This one is a tribute to you, lady’s of Iran!
Unsuspectingly I am munching from the partly raw fried eggs and paper-thin bread. I mean, what else would you do, while eating? Would you suspect a hand erecting over your shoulder which is about to grab your breast? But that is what happens, the hand of the restaurant owner is firmly holding onto my left breast. He attacks me from behind. The coward!
What the f^%*!?! I hatch the chair roughly underneath me. I fly towards the man! I beat him where I can. On his head mostly. He’s moving behind the counter and I start kicking him. He’s placed in the corner of his glass cabinet and I just can’t stop beating him. Probably he don’t really feel anything. I see some bottles and for a moment I consider slamming one onto his head. But the effects might be too big. I reconsider.
I walk out of the restaurant. My heart is beating wildly. I am full of anger. Not only about this cowardly incident, it’s an accumulation of the last weeks. And this man pays for it. Outside, the two young men are talking, one of them paid for my breakfast, which I leave half uneaten. I tell them what happened, although they don’t speak English. A bit annoyed they walk inside to talk to the restaurant owner. It seems they agree what he did was wrong but well, what to do? I know very well what to do and while they stand and talk I give the restaurant owner a push, he’s standing very near the stairways, which are going down into the cellar. The two boys try to hold me -without touching me of course- while I try to push the man some more. I am in a rage and want to take revenge. But how?
What how? F^%*! Yes, I know what to do!! I cycle to the police, since I know where they are located. A hand touching my breast has happened often, pretended an accident or a so-called ostensible movement. But not this, this is just a nasty, dirty, cowardly action.
It’s not that he got a lot of erotic feelings by touching my breast, they are tightly secured in a sport bra where the left of them has my money and credit cards stuffed into it as well. I am dressed very conservatively, there’s barely any uncovered skin. Well, me being a woman alone on a bicycle might be enough encouragement for this man, but I won’t have it!
A few minutes later I am in a police car and we are driving towards the restaurant. Funnily, the man is walking towards us. He’s picked up and we drive back to the police station where he receives quite a lot more beatings. From a man stronger than I am. The head of the police, that is. I see his shivering and crouched in the corner again. He’s screamed to. He’s humiliated. And he’s some more beaten.
Meanwhile I get my second breakfast, of slightly less raw fried eggs. Accompanied by a thermos of chai and an apple. All the while being surrounded by men, something not being a problem anymore, where yesterday I was not able to enter the police station for the very same reason.
A report is being made. My fingerprints are being inked onto it. I see the head police his mind reasoning ‘who is she?’ Usually, women of Iran won’t go to the police for such tiny incidents, I reckon. So, that’s why I went. To teach this man a lesson so he won’t do it again!
Than I am off again, in the rain, accompanied for about 10 kilometer by a police escort. When they leave me alone, the nature becomes silent too. The road winds from South to North and the rain stops. My mind is quiet and the movements of the peddles push my anger away. Very soon I am at ease and enjoying the surroundings. I am surprised how quickly I can subside these bitter frustrations.
Peeing in the mosque
I think things over and perhaps I should not have urinated in the mosque? Perhaps Allah punish immediately? Like God, he also does that, being told by my mother when I was young. And I am still young, so I am sure Allah or God has punished me. But what was I supposed to do? The evening I arrived in Hoseynabad I went to the police station, the same as where I just came from. I asked if they could host me on their fields, far removed from their barracks. The answer is ‘no’. I am not allowed to spend the night in my tent on their ground mostly because I am a woman. They point me towards the neighbors, a station for the ambulance. So I try there but they are very against the idea I set up camp outside their station too. The two men who accompany me all the while suggest I should ask the imam of the mosque in town. We do. We get permission and I am set. Except that there is not a toilet. Well, there is technically speaking: at the end of the building. I have to get out of the little room I am in, onto the streets and enter the main entrance of the mosque. Frankly, I don’t relish the idea of getting out of the door, where a constant group of people is knocking on the iron metal door, wanting to talk. I feel bad for not being in a talkative mood. I am an introvert person, and at times just really not into all this jumble. So even when the police come to check my passport I ask them to leave quick: ‘Here is a copy of my passport, keep it and please let me have a rest.’
