"Where kindness is, who cares for peace or war? Where goodness acts, who hears prayer or quarrel? When a man's accepted, who cares where he's from? Surrender, yield; if not, your pride's a stone." This poem by Rumi may well embody our experience in Iran. Kindness, peaceful practice of religion and surrendering are indeed the spices which have made our wanderings in Iran such a pleasant and interesting experience so far.
There is so much kindness in Iran. We have been proven this every single day of our ride, starting from the very first day when a truck pulled over to give us some finger-licking sweets and when it only took a few hours for us to be invited into the home of a happy Azeri family. Since then, it has been almost a month now, and camping or hotel booking proved virtually impossible because of the relentless hospitality.
As Rumi notes, prayer, quarrel, peace and war are secondary matters when there is so much goodness. But they still play a role. An important one.
As Iran is an Islamic Republic, Muslim faith and kindness often are intertwined. As Medhi, Maryam and their children - an amazing family with whom we spent 3 days in the small town of Khomein- explained to us, in Islam, travellers are seen as angels. Thus the rather warm welcome. Moslem and his family who welcomed us in Arak prayed three times a day and did everything they could to help us. When I say everything, it is an understatement-they thought about what we might need even before we did.
Prayer and war also have a role to play in the sense that Iranians are so keen to show that the goodness of their country is indeed the first (if not only) thing to remember from their country. Because of the Western media depiction of Iran, we are always asked "what did you think of Iran before coming here?". Which shows two thing: first, that they are aware of their terrible and ill-founded reputation of Islamic extremist. Second, that they know that this reputation is likely to have evaporated the minute one crossed the border, the traveller being overwhelmed by so much kindness.
Finally, if I chose a poem to open this blog, it is for a reason. Iran, this "old aristocrat" as Nicolas Bouvier would put it, has a passion for the arts. Despite the government ban on several facettes of artistic expression (women aren't allowed to sing and western-style pop is forbidden), arts pours out from every corner. The Persian architecture has inspired the whole world of Islam and cities like Esfahan are a treat to the eye. Every single house we were invited in seems to own poetry recueils by Ha'fez, Saadi or Khayyam. The winter solctice is celebrated with poetry reading. We had the luck of being invited to this celebration called Yaldé in Hamedan: family and friends gathered around an epic feast, and read each other's Hafez poem which is seen as omen for the future. Musical instruments seems to hide in every corner and Moslem family organised two musicians to come into their house as a way of farewell to us. Ben even surrendered to his inner Persian for the occasion and got up and danced with all the men. In Arak, we met a calligraph- a profession largely forgotten in France- who, by his skilled strokes, made the words of Saadi and Rumi look even more beautiful.
Iran, the land of kindness and art, religion and peaceful learning, has been a treat to cycle so far. At times incomprehensible, at times beautifully simple and kind, we already have colourful memories of this hospitable country.