People, Travel

Taking Pictures with Foreign Friends

Taking Pictures with Foreign FriendsTaking Pictures with Foreign Friends

It was two years ago. She had blond hair, a sun-burnt face, and wore a green shawl, which covered part of her hair.  She was sitting at the entrance of the Gazarkhan village, and when she saw our car passing, she waved and motioned us to stop. She asked if she could hitch a ride with us to the Moallem Kolaye village. We agreed and welcomed her into the car.  She sat in the back with a big smile on her face. We offered her some of the pears bought from locals.  She accepted them with great enthusiasm, Sara Maleki writes for Donyay-e Eghtesad newspaper.

Her name was Isabel. She had travelled from Germany to Turkey to climb the Ararat, which she already had several times. Unaware that Iran is a great place for mountain climbing with its incredibly high summits, such as Mount Damavand, which reaches 5,610 meters, she had mainly stuck to the same destination in Turkey.  On one such trip, her curiosity has been awakened and she thought of venturing into Iran, because it was so close by, despite her friends advising against it.

She had chosen not to inform her parents of her decision, “in case they would get worried.” Decision made, she set out on the adventurous journey from Tabriz to Alamut, on her own.

Isabel was immediately struck by the stark contrast between what she had heard from the media about the country and the actual reality. She spoke about the peace and security she found there as a stranger.

She was determined to pass on her experience to friends in Germany as soon as she returned home. “I will let them know of Persian hospitality, a culture that is so welcoming to foreigners.”

“I will never forget the taste of the yogurt in Tabriz offered by locals.” She recalled with a smile on face. “All aspects of my trip were fascinating to me, but people’s generosity went over and beyond,” she added.

As an Iranian, it was heartwarming to hear the positive experience of tourists like Isabel, but it was also upsetting to know that the overwhelming majority were still left with this great misconception about the country.

Isabel set off for Qazvin airport and flew back to her country.

  Two years later

It has been several months, since the media started reporting on the increasing international interest to visit Iran. It was during a visit to Isfahan, however, that we witnessed it firsthand.

Large groups and smaller groups of tourists wandered along the sidewalks, which were almost packed. The number of visitors has taken Isfahan’s residents and merchants by surprise.  

Discussions with tourists made us reminisce on Isabel’s experience. It was the same story over and over again; they were all surprised at what they saw.

They found talking to Iranian women most intriguing. They wanted to know more about women in Iran, and what they learnt amazed them. They learnt that Iran has more woman university entrants than most Western countries, that woman work and in many cases hold the top jobs in industry as well as in public services.  They had all sorts of other questions as well, including wanting to know about Gaz, the popular delicious Persian nougat.

We spoke to several groups of tourists, some from China and others from Europe; the best part was getting to know people in different parts of the world.

Among all the questions and answers, we exchanged the message of true friendship—an exchange of smiles. They stood beside us, and took pictures and were not strangers anymore.