Crossing the border at an altitude of around 1700 meter, having past all the waiting trucks into Iraq and after visited a decent toilet I am off to the first town in Iran, Piranshahr. A harsh wind blows right into me and I have to get off the bike, push my way over the hill. Reaching Piranshahr is entering those typical Iranian towns, in full swing, a rather old fashioned atmosphere where men wear corduroy jackets and where you feel a hint of excitement of the spring coming, though it is autumn. Yellow leaves flap from the trees and life is at an easy pace where hurry seems to exist only for me. I search for food and money and find out another cyclist has gone through this town, plus that I am enormous far removed from where I am heading to: Bandar Lengeh. I am not going to make it in one month, unless I cycle each day a 65 kilometer…
It’s as good as making love!
Having reached the top of 2034 meter, I overlook the world below me. It’s always a giant surprise when one reach the highest point and see what’s below the other side of the mountain. This pulls me up and up. Even though the altitude makes my breath dense, my legs heavy and the load I carry truly too much, I do manage. And then, standing on top, watching the beauty below me, I know it’s going to be cold. I pull the strings of my rain jacket, I cover my head with the hood, I pull on thin woolen gloves and prepare some perfect matching music with the environment I am in. Mugar. Then I let loose the brakes and all the effort I have given the last two days may release now. I am so excited that I stop once more and watch the wonderful world below me. I can sense how it must feel when reaching the top of the Everest. Then I’m off. Hard, long and intense. It occurs to me that this downhill, where I have to press the brakes often, in order not to tumble over the edge, is as good as the title implies!
After about 20 minutes though, the downhill becomes uncomfortable. My hands are cold. My body is not doing any exercise and becomes cold too. I have a lot of passerby’s who stop and watch me, or turn around and await my passing. Then it starts to rain, temperatures drop to 7 degrees and food isn’t around. Taxi driver Afshin comes in my way and is determined to help me and won’t leave me until I accept his help.
Welcome in Iran
The third time I am in this country, but only now it will become a complete different experience. Cycling as a woman on your own is something unheard of. People are not used to see a sweaty woman on a bicycle passing by. Accidents happens, cars bump into another, some land in the ditch. Truck drivers crotches become itchy and their behavior becomes a cheap reflection of the porn movies they watch. A lot of photo sessions are to be done along the route, to a point where I stop acting like a celebrity, simply because it takes too much energy. A lot of surprised looks, one of the images of Iran is a white Paykan with three black round forms turned around on the back of the car, watching me in awe, not seldom women in chador. Perhaps wishing they would have the freedom to cycle around freely, perhaps not…
Another image which will stay with me is the incredible hospitality of the people. Cycling through these parts of Iran gives a whole different view of the country. I might be a weirdo on a bicycle -or at least an indecent woman- no one ever gave me this feeling. Almost every village I enter is a shower of good care. The people of Iran may be less abundant, slightly less happy compared to their Iraqi neighbor, but nevertheless they are as welcoming and fantastic to host me: a complete stranger.
‘You people think bad about us, isn’t it?’
‘Television shows only bad about us,’ says Hassan. ‘Yeah, that’s what television does, showing bad news. That’s what television is always about,’ I reply. Not that I watch television nor do I really know how Iran is exactly portrayed in the news. Not that I am a complete ignorant fool either though. ‘How the president is, what the ayatollah’s are saying and things the politics does, isn’t what Iran is to me. Iran is the people, the population, you all, you yourself. That’s where I got to deal with and not with the country politics.’ Later on I find out positive things, a new president which brings hope again to the people. Things about the ayatollah, who is not only negative as it may seem.
Cycling through this part of Iran immediately shows a huge difference. Iran is still poor. I notice prices haven’t gone up, which happened in all other countries. Iran is still cheap, the economy has even gone down some more. The people work hard and long hours. Old fashioned cars still maneuver the road, loads of lorry’s piled high up. It’s a pleasure to peddle on roads I never came on, before, when I took public transport. Now I cycle through farmlands, sugar roots are harvested and farmers are waving at me.
Can I camp on my own out here?
I am ready to camp out but I am also a bit worried since there are continues followers. Either by men who want to make sure I am alright, aware that I am too far away from the big city. Either by men who invite me for tea, their car rapidly parked around the bend, a thermos of chai showing on top of the hood.
