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15/03/2011 – 17/03/2011 – Tabriz

May 31, 2011

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We arrived in Tabriz, a wealthy Iranian city in the North west of the country, in the week running up to their New Year (‘No Ruz’). The streets were pandemonium, the pavement thick with women and children eyeing up new clothes and accessories to start a fresh in 1390 (Iranian calendar) and comparing prices of the various street sellers with all their wares laid out on sheets along the edge of the walkway. I would stand in the doorway of our hotel and watch the sea of people streaming in both directions across my vision, whilst attempting to find a gap in the flow where i could place myself. It felt a bit like the run up to Christmas on Oxford Street minus the aggressive pushing but by 8pm the streets were empty with the remaining families and friends relaxing in juice bars or filling their bellies with chello kebab (rice and kebab).

In order to correctly celebrate the coming of a new year, Iranians must ensure they have a goldfish (usually given a home in a wide glass, until the celebrations are over, when they are promptly disposed of down the toilet), a small round tuff of grass, and something shiny. These trinkets represent, new beginnings, hope and prosperity and are sold in the bucket load along every street in the city.

From the outset Tabriz had a very warm feeling, the ever curious Iranians would approach you and ask politely if they could chat whilst you walked down the street. Questions about your life in England were the top priority, followed closely by your impressions of Iran and then how life was for the everyday Iranian in a country closely controlled by Islamic law and a less-than-liked government.

Almost all the young people and most of the old bemoaned the oppression the government places upon people. Strict dress codes, particularily for women, no music gigs (organising a public gathering around rock music contravenes Islamic law) and highly restricted internet usage (no facebook, youtube, myspace and filtered google search results) amongst a host of other restrictions on what they view as basic rights in their daily lives. It was saddening to hear people talk about their own country in this way and the feeling of frustration was felt on both sides. But despite these negative aspects, of which a male tourist will only ever really face restricted internet, people still exuded a sense of pride in being Iranian and the generousness which comes with it cannot be repressed by the government.

Let me give you an example. Sash and I were in the camera shop getting some prints of photos of a family we had stayed with earlier that week, to send them as a gesture of our appreciation. We got chatting to another customer in the shop and we asked where we could get an Iranian sim card from. He took us down the road to the local post office where he sorted out the application for us, once that was done he took us to the local sandwich shop and bought us lunch and then headed off to finish his shopping. These instances of good will, both large and small, would permeate your every day experience and would go on to be one of the many lasting impressions of Iran.

Mathias arrived with his fresh new and correct sized bicycle. Having had to return to France only 5 days after flying out to Turkey to take back the incorrect bike, he was super keen to get out on the road and so were we, especially as they had been given a full service, cleaned and new parts fitted by the mechanic in charge of the Iranian national cycling team.

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