Transformative Journeys in Iran
A journey through Iran by Americans Dan and Audrey of Uncornered Market shifts their thinking — and their assumptions about the country they had heard so much about.
Change is a process built on experience, including experiences like those you might collect while traveling. When people ask us how travel has changed us, we suggest that it’s cumulative of stories like this one about our trip to Iran.
At the end of last year when we announced to our family and friends that we – two Americans – were headed to Iran, most thought us certifiable…crazy, that is. News images and tickers showed anti-American protests, the release of imprisoned American hikers and surreal assassination plots of Saudi diplomats in Washington, D.C.
Makes for great backstory fodder, but it doesn’t sound like the typical profile of a desirable place to visit, now does it? Why visit a place that so many people regard as clearly dangerous? Maybe because it’s not. Sometimes, that’s just the place you need to see for yourself in order to challenge the world’s assumptions – including your own – and to continue to reshape who you are.
Through firsthand research and a few discussions with Iranian friends, we knew there was more to the story of ordinary Iranians and their country. We also knew the only way to discover the reality would be to travel there ourselves.
It’s one thing to read and form opinions; it’s another to experience something firsthand. Ask difficult questions that challenge your assumptions and you’ll find out more about what you are made of.
Though as confident as we are, we are still human. Sitting in Istanbul airport, boarding passes to Tehran in hand, fear crept back in. Our fellow passengers were friendly enough, but those voices of “Be careful!” from all the phone calls made to family before we left began to echo in the hall of mind games.
What if we were wrong?
During our flight to Tehran, we received the first taste of Iranian hospitality thanks to a protective Iranian woman sitting next to us. Not only did she want to be certain we were well-versed in how to dress appropriately, but she also wished us to understand: “American people are good. Iranian people are good. People are good, governments bad.”
This grandmother provides a little perspective on all the rotten history between governments, particularly all those fiery images of Americans taken hostage in 1979, all the “death to America” chants during Friday prayers, and the negative rhetoric about Iran in our own country.
On the ground in Iran, we found a country full of contradictions and complexity, far beyond what prevails in the media. Iran is a country with a rich history and culture dating back thousands of years. The first record of a human rights charter was from the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C. and the ruins of Persepolis indicate a surprising history of spirit, multiculturalism, and openness.
Most importantly, everywhere we went, ordinary people on the street, in markets, and at restaurants welcomed us with open arms, invitations and even gifts when they discovered that we were American. We joked that this attention was perhaps the closest we’ll ever come to feeling like rock stars.
What you see on the news is not always what you get on the ground.
And just when we began to feel comfortable, we pressed the edges of our apprehension again. We exited Iran by a 60-hour train journey that took us from Tabriz in Iran’s northwest corner all the way to Istanbul.
Those butterflies of anxiety appeared again as we boarded the train, fear of the unknown playing games with our emotions. What would the journey feel like? How would we be treated? Most of all, would the border police give us grief?
Again, our fears were turned around one last time. Our experience with Iranian passengers on the train was nothing short of astounding. Hospitality and kindness ruled the day all the way to Istanbul. Even the Iranian officials who stamped us out of the country encouraged us to visit again.
If you wish to challenge your assumptions, you will likely have to face your fears – some of them physical, many of them emotional – and go and see things for yourself. Follow your instincts, press the edges of your comfort zone and you’ll begin to change the shape of the world you live in.
When you do, what you think of the rest of the world will never be the same.
And neither will you.