“Why did you go to Iran?”. I get this question a lot.
When I asked other tourists, they said they came here to learn Farsi, or they heard that it wasn’t as unsafe as the media would have you believe, or they thought it would be an unusual adventure.
For me, it’s about continuity and growth.
It’s a personal journey. It’s about finding out for myself whether what I’m being told by media is true. The inconsistencies and flaws of how Western media portray Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, for example.
Here’s an exercise I do when I go to a new country: I type the country’s name into Google News and read the headlines. Then I get up, walk around, smile at people, drink tea, and feel. In that same place.
It really hits you then, just how the media oversimplify the world and reduce it to a few memorable catchphrases. Vignettes.
It hits you just how YOU are the product of what you’re told. And it hits you just how badly you’re influenced by the information you consume, the bubble you surround yourself with, the belief system you’ve been gifted by your own context.
And that clash, that realisation, that’s what makes me feel like I’m growing, evolving, as a human being, on an extremely personal level.
So that’s why I’m in Iran. That’s why I was in Pakistan. That’s why I’m going to Iraq. I always look forward to sharing these stories with you.
Photo: tripod & self-timer in front of Shah Abbasi Mosque in Esfahan.
TRAVELLING TO IRAN 🇮🇷 AS A WOMAN... I don’t mean to offend or hurt anyone with this post. This post is a reflection of my personal experience travelling alone in Iran, and your experience might differ.
I also want to add that I’ve travelled solo in, among others, Russia, Mongolia, China, Morocco, Turkey, India, Pakistan. This isn’t my first time travelling solo, so what I say below isn’t a product of “naivety” or “inexperience”. Simply put, Iran has been my most challenging destination as a solo female traveler.
There are not that many (Western) tourists here, and even fewer women travelling alone.
Every day, while walking around in broad daylight in the touristy areas, I felt, saw and heard the inappropriate attention of men around me.
On two separate occasions, both in the narrow streets of Yazd, young men tried to force themselves on me physically. In both cases, I got away immediately, before they managed to do anything.
I quickly learned, the hard way, that shaking hands with a man you don’t know in Iran is a BIG no-go. Frankly, I should have known this from Pakistan, but it seemed so innocuous at first, until a man whose hand I shook didn’t let go of it and started making inappropriate suggestions. In public.
It had nothing to do with the way I dressed, or the way I behaved, but everything to do with the fact that I was a foreign woman travelling alone in Iran.
When I complained to my friends, they explained that it’s rare to see a woman travelling alone here; that it’s not part of the culture, so people have all sorts of reactions; that Western women are seen as easy targets because of how the media portray them.
It made me feel angry. Furious. But then I realised something.
If you’re a woman travelling solo to Iran, DO GO. Get ready for some inappropriate behaviour, but do go, because solo female travel needs to be normalised. The more women travel alone, the less of an exception we will be.
Let’s keep traveling, girls, even against the odds!
As a travel vlogger, I’ve a responsibility to tell you about the good AND the bad. Most people in Iran 🇮🇷❤️ were so kind, but I also need to be open about this.
Photo: tripod & self-timer
831 28,05024 March, 2019
Happy Pakistan Day 🇵🇰 This is how Pakistan makes me feel! 💚
I’m grateful every day that my life, through chance meetings and decisions, became so entwined with this country. Permanently so.
It’s been almost exactly a year since I first visited Pakistan. Over that year, I ended up spending most of my time here, falling in love, making real friends, travelling the length and width of the country and getting to know it on so many levels.
I now realise that Pakistan is a hugely complex nation, probably impossible for a foreigner like me to fully grasp in a single lifetime. And that’s fine.
What I do know, though, is that I can navigate it with my own personal journey, a unique journey, a journey that everyone experiences differently. My Pakistan will always be a little different from Your Pakistan.
And My Pakistan is a bouquet of wildflowers blossoming with green as spring approaches.
While I’m not in the country to join in the celebrations, I sure am missing some of my favourite people there. You know who you are!
This is Yazd. Surrounded by desert, supposedly “conservative”, with chimney-like constructions - wind towers - dotting the skyline. ✨ It also happens to have been a historic hub of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions.
I think that’s what drew me to this city in the first place: its position at the crossroads of faiths, weakened by time, but firm in its roots.
The Zoroastrian philosophy is simple. At its heart lies positivity: “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”. The idea is that if your thoughts are pure, then so will be your words; if your heart is pure, so will be your actions.
Here in Iran, the entire nation is busy preparing for the Persian New Year: Nowruz. ✨ This 3,000-year-old tradition has roots in (probably!) Zoroastrianism, which is also known as one of the world’s oldest religions.
I find it absolutely fascinating how this celebration has stood the test of time and ideological and religious shifts, still thriving in today’s Islamic Republic of Iran.
Even more interestingly, when I published my Instagram story earlier today about the Fire-Jumping festival Chaharshanbe Suri, I was flooded with messages about where else Nowruz is celebrated. Not just in Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, the -Stans and parts of Pakistan or China.
