For all the smiles I’ve captured in photos there were many more from chador-clad women who, in some cases, would brush past and beam timidly as they swept by. It would be nice to think these gestures were reciprocated were they to visit Europe.
A little bit of colour peeping out the back of a hijab is like a ray of sunshine. No verbal language is needed to express those sentiments.
We had heard about the welcoming smiles we’d be likely to experience while traveling in Iran but didn’t expect to be asked to have photos taken by so many passers by. Some girls specifically wanted photos with our son, Tomek, while in other cases groups of young men stopped to ask him to pose with them. In one case the young guy who approached us was shaking with nerves as he plucked up the courage to solicit us.
From the school girls we met to the families and young children, what struck me was the sincerity of the smiles on display and the genuine warmth extended towards us. As for fashion, many showed their style while keeping to the muslim dress code.
no fear of expressing themselves, be it with a demure smile or a burst of laughter.
One day, in Sanandaj, in Kurdish Iran, as we walked along the street a couple stopped their car and insisted on giving us a lift to Abidar Park where we were headed. That is where our common language came to an end and yet we spent the next few hours together as they drove us around the park while we giggled in our attempts to communicate. Out came my Persian phrasebook and we took turns using it before a new fit of laughter took over. Before long we stopped by a roadside restaurant where their son joined us. He spoke a little English and we spent the next hour lunching on various kebabs, bread and doogh, a soothing Iranian yogurt drink with mint. When Mirek went to pay for the meal, we discovered that they had already paid. There was no arguing with them and not having any gift to give them, all we could do was exchange smiles and warm words of appreciation.
On another occasion we were in Palangan, the Kurdish village built in a steep gorge, which we reached by shared taxi. While waiting for a bus on our departure, I was in need of a bathroom. I asked a passerby hoping he’d point me to some public toilets and he beckoned us to follow him which we did, through the village and into a small house off the main course which I realised was his home. When I emerged from the toilet, Mirek was seated on the floor together with his family and a tray was waiting with a bowl of pomegranates and mulberry and fresh figs, soon followed by hot tea. The couple behaved as if they had done nothing out of the ordinary. We drank and ate, and the man then led us back to the bus stop.
Towards the end of our trip we walked down to the lake in Marivan, Kurdistan, western Iran and observed a family enjoying the scenery. What stood out after three weeks in Iran was that the teenage daughter wasn’t wearing a headscarf and looked like she had no intention of donning one. Even I, after my short stay, was surprised to see this defiance. This proud young beauty then approached us and posed for a selfie with her little brother and me, at which her mother pulled off her headscarf and joined us with a gamely smile. They were Kurds on holiday from just across the border in Iraq.
Countless other episodes made us feel safe and welcome during our travels throughout Iran.