The full extent of my two months in Iran only becomes clear to me in Dubai. First, I spend five days in a third-rate hotel. I feed on chips, cola and brioche. Everything to not have to go into the street. I sleep and watch Netflix. I cherish my isolation and am hard at work building up my defences. I find it hard to put into words how my head looks from the inside until the tennis-training-metaphor comes to mind. Travel is like a successful tennis lesson. I react quickly and spontaneously to the balls coming towards me. At best, I meet and smash them back to the other side of the net. Now and then I let one bounce into mine, but rarely does the tennis ball hit my own body. In Iran, too many tennis balls hit me. I stood there with my arms crossed over my head. A position of defence that doesn't do anything against the balls that rush at me. I was helpless and still am. A damn uncomfortable feeling.
In Dubai pretty soon everything gets quiet. Nobody talks to me. I can avoid discovery and communication. It takes a while for me to write. It has been a long time since I put something useful into my word files. Again and again, I stop in the middle of a text, because it makes me uncomfortable to write about what I have experienced. To experience it again, to refresh it, seems a waste of energy. I am torn between the sense that what I'm writing is pointless and annoying. But as soon as I talk to other people, it comes up by itself. Most don't want to know. Hints are enough to make women shrink, and men's eyes grow big. No woman I meet is surprised. All men, however, very much so. Especially those who have visited Iran and have experienced it as paradise on earth. That was already the case in Iran itself. These encounters also show me that it is necessary to describe my experience. So that's what I do.
Here in Dubai, money rules. Who has it, is welcome. In the subway, sari sits next to hijab and burka next to bare shoulders and naked knees. I don't dare to take off my Iranian "uniform" just yet. I still use the women's-only section in the subway. Too often headscarves and long white robes remind me that I don't belong. I don't trust the openly lived liberalism, cannot reconcile this with the overbearing and dogmatic Islam I experienced in Iran. Only after I had looked at the malls, which are the pride of the Emirates, and spent a few pleasant hours in familiar shops, I begin to relax. It surprises me in what moments relief sets in. But I take what I can get.
In Dubai, I also find one of the best-sorted bookstores I've ever visited. The books written by women are arranged by culture and country, not genre. One finds shallow love stories alongside literary masterpieces. There is no women's pile full of pink book covers here. It's a pleasure. For the first time since the beginning of my journey, I allow my inner bookworm free range. For hours I leaf through the millions of pages. There are no books for women here, only books by women. I choose a novel from the Arabic and two from the North Indian regions. For the first time since my study of literature, I am reaching for texts again. It feels monumental as if something broken was being mended.
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