Iran’s perpetual kindness
Day 1,730 since October 10th 2013: 148 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Mission Impossible continues
The further I get into the Saga the more obvious it becomes why no one has ever done this before. It’s downright nearly impossible.
So, I boarded the ferry from Kuwait to Iran. It was fairly hassle free and I tried to get some sleep onboard but failed at that. Soon enough the ferry had reached Khorramshahr. The last hour of the voyage was a narrow body of water with Iraq on my left side and Iran on my right. It was a really peaceful part of our planet with lots of mud on both sides and plenty of fishing boats.
Looking at Iran from the ferry (with Iraq on the other side).
Immigration went smooth and before I knew it the Saga had reached its country number 148. But for me Iran was a revisit. I had the extraordinary pleasure of experiencing Iran in 2010 as a good friend and I cruised around on two small motorbikes for about three weeks. Back then Cam and I visited Tabriz, Tehran, Qom, Isfahan, Shiraz and Kerman. That was an epic adventure!
Cam and I back in 2010 - somewhere in Iran :)
Now I was back again and quickly rediscovered how friendly and curious the population is. The usual taxi hassle is less of a hassle in Iran as it appears more polite and less aggressive. However the driving of the less aggressive and in many ways elegant people makes up for the aggressiveness. Try crossing a road in Iran and you will immediately know what I mean ;) Fortunately I had some practice in maneuvering aggressive traffic as I have already taken us to Albania! What is it with kind gentle people when they get behind the wheel?
You might have heard this a billion times before but I’ll just hit the last nail in the coffin anyway: IRAN IS NOT ARABIC!!! Iran is Persian and that is a completely different culture and history all together. They do not speak Arabic. In Iran the most common language is Farsi and I speak about five words of it so let me lead the way. In Khorramshahr it didn’t take me long to work out that I either had to spend the night and take the bus the next day or take a taxi to Ahwaz which is couple of hours and $10 USD away from there. I wanted to get moving so a taxi driver helped me exchange some money and off we went. In Ahwaz we reached the bus just in time and then I was off to Iran’s capital Tehran which was another 10 hour journey. Unfortunately there were no more seats left but the driver solved that by giving me a blanket and a pillow and letting me sleep in the isle. The next morning I spotted a free seat and figured that someone must have left the bus. But apparently not. However given the exceptionally high level of Iranian hospitality everyone insisted that I should keep the seat. One muscular guy wanted to get in touch with me but didn’t speak English. So instead he began to massage my arms and legs which was a bit weird? Then a young man seated nearby stepped in and told the muscular man to stop as I might interpret it for him being homosexual. The young guy was an English teacher and we spoke for a few minutes before he presented me with a problem of his which he needed some help to tackle. He was in love with a girl and she was in love with him. But it was a long distance relationship which costs them both a lot of time and money. And he confide in me that they could never be together. What should he do? Eeehhh..? What was this…some sort of Persian Romeo and Juliet? What do you say in a situation like that?
Abbas and I 12 years later :)
In Tehran I was received by Abbas Dinarvandy whom I have known for 12 years…kind of. Back when I worked in Libya I was the shipping manager on the construction of a cement factory. And back then Abbas was the company representative for IRISL (Iranian shipping company) and we met up several time to discuss business. As I now approached Iran I went through my phone to see if I knew anyone and Abbas’s name came up. I found him on LinkedIn and we connected on email a few weeks before I left Kuwait. Abbas is a great guy and had been waiting for me at the bus terminal for two hours before I arrived! When we finally met he drove me to Tehran’s historical area and helped me find a cheap hotel.
The HQ for Iranian Red Crescent Society.
The next day I was scheduled to meet with the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS). I have met with the Red Cross or Red Crescent (same thing different emblems) in nearly every country I have brought you to. So in many ways there are few surprises for me by now: first aid, blood drives, disaster relief, disaster prevention, disaster preparedness, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), search and rescue, psychosocial support, awareness, dissemination and basically anything which relates to alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable people in society. The movement is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and it has been around for a very, VERY long time. I’m acting as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross thoughout Once Upon A Saga, which easily makes this project history’s greatest attempt to unify the entire movement in a single journey. And it is completely free of cost for the movement...
For my Red Cross Red Crescent collection.
