Hello from Tehran, IRAN! It took a 43 hour bus ride from Istanbul but I finally made it!
11.26.2010 - 12.14.2010 20 °C
The beginning of my Iranian experience began with picking up my visa in Istanbul, Turkey, which was a much easier process than I assumed it would be. Beginning in October, I applied through a tour agency for an application code to be sent to the Iranian Foreign Ministry so that I could pick up my visa in transit from a location that I chose. It cost thirty euros and greatly reduced the hassle and time involved of getting my friends in Iran to write a letter of invitation. I just had to fill out a short application form and pay the fee; and within a few days I had my code and the location of the consulate in Istanbul.
After a ten hour bus ride from Romania, I arrived in Istanbul around 3:30 am. I got a few hours of sleep and the next morning I went straight to the consulate to start the process, which I was told would take one to three days if there were no complications. I put on my headscarf and entered the consulate. It only took twenty minutes once I had got all of the necessary paperwork and requirements completed including 2 passport photos with a headscarf, photocopies of my passport and Turkish visa, and the visa fee (45 euro).
From the Iranian consulate, I went to book my bus to Tehran. It was shockingly cheap, only 35USD for an estimated trip of 38-40 hours! I was the only woman on the bus which was a bit daunting at first. From the beginning of the long journey I was constantly offered tea and food and if I refused I was given it anyways, keeping in line with the Iranian custom of taarof, which is the unwritten code of how people should treat each other. Only three out of about thirty people spoke English but some fun and entertaining conversations were had, which made the bus trip bearable and seemingly relatively short. Everyone one the bus really looked out for me and by the end of the trip they were calling me their sister and doing whatever they could to help me. At the border, instead of being grilled about my reasons for coming to Iran I was given chocolates and graciously welcomed to Iran.
Once we arrived in Tehran I was met by my friend at the bus stop. It was so nice to see a familiar face! I stayed with them and they were so generous and went out of their way to show me Iranian history, life, customs, and traditions. We have gone to concerts, theater performances, the bazaar, palaces, and have eaten some delicious Persian food. I also took a trip on my own for four days to two other cities--Esfahan and Shiraz, which were very different from the capital. They had a much more laid-back atmosphere, streets lined with trees and flowers, and amazing architecture. Also, from Shiraz I was able to visit Persapolis, the 2,500 year old ruins of the Persian Empire.
Overall, my experience in Iran was great. I got to experience a rich aspect of culture, history, people, architecture, ect that many miss out on. So I feel very privileged to have witnessed this country first hand. However, that does not mean that there were not aspects that I did not enjoy. For example, the pollution was HORRIBLE! It is at highly toxic levels and the worst it has ever been due to the burning of banzen because there is no available gasoline as a consequence of the economic sanctions against the country. People are getting sick and suffering from cancers, inability to breath, rashes, and other side effects. While I was there, I often had a headache and found it difficult to breath. To deal with problem, the government's solution is to keep constantly declaring "public holidays", which in effect closes schools and keeps people from working. Also, while I was in the country, two university professors were shot and killed because they were anti-government and their outspokenness concerning Iran's nuclear policies, which speaks for the current lack of freedom.
Before coming here, everyone that I told that I was going to Iran immediately became very concerned and felt they needed to give their words of wisdom and warnings to me about entering such a "dangerous" country. However, I have found quite the opposite since being here: the people are not the government! Most Iranians do not agree with the current government and their policies. In fact, this country's people are some of the most hospitable, gracious, and educated people I have ever encountered. Although, the laws and policies of the country vary greatly with much of western society, most people are so similar to those at home, they have parties, sing, dance, enjoy life, and debate and are critical thought about their government and the current state of the world's affairs. I am so happy with my decision to come to this country despite most people's concern and alarm. It has reiterated to myself not to trust media's perception of a country...one has to go to a place to make their own judgment.