I have had a lovely experience in Shiraz, it is a little funny that, in a place which gave its name to a grape and wine type, it is today not possible to buy any wine at all. Not that this matters to me as I do not drink but it is just one illustration of how life has changed here in the recent past. I was a bit concerned coming to Shiraz as I had been introduced on the phone to Massomeh who is a friend of the first Iranian I met on the trip Mahdi, who I had stayed with in Tehran. I had accepted an invitation to meet up with Massomeh who lived in Shiraz without thinking about it much, western style I thought I would call in for a coffee and see how things were, I had backup plans for places to stay recommended by other overlanders (check out the iOverlander app if you are doing this type of travelling) and a list of things I wanted to see so I was all set.
As I drove down the road I began to worry a bit that a lone guy turning up to see a girl in Iran might be a bit of a presumption or even awkward so I got in touch and said I was happy to meet with her and her friends together for coffee, or invite them to dinner, in exchange for tips on where to go…I was relieved when Massomeh got back to me and said don’t worry just come to the GPS coordinates and we will see…
We really did see as it turns out that Massomeh lives with her family, mother, sister Fatima and brother Hassan and they had decided that I was their guest and that was that. My plans to stay at two campsites were brushed aside as soon as they were mentioned, and, after the obligatory tea and introductions, a plan was hatched for my stay. Nelson was to be parked outside (nice quiet neighbourhood) and I would sleep in the truck, just to ensure its safety, not because there was anything wrong with the bed offered in the brothers room. This took a bit of explaining and required a full review of “the amazing machine” but once I had explained everything the plan was accepted a little skeptically.
There is no point in this blog going through the sights in Shiraz as Lonely Planet will do a better job than me, and get their facts right. However I spent a lovely two days touring the tombs of the poets (Shirazi people take their poets very seriously), bazzars and pink Mosques all of which are stunning as you can see from the photos below. Much better than all that we hid from the heat in the middle of the day in the family home and we talked about, and lived, real life of a normal family in Iran today. Dinner is eaten together on the floor of the living room as a preference to table dining – there were many comfortable chairs but they were for watching TV not eating. At every possible occasion strong tea with sugar is shared and the girls took me on as a part time English teacher while showing me around.
All of this generosity was for a complete stranger, I was someone that none of them had ever seen or heard of before and not a relative. As far as I can see it is a natural characteristic of the Persian people. I had to fight very hard to even pay my own entry to the sights (which is 20 times what the locals pay but still on 3 Euros) and I had to push hard to get the family to accept a gift from me (in this case a collection of spices from the bazzar). I was able to get away with this only by explaining that in my culture it would be very bad luck to come to a house without a nice gift and I would not feel comfortable if I did not give a small thing.
Along the way the conversation has been interesting, the girls both would like to live and work in other countries like Germany or UK but at the moment that is very difficult for people from Iran, so we talk about what they might do, their thoughts about the future and the future of Iran, they worry about the latter and they worry that the outside world does not know much about the real people of Iran as the news is always the bad things. I have to agree with this analysis, I had family and friends actively try to persuade me not to go to Iran as it was unsafe or dangerous, in truth the driving is a bit dangerous but the people are the most hospitable, generous and warm people I have ever met in the world, reminding me very much of the Irish country people 50 years ago. I am humbled by the generosity of the people and specifically of the Kiani family in Shiraz
So just now I am writing this in the “quiet time” in the middle of the afternoon, we have all retreated from the heat and agreed to go out again at 5pm, I wish I spoke Farsi so I could be more polite, but I try my best with the girls mother using the very good google translate application on my phone, and the interpretation of the girls when they are in the room. It seems tea is being made and I will end this now as they have made a traditional Shirazi food for dinner (meatballs and rice kalmpur perhaps)it smells delicious
…family life in Shiraz