I have no experience or knowledge of this practice. I don’t think there is an equivalent beetroot harvesting dance in England. With some individual tuition and some coordination left over from my younger days however, I was able to copy and follow the moves of some of my newly-found friends quite competently. That was a good job because I was then taken round each separate area of the dancing platform whilst everyone clapped to the rhythm and watched this strange-looking person try to perform their dances. I don’t think that I made a complete fool of myself but I noticed that I caused quite a bit of merriment….and not an alcoholic drink in sight. And don’t forget, this was all in front of approximately 300 people who all knew how to do it properly.  Most importantly for me, they appeared to appreciate my efforts to join in and, whilst dancing is really not my thing, I was more than happy to oblige on this occasion.

At the end of this first session of celebrations which came to a close around 7.30pm, the men joined the women again, and a huge three-tier cake was assembled and eaten. The guests gradually started to drift away leaving the 50 or so friends and family invited to Ali’s home for further festivities.

Before I was allowed the leave the orchard however, the owner of the venue personally invited me to a guided tour of the whole area, showing me how he had created such a lovely and beautiful area for these kind of celebrations. He had retained an old stone flour mill which still works together with the nearby well, and the canopies covering the seats and tables were draped with grape vines complete with bunches of ripening fruit. I was very privileged for the invite and again, this demonstrates the hospitality, warmth and willingness to please of this nation which we do not often get to witness.

Returning home, the party continued with more dancing, music, food mostly outside in the late warm weather which makes such a difference. When everyone had eaten and could hardly put one foot in front of the other, it was time to call things to a close and say Goodbye to everyone.

What a wonderful day, not just for Ali and Arezou, the lovely couple whose happy day it was, but for me to be able to experience such an amazing family occasion as part of their family and to be treated with such friendliness and respect all afternoon.

Kheyli mamnun.

What am I looking forward to this year (2)

My husband is Iranian and we are lucky enough to have a house in Iran. It gives us a base from which we can tour this fascinating and controversial country.  Our next visit in just a few weeks time will be an exciting one with a family wedding, a baby due and my birthday to celebrate in true Iranian style with friends, family, food and festivities. I can’t wait.

Iran is a country which divides opinions; political, social, economic and religious but I make a big effort to visit with an open mind on the basis that so far I have no cause for complaint. I may have to wear conservative clothing and a headscarf, but that doesn’t bother me.

I am lucky that I see the Iranian people as they are and how they live. They are friendly and hospitable and have made me very welcome in their country.They are a proud nation and rightly so. I am looking forward to seeing my husband’s  family and our friends again as well as making new ones. I am looking forward to visiting the family orchard, picking ripe fruit fresh off the trees, visiting spectacular mosques, the bazaar, climbing Zorastranian fire temples, eating water melons, shopping and picnicking at midnight.

2011 is shaping up to be a great year. I am looking forward to it.

Iran-my first visit

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.