Aside from our first 2 weeks on Qeshm island, the following 6 weeks in Iran were almost exclusively spent staying in cities. There was one night in the desert and one other exception- when we couchsurfed in the village Nasrola Mahaleh, (near Fouman) in Gilan Province, with our host Hamed and his parents.
This was quite a different experience and just wonderful. The village was in a green rural valley in the north of Iran. Cows and other animals wandered freely along the roads. Our host and his family had a cow and chooks in their large yard and a big vegetable garden. Behind this was flooded rice paddy fields with little turtles! Hamed’s parents were getting too old to manage the fields, so they rented them out to other farmers to plant and manage.
Hamed was a lovely young guy with a bachelor’s degree studying hard in preparation for an entry exam to a Masters programme in English language teaching. His good friend Morteza was also a couch surf host and studying for a similar exam (English translation) and spent time with us also. They showed us previous years entry exam questions which we attempted to answer… they were ridiculously hard! Many questions featured vocabulary I had never in my life come across.
If it was a challenge for a native speaker with a good grasp on language, you can imagine what a challenge it would be for non-native speakers. These two were highly motivated though and had a few months of self study to go before the exams. It was interesting to see the same core textbooks here in Iran as I used at teacher’s college in Denmark and in my post-grad in New Zealand. We were impressed by Hamed & Morteza’s amazing command of the English language. Antony tried to corrupt them with some kiwi slang but it didn’t catch on.
The day we arrived we hung out on the veranda area of the house. Here relatives or neighbours prepared food and chatted with us. People came and went dropping in as they went past the open gate. It was the main holiday period of the year in Iran so a lot of the 20 and 30 somethings who normally live in big cities like Tehran for work had come home to celebrate Noruz with their families. So there were lots of catch ups to be had with everyone.
Hamed was one of the few guys from his village who still lived in the village and dreamed of staying there. He had recently studied in Tehran having just finished an official tour guide course but had no interest in pursuing a career in the big smoke. He dreamt of developing a community based tourism model that would benefit those in his village, providing work for locals and a unique experience for the tourist. We just loved his ideas and his whole humble way of looking at things. He and Morteza were working on it together and we truly hope they will be successful.
Hamed told us how his family and the villagers were very sceptical when he first hosted foreigners through couch surfing. Over the years though they now understand that tourists aren’t a threat and can even be beneficial to their community. Hamed has won a lot of respect from those in the community through his good character and also the English classes he runs for the village boys. He explained to us that his goal is not merely to teach the boys English but to open their minds to the world beyond their village, to world history, to different ideas, values, people & ways of doing things. The classes are run in one of the two rooms of the house.
One room of the house is the classroom, Hamed’s study space and where he sleeps (where we and other visitors also sleep). The other room was a small space where at night thin mattresses could be laid out for his parents to sleep and at meal times a plastic mat and lots of food was put on the floor so we could sit around to eat. There was also a tv so it could be used like a living room. One had to walk through this wee room to get to the kitchen, shower and one toilet but there was also an outdoor toilet. Multipurpose spaces are so much easier to create in Iran with the absence of beds and tables and chairs! We spent most of the time at Hamed’s house on the veranda which was great, a pleasant temperature and nice and open so we could see animals and people going by. The family had their bright, red handmade carpet laid out to sit on.
We enjoyed our walk around the village with Hamed and then in the evening went to a wedding party across the road. Read more on that in a separate post.
Antony and I went on a day trip the following day to the famous hillside town of Masouleh. It poured with rain here which was quite a novelty for us as we hadn’t seen rain in a long time. It didn’t seem to upset the Iranians much – several people talked to Antony in the pouring rain while others filmed the conversation on their cellphones. Even in the touristy places it seems foreigners are still a bit of a novelty!
Masouleh is highly rated and was very popular. It was nice but nothing outstanding compared to other places we’d seen in Iran. We enjoyed the chance to walk a bit in the green hills and see all the little shops and pathways- built it seemed on the rooves of those below. We had lunch in an outdoor cafe away from the main drag- overlooking the town and then Ants got soaked walking underneath a waterfall in full force.
Poor Ants bumped his head on something so at one point had blood mixed with rain suddenly streaming down his face much to my alarm and other passerbyers. Serviettes from a nearby restaurant were applied and then we found a tap to wash the wound properly. It was all rather dramatic looking but not too sore thank goodness.
We were pleased to escape the rain and return back to the town near Hamed’s village where we bought some fruit and veges at the market. Also for sale here were hens, baby chickens, ducks and ducklings! We didn’t buy any of those but did indulge in some popular Gilan cookies.
Upon returning to Hamed’s place I made a couple of salads which we shared with his family along with some really delicious green fritter type things his mother had made.
It was really rather sad to leave the next day. Hamed was such a humble, interesting and all round good guy, we felt rather privileged to have met him. Because he was so open to talking about all sorts of things and his English was so good we had some wonderful conversations. We wish him all the very best for his future and hope to return one day and see the community tourism project up and running!