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Drinking tea in the bazaar, Rasht, Iran

Sometimes friends meet cool people on their trips abroad. That's what happened to J. (one of my former roommates) and R. (my hostess). Rasht is not on the classic tourist route and I probably wouldn't have gone there, hadn't there been R. and M. It's a lovely place that is not overtly beautiful like the big touristic magnets in Iran. It has a charming bazaar and countless mosques but other than being in a stunning region, there is not much there.

Backalley scene, Rasht, Iran

During my visit, I was able to observe the movement radius of R. and her husband. They lead lives that look very much like mine. Everything feels familiar. Their flat looks like a student flat at home and friends go in and out. For me, this two-room apartment becomes a temporary harbour of peace and quiet. I sleep a lot. I'm overwhelmed with all the unfiltered information bursting into my sphere. I won't be able to shake this tiredness for the remainder of my stay in Iran. I carry it with me from place to place. It hangs around my neck like lead. It's foreshadowing the absolute exhaustion that I will experience in this country. I feel it coming but don't quite know how to avoid or react to it. With R. and M. I can take the necessary space, withdraw from the fun nightlife and sleep. I sleep for half a day and the following night. I wake up a few times but relish the luxury of just staying in bed. It's doing wonders for my constitution and makes me incredibly happy for the time being. I have the impression that Iranians don't sleep, they go to bed very late but get up very early. It drives me crazy and adds to my sleep deprivation.

Bazaar, Rasht, Iran

In Rasht, R. and I walk across the Bazaar, take a quick look around the city and have a glass of tea. Fascinated, I watch her move through the crowd. I want to know how local women do it. I've had my first run-ins with creepy men and wanted to find out what I had to change not to be targeted. I was convinced, there had to be something that market me out. I was thinking about differences between how I move and how they move, and yet I felt that there was none. Of course, I missed the most obvious of all markers, my hair and my lacking language skills. As a tourist, I have little chance to hide. R. says something to the right, something to the left and then it's clear that she belongs here. It fascinates me to see how matter of fact she takes her space. In the end, she moves as I would at home. I, on the other hand, am being stopped and harassed by men all the time. Not when I'm with her, of course. But I can't find a significant difference in the way we dress or behave. I feel betrayed by this useless cloth on my head, that I was promised would protect me. Once again, I realise that my expectations of this country have changed. Iran has taught me so many things, but one of the biggest lessons was that nothing I wear will ever protect me because it's not about me. It's about them. This piece of cloth on my head is worthless.

Bazaar, Rasht, Iran

In Iran, almost every young person I talk to wants to emigrate. Only R. and M. are different. They have created a situation in which they lead a good life, pursue their passions and provide a service to their community. They own a restaurant. The food is excellent, but again the flavour combinations are so foreign that it makes it difficult for me to enjoy the food truly. Too few tastes are familiar, too complex this world of flavours. The restaurant is a beautiful, laid-back place. R. and M. seem to travel through their lives with incredible serenity. They will stay in my memory for a long time, and whenever my picture of this country moves too much in a one-dimensional direction, I think back to these two quietly against-the-tide-swimming-individuals with a smile.

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