Iran 1991, 1992

A wonderful yule

(Extract from the diary)

Having enjoyed a delicious dinner, we are on our way back to our hotel at about 10.00 pm. Tanja and I are at one: This day must have been the most interesting December 24th for years. The roads are deserted by now. It’s cold and only few cars are out and about in this poorly illuminated city of Isfahan. Suddenly, one of these few cars stops right by our side. A man jumps out of the car, approaches us laughing, and asks us in perfect English to be his guests tonight. He points at his car with five young girls sitting inside it. “My sisters and cousins would also be very pleased if you accepted my invitation,” he says friendly. Perplexed, Tanja and I look at each other, and for the moment don’t quite know what’s going on. Moments later we’re in his car, full of anticipation about what will be expecting us in the home of an Iranian family. Ahmed is very delighted about us accepting his invitation, as if we’d made him a big present. His sisters and cousins giggle all the way – apparently this obviously rare diversion is also amusing to them too. After a short ride, we reach his house.

We have to take off our shoes, and are invited to enter a completely overheated room. We are greeted with exuberant joy by at least ten women and three men. In spite of the modern furnishing, we are immediately offered a seat on the floor – a habit also in wealthy Iranian families. We sit down on a carpet. As a special honour, I’m allowed to sit right next to the almost glowing furnace. “Would you like some tea?”, Ahmed asks. Without awaiting our answer, a young, veiled girl quickly brings a trail with tea. All women are wearing a headscarf or a veil, and are seated separated from the men. Tanja is also sitting at the other end of the room. She’s surrounded by all the girls and ladies, and is more or less bombarded with questions. I’ve made myself comfortable in the male part of the room, and tell them all about the habits and customs in Germany. Ahmed translates into Persian. We are asked the same questions as we have already been asked so many times during our trip through Iran: “How can we get a visa for Germany?” “How much money do you need to live there?” “What can you work there?”. The fact that they also have resentments against the German people surprises me. When asked why they tell me about the daily TV-reports on racism in Germany.

In the meantime we are being served huge plates of apples and tangerines. We’re overcome with homely feelings, although Christmas means nothing to the Iranians. Ahmed’s father is a fruit merchant, allowing him to easily support his family of 13. Furthermore, Ahmed is very proud of his knowledge of the English language. “At last I can make use of what I learnt at school,” he laughs and puts his arm around me as if we were best friends.

By now, the heat in the room makes the odour of sweat spread all over. The atmosphere is very hearty, and Tanja is having a lot of fun with the women. Giggling, they try to persuade her to take off her veil. The men explain that the women do not have to wear a veil in their own homes. “At home, our women are absolutely free”, Ahmed says. “So why are your cousins and sisters all wearing a veil right now?”, I ask. “Because you’re here. They’re only allowed to take it off as long as there’s no stranger in the house.”, he answers. “And Tanja can take off her veil?”, I ask. “Of course!”, he answers nodding joyfully. As Tanja takes off her headscarf and uncovers her hair, the men are full of surprise and can’t take their eyes off her any more. The women and girls screech of pleasure, and admire Tanja’s hair. I would never have thought that hair alone can have such a stimulating affect on men. Soon enough Tanja feels uneasy with the looks of all the men, and covers up her hair again.

Ahmed and one of his brothers start talking and complaining about politics and about their government. They chat about the great pre-revolutionary times, about times when foods and rental fees were still affordable. With dreamy eyes they tell me they would love to go dancing. “You know, Denis,” Ahmed says, “you’re really lucky. You’re allowed to travel, you can talk to people from foreign countries, and you’ve got the right to freely express your mind. Yes, you’re even allowed to listen to any type of music, whichever you want to. It’s all forbidden here. We hardly have any liberties. There are no discotheques, no dancing halls, the literature on-hand is very limited, and we can’t even get any beer to drink. I would love to be able to live the way you do. I’m fed up of this Mullah government, I abhor them.”

I’m pretty concerned, and I remember similar statements from other fellow countrymen. After a while, I answer: “You know, Ahmed, time never stands still. There will be better times also for your country. Governments come and go. They change directions like a banner blowing in the wind. Today you have to wear a blue shirt by law, and tomorrow you’ll be executed for it.” “I know,” says Ahmed. “My only hope is that the wind will blow from another direction while I’m still alive.” Ahmed’s brother nods in agreement, and smiles at me.

So this Christmas Eve we learn a great deal about the life and the way of thinking of a Persian family. At midnight we take leave with hugs and kisses. Ahmed gives us a ride to the hotel in his car, and once again expresses his thanks for having accepted his invitation. We’re almost a little ashamed as we get off his car. It’s our turn now to thank him too, and as we hug each other again to say goodbye, I say to him: “Your invitation was an unforgettable and wonderful Christmas present for us.”


Iran 1991/1992/1993

Amidst the ancient civilization of Iraq and Pandschab, Iran and its endearing population, its hospitality, its innumerable mosques and ancient cultural sites, its bizarre mountain scenery as well as salt and sand dunes has left a permanent impression on Tanja and Denis Katzer.