My dear friend John has asked a question in the comments to my post, "A short glance over my shoulder", which has a very long answer: "I would be interested to know why you chose Iran as the most dangerous country and not Russia, India, Nepal or China?" Because its a long and winding answer, I start at the beginning...
"Are you not scared?" Is still the first question when I tell people about my travel plans. All over the world, the reaction is the same. Everyone is afraid of the others. The Germans warn against the Poles, the Poles against the Lithuanians, the Lithuanians against the Estonians, the Estonians against the Finns, the Finns against the Russians, etc. The others are always worse. For me, Iran was the most dangerous country not because it can objectively be considered dangerous, but only there I have seen and felt imminent danger. In all the other countries the threats were abstract.
The truth is that danger lurks everywhere, but it hardly ever materialises. The risk isn't absolute. We can avoid or flirt with it. As humans, the threat we pose to each other depends on who we are. Best I describe this with the help of a few examples ...
Border crossings are safe for me. I have never had an interview or any other problems. Still, I'm often nervous at borders, but I am not afraid. As a woman, I am classified as harmless. When they ask me about my profession, and I say, I'm a teacher I'm waved through. That is the privilege of the white, educated woman. The dynamics are different if you are a man or/and have a different skin colour, no passport etc.
Russia is, in my assessment, more dangerous for men than for women. Although Russian men can be very dominant, they understand and recognise an independent woman. In a lot of cases, that's who raised them. So although women must be "protected", they will be listened to and taken seriously. A man, however, can quickly become involved in a territorial dispute, a problem I don't have to navigate.
Nepal and India are dangerous in themselves because everything is possible, the roads are bad, and the driving style resembles a suicide squad. India is dangerous for everyone because traps and lies are everywhere. And although a lot of terrible stuff happens, there is a debate in society about the injustices. On the street, you can see everything there is in the world: slavery, wealth, death, sickness, poverty, pooping, eating. EVERYTHING.
Nepal is dangerous because roads and foods are of appaling quality and the mountains are dancing. With a bit of common sense, you can handle the danger. It doesn't haunt you.
Iran was particularly dangerous for me because as a woman I was fair game. I was like a deer that froze in the headlights of an approaching truck. I didn't understand that I was in the crosshairs of the hunters. Iran is not a dangerous country or half as precarious as perhaps Russia. There are well-built roads, a more or less functioning social system, drinking water and so much culture that you can't possibly see everything. It's not dangerous in itself, only the rules and circumstances make it so for a well-educated, white woman under thirty. When I move through public spaces alone, without a protector, I am fair game. A woman that is alone abroad can only mean one thing: She has offended and left the protective realm of her family, lives without defences and doesn't deserve to be treated with respect. She almost certainly is a prostitute. Besides, men in Iran know white women mostly from porn. They would never expect them to say no to anything because white women are allowed to have sex before marriage with changing partners. They must love it, and they must fuck everything that crosses their path. If Iranian women are asked to do anything remotely sexual, they have to say no. There is no yes. It's culturally unfathomable.
As a consequence, my evident and unambiguous set downs were understood as calls for more. I was dragged into back rooms, pelted with stones, grabbed, told dirty fantasies, visited uninvited at night in empty dorm rooms, pressed against walls, followed at dusk, touched by men dangling out of motorbikes and cars, and so on. As a tourist, I move exclusively in public spaces and therefore cannot escape the danger.
In Iran, as everywhere else in the world, there are hotels and hostels. Solo women are not allowed in these establishments. Western women are tolerated, Iranians are not. As a result, if an attack occurs in the hotel and you were in a shared room, you cannot go to the police. Women have no business in these places.
Visiting families can avoid all this. It's possible to organise this via internet portals like Couchsurfing, etc., and I have done so often. However, Iranian hospitality is all-encompassing. As soon as I'm in someone's home, I'm in the power of another person. At first, it's a charming insight into the lives of different people, but as soon as I have my first uncomfortable experience, it becomes a nightmare. I am afraid of losing control, while also having to give it up when I enter the safety of a private household. Under normal circumstances, Iranian hospitality is a gift. It's hard work to receive guests because the host has to do everything for them. As a guest, you must continuously communicate your gratitude and find ways to make it easier for your hosts.
I don't need or can endure what is being done for my benefit. It's incredibly stressful for all sides, and I cannot endure it for more than three days at a time. So I venture out and into the crosshairs of the men, again and again.
The danger is not abstract or diffuse. It's realistic, tangible. I feel the breath of the men in my neck. I know, they are there. Their eyes follow me. They wait for their chance. I'm on guard. Always avoiding the attacks. Because of THAT, Iran was the most dangerous country I have ever travelled. That being said, it's not equally precarious for everyone. Men, couples and women over the age of thirty have entirely different experiences in this country. I know that because I've talked to many other travellers and spent two weeks of my two months travelling with a man, and I've personally experienced how free and fabulous one can feel there.
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