As I just mentioned there are few surprises by now. I remember visiting Haiti and being told about the five star luxury hotel in Nairobi which is being run by the Kenyan Red Cross. The Boma, as it is called, is indeed something special. It acts as an income generating activity and thus supports humanitarian activities. I think it was also back in Haiti I was told about IRCS’s helicopters? But meeting up with the national society was a bigger surprise than that. IRCS is a top professional part of the global family and they are heavily involved both within and beyond the borders of Iran. Leili Khaleghi is the Director General for Internal Protocol & Communication. She is a kind and competent woman who introduced me to her team and informed me further about IRCS activities. It turns out that they own 24 helicopters!! That’s a fleet! When I asked how that was funded Ali Reza, who also attended, explained that a lot of it is funded by the proceedings from their factory. Their factory? Yes! The IRCS has a factory and manufactures various clothing, uniforms, tents, blankets, sleeping bags, mosquito nets and a number of various relief items. The relief items are also sold to other National Societies around the world. I can go on and on about how unique the IRCS is but let’s just say we should be happy to have them in the family and I might also just add that they also have 80 sniffer dogs for search and rescue. And who doesn’t like dogs? ;)
On another note I'm pretty fed up. Sorry to say that. I know many think that I’m living the dream and that I am incredibly privileged to be traveling the world. But that’s the thing: I’m not “traveling the world”. I’m working hard on pulling off the near impossible: an unbroken flightless journey to every country. And on top of that I’m making a positive and informative promotion of every country I reach as well as providing the Red Cross Red Crescent with lots of visibility. And it is mostly really ungrateful. I sincerely hope this pays off in the end because often it just feels like a job I don’t want to have. Especially these days where I get to hear the words “no” and “impossible” over and over again. And although the Saga by now has pulled off “the impossible” multiple times I’m often still regarded as a jobless backpacker on a gap year. Most of you which have been following the Saga for a long time know that isn’t true at all and that we are actually accomplishing something with the Saga in this often sinister world of ours. Can you believe it? I had only just arrived to Iran before I was informed about a tweet from USA’s president Donald Trump.
President Trump got 153.000 likes...I got 30. So why even try? Well who ever achived anything by giving up! ;)
Historically Iran is a country which has had to learn the hard way that there are no friends among countries. At best countries can be allies but it’s always for gain. Friendship is something which is found among people and not countries. Some very clear examples throughout recent history have for Iran involved interactions with the United Kingdom, USA and Russia. And a lot of people do not get the hostility? On and off someone would walk up to me and ask me where I am from. Somewhat funny they often guess Russia by saying: "Rus?" And Vikings used to be called "Rus" which then fits just fine. So what should I answer when they say "Rus"? Anyway, some conversations would turn to football and others would be political. I do not debate politics with complete strangers however that doesn’t stop others from trying. More than once I have heard Iranian’s say: “we don’t understand why USA is treating us like this? We like the USA”. Recent sanctions have once again crippled Iran which in a different world could have been a super power. Iran has got it all. It’s a country with a young population, it has plenty of oil, lots of minerals, mountains, lakes, forest, desert, coastline, a well educated population, thousands of years of culture, a superb location on the world map, great opportunity for agriculture, snow in the winter, sun in the summer…Iran is an amazing country.
Photo from 2010.
When we are talking Iranian history then they certainly do not fall short! Iran has had thousands of years of invading and being invaded. There was a time when the Persian Empire essentially ruled the known world. Culturally I find such a history to be very interesting. I picture a painter holding his palette with all its colors. Then a country invades and mixes with one color. Another color mixes and another invasion occurs. Eventually you have some of the original color along with traces of the surrounding colors and that is in some aspect what Iran is today. Iran stands with solid feet in its history of powerful empires, culture, inventions, philosophy, poetry and yet…the alphabet is now Arabic and there are many French words in the language. In turn many Farsi words are found in English, French and Spanish. It’s a colorful palette we live on.
As I’m no tourist and definitely a man with a plan I immediately got to work after reaching Tehran. I snapped a few quick photos for the social media and then got on with the logistics. With the current political situation in the Gulf region (which on this side is the Persian Gulf) Qatar is unreasonably difficult to reach without flying. You can do an internet search for "the whys” on the matter but Qatar is being ostracized by most of its neighboring countries. Regionally Qatar is still on good terms with Iran and Oman. And I have heard that there are cargo vessels going between Kuwait and Qatar although I don’t know much about it. There are certainly ships calling Qatar from Iran but none of them are officially licensed to carry passengers across the Gulf. In Tehran I quickly made a lot of contacts who could help out locating a vessel for me. And there are at least four potential ports in Iran so it seemed like a better option for me to stay in Tehran for a while opposed to traveling to a few ports and trying my luck. It’s incredibly stressful not knowing what to do. If you are dedicated to visiting every country in the world but fall short of one country then you didn’t do it. That is the margin for failure. So I had a few days where I more or less walked around feeling angry deep inside my stomach. What to do about reaching Qatar? Iran is such a friendly country and I’ll share an anecdote with you in a second. But Iran also appears to have a very dense culture in terms of accomplishing a task. Being a tourist is up and beyond nice. Visiting sights and dining at restaurants. But finding out how to get permission to board a ship legally and be cleared by immigration...? Good luck…
Abbas invited me to join him, his two sons (Mohammed & Parsa) and his cousin Masoud for swimming (pool) and dinner. Masoud likes my beard and would spend time staring into it counting the colors :)
Fortunately several people where there to help me. Abbas was one of them and he spent a lot of time making phone calls and getting in touch with people. I do believe that Abbas and I would be able to solve this bureaucratic issue of putting me (as a passenger) on a cargo vessel with the necessary permissions from Immigration. However the question is always: how much time will it take? On and off people say to me: “why don’t you just get your friends at the Red Cross to help you?” While it is true that I am doing all of this as a good will ambassador of the Danish Red Cross, it is also true that they have several times repeated that I can have no logistical support. And in the four years and eight months that the Saga has been going I have yet to see the Danish Red Cross share or retweet anything I have posted. So the support is unlikely to come from there. And if anyone read how I was treated by the Danish Embassy in Saudi Arabia then you would also understand that I’m unlikely to get my help from there. Nope, I’m alone out here in the world. It’s just me, you and the other 38.000 supporters of the Saga I can rely on. And then naturally also the truth in the Saga’s motto: A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
The IRCS also has an art museum in Tehran featuring the work of Ali Akbar Sanati! Hussein gave me a tour and Tirdad and I had a good chat.
