Abnormal Normality

Oct 30, 2014

Tehran – Persepolis

Credit Skippy Mesirow

For four days now I have traversed Iran: from the busy streets of Tehran to the solitude of the desert and calming Shiraz to the dramatic Persepolis. I’ve taken long bus rides and taken short flights, bargained with locals and discussed politics at mosques. I’ve made friends with young Iranians and shared meals with older gentlemen. Yet, I have a problem. Writers block. It’s not for lack of movement or experience; it’s just that nothing stands out. You walk, you talk, you see, you eat.  

I’m used to traveling to the far reaches; in Asian cultures that turn your perspective upside-down - Pehria states that make you rethink reality and your freedoms, underdeveloped nations where basic functions are adventure, landscapes that make you weep, and trials that test your resolve. Absurdity and the unexpected lay just around the corner, adventure courses through your veins. Yet here it’s all just… so normal.

Down on the street.
Credit Skippy Mesirow

Don’t get me wrong, Iran is amazing. The people themselves are the real gem. Genuinely kind, inviting, inquisitive, smart, and accepting; every stop a new friend, each walk another conversation. When peoplesay “hello”, they really want to know who you are, where you come from. They are genuine and fantastic. The cities are also a marvel. They are like modern, clean, orderly oasis that rise from a barren desert. Trees line the streets and people go about their days.

None of the normal traveler difficulties apply. People do not yell at you to buy things, they don’t try to scam you, beggars don’t follow you for miles. Cars don’t weave about madly blaring on their horns, they drive quietly and at a reasonable pace, if with little understanding of the general concept of lanes. Public busses don’t aim for citizens on the sidewalk, the drive calmly, air conditioned and with assigned seats, the drivers being tracked by GPS and video camera to ensure they obey traffic laws. Food is not cooked on charcoal burning in the back of a filth laden hole in the wall, it’s cooked in front of patrons in clean kitchens. No one eats with their hands. People don’t push and spit as they wander the streets and subways, they give each other space, say excuse me and acknowledge each other with a head nod or a smile. Mountains frame urban centers but they are not particularly large or feature full. Street signs and menus are in English as well as Farsi, there are no fights, no arguments, no drunken debauchery.

Open doors
Credit Skippy Mesirow

If nothing else Iran reminds me of small town America. Fort Collins, Carbondale, Idaho Springs.  Nothing bad or dangerous, yet nothing particularly exciting or noteworthy other than genuinely kind people sharing a place and living their lives as small orderly shops sell clothes and modern goods. People frequent basic local restaurants, share tea and talk about the future. They go the gym and movies. They hang out in parks and go for runs.

It’s calming, cool, comforting. I would have no reservations about my 17 year old sister walking around the city alone at night, honestly it feels that safe and inviting. 

My utter lack of surprise has been the ultimate surprise. Iran is great; kind, historic, tasty, and beautiful… just not unusually so.