We had been planning to find a hotel on our first day out of Zanjan, but the lush fruit plantation area we found ourselves in was just crying out for a wild camp, so we made a last minute decision to pitch up for the night. We stopped at a small tea restaurant to ask for water. The men working there were quick to give us what we needed and of course presented us with some tea within minutes. We noticed that there was a large orchard behind the building, so we asked if we could camp there. No problem, they said, but please have your tea first. Next, they gave us some roasted corn on the cob, and just as we were contemplating setting up the tent, we were asked to follow one of the men up the stairs and into a flat above the restaurant.
Hossein showed us around the flat and pointed to a room laid out with Persian rugs. He indicated that we should sleep here. We refused his offer, but he made it clear the offer was not just Ta’arof, and that he really wanted us to stay. He had to go back to the restaurant, so he helped us take our bags inside and left. We had a much needed shower and relaxed for a while, amazed by the trust that people here place in total strangers. He had only met us half an hour before, after all, and here we were alone in his house!
We have only been in Iran for 11 days and we are starting to feel really at ease. It feels very safe, children wander the streets at night, theft seems to be almost non existent, people generally trust each other. Camping in the most public of places (city parks, beside motorways, truck stops) is considered very normal and done regularly by locals in the warmer months. Living in London has made us anxious about our security so it has taken time for us to relax and really trust strangers again. It feels good to be able to leave our bikes outside a restaurant unattended or camp in a public place and not worry too much about theft. Evidence perhaps of the many good values bestowed in people through their faith.
After a while Hossein returned with his wife, Sohra, and his eight year old son, Alireza. Again, he had to leave, and so we made ourselves at home in the living room. The flat did not have a single chair or table in it. It was completely laid out with beautiful carpets, and there were pillows lined up along the wall. The bedrooms were devoid of beds, or any piece of furniture for that matter, a stark contrast of our little London flat where you couldn’t walk a foot without bumping into some piece of furniture. The floor is used for sitting on, eating, and sleeping, so it is understandable why the carpets are such a prized possession in Iran. We can only imagine how our parents would feel if we had our dinner on the good Persian carpet at home!
Sohra served us tea, grapes, cucumbers and cakes, and we were able to communicate by using our Farsi language guide. Sohra dressed in quite a modern way and had her hair dyed blonde. She became very good at finding words and sentences in the guide. Alireza was also learning English at summer school, so he got his books out and we devised a game to help him remember the letters of the Roman alphabet (which of course is quite different to the Arabic alphabet he is used to). We also showed them the photos of our families, which they appreciated.
We were unsure what to do about dinner, as we did not just want to expect them to provide it, but also did not want to appear rude by getting out our own cooker. Luckily, Hossein later solved this by getting some food delivered from the restaurant downstairs. A plastic sheet was spread out on the floor, and we were served rice with butter, Lavash bread, kebab, cabbage, peppers and olives, as well as a yoghurt drink which we are slowly getting a taste for.
After dinner, Alireza went to sleep. Sohra opened our Farsi book and pointed to the words for “let’s go” and “town square”. We all piled in to Hossein’s tiny 1970s Renault, which only had one headlight. It felt like we were going back in time to when we were kids, as this kind of car does not even exist anymore back home.
We were given a whirlwind tour of the nearby town, stopping at various local sights such as the park, a monument and a mosque. We bought a puzzle for Alireza at a street market, and then we were taken to the ice cream parlour. This was a very popular meeting place for young men – probably the equivalent of a pub back home. Hossein insisted on buying us banana milkshakes and lemon cake, which was delicious.
When we got back home, Sohra spread out some soft rugs and pillows for us on the carpet, while she and Hossein made their bed in the living room. We felt humbled as they were treating us so well, giving us their own bedroom and feeding us.
The following morning Sohra prepared breakfast – flat Lavash bread, jam, butter and cheese. Hossein invited us to stay for another day, but unfortunately our time in Iran is limited and we had to move on. Sohra went out on the balcony where she was drying a large pile of grapes to make raisins, and gave us a large bag of raisins to take with us.
We took some photos out the front of the restaurant before we said a sad goodbye. It is always hard to say goodbye to the lovely people we meet, many of whom we will probably never see again. The people in Iran are especially emotional when we leave, which is really sweet. This was our first home stay in Iran, and we have certainly experienced the hospitality Iran is famous for. Amazingly, we were invited again to stay with another family the following night.||