Travel To Iran: A Misunderstood Wonderland Behind the Stereotypes
Is Iran really safe to travel?
English Text written by: Vahid Takro
English Text edited by: Juliana Aguilar
Interviewees: Aidan, Mark, Dorka, Mark’s parents, Thomas
Photographer in Iran: Zulfeqar Jefar
Photographer in Hungary: Vahid Takro
Date: April 2017 to April 2018
Is Iran safe to travel? What do other tourists think? How are the people of Iran?
In this post, I want to write about the mental conflicts and misconceptions about Persia’s safety. Something that maybe every travel blogger has posted his/her personal experience on their blog. But after 4 years collecting the information and experiences of travelers, I’m writing this post. But how did I get to know other people’s experiences?
At first I knew that many people from outside had a completely wrong mentality about Iran, so they think they will not return alive if they travel to Iran. Even one day in Paris I met a man in a bar, when I told him I came from Iran, he said: “Don’t you have a bomb?” of course that was a joke but this was a misconception about Iran. Sometimes I knew that the media had dragged the name of Iran here. That’s why when I said the original and real name of Iran, “Persia”, they would even be pleased to meet me. I just realized that a secret should be behind this, the secret that media should respond to.
Actually I hate wars, not only wars, I hate the ice and distance between people. I read some books, some news, and most of all I chatted with the world, I found a lot of virtual friends from all of the world. Many nationalities had a very horrific image about Iran. And finally I realized that the media had a very bad effect on our minds.
I wanted to fight against this stereotypes, against the distance between humans. I started inviting all my virtual friends to the place where I lived. Even those who I didn’t know. I did this for about a year, I saw how people are happy and match together! I became friend with people of different nationalities, and I can say that all nationalities can be peaceful.
One of those friends who I met and hosted was Aidan from Australia. He traveled to over 100 countries at that time. And now, after about 3 years, the number of countries he traveled to has reached 170. Aidan was one of those people who traveled to see more people and get acquainted with different cultures.
The day I waited for Aidan to come to Tehran from Tabriz, he sent me a message and wrote: “hey dude, is it okay for you if I come tomorrow?” When I asked why, he told me he found a friend on the train and he invited Aidan to his house. Of course, I said no, because I also had a party for Aidan. The next days I met with my friends to introduce Aidan, they all invited him to their place. This is what completes the meaning of “hospitality.”. Aidan told me I want to hitchhike the whole Iran, I told him it is impossible, they even don’t know what hitchhiking really is. And then after a month he sent me a video: “so after hitchhiking almost 2200 KM around your country which was very easy and not impossible I’m now at the border with Iraq.”
A few days ago, I chatted with Aidan, and he said Persian people are the best people and the most hospitable people among the 170 countries that he has traveled to.
Aidan added: “Iran is a very safe country, from the outside it might look not so inviting due to its strict laws however on arriving to Iran the people are beyond warm and extremely inviting and friendly. As a first timer you might feel shocked as strangers speak with you on a continuing basics however this is there culture of respecting guests and welcoming the best way possible.”
About two years ago, I invited three travelers to the place where I live. They were Hungarian. Apart from the good experience of getting to know them and being invited to their wedding in Hungary, I met two lovely friends through them.
Mark and Dorka
By mid-2017, a girl who introduced herself on Facebook as Victoria’s friend, asked me about their trip to Iran. She was very lovely, like other Hungarians. I invited her and her boyfriend to my place in Tehran. Before their trip to Iran, Dorka chatted with me every day; it was clear from her messages that she is so excited about traveling to Iran.
About two weeks before their trip to Iran, Dorka told me that: “I had fought with the mother of my boyfriend Mark.”
Mark’s mother told Dorka: “There is a war in Iran, Iran is very insecure to travel! Why Iran ??? Iran is very dangerous! you want to take my son to Iran and kill him!”
Mark, boyfriend of Dorka, is a nice man who accepted the Dorka’s offer to travel to Iran, although he was more willing to travel to Cambodia. Mark is a very silent guy who prefers to see more, than to comment on something.
He is one of those people who the bad morals can be rarely found in him. Mark’s parents have been believing for years that Iran is not safe for travel. However, Dorka later said that her mother has a good mentality about Iran. Mark’s parents also had the right to think so. The media is very influential; it first attracts people’s trust and then releases any news for money. I was sure that this mentality also affected on Mark. The media has strongly affected people, and this mentality is moving to the next and next generations. But where and how these mindsets must be eliminated? Maybe by people like me.
