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The remains of the day, Persian Gulf, Iran

I returned from Tehran without having achieved anything. Once in Isfahan, we boarded a minibus in the darkness that would take us to the south of the country. When the roof was loaded, the backpacks tied and all men were on board, we closed the curtains, turned up the music, and the party began. One by one the others got up from their seats and danced in the narrow hallway while the bus roared through the night. Only with difficulty (and a bit of rudeness), I managed to avoid the dance requests. Dancing in Iran is unpleasant. Once again, I am in a situation I would love to run away from, fast. But here there was just one way out. I closed my eyes and pulled myself back into my head. There it was peaceful, far away from bad jokes and overbearing personalities. I had lost my tolerance and the ever-present desire to openly welcome cultural encounters. Something in me had died during the past weeks, and I couldn't connect to my innate curiosity for strangers and other cultures anymore.

Camping on a line, Persian Gulf, Iran

We arrived. First, we went shopping. Then we drove to the sea. We slept on rocks three meters above the water. It was turquoise, and the waves splashed peacefully against the white stone. Behind us, sandy mountain chains towered. We set up our tents in a row and made ourselves comfortable. Only when we jumped into the water, and my Iranians wanted to impose a life jacket on me, I lost my composure. I had told them that I could swim. But nobody believed me. When I saw the others jump into the wet, I got why. Everybody wore a life jacket, and then they paddled like dogs with their hands. It was a moving image. These are desert people. They can't swim. I couldn't suppress a laugh. Which European would jump into the open sea without being able to swim? However, as it's impossible to practice this sport as a woman in Iran, there's an element of defiance when they throw themselves into the water. In addition to my amusement, I am also impressed. They jump in fully clothed: long sleeved top, pants, socks and shoes. Now I understand where the concern came from and decided to reject any further suggestions from the Iranian side. I am different and the only woman of the group that has ever had swimming lessons. (Three of the men swam very good as well.) With a headstart, I pushed myself from the three-meter-high rocks into the water. Here I was in the lead. A long-lost feeling.

Dinner, Persian Gulf, Iran

In the evening's we lit a fire, grilled freshly caught fish, and played music. There were plenty of Iranian hits to be sung at the campfire. I could feel how my fellow travellers enjoyed not being watched, being free, doing what they wanted. That's when Iran showed me its most fun side. Its beauty became fully visible. That's how it must have been a long time ago. I often wonder how long this will go on. I wouldn't be able to stand it any longer. The repression, the paternalism, the lies and the pressures are unbearable for me. Iran is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries I discovered on my journey, but the political and social situation destroys everything.

Here on the coast, far from civilisation, I forget all that. For a few hours, I feel like in Europe. However, I am always reminded that I am in Iran when I meet one of the other women. Although none of them wears a hijab, all look like fresh out of a beauty salon, even after three days without a freshwater shower. I don't know what they do with their hair, but while mine gets curly and fuzzy, theirs fall loosely over their shoulder or are tied in elaborate braids. Nothing would suggest that they have just spent a night in a tent, let alone three. I'm not sure if I'm impressed or bemused... Probably a bit of both. But also, I am starting to enjoy this contrast. Although we all sleep close to each other, we spend the days apart. Depending on our preferences. I get to enjoy my loneliness, my thoughts and relax. The four days were like surfacing from water, a brief moment of bliss.

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