In the giant main square of Isfahan, two women eating saffron ice-cream came up to myself and a friend and asked us where we’re from. We replied, and with huge smiles they said “Welcome to Iran!” then walked off. Over the next week this sort of thing happened frequently, and sometimes extended into questions about what Mexico is like. Imagine if Iranian migrants, tourists, and refugees, were given the same warm welcome in the US, Europe, and Australia?
Instead, Iranians are facing renewed sanctions from the US, a travel ban to the US, and media misinformation about their country.
I was only in Iran for a week – far too short a time to understand the country at any level – but enough time to fall in love with it. Note though, when I fall in love with places or people or books, there’s never a delusion that they are perfect or that critique would be out of place. The hijab and the blocked websites were frustrating, but so is the racism and sexism people within the US face, not to mention the lack of access to health and education, and US people aren’t demonised like Iranians are.
Most Western embassies warn against travel to Iran and give the impression the country is dangerous. The media and movies make Iranians out to be violent. But in fact, Iran was the safest country I’ve been to, alongside Cuba. You feel secure, the streets are clean and wide, everything works, and everyone is super nice or at least civil to you, including to women like myself travelling on their own. The only thing to worry about is taxis, because Iranians are the worst drivers – worse than Venezuelans. Oh and potentially dying from an overdose of tea :P .
Iran is stereotyped to be misogynistic – and of course it is, all countries are. But for me, Turkey was much worse, and Iranian women were much more active in life and society as well as coming across as more confident and outspoken.
According to a 2015 Pew poll, 92% of Israelis, 76% of people from the US, and 87% of Spaniards and Italians view Iran unfavourably. Iran is perceived as a threat (even though it is the US that has the nuclear weapons) rather than the place of beauty, incredible history, art, and charismatic curiosity that I experienced and that it deserves to be known for.