Posts

Iran – on Happiness and Meaningfulness

2017, June 17

Messenger notifications kept popping up. Half-heartedly I picked up the phone and started reading: “One of the heritages of our modern era is light pollution. Nowadays people don’t know what is up there. […] But you’re lucky, the sky is going to be perfectly clear. […] I suggest arriving in Tehran one day before the desert, to rest.”

But I didn’t feel lucky, phone in hand, unable to reply, I lied and said the battery’s dead. How did I get myself into this? I’m going into the middle of the desert, with a man I met on Facebook and whose supposed wife and daughter are away on a university trip. A few hours later, sheer faith in humanity encourage me to reply. I ask for a copy of his ID and for his home address, twice. I ask where we’re going, thrice, wondering how a random stranger could be so nice without alterior motive. He’d booked my train ticket because the platform wouldn’t take my foreign card, he answered every one of my questions paitiently and repeatedly. But when I asked if someone else could join us, he said no, because he prefers solitude and rarely takes other people along on his trips. Yet he made an exception for me? Yea, obviously, I’m a woman travelling alone. Something’s gonna go wrong. Am I crazy? Probably. As a precaution I write down the local emergency number, put it on speed dial and learn how to say: ‘I need help, track my phone’. My friends in Iran all have this guy’s Id photo and home address. I somehow knew there was no going back. With my mind made up and my heart pounding, I step into the station. It’s close to midnight and inside the all-women’s train car the air is thick with sweat and and saffron. Five rice-chicken casseroles are opened in astounding synchronicity and then five pairs of eyes look inquisitively up towards me. Stating my exhaustion, I pull the headscarf over my head, plug my headphones in and drift into a strange state of awake-sleep. 

7 am and the train pulls into the hectic Teheranian station. People smile at me, I can’t smile back. Roughly twenty minutes of haggling and one hour in traffic later, I’m standing in front of the house. A warm, smiling face greets me and invites me inside. Past the door, in the living room, three baby ducks are running around. I head straight for the kitchen to inspect the fridge and it’s filled with family photos. Reassuring. Not entirely but enough for now. 9 am. He leaves for work, I do laundry. There’s a telescope. A turtle. A girl’s room. I’ll be ok. I take a shower. Some time passes. He comes back from work and goes to sleep. When he wakes up, I’m editing photos on the couch. He comes into the livingroom, lays down a mat and starts to pray. Uh, oh, ok. I move to the other side of the room.

-You didn’t have to move. What are you working on?
-Sorting through my photos from Iran.
-Can I have a look?
-Sure.
-Is it ok if I sit next to you?
-What? Yea of course.

Some time in between looking at my photos from Iran and exchanging travel stories, Mohammad’s wife calls, she wants to say hello. ‘Hello.’ This is gonna be fine. Could still be weird. Hopefully fine. Minutes drag awkwardly by until it’s almost time to go. We have to be there before the sun starts to set. Gear gets taken to the car, I say a quick ‘Doamne Ajută’ and off we go. On the highway my phone looses reception completely and I loose my mind. Panic sets in all over again. Scenarios of the worst kind are playing in my head. What if everything was staged? What if, what if and how am I going to let anyone know I’m in trouble? After what feels like the longest 20 minutes of my life reception comes back. My brain shortcircuits from the days ups and downs, I try to make small-talk and fail. The silence is getting to me so I speak my mind:

-So how does your wife feel about this, you taking me to the desert while she’s away?
-I’ve been married a while. We trust each other.
-You’re so lucky to have such a great marriage.
-Sometimes things are good, other times they’re not. We support and respect each other. We’ve had many fights, but I’ve only loved her more each day.
-How?
-Here, for us, happiness is not so important. In relationships we value the meaning, the meaningfulness of time spent together – that’s why family is so important.
-Meaningfulness?
-The moment something stops making us happy, we don’t walk away. In overcoming problems, in fights, we discover what’s worth fighting for. We discover the other person in new ways, we respect them more. With challenge we become stronger.
-Mhmm
-When our daughter was born my perspective on everything changed. We’ve traveled with her since she was a few months old. It’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
-Oh. At home it’s pretty different. The moment something becomes inconvenient, we turn our backs, walk away and look no further.
-I know.

 

We arrive in the desert as planned, before sunset. Cracked earth, salt and shrubs as far as I can see. Except for the sun slowly making it’s way down to the horizon, everything stops for a while. We lay down blankets and bring out food. Mohammad prays and eats for the first time in eighteen hours. I ask who prepared all the food. His wife – she had prepared, portioned and stored enough to last the entire time she’d be away.

– Do you know which planet you can see rise right after sunset?
-No
-Jupiter, and then Venus.
-Oh
-Here, wanna see it through the telescope?
– Sure

iran desert night sky

The desert sky at night was like nothing I’d ever seen. I watched the different planets rise and set, found the moon and the Andromeda galaxy through the telescope. Mohammad taught me how to use a tripod and set my camera to long exposure. I shot my first astros and we talked about the different solar systems and the possibility of life in other galaxies. He challenged me to go for a walk in the pitch black desert with the stars as my guide. For a long time we were silent, both inside our totally different realities. I couldn’t help but wonder how someone with such a scientific background, who led an entire team of people in the r&d field, hold such strong faith and practices. I wondered many things, but the silence felt so nice and after the sensory rollercoaster the past twentyfour hours had been, I couldn’t bring myself to break it.