We will not forget any of our couch surf experiences in Iran – from the movie mad Tarantino fan Ahmad in Ahvaz who lived alone with his sweet, illiterate mother, looked a little like Borat, worked as a chemical lab assistant in the petroleum industry and had a friend with an encyclopaedic knowledge about everything, to the former wrestler now hiking guide Mehdi in Dezful, who despite having an Islamic theologian for a father, had no interest in religion. (Phew that was a looong sentence!) Mehdi had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for life, clicked with Antony straight away and took us to a lot of wonderful places in and around Dezful. Aside from the many ‘sights’ we also went to see his uncle’s farm which was very interesting. (Also interesting, in a completely different way, was the small incident of Mehdi throwing a few punches at an angry man who was losing his cool… I think the police were called to iron things out… we were whisked away by his friend and didn’t dare bring the subject up later!)
Mehdi’s friend Mohammad joined us on a couple of our trips – he was enjoying the Noruz holiday, a break from the army where he was doing his compulsory military service. From his comments we understood why most of our hosts were doing all they could to avoid military service. Mehdi’s mother was a very loveable homemaker, who insisted we stay longer than the 4 nights as planned and tried to load us up with jars of pickles and other goodies when we left. I started to miss her as soon as we had waved goodbye.
There was the paragliding Mohammad in Shiraz who at 19 seemed like a little brother to me, so very kind and compassionate when I got sick. He insisted I should visit the hospital and he’d phoned them more than once to talk about my condition. After 12 hours of saying my illness would pass I eventually gave in, went to the hospital and wished I had listened to Mohammad and done so earlier! His father Ali was a physiotherapist at the military hospital- he fought in the Iran Iraq war when very young and had the battle scars to show for it. Ali prayed often in the home but Mohammad wasn’t at all interested in religion, quite the opposite. There didn’t appear to be any conflict around this in what was a very loving family. Ali was so very kind and gentle. Mohammad’s younger sister gave us a piano recital before her and their beautiful mother headed off for a family celebration in another town. The parents had sold their car in order to buy the very expensive piano for their kids. Both children had been learning only for a matter of months but were very good. Despite the fact that the majority of our time at their house involved me dashing to the toilet or lying exhausted on the lounge floor they were so kind and insisted we visit again.
Like Mohammad in Shiraz, Mohammad in Esfahan gave up his room for us and slept in the lounge. He was a marketing guy with a head for business, discussing options for business in NZ with Antony. He was the only one of our hosts to have been to Europe or any Western country, having been to a couple of conferences last year in Italy and France I think it was. Mohammad was a busy guy studying, doing research, learning other languages and working at least one job. We got the impression that he was a guy who will go places in life, he was certainly very proactive. He kindly took us to the best spots in Esfahan and invited our German friends along too. We walked up Mt Soffeh at night, visited a madraseh, various mosques, famous squares and markets during the day and also Jolfa the Armenian Christian area. At night we walked along the river admiring all the famous bridges. One of our trip’s highlights was hanging out under the Khaju bridge. Mohammad’s sister and parents were lovely and again very hospitable.