I looked out over the rooftops at the city of Yazd, located in a desert region with its wind towers cooling the air. This was an intriguing city with deep Zoroastrian culture and traditions. Earlier I had walked up to the eerie sky burial towers that stood outside the city and where dead people had been left for the birds to devour centuries ago. Today the city is full of craft shops and welcomes visitors- just how welcoming I was about to discover.
As I walked back to my table to find my tea I noticed a group of young people chattering and laughing.They saw me pass and called, “Hello.” I don’t know how they knew I was from Britain but can only assume the dire attempts at headscarf tying gave the game away.
“Where are you from?,”
“England,” I replied.
“Come and sit here with us,” they gestured and so I did.It turned out the group of five were medical students at the local university and had just completed a surgical paper so were celebrating with tea in the cafe. They were delighted to find out I also worked in healthcare.
“Tell me,” said Saeed, “When you told your family you were coming to Iran, what did they say?”
“Well, they were not happy,” I replied, “They were afraid I would be attacked.” The group looked crestfallen but I continued, “However, now that I have visited Iran I’m going to be telling everyone what a wonderful country this is.”
Saeed looked up. “No one should be afraid of coming here. It is terrible they think this of our country. We are peaceful.”
I found out he was studying to be an orthopaedic surgeon and so was not surprised when he asked me what I thought about driving in Iran. It was true, the driving is horrendous with some terrible drivers and accidents.
“When I see the traffic in Iran it makes me feel like I’m in some awful computer game,”I replied and the entire group doubled up with laughter.
Nadia and Maryam were two medical students sitting in the group. By talking to them about their training I learned that the wearing of the hijab in Iran had enabled girls from working class families to go to school. I had not considered that aspect of Islamic life before and it really gave another side to the story.Maryam was planning to be a neurosurgeon whilst Nadia hoped to be a GP. Their friend Tahir wanted to enter the world of oncology.
As we sat and sipped tea we compared the training between the two countries and reflected on the future. I have never been to a country where complete strangers welcomed me in the way this group did. As we parted I just knew that meeting the local people was the highlight of my visit to Iran.
For more stories of my Iranian journey check out the Shiraz experience here.