As soon as I crossed the Iranian border I noticed I am being watched. Whenever I stop, sit down and soak in the nature where I am surrounded by, I spot men watching me. Sometimes beckoning me. Signaling with the lights of their car, acting they get something out of the back of their car, checking nuts and bolts on the wheel of their car. I prefer to knock on doors instead of camping. However, it never comes to knocking on doors, I am almost always spotted by some one who invites me to their warm, comfortable home.
Ahmad let me in to his home, a Kurdish farmer. Providing me with large quantities of food. Doubtful that this little woman who doesn’t look like their Kurdish farm wives, is strong enough to carry the load she’s hauling. The women, all dressed in colorful maxi dresses watch me curious: I do eat a lot, yet I am not as curvaceous as they are. I am given fresh cow milk, a pile of lavash bread, and a bag of cheese and walnuts when I carry on the next morning. Ahmad is still doubtful and want to bring me with his car over the pass I am heading for. Friendly I thanks him, but do no accept, instead I cycle on in the rain…
Mohamed and Fatima let me in to their house when I ask for a place to sleep, a retired couple, their children all left. I am again offered a shower, a phone call to my mother to tell her I am fine, food and a comfortable place to sleep. The breakfast they provide me with is too little to keep me going for long but the spray of tea-rose perfume Fatima baths me in stays on for long. Soon, a free breakfast comes my way when I cycle towards Saqqez. I am given apples by farmers who pass me. I am given pickles by housewives who are worried I might not find food on my way.
Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in Anonymous
It soon dawns on me how enormous this country is. Each day is a difference, the mountains and hills I am continuously surrounded by are shaped artfully. The roads winding through are glittering in the soft sunlight. This Iran seems immeasurable and soon I am haunted by the idea I can never make it, not even in two months! When ever I open the map of Iran, I start to become overwhelmed by it’s vastness and seemingly impenetrability. The hills moves me back to 50 kilometer a day and this is too little for the competitive Cindy I have become.
The man who is clear to me: I want to fuck you!
Because it’s difficult to know where settlements are, thus not being sure where or whether I can sleep at someone’s house, I am moving in the dark one evening. I just pulled myself over a pass and am now cycling on a rather long plateau. It’s getting cold. I am enclosed by barren rocky mountains. I am still not convinced of camping on my own in Iran, although perhaps now I need to. Then a man pass me in his car. He gestures me to stop, which I am not going to do. He keeps passing me, where he stops on the shoulder, so I have to get around his car. This is what all car drivers do and it’s annoying me: I have to get onto the highway and cars behind me have to circle around me. The man does this for 4 times, then I get pissed off. He assumes I don’t get his point, and so he gestures it to me: ‘I want to fuck you!’ His left hand makes a hole where the finger of his right hand sticks in and out. ‘You, fuck off!’ is my reply and I get off my bicycle, walk towards him and then on to the highway, to stop the first oncoming car. This scares the man, and he pulls off.
What do they think? What does this man really think? That I am a Russian prostitute doing business on my bicycle. Let him have me for a few lousy rials? Or does he think that we, Westerners, are all in for sex. Sex on the beach. Sex on the highway. Sex in the barren mountains. Does he think that my saddle gives me a gentle massage whereas he has to release me from this ongoing torture. Well, whatever he thinks, I need to find a place to sleep and luckily I see a few soft glimmering lights in the distance. Not sure whether it’s a settlement, I head off the main road.
The knock on a door
It’s a small settlement. I need to use my head lamp to see which gravel road I am taking. A Paykan car full of men passes me and in full surprise ask what I am doing here? I follow them and hope to be invited by the man who steps out first, but he disappears right into his compound. Without me asking in. I again follow the slow continuing car, to the next halt. But strangely no one asks me in. Instead, a few men gather around me to find out what I want. It’s cold -I wear my gloves- and my head lamp is shining into the eyes of him who asks me whether I want to pitch my tent or stay inside some one’s house. A rather aggressive kind or man steps in the circle of the men already surrounding me. He’s dressed in an army trouser and bomber jacket. His beard is very short and extremely sharp cut. His forehead right above his eyebrows has a bulge and his eyes are deep buried underneath. He’s impatient with me and he act fierce. I can’t help but he reminds me of a savage male goat. Then he takes my bicycle and moves it back to the gravel road. It’s windy and I follow him struggling with the heavy load. I notice how heavy my breathing is but being at an altitude of about 1700 meter it’s not strange. I have no clue where this savage goat takes me to but the prospect of riding on is one I don’t look forward to.
