Iran for me was…

… a series of quietly magical moments and brilliantly warm people:

1. It was Omit, the carpet maker who struck up a conversation with Nina and me while we were lost in the Tehran bazaar having separated from the rest of our group.  He invited us to his showroom hidden in an out-of-the-way basement corner and taught us that putting money in the banks is so unstable that carpets are considered a smart investment (they become more valuable over time as the excess material falls off to reveal more defined stitching):

One of many entrances to the busy Tehran Bazaar


2. It was lying awake in bed with Nina in the middle of the day trying to take a nap to recover from our jetlag but wasting one of our two hours talking.

3. It was aimlessly wandering the (nearly) deserted streets of Shiraz at night, reveling in the solitude and the alleyways bathed in glowing orange light. It was being escorted back to our hotel by policemen because we had wandered into a shady area (we think?), after which our tour guide came to our room and pretended like two of our group never made it back and had gotten arrested for trespassing.

This has gotta be one of my favorite photos from the trip. Shiraz by moonlight. Photo credit: Calvin @ The Monsoon Diaries

4. It was that moment lying on my stomach in my bed — writing — next to a stained glass window that opened out into the hotel’s gorgeous courtyard, home to birds and trees that I could touch from my second story window, with the guitar playing, the breeze blowing in, and guests trickling in to the courtyard for breakfast:

5. It was that shopkeeper at the Shiraz bazaar who apologized for the existence of the anti-American stamps our guide had brought us especially to his shop to see.

6. It was that moment of realizing that due to the exchange rate, in Iranian currency, we could all check “become a millionaire” off our list of life goals ($1 = ~19K rials)

7. It was the spontaneous breakouts into song and dance that Mostafa, our guide, led as we traveled by mini bus from one city to another…

8. It was stopping for a break in a tiny town on our way from Shiraz to Yazd and having hot tea brought out to us in a parking lot by Mostafa’s friend as the sun set in the background:

9. It was learning about and marveling at how progressive the Persian empire was (paid maternity leave, gender equality, soldiers who were paid and so did not feel the need to pilfer during conquest), while marveling at the majestic ruins of Persepolis.

10. It was discovering and devouring my favorite type of popsicle at Iran’s city of the dead (Necropolis):

11. Iran was that spunky 11-year-old girl who approached us and offered to explain the story behind the statue that a group of us had gathered around next to the Si-O-Se Pol, the Bridge of 33 Arches.  We spent the next hour on a paddleboat ride with her during sunset while her father looked on from the shore.

The Zayandeh River by the Si-O-Se Pol in Esfahan, Iran

12. It was the time spent after paddle boating exchanging contact information and being approached by locals, our free hour pre-dinner dwindling down to twenty minutes as the sun fully set.

13. It was a “quick photo” on the lit Si-O-Se Pol leading to being given photography tips by a man fascinated with Calvin‘s camera and a conversation with his companion, a young man, who asked us how he could come to America.

14. It was post-dinner hookah by the Zayandeh river, dangling our feet over the water, gazing out at the bridge and listening to music on portable speakers.  It was this view:

15. It was the homecooked meal graciously offered to us at the house of the mother-in-law of our hotel’s receptionist (a close friend of our tour guide), to which our contribution was Coca-Cola chicken courtesy of Anna. While we waited for the meal to be cooked, we learned a lot of things we didn’t know about the Islamic laws governing marriage, adultery, and homosexuality from our tour guide, some of which surprised us for their progressiveness.

16. It was meeting a veteran of the 1979 revolution who had experienced torture at the hands of Americans, and receiving his hospitality and warmth despite his harrowing experiences.  It was realizing that despite being unable to articulate a good answer to “Why Iran?” before I got there, I now have a good reason to tell people why they should go, and a reason to go back: I am now thoroughly emotionally invested in what happens to this country.  (More in my guest post on the Monsoon Diaries)

17. Iran, for me, was the “hello’s” everywhere we went. I think it must be the friendliest country I’ve ever been to. It was the “Welcome to my country/Iran/Tehran/Esfahan/Shiraz’s.” It was the second, surprised, and friendlier “Welcome’s” that invariably followed after finding out that we are American.

It was also our layovers…

18. It was coming upon a street fair in Frankfurt, at which Nina found some old-school Gameboys she was tempted to buy and a suitcase full of handwritten letters and postcards from the 1970s.

19. It was overlooking the water from the living room of Natasha’s grandparents in Geneva, Switzerland, marveling at the serendipity that her grandfather had been from one of the Iranian cities we had just fallen in love with (Esfahan). It was sharing photos with him of a country from which he had immigrated over thirty years ago — and to which he has not been back since.

20. It was being graciously hosted by Caty, whom Calvin had met briefly in Spain, and who pulled an all-nighter to give us a tour of the capital city of Switzerland by starlight.

And lastly, it was coming home… a bit wiser and infinitely grateful… to lobster salad, to overdue dinner dates, to my dad making an Instagram photo I sent him his phone wallpaper, to my big sending me an email with the subject line “Little, I miss you after seeing you almost everyday for 2 weeks,” and… to a severe case of… extreme wanderlust:

Where to next?

Photos on sale at Etsy

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