It was time to help to clear that stereotype, a stereotype that has involved Iran’s name for almost half a century. I thought that a mission had been given to me now, I had to let them see the real Persia and define it for their families.
Fear vs. Reality
From the very beginning of their trip, Dorka contacted me via a driver’s phone at the airport, and it was clear to me that she was so scared: “Hello Vahid! I call via a driver’s mobile phone, he told me that he can take us to your place, can we believe it? Is he reliable?” Because of the country’s economic problems, many people are taking passengers by their own cars to earn some money. When Mark and Dorka left the last gate of the airport, a private taxi driver followed them and tried to take them home. Therefore, the system of dealing with tourists in Iran is very different from other countries. I finally talked to the driver, gave him my address. Mark and Dorka were so excited on their arrival, I told Mark to immediately text your mother that we have not killed you in Iran yet. Although it’s a bit funny, but Mark’s mother would have been waiting for that message at that moment. This was not the first time I saw that tourists are posting in Facebook about their safety on arrival to Iran: “We’re safe!”
Until now, everything was really safe. In the morning, when we awoke, the Persian language class began. I taught them some Persian words for socializing and traveling in Iran. It’s very important to learn two things while traveling to Iran, reading the numbers and the difference between Toman and the Rial.
We planned to visit Tehran. They had to cross the “Persian (Iranian) history” and arrive at “urban life in Tehran”. Tehran is really a big city, a real city. You can look at it with different perspectives, the view that you are creating yourself, Tehran can be the most beautiful or ugliest city you’ve ever traveled to.
Visiting Tehran was almost well done, and they sent pictures for their families every day. Colorful pictures that were all different from each other. Mark and Dorka had to be prepared to travel around Pars lands. They looked very happy and passed it to their family, this stereotype was going to be clear, and I was very happy about it. Sometimes I thought to myself what was going on in their minds? What is the mentality of Mark’s mother now? I tried to show them the true image of Iran, rather than showing it more beautiful and safer than what it really is. Mark and Dorka continued to travel to other cities in Iran, and we were still connected through the mobile phone, they sent me a lot of happy messages everyday. Sometimes I find out from tourists that Iran has the most hospitable people. I always get news from tourists that ordinary people in the streets, drivers and many other Iranians invited them to their home or even for food or something else.
As a tourist in Iran, it’s likely that people on the street will come to you to start talking to you, invite you for food/tea or even to their place. I myself saw this many times, but sometimes tourists feel threatened, they feel that the red line that they draw around themselves is fading. I am also a tourist. In my opinion, a person on a journey must forget everything, he have to communicate with all human beings, and set aside his everyday life in a cold world. A journey is a long meditation. We travel to flee ourselves, to forget ourselves and see what’s going on in the world. All of us have red lines, which I myself personally love it to be cleared by the citizens of the country I travel to.
When Mark and Dorka returned from their trip around Iran, they were very happy to have chosen Iran for travel, the Iranian people everywhere proved that Iran is worth for traveling. Dorka uploaded some photos of Iran on Facebook, and the most pleasant moment was that Mark’s mother commented: “Amazing”. Clarification of this stereotype was very close. Now I was very happy, I thought the mission was successful, and now Mark has a lot to say to his mother!
Humans come and go, many of them pass through, and some of them are lasting. The loving ones who I meet always give me the feeling that I will see them tomorrow again, as I never use the word “goodbye”. So, with Mark and Dorka, we put the next appointment in Hungary without a “goodbye”. It was just the same days that I was invited by Viktoria and Zoltan (our common friends) to their wedding in Hungary.