Suddenly a woman grabs my arm, she makes clear I can come to her house. She’s the mother of this goat-son who’s shoveling me around. The little woman is dressed traditional and has small round eyes. Unlike here son she appears immediately warm, trusty and goodhearted. Then I am embraced in a house warm and covered by an aluminum layer on top of the roof. The daughter accompanies me to the shower where after I get a chai and am placed in front of a little benzine burner. Later on I find out this is called ‘aladin’. In a meanwhile mother prepares a huge meal which is shared between Somi, the daughter and me while her fierce looking brother does not disappears from my side. He’s about 30, has no front teeth, scattered tattoos all over his arms and wants to marry me. He wants to go with me to the Netherlands. He hates the government and the way his country is ruled. There might be no Abdullah Öcalan on television who stands up for their rights but there sure is revolt to be felt among the Kurdish in Iran. They feel they are captivated. Silenced.
Their house is one of the almost unnoticeable in this area. Colored even with the earth it is built upon. Their roof is another one his front porch. Little holes in the ground indicates air flow of someone else their roof. All houses are surrounded by mud walls and the inside is layered by carpets, one laying over the other, a splash of warmth and colors. Different shaped aladins are adding atmosphere to the warm intimate room and flat screen television shows mostly rising of the Kurdish party run by Öcalan’s daughter, the many killings done over the years. Their shower is neatly tiled and has boiling hot water. As soon as word has spread to this tiny settlement, the room fills up with visitors of all kind. An older, fully Kurdish outfitted woman sits by my side, men from all ages sit around us, including the mullah whom the others make fun of, joins us. Of course I am tired and what I would like most is sleeping, but I am the main attraction right now. Sleeping only happens after Somi has checked my phone, noticing I have no signal in this village. Strangely she goes through every text message and every name saved on the phone: ‘Who’s this?’ and ‘How did you meet him?’ followed by ‘Where is he living?’ She seems to be hugely interested in phones, later on she continues to send text messages for hours after we’d gone sleeping. Somi and her mother sleep next to me in Somi’s little room, adjoining another part of the courtyard and warmed by a single aladin.
Somi is twenty-two years young. She’s in full bloom. Slim, and attractive enough. Her hair is thick and dangling down in lush strands, covered loosely by a black scarf. Her body is supple and because she is so much inside, her skin tone is almost see-through. I can see her fingers are used to intense kind of work, like me, they are broken on the ends, rough. I am delighted to find out she is weaving a carpet. Remembering a book I once read, about a girl in a Turkish village, weaving a huge tapestry, suddenly I have become part of this book. Though, when going to sleep I can’t help feeling an uncomfortable feeling, mother had kissed my cheeks just before she seems to produce tears and indicating a failure of her heart. I pull the fake fur Chinese blanket over my head and keep my handlebar-bag close to me, as always…
The next morning my clothes are washed, drying on the line outside. Somi is weaving. The sound of tight cotton strings where her fingers sliding through is soothing. Mother preparing fried eggs. The sun shines bright on a clear blue morning sky. So yes, the atmosphere is pleasant but I do notice a strange feeling, a feeling I can not place. As soon as I take clothes from my bags I notice someone has gone through them. Nothing is in place and everything has been touched. I find out things are missing. And how much I try to explain them what is missing, I leave without getting them back.
The little thief!
And I, I don’t mind too much that she’d stolen a few items of me. She, like I am, is an artist and how can I blame her? She’s living in this settlement, has not much belongings. Being released from many of the tarot cards, a blouse and my favorite incense, but being offended a bit by her uncontrollable curiosity and desire to take essential items like a Tweezerman and Petzl head-torch, I understand she like good products too. I am a bit annoyed for some time but then the feeling wears off.
Until another will come up…
Iran I: from the border 19th of October to Divanderreh 26th of October