24 mei 2010

Iranian diversity

I went from the dusty, smoggy and hazy surroundings of Tehran, up in the air to find myself in the desert like island of Gheshm (Persian Gulf) together with my very beloved Iranian friends.

Sun, heat, beaches and ocean should be the ingredients of a nice getaway form the big city. In most of the aspects it was just like that. We went swimming and snorkling and caught some fishes for the BBQ. But to be able to do this, we had to go with a little boat to a small island where there was no one to watch us and no police to remind us of the Islamic rules. Because I can tell you this, building a sand castle on the beach wearing the hejab with 40 C is just no fun.

On this Island, only a few km’s from Dubai, we are a lot closer to images people might have of the middle east. I remember Jos (our teammanager) telling his kids on the phone, that he was in a country far away from Holland, and he said: “I am in this country, where there are camels and people in long dresses and long beards”. The moment he was telling this to his kids, we were driving through Tehran, where you won’t find any camel, and hardly anyone with the long Arabic dress or a long beard. 
There goes another image of Iran out into the world which is just not true, look around!

But maybe he had been to Gheshm before. The camels were the first things I noticed when we drove over the island, followed by bearded people with long Arabic dresses and far darker skin than up in the north of Iran. It was as if we were in another country.  

The island looks a bit like a Star Wars filmset combined with Mad Max. Dusty planes with weird hills covered with a tiny blanket of hazy air. And round all these gangsters drive around like madmen with  illigal goods being brought in by tiny boats coming from Dubai. Besides this, an old mysterious looking Russian oil platform stranded years before illustrates the otherwise empty horizon of the ocean. It makes you wanna go there and explore.

In the 'big city'  on the island, most of the Sjiite mosques are replaced by the Sunni mosque (the majority of Iran is Sjiit). While we drive around I am amazed by the looks of the people. Some of them are very dark, almost Ethiopean and very beautiful. The women wear long clothes with flowery and colourful prints. Their legs (or at least what you can see of it) are covered with bright coloured trousers inlaid with gloden thread in amazing patterns. But what amazes me even more, is the masks some women wear. My friend calles them the 'moustache ladies' and I see why. There are a few different kind of masks. Some are like a moustache, where it's just the nose, the upperlip and a line above the eyes that is covered.
Others women wear a bigger ones, where the whole part of the eyes and cheekbones are hidden beneath a mask which is either completely black, of beautifully imprinted. What a mystery this creates. Why are they wearing them, what is there to hide?  
Don't you think that by hiding yourself, you make it more attractive and mysterious. What goes behind all this? If you see the clothing shops in the town, you see dresses and shirts you can't imagine people wearing underneath all these black drapes. But apparently they do, why would they sell 'm if not?
Even the guys from our own team were a bit shocked to see me without a scarf after seeing me with one every day. Image a person who has never seen a women without one before, and sees it for the first time...

I really like Iran, despite the islamic rules that in some ways determine the ability to move around as a woman. It's a country where the hospitality and open heartedness is just overwhelming. You will never feel unwelcome. The fear of what you think of the country, ("don't you think it is dangerous here?") and the surprise that you actually came to visit ("I am so glad that you like our country"). They know what is said on the news abroad and what is going on in the world. And it's sad to see so many people who would like to see their political situation changed, and to be able to speak out like they sometime dare. But they seem to be caught in this system where they can't get out of.

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