In our two months of travel in Iran, we had one rather unusual couchsurf host. We arrived early in the morning after a night bus ride to his city and took a taxi to the house. “Mohammad” came outside and greeted us with hugs which was slightly odd given that we’d just met and we were in Iran where, out of respect, many men won’t even shake an unrelated woman’s hand- rather place their hand on their own heart. It was around 5 in the morning so we slept in the downstairs lounge area for a bit before getting up and exploring the town on foot with Mohammad. Mohammad was in his early 20s, spoke excellent English, was very fond of looking at himself in the mirror, smoked a lot and exuded confidence bordering on arrogance that was quite the opposite of all our other experiences with very humble Iranian guys. Most strangely he was very touchy feely, putting his arm around either of us or trying to hug at every opportunity!
The first stop on our walk with him was a shop across the road where we got a few snacks and Mohammad chatted with his friend who worked there. As it turns out this shopkeeper was a wonderful singer and gave us a demo in the shop!
After that we went to a hairdresser- we weren’t sure why but Mohammad said we’d just be a few minutes. It was quite odd- a shop about 10m2. We sat on the 2 waiting chairs while the other people in the shop (the hairdresser, Mohammad, a mother and a father) tried to comfort, entertain, bribe and hold down a crying child whose hair was supposed to be getting cut. When the torture was over for the child and the family left, Mohammad got his hair styled or washed or something. It involved him looking at himself in the mirror for prolonged periods and from different angles which he enjoyed. Meanwhile I looked at news on my phone and discovered that just 20 minutes earlier a bomb had gone off at Brussels airport. I reported this out loud with some alarm and Mohammad kind of laughed, clapped his hands a couple of times and said it served Brussels right for supporting ISIS. This reaction was very strange, totally unexpected and made no sense to me. It was all very odd, how anyone could laugh when innocent people at an airport had died. I didn’t quite know how to take him after that.
We left the hairdresser and Mohammad showed us photos of a girl on his phone- what did we think of her? Wasn’t she beautiful? He was hoping to marry her. She was someone he met at a couchsurfing event in his town. He also that night asked us what we thought of his looks (when he was looking at himself in the mirror again), did we think he was handsome? I’m not sure what our answer was now but it was certainly very awkward for both Antony and I. Not something we’d ever been asked before.
On our walk in the town we visited some great places which I may blog about elsewhere (am keeping this post purposely vague about location & host’s identity). We ate meals out together and Mohammad expected us to pay for his meals too, which we were happy to do. The automatic expectation that we would pay for him and no hint or suggestion that he contribute surprised us though, this attitude was totally different to other couchsurf hosts. Indeed he was unique in many ways!
At one stage after the touchiness had got a bit much for both Antony and I, Antony tactfully approached the subject with our host. He explained to him that in NZ we have lots of space and not many people, that we like to give each other lots of personal space and aren’t usually as physically close, that we don’t touch each other so much etc… so we would appreciate it if he eased back on the touching and the hugs. Mohammad got the picture and mostly pulled back after that!
Back at his house, the family had relatives visit. We were invited to go upstairs to the lounge to meet them. We had this experience previously with other hosts and it had been nice- but this time we sat at one end of the room on chairs while the relatives and family were at the other. We weren’t offered tea (surprising) and just kind of sat there awkwardly. Mohammad had told us to speak really fast English because his cousin thought he was good at it and Mohammad wanted to prove that he wasn’t any good- certainly not as good as Mohammad- another awkward request for us. We needn’t have worried how to respond to this as we didn’t get a chance to talk. We weren’t spoken to directly and it was quite hard to know what to do or say. Sometimes I could understand a question one of them asked (for example ‘what are their jobs?’) and instead of giving us a chance to reply – which I could do in basic Farsi -or in English and have Mohammad translate, Mohammad just spoke on our behalf. So we sat their silently while they looked at us and talked around or about us and other things. Most unusual and contrary to other meetings with relatives we had experienced which were all very warm and interesting.
When the second lot of relatives came, Antony opted to stay and work downstairs and I took my Iran travel guide with me upstairs so I had something to look at while sitting there feeling stupid. It was the same awkward experience again with very little interaction. It wasn’t the relatives fault- I felt Mohammad could have involved us more and translated their questions which he could very capably have done (English translation was his major after all!), and translated our answers, instead of just speaking for us, without involving us at all. Never mind! It made us realise how truly wonderful all our other hosts had been in this regard.
We are sure Mohammad is a nice guy with a good heart, despite being rather self-absorbed, and we were certainly grateful for him hosting us and showing us around his town. But we were also grateful to stay just the one night and were glad to move on a day early to our next destination.