Having travelled extensively through Turkey over the summer, Iran definitely has a far wider spectrum of religious devotion (Turkey being predominantly more conservative & religious), and the appearance of the woman is often a good indicator. Devout, or possibly socially adherent, chadori clad woman are commonplace in Iran, and while in Mashhad (the country’s holiest place) I saw thousands of pilgrims (many of whom had walked hundreds of kilometres to get there) honouring the martyrdom of the prophet. But equally, there are many woman clearly at odds with the regime inflicted rules stipulating all woman must adhere to a good hijab, that is to say at the very least cover all parts of the body except face, hands and feet and have loose clothing down to mid-thigh to obscure the shape of the body. In any city you will see woman flaunting these laws as far as they dare with exposed hair, make-up and heels…as a previous bike traveller mate said – In my culture I see these characteristics as forms of female oppression as sexualisation and objectification, but here (for now) they are signs of independence and liberation.
As is the case with most strictly Islamic countries, interaction between the sexes is severely restricted, most noticeably for a traveller in that public transport is segregated. Couples are expected to meet via matchmaking within communities – given that two families are in agreement of a proposed union, a suitor, in the company of his parents, will call on his proposed bride’s house and the two will meet for the first time and chat for a couple of hours to hash out whether they are suitable for each other. From what I could ascertain, there is a similar follow up meeting and then they must decide whether they are to wed. From a number of discussions this appears to still be the norm for traditional/religious families. The law therefore stipulates that a man and a woman may not live together or have sexual relations before being wed, and this leaves the large liberal populace in a precarious position when negotiating relationships on more western terms.
Having had a rough day in the mountains I reached a high altitude mountain town almost ensconced in its snowy winter blanket and, too tired to climb on over the pass another 700m above, I was looking for a place to camp. Various people tried to help but one guy just wouldn’t have it, insisting that it was too cold and I had to stay with him. Hossyn and his wife are not wealthy people but he took off the rest of the afternoon and did everything he could to make me comfortable and well fed with a variety of food. And the following morning he bestowed me with as much food as I could carry and then insisted on driving me up the long pass as the wind was now beyond gale force – All for a complete stranger off the street he would likely never see again.
Some days later charismatic motorbike adventurer Mohammed pulled me off the street in the late afternoon and insisted I stay with him and fellow local traveller Parvanae (a courageous woman determinedly living in a realm frowned upon for men let along woman). I’ll say no more than to say we partied hard for two days – an unexpected and awesome foray into the life or many Iranians behind closed doors!
I want to say massive thank you to all my hosts – Hamid, Amir, Hossein, Mohammed & Parvanae, Maral, Babak as well as all the many other people I chatted to (especially Sara & Elham) and also to the literally hundreds of others who gifted me all sorts of things along the way on a daily basis.