Traveling to Hungary
Apart from my pleasures in various respects, I was so happy to meet Mark’s parents. After the first meetings with Mark and Dorka, and a review of the memories of their trip to Iran over the past few months, I was invited to their place. They had a house in a beautiful neighborhood in Budapest, until then I didn’t know, but the parent’s place was clinging to the house of these two lovers. So there was a door inside the house which you could go to Mark’s parents’ place through it. I felt comfortable getting into Mark’s place, but embarrassed to see Mark’s parents. Mark & Dorka’s room were full of small things from their travels around the world, I enjoyed seeing things about Iran as well. When Mark said, “let’s go to see my parents” I became very excited. On the one hand, I was embarrassed, and on the other hand, I thought to myself what will Mark’s parents think about me? “Is he dangerous? He comes from a war-torn country, …”
When I met Mark’s very lovely mother, I didn’t know what to say, I said jokingly, “This mobile in my hand is a bomb, I’ve come from Iran.” She laughed and invited me to their own room. I could guess Mark’s father was sitting and listening to the radio before I came, I think the newspapers were also on the couch. I thought how much I wanted to burn the TV, radio and newspapers, but Mark’s father’ kindly smile calmed me down. I felt that all these false news and illustrations about Iran were done by those devices. Mark’s mother repeatedly thanked me, saying: “Thank you for hosting my children.”, Although they didn’t know English and Dorka translated their words for me, I would like to sit and talk with them for hours, I would love to know about everything I’d like to let them know that people do not differ much, I came from Iran, A country whose government makes nuclear power doesn’t make me a bad person. I am proud to be Persian and all my life and culture are separated from politics. I love humans and I hate wars. Mark’s parents were very kind, and this was the reason why they were worried about him. We shouldn’t expect all people to know the reality, the reality is like the coconut milk that you have to break the coconut walls to achieve it, this is the stereotype that is involved in the minds of most people in the world.
We took some photos with them, I promised them not to publish their pictures on the Internet, so I turned them into what I imagined.
Now, we were all laughing and chatting, as I invited Mark’s parents to see the real Persia. Hungary is full of generations that have witnessed various wars, Wars are affecting the thoughts and beliefs of many humans, and the media broadens those news so much, it will try to look more attractive for the money than for to publish the real news. The war-torn countries are a playground for the media, for example, today’s Syrian children, they have been instrumental in the media’s reputation and attraction for their audience. If the world moves on the basis of the belief in these media, tomorrow we will see bad things in the world, the new generation will believe that even Syrian children are also dangerous to socializing, without thinking that they are just war-stricken.
No country’s policies can affect its people. The previous generations who had seen world wars were always listening to the radio at that time: “The Germans conquered France”, “The British threw rockets to Germany” and now they hear “Iran is building atomic bombs” , “Iranians imprison girls who do not wear hijab”. In my opinion, the media must be very careful about the words that they make, if they write: “Iran is building atomic bombs”, or they write “the Iranian regime is building atomic bombs” makes a lot of difference. I’m sure that at least 95% of Iranians do not know what nuclear power really is and do not have any interest in knowing it. The Iranian people with Persian origin witnessed many oppressions in the history and now you have to travel to Iran so you can see that what travelers mean exactly when they say “The lesser one is more generous”.
In the territories of Persia, kindness has not lost its true meaning, although the “Taarof” has lost its original meaning, but the Persians are still the number one in the hospitality and kindness. These are not my words, but the experiences of tourists who have traveled to Iran.
The whole world is inevitably involved in politics and wars, why have wars originated from the beginning? All problems are caused by the excesses of people and money. I always wish that there was no money, and now we were all in peace and reconciliation. Living in peace is difficult when money manages everything, but it is not inaccessible.
We Can Be Peaceful
Until now, in Hungary, I noticed that the Hungarians are very peaceful, although before the trip to Hungary, many people told me Hungarians are very racist. But I knew Laszlo, Viktoria and Zoltan, also Mark and Dorka. I knew all this gentle and peaceful Hungarians, so how did these “racist” phrases stick to the Hungarians?
It had to be a stereotype that has covered the people’s mind that I spoke about Hungary with. Behind the curtains should be something, something that everyone does not know, I should know this, So a new step to break this stereotype just started. I had to get to know what shows Hungary “racist” from outside. I began to study about Hungary, about their wars and their culture and finally their politics today. The behavior of the Hungarian government is not really good with the asylum seekers. It was only a while ago that I read about the Syrian father, that a Hungarian policeman had not allowed him to cross the border and threw him to the ground. I heard about the bad and incompetent behavior of the Immigration and Asylum Office in Hungary. And all I heard was not enough reason to say Hungarians are bad and racists people. I met not only my Hungarian friends but also a very gentle Hungarian-Australian lady a few hours before arriving in Hungary on Doha to Budapest flight, Also, many other Hungarian friendly travelers. The more Hungarian I met, I became more aware of how kind they are.
Finally, I arrived at the wedding party of Zoltan and Viktoria, where I met many other Hungarians, the Hungarians were completely the opposite of what I had heard, they are one of the most intimate European nations. People who you want to spend hours with them. People who can make you feel that you know them for years. Hungarians are quick to get in touch with you, they approach you easily, ask about your life and talk about their own lives. Eventually, this stereotype was erased in my mind, the Hungarians proved to be one of the most peaceful nationalities I know. Occasionally, meeting unique people like Viktoria and Zoltan makes me tearfully happy that there are still such a lovely human beings in the world.
