Iran: A Poem to the People

This is a story of a woman I met on a train in Iran and a letter she wrote to me — a letter I now read through tears.

My heart sank as I watched the news from Iran this morning, scenes of the British Embassy being charged by an angry mob in Tehran. It saddens me – angers me, really – that narrow groups like this who define the world’s perception of Iran and the Iranian people are in reality such a small percentage of the country’s population.

My experience tells me they are the outliers, yet circumstances conspire to convince us on the outside to see them as the norm.

I thought back to all the people we met across Iran, from families in small mountain villages to shopkeepers on the busy streets of Tehran, virtually all of them welcoming us Americans – the supposed enemy — almost always with open arms and quite often bearing gifts. I remembered our conversations with Iranian people of all ages who longed for engagement — not only with us, but with the rest of the world.

I felt like yet another door closed on them today.

One face and smile in particular — that of a woman I met on the train from Iran to Turkey — flashed so many times in my mind today. Amidst a series of conversations about all things ordinary life, she asked me to go home and tell people about the “real” Iran, in other words about the Iranians we’d met.

Along our train journey, she wrote me this note and shared one of her favorite poems, one written by the American poet Collin McCarty. The poem, her sentiments all seem so appropriate today.

I hope that in sharing this story and continuing to write about our experiences in Iran, in some small way I can help fulfill her wish.

To sweety Audrey,
I am writing in the train for a new friend who is very beautiful and kind. Kind with Iran and with Iranian people and she understands them.

Thanks for this.

This poem is a description of our people:

Things might look a little cloudy now,
but they’ll get better soon.
Just remember that it’s true.

It takes rain to make rainbows,
Lemons to make lemonade,
And sometimes it takes difficulties
To make us stronger and better people.

The sun will shine again soon…you’ll see.

I wish to see you again in Iran in my home,
Simin

Iranian Hospitality on Train from Iran
Together with Simin on the train from Iran to Turkey.

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Comments

  1. says

    What a beautiful picture of the people in Iran! I love that you are sharing these experiences with people, showing them the real lives of people and not the images we see on TV. I’ve seen a couple of series on Iran now and love getting to know the real people.

  2. says

    I’ve been secretly following your Iran posts, but this one in particular touched me. Travel has taught me one important thing that maybe I always knew before I left Canada – we are all essentially the same. That everyone on the earth wants love, peace, happiness, security and family.

    A sparse, beautiful poem, I can see why it brings tears to your eyes.

    Polemic views that establish Iran as an American enemy is the work of propaganda, it’s the power mongers that need pople to feel afraid, suspicious… so sad.

    On the bright, bright side, it’s articles like this that I hope people find and realize the lesson, people are not their government. They are just people. ;0

  3. says

    In most countries especially the less developed ones, what we see are what their Government wants us to see. It does not necessarily represent to the truth about its people and their wants. It is sad sometimes that a small group of power-crazy people who managed to get into office can make a whole lot of difference (sometimes damage) to thousands and millions of people’s life within that country.

    Likewise in my country. The multiracial people here are non-racist but the politicians continues to fan racism to breakdown the harmony for their own personal gain. It is so sad that after more than 50 years of independence, the Government still has to advocate One-Malaysia … from the dis-unity they had created.

  4. says

    Hey. I’m reading your blog for few months and I find it really great. I truly apreciate the way you present such countries (as Iran, Uzbekistan etc), places that for the ordinary people sounds so exotic, dangerous and impossible to reach. Because of people like you, who try to present the world as it is – full of wonderful people, places and experience, this world have a chance to become a better place. Good luck and I can’t wait your next stories. Greetings from Romania, maybe some day you’ll arrive here and you’ll try our dishes:) good luck and all the best.

  5. says

    What a wonderful, wonderful post Audrey. It’s always that way: the Afghani people I am sure are wonderful people though their government is a disaster and the same with the Iraqis. I have met wonderful Pakistanis and kind-hearted people from the Congo. The people are rarely at fault for the decisions of a government (and the same goes for Americans, too.)

