Returning home from a trip is a time for a reflection. I am always glad to be home, but I also miss the constant impression on my senses of new sights, smells, and experiences. As I reflect on Iran it is the people that are most vividly in my mind. "Welcome to Iran" may have been the only phrase of English that many knew, but it was always genuinely meant, and followed by a smile. As international visitors we felt safe and unhassled, with services offered politely and refusals accepted without question. Beneath giant pictures of the former and current supreme leaders, Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, the people quietly said, “We are glad you are here, we are not our government.” We felt a strong sense of a cohesive community with firm family values and respect for elders, but with an underlying apprehension towards the authorities.
We travelled many miles on mountain roads through rough villages where there was not a straight line to be seen. All was rough, basic and run-down, but swept tidy and cared for. Dusty lanes merged and disappeared. It was normal to see police road blocks with sniffer dogs checking vehicles, drivers and passengers for alcohol and drugs. In the towns and cities there was an organic feel to what appeared at first to be chaos. Motorbikes were the top choice of transport, even for families of five (dad driving, two kids on the tank, mum on the back cradling a small baby) and for moving furniture and fridges. Six people in a taxi with five seats was the norm. Most shopping is done at small independent general stores selling everything from a bag of rice to a pair of shoes, and in every town we heard the regular call to prayer from the local mosque.
The backdrop to the minutiae of everyday life was provided by the stunning mountains, many soaring to 3000m and 4000m, and Damavand, the highest peak in Iran, to 5610m. As in many places around the world, those who can afford to escape the day-to-day grind and busyness of life seek peace and freedom in the mountains.
Iran is a country with a young population in the midst of change, with the British embassy re-opening last summer and long-standing economic sanctions lifted in January. Everywhere you look there are major construction projects - houses, roads, railways, office blocks. Towards the end of our trip parliamentary elections were held, and more politicians from the liberal end of the spectrum were elected. Change is in the air. I hope the Iranian people can find ways to hold on to what is good as well as embrace the changes that are coming to them.