Peace is possible for the whole world, only the wars, borders, division and seizure the main sources of the world makes it more difficult to achieve. I have traveled for anthropology and history so far, I discovered this well that there is a desire for peace in the hearts of all human beings. There is a desire for war as well, but not in the hearts of humans, it’s in the hearts of some politicians who make the media market hot and the stereotypes come from here. War and event news are more appealing to people, so the media tries to write more about the war and political problems, and tries to show them more frightening than they really are.
We all know that stereotypes have captured all the human minds, but what stereotypes? Where? How? And how should we help to clean them in others?
We need to travel more and more to identify these stereotypes, and transfer them to others. The stereotype is made very simple and can be erased very hard. Certainly there are people in the world who act against these stereotypes, People who are not only putting the media market in the risk, but also helping tourists to make a revision of the world. But this bitter lie that has taken the world needs more people to clean up. There is nothing in the world that blocks peace. Skin color, gender, sexuality, appearance, financial status, nationality, ethnicity, religion, does not make any difference.
I, along with many other personal goals, traveled to Hungary to face these stereotypes against Hungarians and do the “Third Eye” peace project. I discovered that perhaps the Hungarian politicians are racist, but the people do not include them.
Mark and Dorka’s journey began with fear and conflicts with stereotypes, and ended happily with sweet memories. They showed the realities to Mark’s parents, The realities that these days have involved a lot of minds. The political and social problems of Iran may make it harder to live in, but it can not be said that these are dangerous for a traveler. These two people fell in love with Iran after traveling to Iran, Dorka is learning Persian and intends to go to Iran for a while and continue her studies. Mark, whose entire mindset has changed about Iran, I’m sure he will return to Iran to see the rest of the cities of that wonderland. Mark’s parents, and all the Hungarians who I met and became friend with, are always invited to Iran, and I’m sure they will schedule one day. Breaking the stereotype has changed the thoughts of many people toward Iran and I’m so happy about it.
It was about mid-March that I was about to post this article, then I met with Thomas from Germany, he stayed in my place, I asked him to be the first reader of this text to add something about “Stereotypes about Iran”.
Thomas’s interest in Ahura Mazda and Iran’s history was a lot of excitement for me. He has the Faravahar necklace in his neck, which is also used as a sign for Iran.
Thomas’s comment on the stereotypes of Iran: “I decided to travel to Iran for the first time 4 years ago after I was volunteering in East-Jerusalem. I always was interested in the complex situation of the middle-east conflict and after living in Israel for 3 months, I wanted to see the “country of Israels worst enemy”. In the western world media makes one individual think that Iran is full of evil people who want to bomb the world back to stone-age. Whatever you hear about Iran – its always negative. The result is that one struggles to make a difference between government and the rest of Iranians. Of course I didn’t think that Iranians were like that, but still I had a strange feeling when I got into the plane to Tehran. I didn’t know anyone in that country and just contacted random Iranians on Facebook to get some information like “will I end up in prison when I wear a sleeveless t-shirt”. I have read about the Iranian hospitality before in my travel book guide, but when I experienced it the first time by myself I felt drugged from so much kindness. How can the reality and the image media puts on Iranians be so extremely different? The answer is politics. Be sure that you will NEVER hear anything positive in the mainstream media of the western world about countries like Russia, Iran, China and North-Korea. Is a North-Korean guy bad because his government sucks? For most of people the answer would be probably “yes”, at least in the back of our mind we have burned those stereotypes into our memories.
Now its my third time I visit Iran, a country full of wonderful people, beautiful nature and great history and I never thought that I will get tired of visiting it, despite of all the political problems that country faces nowadays. When I returned from Iran the second time, I decided to spread my positive experiences I have witnessed to the people of Germany. I was talking with so much passion about it, that my brother, who never really seemed to be interested in traveling, wanted to join me. We met a couple of times and created a travel-route and after some time his girlfriend also wanted to join. One week later my brother called and told me that he and his girlfriend cancelled the trip. He said they had too less time and the flights were too expensive. But I think despite of all the positive stories there was still some doubts inside of them which made them stay in Germany.
You cannot change people by words, one has to make the experience by him or herself to understand.
If I had the power to set one rule for everybody in the world, I would force people to travel for at least one year. Because that is the best way to break down stereotypes and if you are open for it, traveling will make you understand that we are all one, despite of religion nationality or skin color.”
Vahid Takro – April 2018
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