As I said in my last blog…there’s good and bad everywhere and I still maintain, overall and overwhelmingly Iran is the place I have met the kindest, most hospitable and generous people..in fact 99% of people I encountered were good…the bad experiences I had were exceptions. I was debating whether to write about the negative experiences because I don’t like to highlight negative aspects of a culture and I don’t want to put anyone off from traveling to this amazing country…I would go back for sure and I would recommend anyone to go…even a solo female traveller. I didn’t want to give all the narrow minded nay sayers and ‘I told you so’ers’ any ammunition…but stupidity and ignorance shouldn’t keep me from being honest right 🙈.
The country sadly has a darker side…in large part due to the oppressive regime governing it. Now…don’t believe everything (actually more accurately anything) you read in the western mainstream media…I have read some ridiculous things on Iran that I don’t believe for one second…in fact I have witnessed the contrary. Portraying Iran as a nation of tyranny, radicalism and shocking human rights violations only strengthens the political agenda of the west…so take them with a pinch of salt…in fact take them as the bullshit they are! I genuinely do not think the Muslim religion is to be blamed for oppression, radicalism or destructive views…men have always turned things to their advantage…even willing to misinterpret and manipulate the Qu’ran, the bible or any other religious text and pass it off as the word of God.
It’s extremely complex and there are many dimensions and perspectives that I know little about…I barely scratched the surface in my month there…and it’s merely my opinion from being in the country, speaking with the people and reading some of their media… I’m not saying I’m right…it’s just my thoughts! Sooo…just to quickly set the scene and frame the cultural and political aspects which shape some of the attitudes of the people. Very briefly…in 1979 there was a revolution…basically the Shah was overthrown and the Islamic Republic of Iran and the supreme leader were established. The supreme leader is the most powerful man in Iran…he is elected by the Assembly of Experts (basically a bunch of male Islamic theologians). He appoints and oversees the president, the Chief Justice, the head of the media, the military, the law enforcement etc…it’s an Islamic dictatorship. The Islamic Republic is the name given to countries ruled by Islamic law…basically there is no separation between church and state.
It definitely wasn’t all bad…access to education and healthcare improved drastically…life expectancy, infant mortality and literacy rates all improved and Iran has made many advances in the sciences as well. On the flip side there is lots of corruption, gender inequality and human rights violations which impact daily on the lives of many Iranians…and that’s what I wanted to focus on. If you are an Iranian citizen you are forced to comply with Islamic law whether you want to or not…and some of these laws are pretty restrictive and many add to the subjugation of women especially in inheritance, dress and independence…the worth of a woman is highlighted most blatantly in the blood money fee paid to the victims family in the case of murder where Muslim women victim families are compensated half the rate of Muslim male victims.
Some examples of these laws which deeply affect the daily lives of many Iranians are…the prohibition of alcohol, forced hijab, unlawful sex (sex outside of marriage) and the prohibition of homosexuality…to name but a small few! Punishments for offences include flogging, stoning and execution…mostly these harsh sentences are not prescribed (again contrary to Western media who try to portray that these punishments are widely used for the most trivial of crimes) but they are still written into the laws and are applied in some cases. These laws have huge and restrictive impacts on the social life and freedom of the people of Iran…the sexual repression and the oppression of women seem to cause many dysfunctional and unequal relationships. Men and women are not allowed to date, mixed parties are illegal, it is even illegal to be in public with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse or a member of your family…I mean you’re not even Allowed to be in the same god damn carriage on a train!
These things really affect the dynamics of everyday life and Immediately I felt the way I was treated being ultimately the consequence of being female…and most of the time this was not bad or intentionally disrespectful…it was just embedded in the culture…the first criteria a person is judged on is their sex. When I was cycling with a male I was mostly completely ignored by the men…I could not stand the machismo and the ‘congratulations your a fucking man’ culture AND I hated being treat like I didn’t exist 🖕 but on the flip side…when I was alone I was often just objectified! This is not all men obviously…the majority are extremely kind and respectful but there is definitely a culture of a lack of respect and equality towards women…if you are with a man, it’s presumed you are HIS wife and out of respect for HIM they will not talk or look at you. If you are alone some men see this as a sign that you’re not a good/obedient woman and therefore you get no respect.