  6. Joy McGinniss says

    Audrey and Dan,
    In following your travels, I know you have stated before that when you have visited “hostile” nations, often you have found the people of those countries not to reflect the attitudes of their governments. It seems in visiting Iran, that is true once more. You are both ambassadors of truth, both in sharing their stories with us and ours with them. Thank you for showing us a little bit of the “real” Iranian people. I’ve been looking forward to reading your posts about your visit.

    Joy McG.

  7. Sutapa Chattopadhyay says

    Such a lovely post, Audrey. It brought tears to my eyes too. Simin looks just like her note and her poem. And it is so great of you to connect with people like that and bring their stories to others.

    I agree with NomadicChick above that people are essentially the same everywhere: they have the same dreams and the same hopes for themselves and their families.

  8. says

    My heart kinda sunk when I heard that william hague had shut the embassy and sent everyone home – that and their advice to avoid ‘all but essential travel’ to Iran has just knocked the whole country back 20 years! Reading some people’s comments in papers about Iran and Pakistan lately really is horrible – things like this, brought on by the few and emphasised by the media do so much harm for the people of these countries. Anyone who has been to Iran or Pakistan for that matter knows that scenes like this are not the norm – the people there are some of the most gentle and friendlists we met and it’s dreadful that the rest of the world only sees images like this. I feel sorry for the ordinary people of Iran who are being overlooked due to the actions of their government and renegade extremists. Lovely, beautiful country, with such rich history and culture.

  9. says

    @DJ: Thanks for your kind comment. We do feel fortunate for all that we saw and experienced in Iran – I just hope we’re able to share it enough to provide a different perspective than what is usually in mainstream media.

    @Audrey: Not used to have commentators with the same name as me :) Simin was a kind soul. The day after she gave me the letter, I saw her in the dining car (where the photo above was taken). An Iranian high school girl was trying to work up the courage to talk with us and Simin helped her get over her fears and made her feel welcome with us. She was that type of lovely person, always wanting to share with others.

    @Jeremy: I know it’s difficult for traditional media to get into Iran and meet “regular people”, but I do wish that the coverage was a bit more balanced than what we see. I hope that others like us are able to share our experiences so people can see a different storyline.

    @JoAnna: It is sad. News about a place always becomes more personal when you visit. With Iran, it’s particularly heartbreaking as the image of Iranians portrayed in the news is such the opposite of what we experienced.

    @NomadicChick: Thanks for following along with our Iran travels and posts. This post was rather emotional for me to write as it really made me so sad to think of Iran being even more isolated and ostracized in the world and regular people like this suffering even more.

    As you wrote so beautifully, “everyone on the earth wants love, peace, happiness, security and family.” This is one of the greatest things travel can teach you.

    @Jan: Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

    @Wenny: Great comment and thank you for sharing the situation in Malaysia. You understand exactly. A handful of people get into power and find ways to keep that power, to the demise of the rest of the country. And, using fear to divide people and spur hate is a powerful tool that so many governments use. It’s really just so sad and tragic. Especially as millions of people are affected and hurt by this.

    @Dudian: Thanks for following along all the last few months on the blog and commenting! We do hope that by presenting a different view or story of countries like Iran (and their people) that we can break down some of the stereotypes and assumptions the general public has. In the end, people are people and share many more similarities than differences. I just wish more people would recognize this.

    We visited Romania briefly in 2000. Would love to return one day to explore more. Will let you know when we’re in the neighborhood.

    @Akila: Thank you – so glad you enjoyed this post! I do wish more people could recognize the difference between the actions of regular people and those of the respective government – it might promote more productive discussion and deliberation on decisions that affect thousands (if not millions) of people halfway around the world. Geo-politics swings back and forth, but the human spirit stays the same even as governments bicker and fight.

    @Joy: Thanks so much for your kind comment and referring to us as ambassadors of truth. This means a lot to us. Yes, Iran in reality (what we experienced) was such a contradiction from common perception on the country. We hope we can share more such stories and change people’s ideas about what they think they know about the country and its people.

    @Sutapa: Simin was just as sweet and kind as she looks in the photo and from her note. I feel fortunate to have run into her on the border stop in Turkey and had time to get to know her. We’re thinking of dedicating December to posting more photos and stories of the people we met in Iran to share even more stories and support the idea of our shared humanity.

    @Craig: I so agree. Unfortunately, what we usually see in the media is the government, not the people. Hope that changes.

    @Aisleen: Seeing the news today of the UK’s decision to close its embassy in Tehran and kick out the Iranian diplomats from London also made my heart sink. More isolationism for the country, which is what the government wants, not the people. And you’re so right in that it’s the actions of a few who do this, not the majority of the population…yet they are the ones that suffer. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  10. says

    I think it’s the outliers who make news across the globe. That has us believing Iran is what we see in the news. And Islam is full of extremists. And that the Kardashians are a normal family.

    There’s so much else I want to say here, but it’s difficult to find the words. Suffice it to say that your posts and photos don’t scream drama the way other news media outlets would prefer. But they are honest. It’s so important. Because after all the screaming ends and people stop listening, these photos and words will remain.

  11. says

    Lovely story! In college, I met a few students from places like Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Being just after the events of 9/11, often they were understandably shy to share this information about themselves. But, in almost every case family was mentioned and the difficulties in keeping in touch. It really opened my eyes to how much we are all just people trying to live life the best we can no matter where we are from.

  12. says

    @Leigh: Your comment about mainstream media is right on – everywhere in the world it’s the outliers who make the news and steal the limelight. Watching the news about Iran now is even more painful and emotional than ever – I keep hearing the rhetoric flying back and forth and think of the ordinary Iranian people we met during our trip.

    Thank you for understanding why these posts and photos are so important to us. I do hope that by just showing the reality instead of drama, people find the similarities and connections of our shared humanity.

    @Cat: Thanks for sharing the story of the students and their hardships. I really can’t imagine what they went through in terms of how they were viewed in teh United States after 9/11 and also the challenges they had being separated from their families. For some, they probably can never go home. And then there is always the fear that something will happen to their family. As you said, we are all just people trying to live the best we can. This is universal.

  13. says

    What a touching and incredible story. Sometimes I feel such anger both at the media and at people who buy it sells… it’s so refreshing to hear lovely and incredible stories coming from Iran. Can’t wait to visit.

  14. says

    @Dayna: The more I travel and see places for myself, the more I realize how little mainstream media really covers all the dimensions of a place and people. Glad you enjoyed this and hope you continue to enjoy our stories from Iran. Hope you have a chance to visit to see it for yourself!

  15. says

    Beautiful!

    This is exactly why travel in all of our lives is so important, so we can find the real truth that lies behind the scare mongering news broadcasts.
    thank you for sharing. what a special journey

  16. says

    @Caz: So glad you enjoyed this. You know this lesson about travel shedding light on the truth so well :) We’ve had so many conversations with people about Iran since returning and it’s heartening to see how people are truly interested in hearing an alternative truth than what is on the news. Little by little…

  17. says

    @Issa: Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I have been trying to follow the news from Iran since we left, but it is difficult to try and find a balanced perspective through all the media coverage. I sincerely hope that this difficult time will pass soon and there will be brighter days ahead.

  18. says

    I’m a little behind, but I’m finally reading through all of your Iran posts. Absolutely fascinating. It’s a country I know little about, except for the negative details seen in the news. This was a really touching post, I’m so glad you shared your experiences here so that we could all get a glimpse at a different Iran.

  19. says

    @Ali: Thanks so much for taking the time to go through all our Iran posts. We have a few more planned regarding women’s issues, food, itinerary round up and more, so keep checking back!

    Iran is a country that we knew was very much misunderstood and misrepresented in mainstream media before our visit. Now that we spent time there and met ordinary Iranians from all walks of life, the news about Iran is often painful to watch. Even more so when we see reports from “experts” that are so far off the mark. We really so hoping for a peaceful resolution of this current crisis.

  20. Lida says

    A lot of thanks. When you are Iranian and you all see and hear bad things about your own country in media it warm your heart to see and read here. Thank you dear Audrey

  21. says

    @Lida: You’re so welcome. One of the big goals of our trip to Iran was to be able to share our first hand experiences with Iranians and show that there is a different story than what most see on the news. We are glad to be able to help change a few minds with what we do.

  22. Soorena says

    Audrey,many thanks for your great post,it brought tears to my eyes,accept our pure Respect and Love to all Americans and all people around the world and remember that our ancient country of Iran (not government) is part of world’s civilization which belongs to all the people around the world,not to us only ,then please help us to keep that,

  23. says

    @Soorena: Thank you for your kind comment. It made my morning. We have incorporated our experiences in Iran and the kindness we were shown all the time by Iranian people into our speaking presentations. We also hope that people will understand that Iranian people and its ancient civilizations have respect and want peace for everyone. We hope everything we all do helps to promote peace and understanding between our different countries.

  24. Rebecca says

    This is a beautiful piece. I’m new to your blog and working my way through some of the archives, but from what I can see you have a very similar approach to travel and to life as me. Part of my goal with my blog which I’m going to start next month(my trip starts in a year) is to show people the reality of countries and introduce them to different cultures. If I can cause only one person to realise that what they see in the news is not the end all to a country then it will be worth it. To that goal I’m going to create a section where I ask people during my travels one thing they want the world to know about their country and compile the answers. I told my friend from Guatemala about this and he said he’d want the world to know that Guatemala isn’t dangerous. I suspect this will be a common enough answer.

    Just one question(for now)- how did you get visas for Iran? I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, but the current policy seems to be that Americans can’t get one unless they are part of a package tour. Maybe it was different when you went? Well it will be a while until I go, perhaps the policy will change again.

  25. Rebecca says

    Oh nevermind, I see now you were on a tour.(I’m reading things a TAD out of order) That might not be an option for me since I’m bike touring, but I can still hope that policies will change in the next 4 or however many years it takes me to get there!

  26. says

    @Rebecca: Glad you found our site and thanks for taking the time to read through so many of the articles. We realize it’s a bit all over the place to get the order of things. First of all, congrats on your upcoming trip and the goal of your journey. The question you plan to ask is perfect. And I think you’ll find a lot of people answering like your Guatemalan friend – that their country and people are not dangerous or extreme like people usually see on the news.

    As for your question about traveling to Iran, you have two options as an American. Take a tour or get a private guide. We did both – we had a tour for 2 weeks and then a private guide for a week. As you’re traveling on bicycle you’d need the private guide option. How that would work with a bicycle I’m not sure, but I do know that if you start to inquire with different authorized guides/companies you’ll find a way to make it work. Iranians are rather entrepreneurial and creative even within government and legal constraints. Good luck! Sounds like it will be an amazing journey!

  27. Thomas says

    Yeah, well, I think the lemonade is getting stronger and stronger. So be prepared to really pucker up when the little Iranian girl finally brings you a cup.
    I don’t honestly see a dramatic change in the near term (2 years I say). But I believe with more than just my heart, that things will be different.

    However don’t you find the Iranian structure of government the most interesting in the world?

  28. Thomas says

    In my preparations for my journey, I want to make contact with people, not monuments, not paintings or palaces, as a school teacher I am interested in Iran’s future not her past,; despite what Teddy Roosevelt said about the value of studying history. (( learned that from the English movie I am teaching, Night in the Museum).

    So I am practicing origami, which I intended to show to Jr high kids the way origami canbe applied to Geometric equations and proofs.

  29. Thomas says

    But as an American I am not allowed there. Then I asked if I could hang out with math teachers during lunch, I was told that it was not an approved tourist destination , so, “No”.

  30. Masoud says

    this is very pleasant to find you care for the “real” Iran.I hope more and more of us, become to understand the majority of each other. the same policy is being used to show you to us in a false different way.

    Dear Audrey
    It feels very good to read about my country in your blog. well done.

  31. says

    @Thomas: Hopefully as relations improve between Iran and the United States, there will be fewer hurdles to jump through to visit Iran and engage with its people in a natural way.

    @Masoud: Thanks for your kind comment. One of the great benefits of travel is to be able to meet people and see how things really are versus what we see in the news or in movies. Through the stories on our blog we try to share this for those who perhaps don’t have the opportunity to travel.

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