I’ve just concluded a month-long stay in Iran. It would be demeaning to squeeze the essence of the trip in a few words.
Me and my friend Ahmad (named changed), who I first met in Hong Kong two years ago, explored the Persian gulf, the south-east (Bushehr, Abadan, Ahwaz), the south-west (Kerman, Mahan, Rayen, Ka-Luts) and central Iran (Yazd, Kashan, Badrud, Esfahan) and finally and most profoundly – Shiraz, the heart of the Fars province, his hometown. The heart of Persia, with its lovely Naranges (supposedly a cousin of the orange fruit, only found in Iran).
Ahmad happens to be a licensed tour guide, English-Persian translator and all-round Utopian companion. I cannot express how grateful I am to have spent 28 days with him in his beloved country – the lessons of which I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Poetry, architectural splendor to bring even the blind to their knees, calligraphy that challenges the supremacy of the Chinese, subtle political statements in the young’s appearance and attitudes, an epic Palang rap song, gazing at Iraq, drinking & driving…
A mind-blasting history lesson starting from prehistorical sites, Zarathustra’s legacy living on, the Elamites & the Medes, through Cyrus the great, the Macedonian invasion, the second (Sassanid) Persian empire, Arab, Mongol and Tamerlane destruction, absorption of Persian wisdom and patronage of new art, a final (Safavid) Persian empire, the wasteful Qajar era, ultra-westernized Shahs, the usual messing up of the middle-east by Western powers followed by the inevitable rebound effect that we now see in the Islamic Republic – through sites, people, discussions, friendships, readings and contemplation – what is ‘History’?
Can we ever know History? Is it anything but a series of folk tales and pitifully scarce, ambiguous archeological finds? Just considering how much of ancient history we get from Herodotus alone is chilling – just how far are we willing to take his words for gospel?
This consideration occurs at a prime time as I arrived in Qatar – country of the Bedouin. Thousands of years of history, yet close to no monuments to speak of. Their history lives with them, in the present – perhaps that is where we should be looking for ‘answers’.
The human bonds I leave the country with can only grow stronger upon subsequent visits.
If you are looking for a lesson, just remember this – you’ll never know a place. Tu ne peux pas ‘faire’ un pays. Not even your own. In part, this is because you are an integral part of your experience of a place and its life – changing yourself therefore results in your experience of the place becoming different. Furthermore, in a new-agey quantum BS way, your mere presence changes the place. Please be less of a tourist, more of a person.
This has become increasingly apparent to me each time I’ve returned to my hometown, Geneva. Exploring it anew, with a fresh outlook, as a traveler exploring my home has left me with my jaw wide open at how changing myself changes my environment – in the exact same places, with many of the same people. I’m not nearly done investing myself in that microcosm of humanity’s diversity.
Rather than blaming the outside, alter yourself – perhaps this is where our much sought-for solace lies.
For now, I am in Qatar. About to fall asleep, alone on the Sheraton’s private beach’s peninsula – quietly peaceful…. quiet that is intermittently interrupted by some guy showing off his surely massive motorcycle across the city. As much as I despise the exclusivity of luxury, I cannot repress the awe of lavish architectural design – I can only wish for urban planning to, one day soon, offer such environments indiscriminately to all.
The homeless vagabonding, aim-free yet perhaps meaningful drift goes on.