When I am off to sleep around 20.30 and another knock on the metal door penetrates my ears, finding out it’s another police, I ask them to come back next morning. ‘Please madam, open the door. It won’t take long, I am the head officer and need to check your passport,’ he answers in English. ‘I am sleeping sir,’ is my reply, but after some time I reckon it is better to concede. Not when I need to go to the toilet though. Instead, I use a large zip-lock bag and pee in it. I pee a lot, perhaps more than a liter of yellow liquid, all spread out underneath an old reddish carpet. A stinking stream I can not hide nor wipe away. All I am able to do is trying to hide it and get the bag with left-over pee out onto the street. I am deeply ashamed, hoping no one will find out.
Finally, the capital of Kurdistan!
By the time I arrive in Sanadaj I am tired. Really tired. The city appeared to be near but not before I had conquered hill after yet another hill. It has been 6 days continuously cycling. When I finally enter this huge town, it reminds me of Kabul, the people equally helpful. A young guy friendly but forcefully helps me to get to a hotel while I want to go to a mosaferkhaneh, as hotels are always more expensive. But when I say mosaferkhaneh they ought it not suitable for me. While negotiating with this friendly but forcefully young man an older man walks past, overhearing us and speaking the magic word ‘mosaferkhaneh‘. I quickly turn towards him, tag with him and off we are, the friendly but forcefully young man behind us. I am in the company of the owner of mosaferkhaneh Nehro, the cheapest option in town. My panniers and bicycle are hauled up and a good price is settled.
I end up in a beautiful light floated mosaferkhaneh, ‘house for the traveler’, there’s a hot shower awaiting me, there’s wifi from the shopping center below, there’s an authentic chaikhaneh next door and, another traveler…
Did I think I entered some place special, I am soon stuck with an older Australian man on my door who keeps talking about subjects I frown upon. What he talks about seems all so irrelevant, so completely out of touch with nature and the basics of a cyclist. And he talks a lot. I feel I have to barricade my door in order to keep my just subdued private palace to myself.
The floating easiness of chai in a tea-house
But with tea between us, a plate of panir (cheese), a bowl of masht (yoghurt) and bread with a double tomato omelet, all is fine. Even so, without this Australian man, Darryl, I would not be able to enjoy this chaikhaneh to such an extend as I do now, I would be on display for all the men and unable to lift up my head, laugh out loud and soak up the warm atmosphere around me. Soon our conversation deepens and I am able to go with the flow of Darryl. We stroll around town, searching for a new headlight, searching for vegetarian food…
Searching for money is what I need to do too. Unbelievable -experienced traveler as I am, being to Iran twice before- I forgot about the American embargo and I can’t get money out with my credit cards. I try all kind of ways, some untrusted ones, until I decide to transfer money to the Dutch embassy and pick it up when I am coming closer to the highway connecting Tehran. With the help of my mother I succeed, but in the meantime I receive threatening from the office where I got my visa from to leave the country as soon as possible (www.touranzamin.com). I did contact them to find out how to receive money, but the man strays from the subject, says he did not know I was going to cycle through Iran and he tells me it is forbidden. He implies I should get out of Iran, I should not apply for an extension on my visa and just leave, leave, leave.
As if I don’t have troubles enough, now this is adding to it. Quickly I make a new plan where I need to take a bus. The idea of traveling on a bus and cutting my trip short is not appealing at all. I count the kilometers cycling further, from a coastal town situated on flat earth, and should be able to make it, just in time to get a ferry to Oman or Dubai. Still, I don’t have enough money.
Change of scene
Another cyclist comes on stage…
At the time I was entering the border town of Piranshahr another cyclist went through the city. No one told me, nor him. He took small roads, minor tracks not depicted on my map. He used an old map given to him by a teacher. He is able to camp wild where I as a woman always have to search for shelters. I find it unsafe to camp wild as I sampled too many men thinking I am an easy European woman, in for what they see on their porn movies. This cyclist having entered at the same time as me, Henrik turns out his name, moves from tiny Kurdish villages to other unnamed settlements, places in full marriage swing while I peddle from city to city over a highway with trucks and beeping cars.
