We stayed with just two female Couchsurf hosts in Iran. Both were married, well educated, spoke excellent English and had one child each. Their husbands knew very little English but were both the loveliest people.
We stayed just one night in Shahrebabak with Somaye, an industrial engineer. This was an exception to our usual 2 night minimum policy. Somaye was recommended to us by a couchsurfer from Bandar Abbas – one we didn’t stay with but who provided us with lots of helpful information. So instead of going straight to Meymand caves we stayed a night here with her lovely family. Again we experienced the generosity and hospitality of Iranians. After collecting us from the bus stop in Shahrebabak we chatted a bit in their very spacious home. I helped Somaye and Ali to prepare the dinner (vegetarian pizza Iranian style) while Antony played ‘spot it’ and other games with their son. It is great that despite no common language they could hang out quite easily.
We left the next day and were given food to take for the next part of our journey as they weren’t sure I’d be able to get anything vegetarian at the caves we were heading to… so thoughtful! After our night in a cave we returned as I had forgotten my tablet at their house (doh!)! Ali kindly served us lunch then took us to the bus station… I think he may have even had to take time off work to do this for us. This generosity was really humbling for us.
Simin, our host in Rafsanjan, was someone who contacted us after we created a public trip on couchsurfing, inviting us to stay with her and her family. We hadn’t planned on going to Rafsanjan and there was nothing in the Lonely Planet that suggested we should. But it was on the way between a couple of places we intended to go so we planned a stopover. Best decision ever! Simin and her husband were just wonderful hosts!
Simin was on maternity leave from her job as an English teacher, with her sweet baby Raha. Her English was excellent. We clicked straight away with her openness making conversation so easy. Her bubbly enthusiasm was infectious.
Although her husband Hosein didn’t speak English he had the most fantastic smile and Simin was able to translate for us. He was a super loving, doting dad and a great cook. They were a fun loving couple in their mid-twenties and so very kind to us. The first night we went with them to their friends place for a pot-luck dinner, lots of card game playing and even a demonstration of a traditional Iranian musical instrument, the Santur.
Simin’s friend, a mother-to-be, was just lovely, spoke beautiful English and was completing a Phd in English Literature. Her husband had a great sense of humour and we all laughed so hard playing ‘Bebe Salam’, a game that was new to us. We talked, ate and played cards until two in the morning. It was a fabulous evening and really felt like we were among friends.
The next day (after much convincing) I was allowed to help with food preparations. I had a go at a few salads which were served along with rice and a meat dish, yoghurt and soup. I tell you we certainly did not go hungry in Iran! We both put on a few kgs… Antony later to lose his, me- not yet!
Simin lives on the first floor of a house- it had a huge lounge which Antony and Simin’s young brother Fazel even played a bit of soccer in. Downstairs (and with a separate entrance) lived her parents with Fazel. Fazel was about 11 and a real sweet kid. Despite no common language, he and Antony communicated somehow over soccer and clash of clans and he frequently popped upstairs to say hello to us.
The house set-up was very practical as the grandparents could look after Raha allowing Simin & Hosein some freedom to go out while she slept etc. They had separate households but very much also intertwined. Her parents and Fazel joined us for lunch and sampled my salads, the Asian slaw & the beetroot/feta/parsley salad receiving the double thumbs up, the lentil/ cucumber/ apple one not so popular.
In the afternoon we visited the museum created by former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani who, as his name suggests, was born in the area. Gifts from around the world, given to him during his time as president (1989-1997) were displayed, along with graphic photos and information about the Iran Iraq war. The museum was really quite fascinating and housed in an interesting building. Made us wonder what kind of gifts John Key gets… and gives. There were lots of woven carpet ‘paintings’ on display including this one of the man himself:
In the evening Hosein & Simin shouted us an Iranian speciality – faloodeh, a cold dessert with noodles mixed with a very sweet syrup. Then we visited some of Simin’s relatives who were wonderfully hospitable and friendly and tried to feed us more food!
Somewhere in our short stay in Rafsanjan Antony fitted in a swim at the local pool. This was a rather entertaining experience for all concerned. Pools of course had days or times for women only or men only so Antony was accompanied by Hosein (who didn’t swim) and Fazel (who was learning to swim) – neither of whom could speak English. It turned out the other guys in the pool were milling around chatting – no-one was actually swimming! As Antony attempted to swim lengths, he apparently became the talk of the pool- everyone impressed with how good a swimmer he was (average swimmer by NZ standards, amazing in Iran!). He had to wait til he got home and got the translation to know exactly what the fuss was about, but Hosein had been answering the other guys questions and proudly explaining to them that Antony was his friend. Antony also tried to give Fazel swimming lessons but needless to say without a common language, not much progress was made.
While Antony was impressing the guys at the pool, I was having very open discussions back at the house, downstairs, with Simin, her mother and sister. I got to see Simin without her headscarf for the first time- and she looked quite different underneath with her short, funky, dyed hair, not what I had been expecting. It seemed Islam had a more important place in Simin’s family than it had in others we had met- she wore a traditional hijab for example and didn’t take it off inside (because Antony was present). Anyway, now we ladies were alone, I was asked some surprising questions. For example, would it be ok/acceptable if Antony cheated on me. A resounding ‘no’ was of course my answer and with my explanations of how things are (also for those in committed relationships who aren’t married), I hopefully put to bed some ideas they had about how loose things might be in the West. We talked about plucking eyebrows (something I’ve given up on), being natural, beauty, expectations, relationships… girl stuff! It was fantastic.
On our last day we went for a drive and saw some interesting sights in Rafsanjan before saying our goodbyes.
The highlight was the famous Haj Aqa Ali House, apparently one of the biggest roofed, adobe structures in the world. It was around 130 years old but undergoing significant restoration. It was quite cool they allowed us in to have a look even though it was fully a work in progress. In Nz it would never have complied with health and safety standards!
Haj Aqa Ali House is huge- much more than a ‘house’. It includes a water reservoir, mosque, caravanserai, bathhouse etc. The two-story pool house is the largest covered space in the house and has a massive dome. When the house was inhabited, a Qanat (underground water management system) fed the pool. We love qanats! The house has elaborate stucco decorations and beautiful stained glass windows.
I feel very priveleged we got to meet Simin and her family and see how they live – so much love and light. She had a tight knit extented family with uncles and aunties living in the same block as them and parents downstairs. Somaye’s relatives in Shahrebabak were also living in the same block or next door, seems a common thing in Iran to be close (in more ways than one) to your family. We came to see why dining tables were largely non-existent in Iranian homes and chairs and couches were arranged around the edges of living areas. This allowed lots of floor space for everyone to sit on when the family was together. Plastic mats would be spread out in the middle to create a ‘table’ for all the food.
We did so much with Simin & Hosein and feel like we got to know them quite well. I find it hard to believe we only stayed with them for two nights! I had to double check my photo dates to be sure.
We are still in touch a few months later, sending pictures and messages back and forward over what’s app. and look forward to seeing each other again one day.
These great people are one of the main reasons we want to go back to Iran! Far more than just great couchsurfing hosts, Simin & Hosein became our friends. We love & miss them.