Things have been (and will continue to be) a little more quiet here. Internet is abysmal in Iran and finding a place that has half-way usable Internet tends to be a challenge. In a way, that ‘s a bit characteristic for my stay in the Islamic Republic – solving everyday challenges without technology. After getting used to the beauty of mobile apps like Google Maps and TripAdvisor for navigation and food, it’s a cold-awaking to having to ask people.
But the world of low-tech has its own appeal. Iranian cities have wonderful parks and I spend time sitting in the grass, eating lentils out of a can (much easier than finding a place that can serve vegetarian-friendly, low-carb food – even with the help of Wikitravel & Co.) and ignoring the semi-interesting actual ‘sights’ everyone else feels compelled to visit.
Sounds tame? Not every day on the road involves meeting armed shepherds, getting invited to the squatted abode of a war veteran or talking politics with dissidents. Some days are about as normal as they could be back home. So what’s ‘normal’ in Iran like?
Rolling out of my sleeping bag at roughly 9am, I sit up in the living room of the 50sqm flat of my Couchsurfing host. Like everything else in Iran, it’s safe to assume that Couchsurfing isn’t exactly legal. This means we’ll have to keep this a bit on the quiet side as to avoid any issues with the authorities. It’s not as bad as it could be, given that my host is a guy and currently alone at home. Maybe that’s the difference between a stern warning and deportation, but let’s not test that.
The living room looks decidedly Persian, with huge, oriental carpets (machine-made), elaborately decorated couches, and a book shelf that features titles in at least three different languages. The anime posters plastered across the far wall seem to be a bit at odds with the otherwise traditional-seeming room.
I set out to prepare breakfast (yogurt, oats, water melon, peaches, eggs, bread, and coffee). I feel it’s a bit of an unwritten rule for Couchsurfers to do the dishes and it makes me feel like I’m contributing a little while camping out in someone’s home. House-work and food preparations completed, I’m ready to tackle the day proper.
Peaches and eggs are running low, so together with my Couchsurfing host I head off to the supermarket to stock up on supplies. I notice they are selling salted soy beans as a snack. So that’s how I am going to solve my protein problem in Iran. When dieting while traveling, finding out what the local suitable food options are is always a new endeavor. In Georgia they had 0% fat milk, in Armenia 0.2% fat cheese and in Iran it seems, I can just buy soy beans to munch on. The supermarket is located in a mall that was just built 2 years ago and could be at home in the middle of Bangkok. There’s nice coffee shops, overpriced fashion stores and a food court that seems to have 10 different stalls with all of them selling kebab.
But shopping malls here are good for something else. Like airports and hotels, these are some of the few places that aren’t kitted out exclusively with squatting toilets. It occurred to me that squatting toilets are a bit more hygienic than their Western counterparts. However, on a more practical note, I still find them profoundly uncomfortable. I guess it’s an acquired taste.
Being provided with a surprisingly accurate map to a local gym I opt to use the afternoon get some much needed exercise that doesn’t involve hauling around a backpack. The very 80’s looking place with bulky dudes adorning the walls was probably the first place in Iran where not a single person spoke English. I sprinkled the desk of the reception with something close to 1 USD and that seems to do the job: I’m in. I was a bit worried about dress code (usually it’s ‘no shorts’ in Iran), but I hadn’t have to worry. Gyms seem to be the same everywhere in the world, with dudes stripping down to speedos in order to admire themselves in the mirror.
On the way back home, I pop into a barber shop. Waiting the better part of 30 minutes for a hair cut, I suffer through another Iranian conversation attempt. As an obvious foreigner, you get about the same amount of attention as a B-Grade soap opera star does elsewhere. People approach you to say hello, take pictures, invite you to tea, ask you for the time or whatever other excuse they can think of to say hello to you. Most of the time it’s quite endearing and I don’t mid or even enjoy it.
This time though, it’s one of the ‘let me give you a lecture on Iran’ guys who wants to use the chance to counter the image that Iran has in Western media. While I don’t mind the sentiment, they tend to frequently go overboard with this. And then I’m stuck listening to stories of superior religion, saint-like historic figures or an earnest accounts of how Germans and Iranians are part of the same apex race. An alternative history lesson and 2 USD later I leave the barber shop with a buzz cut.
Drinking tea with my host, visiting his friends at work and joining them chilling out in the courtyard rounds off a rather uneventful day. It’s a relaxing evening with friendly people and it does a lot more to convey a pleasant, laid-back image of Iran than hours of unsolicited lectures ever could.