So many of you also urged me to include Afghanistan on the list. And so, here, I am including Afghanistan on the list, myself surprised that this ancient and non-Islamic festival is still being celebrated there. ❤️ How wonderfully layered and complex the world is!
Tell me if you know anything about how Nowruz is celebrated in different countries!
The stars will be watching us
And we will show them
What it is to be a thin crescent moon
- Rumi, 1207-1273
Did you know that I studied literature at university, and specialised in poetry? 😜 All I wanted to do at that time in my life was read poems, feel them, think and write about them. I specialised in some of the most “obscure” and difficult of poets, relishing how their words made my soul explode into flights of emotion and fantasy.
My focus was German and French poetry, since those were the languages I was studying too, meaning I could read the poems in the original language. It was only after university that I came across Persian poetry (in translation). And, of course, Rumi. The Persian poet and mystic, the Rumi who has gained such huge popularity in the West that his verses adorn many Instagram pages today. The Rumi who continues to be a best-selling poet, including in the United States. I’m still not sure whether that’s an ironic fact or not.
Make no mistake: I absolutely love a good Rumi poem. But being here, in Iran, a land with such a rich and distinguished tradition of poetry, I can’t help but learn about the other poets, many of them held in much higher regard than Rumi: Hafez, Ferdowsi, Khayyam, to name but a few.
And it makes me wonder: where is their acclaim? Perhaps they’re not as quotable (look at Rumi: he is the perfect definition of bite-size poetry). Perhaps their translators didn’t do as good a job in bringing his words across in a way that speaks to everyone.
Yes, I wonder. But as a student and lover of poetry to this day, I hope to bring you some quotes from the others too. Because yes, I have just purchased a book of Persian poetry in translation 😍 and I’m drooling all over it already.
Today, I did what I always do in new cities: wandered around the streets, alone, letting myself get lost in their winding geometries. As I turned into a particularly narrow alleyway, I heard unexpected footsteps behind me.
I turned around and saw a young man, 16 years old perhaps, who started calling out to me. There was something in his demeanour that threatened me, so I just said “No, no. Khoda Hafez” (Goodbye). But he came closer and before I could bat an eyelid, his face was a few inches away from mine, with a vulgar expression, and getting closer. There was nobody around, and it would take a few tight corners to get away from this narrow alley.
I swung around and screamed “Help!” at the top of my lungs. It was the only thing I could think of. He ran away immediately.
Now, jerks are everywhere, and I’ve had situations like this happen to me in Europe too. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new. Some men seem to perceive solo female travellers as great targets for harassment.
But what I REALLY want to talk about is what I did after. Shaken from the unwanted encounter, my heart still pounding, I needed to recompose myself.
I looked up, and headed straight for a minaret. Two minutes later, I was inside a mosque.
A mosque. A safe haven. And I’m still here, sitting on the floor, my back against a stone column, facing the prayer hall.
To be honest, it surprised me just how quickly my mind associated a mosque with safety in that moment. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious person in the conventional way, and so my relationship to holy places is typically a little detached, more spiritual than religious.
But here I am, sitting in a mosque, feeling safe, an oasis of peace among the chaos and uncertainty of the world outside. And my heart is breaking, knowing that 51 people in New Zealand were doing the same thing a couple of days ago.
One year ago, I recall asking a friend in London whether it wasn’t scary for her to travel to Iran as a woman. “Isn’t it unsafe?” I enquired, “Don’t they dislike the West?”. More questions.
I asked, because in the UK, all the news I saw coming out of Iran were gatherings of black-clad people burning the American flag, chanting “Down with the USA”. As it turns out, I was wrong. Because here is another Islamic Republic, and another distorted, one-sided, Islamophobic narrative fuelled by the Western media.
Now, having lived in Pakistan for 8 months, I have come to realise how faulty these narratives are. In attempting to simplify the world, they reduce a people, a nation, a history, to selective clickbait vignettes aligned with the interests of political lobbies.
But here’s the good news. When I told my friends in Pakistan about my upcoming Iran travel plans, nobody asked “isn’t it unsafe?”. Not a single person questioned the security situation or the nature of the people here in black and white terms.
On the contrary: People in Pakistan were excited for me to go, and many exclaimed that Iran tops their travel bucket list! Now, this is a perspective you would struggle to find in the West.
And this is the greatest thing about living in a part of the world different to the one you were raised in: the gift of a new viewpoint.
You learn to notice the difference between true reality and media-made perspective. You see that the relationships between governments and the people they represent aren’t always linear. You come to distinguish between a judgmental look and a curious gaze. And perhaps most importantly, you understand that “why” should never be an exclamation, but always, always, a question asked with the mind willing to receive an answer it didn’t expect.
And those are only some of the mind-opening lessons I learned from spending so much time in Muslim-majority countries. This, and so much warmth of ❤️ heart.