Thursday, May 18, 2006

Reunions Part II

I've been looking forward to coming to Iran for some time now. It's a country steeped in history and the people are renowned in travellers circles for being particularly welcoming and friendly. But more than that I was looking forward to seeing family that I hadn't seen for 5 years or more, because, as I have alluded to before, I am half Iranian and a large chunk of my extended family still lives there. Not only that, but my parents, who I haven't seen for the 20 months that I've been travelling, as well as my brother, arranged to come out and meet me there and travel for a while together. And although I'm not a particularly emotional person I was certainly looking forward to meeting them after all this time. Therefore, upon crossing the border from Pakistan, I had a further 24 hour bus journey (not such a chore as both the roads and buses in Iran are infinitely more comfortable than anything else in Asia) before reaching Tehran where my family is based. In Iran the family is very important and ties of blood are particularly strong, so it warmed my heart to be surrounded by familiar and caring faces, cosseted and cared for, with no need to stress about where to sleep or eat or go, wrapped up in their kindness.

The difference between Iran and the rest of Asia that I've visited up to now (with the exception of Malaysia and Singapore perhaps) is immense. Not only can I, for once, understand pretty much everything that is being said (upon crossing the border I felt as if I had been listening to an out of tune radio for a year and that suddenly it had been tuned in to a clear station), but life here is far more akin to what we experience in the West. The place is surprisingly clean and organised and the shops, music and cars do not mark it out as being any different from most European countries; even the clothes are the same, which caused a bit of a fuss because I came over the border wearing my shalwar kameez (almost obligatory dress in Pakistan) and was immediately looked down upon as being a bit of a dirty Afghan (particularly by my own family, who were none too impressed with my minimalist apparel and attention to hygiene). Even my beard, which I had tended with pride through China and the Subcontinent, is seen by many as the mark of a religious, and therefore backwards, man. It seems odd to me that, despite both being Islamic Republics, Pakistan and Iran are distinct opposites. In Pakistan it is the people that are deeply religious and the government quite secular, whereas in Iran it is the other way round. In Pakistan long-distance buses will stop for prayers, whereas in Iran they would look at you incredulously if you were to suggest that. In Pakistan women are free to wear anything (modest) they want, whereas in Iran they must follow Islamic dress codes; however one doesn't see that many women out and about in Pakistan, whereas in Iran women are very present and they often push the dress codes to breaking point. Anyway, I must dash as I am off on a little tour to southern Iran with my family in a short while.

No comments: