It took me quite a while to finally decide to start this blog. I never saw myself as a blogger, or someone who’d have interesting enough things to say to constantly update a blog. This viewpoint remained even after I moved to a country that is quite literally at the centre of global attention nowadays, while still being shrouded in mystery for many.
However after being here for the better part of a year, I decided that it might be time to face my fear of the blogosphere (mainly that I would let the blog shrivel and die before the eyes of the world.. Alright, probably not the whole world) and start sharing my experiences. Last night a friend of mine in Saudi helped me reach this conclusion (thank you Lama) by telling me that I’ve probably just become too used to life here to realise that while I may no longer find novelty in my experiences, what I have to say may still be interesting to those on the outside who have no idea what it’s like on the inside. So last night, adrenaline pumping, I decided to get to work… Only to find my internet was down. After having slept on it and woken up even more resolute in my decision, then sitting through seven hours of class eagerly anticipating a post-class session in a coffee shop with high-speed internet access, I stepped out of my campus in southern Tehran only to find a heavy thunderstorm commencing after a beautifully sunny day. A friend of mine kindly offered her dorm room right across the road for me to write in, where I am currently sat. I realise I may have bored any readers out there already, but this long tale of not-so-trying trials and tribulations is my way of saying I’m very happy to finally be doing this.
It all started last year, when I was residing in London and working at LSE’s Middle East Centre. I had always had a modest interest in Iran, having studied some Iranian history and completed an elementary course in Farsi at SOAS, University of London. The more I would hear about this country from the news, friends or in my work, however, the more my interest was piqued. It is no secret that negative stereotypes abound from within the Arab world towards Iran (and vice versa). While I never lent any credence to these, such unfounded opinions only enhanced my desire to actually set foot in the country, see what I found and perhaps even work towards dispelling some of those misconceptions in my part of the world. Going on my eighth month in Tehran, I’m confident that moving here was the best decision of my life so far.
Before leaving to Iran in September 2014, I was warned by many to be wary of people’s reactions to me as a Saudi national given the state and history of the two countries’ relations. My mother was the most vocal in this respect; while harbouring no bias towards the country or its people in the slightest, she was just being a mother, indeed one that is aware of current affairs and rising tensions in the ever-turbulent Middle East.
Nonetheless, during my time here so far I can confidently say that I have experienced neither bigoted statements nor any kind of negative reaction whatsoever. What I have found instead is kind hospitality, from my colleagues at the University of Tehran, to taxi drivers, to passersby on the street who mistake me for an Iranian while asking for directions (you don’t want to be getting those from me). In the place of the judgmental or scathing remarks which many feared, there is only boundless, good-natured curiosity, as I am usually the first Saudi Arabian that many meet, save those who have travelled there for pilgrimage. To be sure, the only other Saudis I’ve come into contact here are those at the embassy. I truly hope this will change, as my time here has shown me just how much the country has to offer, from magnificent nature to a spirited population – not to mention, of course, the food. Travelling around Iran and marking off my map is one of my favourite things to do in between (and sometimes – sorry UofT – in place of) university days. Every new city or region I see only makes me more eager to go onto the next, as the natural landscapes and sheer cultural variation between regions in Iran gives you the feeling of visiting several countries in one.
I know that many from my region may not understand my decision or my point of view towards this country. Tensions between Iran and most GCC states have never been so high, at least not in my lifetime. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that reason enough to harpoon potential socio-cultural relations between entire populations, or add oil to the fire. I came here wanting to learn the truth about a country that many still see as a no-go zone. My Saudi nationality egged me on even more, in my hope and belief that the good nature of people should and will always trump politics. I’ve been in no way disappointed.
I believe that’s enough rambling for my first post. This also happens to be the night before a university-organised trip to Shiraz and Kish Island, so – anticipating less than ideal internet connectivity – hopefully I will be back soon with some good material. As mentioned profusely at the start, I am a newbie to this scene and relatively hopeless with technology in general, so please bear with me. Also, if any readers have suggestions about a particular aspect they would like to hear about Iran, please do mention it in the comment section and I will endeavour to serve, to the best of my knowledge.