When I told anyone about my plans of traveling to Iran, the first reaction was always scepticism. They were concerned if it was safe to go. After a lifetime of mostly negative news from the Middle East, I wanted to go myself and see if I could dispel the narrative. That was the main reason for me to visit. Iranians are painfully aware about their country’s reputation abroad and that only amplifies their hospitality, which is unlike anything I have ever experienced anywhere else. If a foreigner has a confused look on his or her face, it will result in multiple pedestrians coming to offer help. These people have extended their kindness and I was invited to dinner more often than not. Some have even become my impromptu guides and accompanied me around their cities, like showing me the backdoor entries of mosques. They would always insist on paying for my expenses and refuse to take any of my money for buses, restaurant bills or taxis. In the beginning this makes a guest sometimes feel quite uncomfortable, but the argument quickly becomes tiring and pointless so one should just accept their fate of constantly being invited.
Considering the swamp of negative news coming out of Iran since the 1979 Revolution, it was remarkable to me how safe I felt. I could walk the streets until dawn. Apart from my friends and family worrying about my safety, the most prominent worry they also had was me supporting such a government as Iran’s by simply visiting. While I cannot and do not want to dispute that, I would argue that actually going there encourages average civilians that the rest of the world still appreciates them even if their government is flawed (something Iranians frequently speak out about in private), and spending money in the tourism industry can only help with the struggling economy.
Apart from politics, the sites in the cities, like Isfahan and Shiraz, are breath-taking, as are the dunes of the Varzaneh desert or the alien-like colourful rocks and sands on Hormuz Island. Transportation from A to B is easy and accommodation and food are comparatively cheap. The Middle East does not have many countries to choose from if you want to travel within the region, but Iran ought to be on the top of everyone’s list. In my opinion, traveling is the best way to challenge Islamophobia and the predominant negative reputation of the Middle East and its people.
Photography by Sascha Simon