I travel a lot. Today I counted for the first time, I have visited in 33 countries. Yet today I was somewhere completely different: Tehran, Iran. It oddly reminded me of Castro’s Cuba in 2004. In both places, urban disorder is not tolerated, information does not necessarily fly freely, yet there is peace in town. Families fill the parks with picnics, couples sit about just enjoying the pleasure of a good conversation, valuing each other, a group of young people, 6 guys and 1 girl, practise kick boxing and the girl beats up the guy she’s playing against, yehh!, people do small competitive runs together of different ages and body types. I let my head scarf or my cleavage or my long skirt a bit out of order a few times, nobody seems to mind. A woman tells me I have a beautiful face and asks where I’m from and says I’m very welcome to her country and her eyes show she means it. I meet a group of young people who want to practise speaking English. They meet regularly. The topic of this week’s meeting is Happiness. Boys and girls explained what makes them happy. Two guys declared themselves happy. 2/10! I had never met anyone who said they were happy before. They had happy eyes and happy skins too, their words matched them. This week’s organiser had prepared a TED talk and questions for the group. Then one of the attendees, a girl, asked her own question: “does religion help or hinder happiness”? I touched points in Christianity and Bhudism, they were delighted to hear a foreigner’s point of view. On the streets, women who wore more traditional clothing did not seem oppressed by their outfits, like they sometime seem in the UK, they just wore them as anything else. And if anything it actually felt there was more respect towards women. No rap songs devaluing them. Young men wanting to marry and make a family. Like our parents generation might have been.
Maybe my story is naively idilic. But idilic is how it felt. The Iran I have seen is unrelated to the stories in the news.