Henrik is Danish. We meet through Australian Darryl. He is a cyclist too and as soon as Darryl spot him in his chaikhaneh both are intrigued by each other. One thinks about the other as an intruder to his chaikhaneh, thinking he’s too cool to talk to a traveler like himself. While the other think he’s soaked up in his own world that he doesn’t even notice other travelers, probably below his style. It’s like nature, where lions watch other lions, it’s like the wild where one thinks about the other as better or a less experienced traveler. We all have these thoughts, me too. Sometimes I feel superior because I cycle, and in my opinion cyclists are better and more experienced travelers because we are so independent. But of course, in bicycle-terms there are many levels as well. And one can never see from the outside how rough or experienced another is. I wear make up and a mismatch of clothes combined with muddy boots dotted with blue laces when I am off the bicycle. What am I?
I am a woman strongly determined by my own will. I know where I am going and no one will stand in my way. I am a purist and I am resolute. I have no fear and I fight. I have been to Afghanistan and I have lived in Pakistan for a year. On my own, yes! In the mind of Henrik the woman he’s about to see, must be a half-wild woman roaming up and down in her room. Yes, he is a bit alarmed.
What he is seeing is less frightening to him, a little woman down on the floor, utterly stressed. Not knowing what to do. Yes, she needs a strong hand, leading to a solution to her problem. Little does Henrik know, indoctrinated by the words of Darryl.
So when Henrik comes to our little cozy scene, I wonder if he can borrow me some money. I have never seen this guy and as soon as he steps in my room -incredibly that he as a man can enter the room of not his married woman- we start to talk about cycling. But as soon as he stray from the subject I remind myself to stay focused. Sitting on the ground, looking up to this man dressed in jeans, I ask if I can have his Iranian money, since he’s going back to Turkey and back to Denmark. He is perhaps willing enough, but, he doesn’t and another chapter arrives…
Shitty talk over badly fried fish
Darryl is an old hippie. At 17, when I was not yet conceived, he traveled the hippie trail from Turkey to India. An intelligent man still bearing the child in him. A wonderful quality. While we eat fish he start to tell me that his body is very well-balanced. I asked him what he means, a bit hesitated he declares his final product is compact and has the right substance. I immediately categories him to my kind of eccentric people and when he asks me to join me on the bicycle, I agree.
He buys a bicycle and let Henrik guide him.
In a meanwhile I stay four days in Sanadaj: arranging money, making a lot of phone calls, connecting with the Dutch embassy. I receive an anti-block filter on my phone, for free at a not to classify little shop where I make use of their internet connection, for free too. I supplement my diet with dried mulberries and nuts and am almost offended when I need to pay for my goods. It happens so often, we travelers, don’t need to pay for the little quantities, or complete meals, that I get used to this preferential treatment.
The facade of Iran
Something I don’t get used to are the looks of the Iranian women. Iranians are very focused on details. Nothing escapes their eyes. They are very precise if it comes to appearance (countless nose jobs are to be spotted) and they are very observant. Not only does every town has an immense entrance lined up with trees and an abundance of streetlights, many mosques do have pretty facades with nothing of any beauty behind it. A lot to do about the visual aspect, and so, when I walk outside with thick socks in my sandals, a legging and a local bought pullover with the correct length (covering the bum), then all I receive are looks. Disapprovingly. Women of Iran, can’t you understand I am a traveler, my storage space consisting of a panniers with space to be divided. I can not be a cyclist and a fashionista in one.
Thankfully Darryl is easy on this subject, dressed in a newly bought bright yellow safety vest and with his glasses dangling on a cord, he looks like a school teacher. With my two new friends I enjoy huge double breakfasts, we have innocent little tea party’s at the first floor of Henrik’s hotel. Henrik hurries, after he’d gone out with Darryl, to show me a place where they serve food only made in Kurdistan: kalana, a kind of wheat flour pancake covered in butter and chives.
Darryl and I set off our trip together, waved goodbye by Henrik, and are off on a cycle adventure in a newly formed little group.
If things get lost and you can’t do without them, like a headtorch, find this place and you’ll be saved: an excellent mountaineer outdoor shop in Sanadaj is SHAHO, (square) medan Azadi, (street) gyaban Hassan Abbad, near to Maskan bank, 0918 3734500. It’s on a main street on the big roundabout near mosaferkhaneh Nehro. The owner speaks little English but let you salivate over his products as long as you desire.
Iran part II from Hoseynabad 26th of October to Sanadaj 31st of October 2013