“Everyone walks through life but it is those who look to learn from people coming from different walks of life that travel the farthest.”
True learning for me is something that happens in gradual steps not something that I acquire at a first glance. For this very reason, when traveling to Iran became a possibility, I was ecstatic. All I knew of Iran at that time was that it lay geographically next to Afghanistan and that prior to the fall of the Shah in 1979, it was one of the most European minded countries in the Middle East. Its golden age of shaping foreign policy in the 70’s and its influence during WWII was something I had only had the opportunity to read about in textbooks. I only truly grasped how extensive and rich Iranian culture really is when I traveled to Iran. Far from its interactions with the Portuguese empire during the later part of the 18th century and its cultural peak during the Safavid Dynasty, I discovered an Iran preserved in time, an Iran that warmly offers a piece of its history and intricate social fabric in its people and in doing so bestowed a sense of immortality upon me.
Bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea, Iran’s geographical setting boasts of the Zagros Mountains from north to south and its grain and wheat fields in cities like Shiraz. Its friendly population of a staggering seventy million demonstrates daily its respect and profound devotion to Islam in their everyday clothing. For one, all women must wear hijabs and long-sleeved shirts and pants. I, for one along with all the women who traveled with me on the plane, remember putting on my hijab five minutes before landing. At airport checks women and men always made separate lines. For me, this wasn’t strange because I had lived in the Middle East before; however I never had to wear a hijab. Honestly, I quickly forgot that I even had hair because I was more intrigued by sightseeing in Tehran. Not only that but I only ever saw my hair right before going to bed. Walking down Tehran at night was one of the most colorful scenes I witnessed. Women, especially young women wore colorful hijabs, ranging from blue to green and fuchsia. Something that also caught my attention while shopping was the fact that most mannequins in Tehran had band-aids on their noses- a sign that shows just how popular and prominent plastic surgery is in Iranian society. Likewise, the recurrent and intertwined symbolism of Islam is apparent in every crook and cranny in Iran. For one, the color green can be seen throughout Iran. Not only because the color itself symbolizes the power and importance of the Q’uran’s teachings but also because it is displayed in the colorful flags of local elections in various cities across Iran. This further shows how Iran like many Middle Eastern countries’ politics and religion are intertwined and are almost if not impossible to separate.
The first place I visited was the Saad Abaad Palace and its museum complex. It was astounding to see and learn about Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last of the monarchs of the Pahlavi monarchy. The once inhabited rooms showed the modernized outlook of his father Reza Pahlavi; from the toys he bought Mohammad to the fact that he was the first Iranian price who received formal education abroad. Educated in French while attending boarding school in Switzerland, Mohammad advocated a European sense of lifestyle that he once proclaimed led to his belief that, “when Iranians learn to behave like Swedes, I will behave like the King of Sweden.” During his rule, he not only granted women the right of suffrage but also made education available to many Iranians.
In Shiraz, I visited the sacred tombs of the poets Hafez and Saadi in the Musalia Gardens, the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, the Narenjestan Palace and the Eram Garden-a World Heritage Site. All of these sites, especially the Eram Garden have special significance for Muslims in Iran. The Iram Garden is a garden depicted to look like a garden in heaven. Shiraz is considered to be more liberal than the rest of Iran’s cities as well as the mecca for silk carpets, Chinese silk, and where you can drink the best “Anar” or pomegranate juice.
See what else I was up to in Iran next week in A Taste of Immortality – Part 2.