From Iran with Love

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Life Changes

For a long time I had no idea if I should write this post or skip it. I decided to go for it, because for those who still follow this blog it’s necessary to understand why my style of traveling changed the way it did.

Long story short: I met Hajar, an Iranian woman that completely swept me off my feet. I was not looking for someone, I was never really interested in a relationship and I was very content with the idea of growing old by myself. Yet for some reason it happened, but I’m going to spare you my peudo-philosophical ramblings about why that might be.

Just another day in Iran?!

So while Chris and I were walking around Esfahan doing a bit of sightseeing here and there, two friends, Hajar and Saina approached us. They took us around the river of Esfahan and we spent a couple of hours talking. The time passed quickly and we still haven’t seen much of Esfahan. Being women in Iran they had to go back to their home town at around 10 PM. Since all of us had such a good time we agreed to meet again.

Fooling around with Saina, Hajar and Sanitar.

Fooling around with Saina, Hajar and Sanitar.

Over the next couple of days we met again and again in Esfahan until Hajar suddenly invited us to her hometown. She was still living with her parents and so this was a huge thing. Chris had to decline, because he had to go back to Tehran for his Indian visa (he ended up waiting for two more weeks, but he didn’t know that at the time) and I quite liked the idea of having more time with Hajar by myself.

Enjoying chai in a nice cafe in Esfahan.

Enjoying chai in a nice cafe in Esfahan.

Meeting the parents

I later found out that Hajar didn’t really get permission from her parents to bring a stranger to her home. She was however determined and didn’t want to go back on her word so she brought me along and Iranian hospitality meant that they couldn’t just turn me away.

So I stayed with her parents for two nights, we ate lots of food, had nice discussions and lots of laughs. Like so many before them they didn’t really know what a vegetarian eats, but they did their best and I was very satisfied and probably ate way more than I should have. Even after a couple of weeks in Iran I was sometimes not sure when I should decline and when it was proper to accept an offering. They call it “Tarof” and it means something along the lines of “Land of confusion”. So for example one person should offer something, it doesn’t really matter if he wants or can afford to do so. The other person however is supposed to decline that offer. Then the other person will insist and then there are several rounds of offering and declining. Maybe I’m too German that way, but it’s not easy for me and it feels wrong. I’ll prefer going the direct way, but I try to adapt.

After my second night I went to the house of Saina’s parents and I stayed there for five nights. Hajar made excuses to come by almost every day. I had a lot of fun with Saina, her sister, mum and dad but when Hajar came knocking on the gate my heart suddenly started beating faster. After a couple of days I already started falling for her. I had no idea what happened and I’m not an emotional guy so I always told myself that it could never happen anyways, because I’m in Iran after all, I’m not a Muslim and I was already on my second visa.

Awesome dinner with Saina's parents

Awesome dinner with Saina’s parents

Getting somewhere

We were both pretty shy about it, but there was no denying that there was a certain chemistry that could lead to more than just friendship. Whenever we went to our rooms/homes we started texting like teenagers, hinting at something that both of us were to afraid to say out loud.

Time can be a cruel thing and suddenly it was my last day in their hometown. There were no hotels and I couldn’t stay with Hajars or Sainas parents forever. It was all or nothing and we still haven’t really spoken about our feelings for each other.

I was invited for dinner with Hajars parents and she picked me up from Saina’s house. We went on a long walk and for the first time we spoke about “what if”. One thing that I promised myself and that led me start this trip in the first place was that I decided to not live my life thinking too much about “what if”s. So when Hajar brought up a what if question I took my chance and told her how I felt. I was lucky enough that she felt the same and told me as much.

There still was the dinner invitation and it was my last night and there was no time to talk (it was like a leaving train situation that you see in many movies) and naturally we couldn’t just tell her parents. We needed more time. We went to have our dinner, pretended nothing happened while holding hands under the dinner table. Cheesy stuff, but like I, said she swept me off my feet and I didn’t mind the least. I changed my plans, decided to go back to Esfahan and stay in a hotel and Hajar came up with an excuse to stay with a friend in Esfahan so that we could talk more.

Where do we go from here?

We had to be careful, mostly we went our during the night. Walking through the parks, because there were less people and you could have a decent conversation and hold hands when there was no-one in sight. This was as weird as it sounds, but different cultures, different rules and the consequences could be quite severe for everyone involved. So we were careful.

On our second night in Esfahan under a famous bridge we had our first kiss. As beautiful as those days were, they were also really stressful. Our cultures are so different, we knew little about each other and we are both rational people so we knew that it wouldn’t be easy and that emotions can be tricky when they influence important decisions. Yet we were determined to make it work … we just didn’t know how.

After three days Hajar had to go back to her parents and I went to Tehran. Our relationship continued over the phone and Skype. After a while it became clear that we couldn’t keep the relationship a secret, because it was simply to hard to find time for serious conversations.

A six hour bus ride later I was back at her parents house. Hajar made an excuse to invite me again, but we wanted to tell them about us as soon as possible. Meeting the parents is never easy, meeting Muslim parents of your Iranian girlfriend is even more difficult. There was lots of small talk at first and I had no idea how to bring up a topic like that. So the way I behave in situations like that is to just turn a switch in my head. I have a sentence in my head and I know when I say this sentence, there is no turning back. So I build up enough courage to spit out the first word and then I just kept going. My choice of words could have been wiser though …

I grabbed Hajar’s hand and pretty much shouted at her dad, “So, we’re a couple, what do you think about us?”.

Needless to say, the following discussion was preeeetty awkward, but I was happy. It was out and it felt like a big commitment (in a good way). After like half a minute of shock (picture everyone including Hajar with an open mouth, staring at me) her dad gave me dozens of reasons why this could never work and this and that. I survived the night and the next morning was much better, I had good talks with Hajar’s father and her brother. The morning after that I had an appointment with the German embassy in Tehran (they helped me out with money issues, because I stayed in Iran much longer than expected).

After a lonely week in Tehran I went back to Hajar for what should have been three days. I stayed a month …

Preparing falafel for the whole family.

Preparing falafel for the whole family.

Climbing Mt. Improbable

The question was this: can this work? what can we do after I have to leave Iran?

Our list of problems was long:

  • no-one should find out that we are a couple (the concept of having a relationship without marriage is not allowed in Islam)
  • no-one should know Hajar is leaving Iran
  • Hajar had no income or savings
  • Hajar was still enrolled in university and had to finish her final presentation
  • the only time Hajar left Iran was in 2012 when she went to Turkey

There was lots of crying involved and many setbacks, but Hajar was really strong and even though everyone was against her plans she decided to leave Iran with me. Our destination: Malaysia, South East Asia.

Seven months later, at the time of this writing we are still there. Everything worked out for us and we are really happy with out situation. Life is still more complicated than it was before, but full of surprises, love and happiness. We’re looking forward to a bright future together and we are not short of ideas and plans.

In the next post I’ll write about our first two months in Malaysia, our transition from backpacking to cycling and more.

Thanks for reading!

A recent shot of our cycle look.

A recent shot of our cycle look.

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© 2014 Michael Haeuslmann