So the morality police. I’d heard this term many times before arriving in Iran but after being there for several days all thoughts of this self-governing group had been banished. That is until I met them. That is until I was apprehended for my lack of conformity to hijab and showing my hair – an illegal act for women.
For my first few days in the country the challenge of wearing hijab, which translates as “cover up”, proved tricky. Whilst feeling the heat in long sleeved tops and trousers, having to maintain the position of my headscarf proved the most frustrating. A continual tug-of-war between gravity insisting that my headscarf slide off, and me desperately clawing it back into place became the daily norm.
Thankfully I was given what I can only presume to be a warning in Farsi and directions to suitably amend my attire, by the rather fearsome morality police. The next person to be questioned on their dress code, a local girl, seemed to be given a much more thorough grilling and her tears were freely flowing.
I have no intention of this sounding like a negative post, as I truly enjoyed my time in Iran. Though I did on occasion struggle with the intensity of the rules imposed in the country and the impact of these. On a more positive note, here are some of the things that I witnessed in my travels:
- The art of bread making is quite unique, I didn’t see two bakeries alike. My favourite one which I was invited behind the scenes of, though they spoke no English, made their flat bread in a hot gravel oven. Once baked part of the process, to ensure no teeth are broken, is to pick out the hot chunks of gravel. This is done on special wire mesh containers by the buyers just in front of the shop. And for the record it tasted delicious!
- An unbelievable level of kindness and warmth oozed from everyone I met. Iranians are a very proud race of people who are keen to display their country in the best light. People frequently seemed intent on sharing their food with me, I was given free lifts by relative strangers and was even let into and shown around closed mosques by caretakers and builders alike. Such a breath of fresh air being made to feel welcome in an unknown land.
- Surprisingly Esfahan boasts the second largest square in the World. The largest being Tiananmen square in Beijing.
- In the countries holiest mosque, Haram-e Razavi Shrine in Mashhad, devout worshippers swarm the vast complex. The majority of women wear the traditional black chador, a shapeless piece of material which covers you from head to toe, making it impossible to identify individuals from behind. I saw one ingenious group who had all pinned a white tag on the back of their floor length gowns. I couldn’t help but smile at this bid for individuality in the strictest place in Iran.
- Often claimed to be the birth of civilisation, there are several ancient sights in Iran. Dating from 520BC is the most famous sight of Persepolis, with a fantastically intricately carved stone staircase.