I lost my temper constantly over it…one day whilst catching a bus to Tehran to sort out some visa stuff with the Australian guy we were bombarded by 20-25 men trying to sell us bus tickets…they completely ignored me and only spoke to Mike…who did not know one word of Persian…I however knew at least a whole 25 words 😂 they refused to acknowledge me even though I tried at least 10 times to buy my own ticket so I stormed off to buy a sandwich 🔫 On my return Mike had bought me a fucking ticket…what an utter idiot…I was fuming…buy your own ticket and I’ll buy mine…I wanted to force them to deal with me! My mood continued to deteriorate as I sat on a half empty bus on a separate seat to Mike…one of the staff came on the bus and told Mike to ask me to move next to him 😡😡😡 I was fuming…1 – the bus had less than half the seats full I’m not gonna squash up just because I’m a woman and 2 – if you want me to move ask me…there was no chance I was moving…he asked Mike at least 15 times to tell me to move but I did not budge…I won this small battle and the bus left and while I remained on my double seat 💁 just to top this chauvinism off a man came over and in usual Iranian style introduced himself as our host…of course not looking at me and handed Mike loads of food and water for the journey as a ‘gift’…it was intended for us both and he was a nice guy but I was so mad I wouldn’t take any and spent the 7 hour journey absolutely starving and dehydrated to fuck in the 45 degree heat 🙍
As we made our way towards Tehran I really struggled in the heat…it was 40 degrees…I have no idea how these people were doing Ramadan in these conditions…I found it unbearable under all my layers n I really started to get agitated over the smallest of things! Whether a woman wants to or not she has to wear the hijab or chador at all times to ensure compliance with sharia law…and this is not to be taken lightly…there are serious consequences for non compliance and the government places high importance in ensuring conformity…only two months before I entered Iran 7,000 more morality police officers were unleashed into the streets to ensure everyone was adhering to the strict Islamic codes! Slowly the women (and many men) are beginning to fight back, to resist the laws suppressing their freedom and affecting their daily lives…they are starting to push the boundaries… I stayed with an Iranian woman who had been arrested three times for ‘inappropriate chador’! There is too much to talk about surrounding this matter and meeting girls and women and listening to their stories has had a bigger and more profound impact on me than I ever would of imagined.
Once we arrived in Tehran I began to feel really ill…I was being sick, had a high temperature and a rash all over my body…at first I thought it was maybe food poisoning or something but the rash didn’t make sense…and I was a little worried (it’s scarier being ill in a foreign country on your own 👶🏼) after 2 days in bed and 5 days of feeling not a lot better I went to a chemist/hospital to get something to stop me being sick…it was almost impossible to communicate…and I just wanted to lie down it was such an effort…but they thought I had dengue fever (from a mosquito bite…although very rare in Iran), food poisoning and dehydration from the heat. They wanted me to go back the next day for blood tests but I couldn’t afford it and after I stopped being sick I decided not to go back. I don’t know what I had but I didn’t feel 100% right for months afterwards!
I think I mentioned in my last blog how I had spent longer in Tehran than expected…and had done much less cycling than expected…I had to wait around for my Chinese and Turkmenistan visa…the latter being a complete pain in the ass to get, a 14 day wait…and a 50% random rejection rate! After a 2 week wait and many trips back and fourth to the Turkmenistan embassy I finally had the last visa I would need…a clear path through to South east Asia…I was so happy my plan A was in place! After an evening of celebrating the success with all the visas and finally being able to leave Tehran I realised I was a little short on money.
Iran is not connected to the international banking system because of strict sanctions applied by the USA and the U.K. Which means no visa, no MasterCard etc. You have to take cash into the country with you and there is no way of withdrawing any whilst inside the country. I decided I would go to the British embassy the next morning before I left Tehran and see if there was any way of getting money from my bank. The embassy was able to issue me with a £150 loan which was perfect and would see me through the 10 days it would take me to cycle to the Turkmenistan border…or so I thought 🙈
On my way back from the embassy I was robbed…to cut a long story short they took my money and my passport 🚴🔫 I couldn’t believe it…my passport of all things 😩 literally the worst thing that they could’ve taken! I returned to the British embassy but the damn place was closed and it was the weekend so I would have to wait two days until I could return. The whole situation proved to be a bit of a nightmare…in part due to the fact that I couldn’t speak Persian and Iran is a developing country so it is not very organised and in part due to the fact I was not supposed to be travelling the country independently (as I mentioned in my last blog…British citizens are only supposed to travel in Iran accompanied by a guide…but I had met someone who had issued me with a fake organised tour to get me in the country). I returned to the house I was staying at and Ahad kindly accompanied me to the police station to report the incident…and the process was far from simple.
