Iran (So Far Away).

I’m reading a book called Hand to Mouth to India. It’s quite a beautiful book, about an English lad called Tom who hitchhikes from England to India without any money.

The entire book is worth reading, but in light of current events his visit to Iran is eye-opening. I’ve mentioned before that my all-time favorite blog is Banchory to Bosphorus by Bike and that’s where I first realized that Iran is perhaps the most hospitable county on earth. Their stories were astounding, but they were on bikes and somewhat self-sufficient.

Tom hitchhikes or rides a bus (usually paid by friendly Iranians) across the country and even visits the Kurdish west in search of Sufis. The friendliness he constantly encounters is mind-blowing.


Consider his account of his first night in Isfahan. He has already been invited for dinner by the owners of a carpet shop and later, walking through the large public area (the largest in the world), meets a family from Teheran who invite him to join their dinner.

“They served up an impressive array of rice, meat dishes and soup and though I was still full from the eggs and bread I had to find room just so as not to cause offence. A common dilemma for visitors to Iran. I took out my sleeping bag to lay it out on the stone tiles and saw the son of the carpet shop owner running down to meet me. He insisted that he would sleep outside also, to ensure my safety on my first night in his city.”

“…[A]s soon as the other passengers on the bus heard that I was English, they poured handfuls of seed and nuts into my hands that were beyond my dexterity to open. As it was impossible to refuse on these occasions, my pockets were always crammed with bits of muesli throughout my time in Iran.”


Tom has a postcard written in Farsi that states he is a broke, spiritual musician. When he presents it to the gatekeeper at the ruins of Persepolis, “[h]e bade me come in and play my clarinet. One Ray Charles ‘Hit the Road Jack’ boogie later, he loaded me up with chai and let me share his lunch of rice and chickpeas, before giving me leave to go among the ruins as I pleased.”

“The Iranians watched TV but only in rationed amounts and they still valued more the time to take a glass of chai and elicit another person’s viewpoint–and this was the people that the American government chose to make their national enemy? A more absurd example could not have been picked to present as a race of evil, scheming terrorists than these sweet and generous people.”

Friendliness to that extent in the west would be deemed insanity. There are many more examples of this, but his last point is the most cogent. America has fucked over a good deal of the countries in the world, but the fact that there are politicians pushing for war with Iran is utter madness. It makes the context of the US as “the Great Satan” seem depressingly appropriate.

Apart from voting in candidates who aren’t part of the big business oligarchy, I’m not sure what we as ordinary citizens (or non-US citizens) can do to prevent this. What could an ethical Stormtrooper on the Deathstar have done to stop the destruction of Alderaan? I’d be happy to hear all of your thoughts.

8 responses to “Iran (So Far Away).

  1. Your final metaphor, about the Deathstar, is a good one: it shows the seemingly impossible and uphill challenge that an individual might have against a big “machine”.

    I suppose one thing is to write what you’ve written. I’ve heard and read countless stories – from friends, from books and so on – that say that the Iranians are among the friendliest people that you could find. The more we can get the word out, I guess, the more we can “humanise” Iranians and make Iran not seem like some homogenous, institutional, faceless bogeyman.

    Thanks for the book recommendations, incidentally! Always nice to stumble across other Scottish travel writers.

    • Thanks Simon. I guess we keep educating ourselves, being the change we want to be, and hope the world doesn’t go to shit in the meantime, eh?

      And I hope you like their blog–it’s one of the greatest bits of travelogue I’ve ever come across.

      Gis la revido!

  2. To be fair, the Iranian government puts in a lot of effort toward fucking up the Iranians too. And, when you look at the response that Americans had in regards to the recent protests in Iran and the support that many people here have shown for the people there, it makes you wonder. People in the US, as in Iran, are not as bad as and should not be defined by their governments.
    And Iran would be a great place to visit–I have watched several Iranian films and, while Tehran looks a little insane, the countryside, the mountains, and the Caspian Sea all look amazing.

  3. Oh yeah. My comments were entirely about the US government. (Which has banned international aid for the recent earthquake.) As a US person myself, I understand that have the capacity to not suck . That said, I do think the educated / intelligent / liberal faction of the US has to step up and choose somebody other than, as South Park said, a douchebag and a turd sandwich.

    I agree that the Caspian Sea and the mountains look amazing. And Esefahan is supposed to be one of the world’s greatest city.

  4. Read ‘Not without my Daughter’ You have a romantic view of the Middle East….Women are not valued in any way there. They are not allowed to go to school, they must wear a head scarf there….and it’s hot… wear a scarf all the time, I mean. Woman are not even second class citizens……..I thank God that I wasn’t born there….I would have been shot by the time I was 12.

    Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2012 01:46:28 +0000 To:

    • It’s certainly true that the Middle Eastern countries have some rather anachronistic and shameful attitudes toward women. They surely don’t have a monopoly on misogyny though–look at how many American politicians have emerged as utterly anti-women in the past few years alone. And I think most people know about the cultural misogyny of Iran, but less know about their incredible hospitality. There’s a further division, as elsewhere, between the Imans/leaders and the people themselves.

  5. I have been teasing the idea of a middle east trip, and I would hate to miss Iran. Persian culture is gorgeous and totally appealing to me, it’s the home of Hafiz, and so forth. Any Yanks who’ve been? Wikitravel says the visa process is possible but strict for us. We have to have tour itineraries and everything planned out in advance.

    • From what I’ve heard, Yanks can go with a group. This, arguably, eliminates one of the best parts of being in Iran–the spontaneous generosity. But it would still be amazing to see some of the Persian relics and ruins. (And as you mention the literary tradition is incredibly rich, though I don’t know enough about it.)

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