And now an anecdote from 2010. Cam and I were on our bikes and stopped near a village to ask for directions. A young man gave us directions and then kindly requested that we would join him at his home for tea? We accepted his invitation which quickly developed into an afternoon picnic in the nearby mountains. We were promised spectacular views so we couldn’t say no. A friend of the young man joined us and we drove up into the mountains in a pickup truck. After a bit of walking the young man revealed a watermelon he had brought along. He dumped the watermelon into a small cool creek where it tumbled round and round while cooling off. After taking in the spectacular views we carved out the cool watermelon and enjoyed the simple mountain life we were in. On our way back to the house where we left our bikes Cam and I got ready to say farewell and get back on the road. But the young man told us that his parents had already begun to prepare dinner for us and that there would be too much food if we left. In the nicest way possible we ended up having an amazing meal and afterwards we were invited to enjoy another cup of tea and rest for a while in a lounge. When we were once again ready to leave Cam and I were told that it was too late and that it was now dark outside. That it would be much better to spend the night and avoid any dangers of traveling during nighttime as the traffic could be harsh. So we stayed for the night and the next day we were served a huge breakfast! Then as we once again tried to get back on the road we were invited to stay for lunch at which point Cam and I had to draw the line…
Cam rests up after our picnic in 2010. The "young man" makes tea for us before heading back for lunch.
That is Iran to me in a nutshell! Relentless hospitality and perpetual kindness. Cam and I managed to get back on the road but only by breaking the cycle which could otherwise have gone on forever. Dear Mr. President…which turmoil in Iran? Wherever I have gone I have been treated with much more kindness than anything else. As someone told me this week: “Iranians are peace loving people. When they go home after work they think about how we can all live in peace”. Well, the trees might not grow all the way into the sky but Iranians are definitely very kind and friendly people as far as what I have witnessed. And you know that people are just people. Politics and religion is certainly present in this world of ours. But it’s in my opinion a layer outside of values such as family, sports, food, the weather, taking selfies, updating facebook and stuff like that ;)
I'll tell you one thing the USA has in comon with Iran: both countries have a great love for big flags! ;)
After several days in Tehran I decided it was time to leave and head to Bandar Abbas which is the main port of Iran. From there I can board a ferry to UAE. UAE borders Oman so that will become country number 150 very shortly. Next up is Yemen and then I will return to Oman from where I hope to reach Qatar. Then probably return to Oman again and once again return to UAE. From UAE I should be able to reach Bahrain by boat and then we just need a miracle so I can get the Saudi visa. How hard can that be? ;)
The road from Tehran to Bandar Abbas. 20 hours in a bus.
I’m now in Bandar Abbas and have been well received by my couchsurfing host Masoud. He’s a great guy who left me behind in his penthouse apartment on my first day while he went to pray with his family for a special event. That’s a lot of trust as the apartment has a huge flat screen television and other accessories. But it was perfect for me as I was able to hook up to his wifi and get some time to write you this blog. Something which made me smile was that a minute after leaving the apartment Masoud returned with watermelon :)
Yup, Game of Thrones and football are also popular in Iran ;)
There was another thing I wanted to tell you about the IRCS. They also have a newspaper! Yes! A real newspaper which circulates daily. I was curious as to how a newspaper could stay neutral as neutrality is one of the seven fundamental principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent? But I was assured that it was pure reporting on the facts along with sports updates and the occasional Red Crescent information. The idea behind it was that a pure Red Crescent newspaper would only be picked up by those interested in humanitarian work. Whereas mixing Red Cross Red Crescent information with unrelated issues may catch the attention of those otherwise not interested. Does this sound familiar to you? ;)
My wonderful host Masoud says that you are all welcome to Iran! Contact him on Instagram @masoud.ameri1986 or on Couchsurfing under Masoud Ameri.
Oh yeah, on a final note: Iran is super modern and I have always thought that in many ways they are way ahead of the west. However in other ways there is room for improvement. A lot of sites are blocked so the population turns to various VPN's in order to access Facebook, Couchsurfing and other otherwise inaccessible sites. Rhino-plastic surgery, Botox, hair implants, laser hair removal and all that stuff is a big thing in Iran and it's both good business but also a very skillful profession today. They don't use Uber bot they have Snapp as a replacement. And while many use WhatsApp most prefer to use Telegram which I haven't even heard about before I came here. Apparently it's Russian :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - grateful for everyones help.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga