Those of you who have never been here, please throw away all your perceptions of Iran, especially any derived solely from CNN. Yes, for us Kiwi's it is unrelentingly dry, dusty and therefore far from spotless. Yes, there is rubbish everywhere, (its extent more astonishing than the chador and burqa) plastic bags, plastic bottles, paper, rags and cans of every description litter the sides of streets, parks, streams, beaches and all places of interest. Yes, there is pollution on a scale so foreign to us that we feel saddened by it and by the apparent obliviousness with which it is accepted as a normal part of the environment. It is hard for us to discuss this (the psychology of it I mean; the apparent thoughtlessness of it) with locals for fear of causing offence through inadequate language on both sides. As in many poor countries, we suspect the business of personal survival is more important than a bit of plastic here and there and that we are judging (condemning?) myopically through our comparatively wealthy western eyes. Yes, like many countries in the region there are problems of future direction where the need for technology often brings with it a worry about the corruption of traditional values. Islam has shaped much of the region since 650 AD but the Islamic revolution that created the Iranian Republic was only 25 years ago and the abruptness of change as much as the nature of change is hard to manage. In Iran, where more than 60% of the population is under 30 this is a significant issue, it is a battle for the young hearts and minds in a world where globalisation has many (subtle) weapons. So like Turkey, we have the sense of a country being pulled in two directions at once while trying to maintain a sense of nationality based on its own, not imported values. This can create a local sense of uncertainty and it can make life difficult for foreigners like us...
BUT ! we have never felt safer and we have been unreservedly welcomed by everyone from the border officials and the police (whom we met two or three times a day at roadblocks) to people on the street and in the parks. People in Iran are not insular, they are amazingly outward looking and never miss an opportunity to ask about New Zealand nor to express their hospitality and practice their English. We are stared at, openly by males and furtively by women, which surprises us because we don't feel that different but we clearly are. It is of course not rudeness but curiosity and interest. Matt found a noisy game of indoor soccer right next to our hotel and wandered over to check it out. He was immediately asked to play and had a brilliant half an hour's fun, scored a nice goal to. Not a word of English from them, not a word of Farsi from Matt. Did it matter? Of course not. Half of the team came to shake my hand at the end of the game as well as each others.
Nasser Khan was a wonderful introduction to Iran. Matt has mentioned his expertise at the border and in all things bureaucratic but it is his courtesy and hospitality that we now see is pure Iranian. Matt mentioned the wonderful breakfast we had in Elgoli Park. As we wandered there were many 'hello's' and 'salams' and the by now familiar 'where are you from' and 'please join us for tea'. Nasser neatly avoided most but not all and it was hours before we got back to the car. And we learnt something else. Nasser occasionally told people we were Americans - to my horror - but he casually explained that Iranian people love Americans; it is the American government they distrust. And they do not single out America; it is all governments including their own that are suspect. This ability to differentiate the actions of governments from the inherent goodness of a country's people is, on reflection, perhaps obvious but none-the-less a striking and sensible conclusion. We like Iran a lot and hope the future does not overwhelm the essential energy and joy of its people. It will be so if... mashallah. A great day, thanks Nasser. Glenn and Matt