To add insult to injury upon my arrival at the police station they asked me to wear Chador…it’s quite funny now looking back but at the time I was pretty insulted…no other women were forced to wear chador, they were allowed inside the police station in their hijab…I didn’t understand why I had to wear it…Ahad said its because my shirt wasn’t long enough…it should be passed my knees (even though I had long baggy trousers on)… But I think they were just being assholes because they could n there was nothing I could do about it! So…in I waddled with the long black chador given to me by the police 🐧…about 5 times too big for me and with no fastenings so I had to grasp it around my neck…I was constantly tripping over it…it was 40 degrees and I was covered head to toe in a bunch of layers n a big black blanket 😩 Inside the police station the ridiculous saga continued as we went from room to room filling out forms and talking with the police officers (well…Ahad spoke to them…I had no idea what was being said)…3hours later we left and I was given the address of another police station I would have to go to after the weekend 🙄
What I hadn’t realised whilst being in the police station was Ahad had been forced to make up a story as to why I was in the country, where I was staying and who I was travelling with! Basically I was couch surfing with Ahad but this is prohibited in Iran and the fact I wasn’t supposed to be in the country without a guide and relations (even friendships) between men and women were prohibited added extra complications. Ahad had told the police that I was travelling with my husband, who was a long time friend of his and my German (I never understood why he invented me a German husband…as if…👨🏻…jokes 👻) husband was hiking in the mountains so Ahad was looking after me until my husband returned later that night 😷 So stupid…I couldn’t believe the ridiculousness of it all…these people would rather be told a lie than the truth so that it fits into their realm of acceptable practices! Every one seems to lie just to live a normal life…it made me pretty uncomfortable!
To cut another long story short…I couldn’t get a new passport issued anywhere in Iran…Turkmenistan would not let me in without a full uk passport and visa and it was the week the military coup happened in Turkey so crossing back into there was not an option! My only choice was to fly home to London to get a new passport…at first I was gutted and felt pretty sorry for myself…pathetically cast a few tears but after a few hours and a quiet word with myself I realised it really wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to me and I just needed to get on with it n do whatever I needed to do to get back out here and continue my trip! It was an absolute farce trying to sort it all out…i had barely any money on me as most of it was robbed along with my passport…but in an awesome bit of good fortune (for me anyways) I met a German couple who gave me £100 👼👼…a loan of course I paid them back once I got to England. I was sent to 6 different police stations…4 of which I went to on my own because I felt bad dragging poor Iranians with me…no one spoke English and I understood barely anything and it took all day everyday. It took 6 days to finally get the report I needed, the emergency travel document and the exit visa…culminating on the final day with the police keeping me in the station for a few hours questioning me on suspicion of being a spy 🕵 (Luckily I had my friend Mahta with me this time on translation dutys…but they took her name and address incase I was a spy or was in the country illegally she would be responsible)!
I felt very lucky to be born in England (although far from perfect itself)…women in Iran are becoming tired of their position in society and tired of their treatment from the opposite sex…as was I! This is not something unique to Iran…pretty much since going solo dealing with sleazy assholes has become part and parcel of my trip. From creepy stares, to crude comments, to stalking me in their cars, to asking for sex or jacking off in front of me…I’d gone from feeling insecure, threatened and at times humiliated to now feeling completely fed up and sick of their pathetic bulshit. No longer did I feel insecure, my patience was done, especially as I crossed Iran and was forced to wear hijab…i was tired of it…it’s exhausting dealing with it almost everyday for the past few months and I felt completely pissed off 😡
I’m sure I don’t need to explain the reasons behind how these men view women (particularly western women)…and I can see how the society they belong to has shaped their opinions but it doesn’t mean I’m going to put up with it or wave it off with a dismissive air as just a cultural difference…it’s unacceptable and they need to be made aware that we won’t put up with it 🖕🙅 haha
On three separate occasions in Iran I was touched inappropriately by a man (obviously) …one time when I was cycling with my male Australian friend…to both our surprises I was approached by a man on a scooter who reached across and grabbed my ass…but the worst of these times was on my third to last day in Iran on my way to yet another police station to sort out my return home. I was completely at the end of my tether by this point. I was leaving the subway when from behind I was very inappropriately grabbed by a man…I’m not exactly much of a brawler 👊 but my instinct took over and I managed to turn around, still with his slimy, disgusting hands 😷 on me and started punching…it was like slow motion…as I hit him three times in the face before his efforts to restrain me culminated in the both of us falling to the floor and me cutting my head on the wall…I must of looked like a maniac as I got up…blood running down my face, shouting obscenities at this arsehole as he scurried away!
Anyways…despite a couple of bumps in the road I was gutted to be on that plane back to London and it felt pretty depressing when I landed to have undone all those months it took me to cycle in a 7 hour plane ride. It didn’t feel good to be back in England…although it was great to catch up with a few friends and family…I wasn’t ready to return and didn’t feel in the right mindset to be reunited with old faces and within three weeks and a lot of faffing around I had a new passport, new visas and I was back on that plane 🛫
A massive thank you also to my awesome friends Christophe, who put me up in London, and D, who put me up in Manchester. Without there help along with the help of my parents Im not sure I would’ve been able to sort it out and afford to get my ass back out here and continue! So thank you for being awesome…it’s much appreciated and I owe you big time…oh n I suppose it was great to see you all n all that crap 😝😘