Kindness is Everywhere in Iran

We meet many people on the road, both locals and travelers alike who help us in time of need or distress without expecting a return. Last week of every month I bring you stories from travelers who have experienced kindness on the road and like to share and spread it for the love of travel.

Kathleen Poon takes us to Iran for this month’s story. Let us see what she has to say about people of Iran. I am excited. 😀
Over to Kathleen Poon.
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Ancient ruins Persepolis

We had already been in Iran for five days, and by this time, my sister and I were convinced that travelling in the land of Persia was indeed a positive experience. Due to the negative media publicity about Iran, understandably there are many misconceptions surrounding this country. Every preconception I had about Iran was challenged on each day of the trip. We were delighted by the rich Persian history, architecture, art, delectable food but the one thing that truly amazed us was the kindness of Iranians, and this reality was quite evident when we were driven from Shiraz to Esfahan.

Tomb of Hafez-Shiraz

*****

The melancholic Persian songs played on the car radio lulled us to sleep. I don’t know what the songs were about but it must have been about love, lost love, heartache, or…perhaps a lost goat.

Although the car had air-conditioning, we could see the weather outside was hot. It was spring in Iran, there were times when temperatures shot up to mid-30 degrees Celsius and got uncomfortably hot. We drove past dry and rugged landscape; some areas were dotted with cypress trees but the land was arid and barren.

Our driver’s name was Mustafa and he was tasked to drive us, not only around the tourist sites in Shiraz but from Shiraz to Esfahan as well, after which we would be dropped off at our hotel in Esfahan. We didn’t interact much with him for he spoke little English but he seemed like a nice man.

Mustafa was a careful driver and took care of us during our five-hour journey from Shiraz to Esfahan. He made sure we were comfortably cool with the air-con, and every now and then he asked us, “OK?”. We gave him the thumbs up and went back to sleep.

Morris minor toycar-Mustafa’s car

Mid-way through our journey we stopped in a small town. Mustafa could not say ‘lunch’ in English but made the sign for eating, and so we understood. He led us to a restaurant and as soon as we sat down at the table, the waiters gave us the menu but Mustafa said ‘wait’. We were puzzled as to why he wanted to us wait. Nevertheless, we waited, looked at the menu which was unfortunately in Farsi and there were no pictures.

We asked the waiter for a menu in English but he could not understand us. Once again Mustafa asked us to “wait”. Wait for what? What seemed like an interminable time, we decided to go ahead to order our food and not press for an English-language menu. As long as we could see what others were eating, and if the dishes looked good, we would order the same!

‘Mustafa, we order now, we eat’.
‘Wait’, said Mustafa looking flustered, and he disappeared.

Within a minute or two, Mustafa returned to our table with a gentleman who happened to be a tour guide with a group of Italian seniors. The tour guide spoke to us in English that firstly, Mustafa would like to apologize for making us wait as he was looking for someone in the restaurant to help translate for him, and secondly, he would like to recommend the fesenjan, a local dish of grilled chicken served with walnut and pomegranate sauce!

We could not believe that he went all out to find someone who could communicate with us! We were so touched by Mustafa’s thoughtfulness that we invited him to join us for lunch. But he politely declined and the tour guide continued to translate that Mustafa’s wife had packed lunch for him and that he would eat in the car.

*****

The kindness that we experienced at the restaurant was just another unexpected thing that we encountered during our trip in Iran. Unexpected because of the general misconception that Iran is hostile towards foreigners.

Some might say, perhaps they are kind to tourists in hope to receive tips. That could be true, however, offering hospitality is part of the Persian culture and national pride, therefore many Iranians are genuine and warm towards foreigners. In fact, the driver who picked us up from the airport in Tehran offered dinner at his house with his family. However, we declined because we had only just arrived in the country, feeling excited but mostly mixed with trepidation, unsure of the situation in this misunderstood country. A few days later, the same driver mentioned that his dinner invite at his house was genuine, it wasn’t for money. If only we were brave to accept his invitation!

Not only are they kind towards foreign tourists, Iranians are well-mannered and soft-spoken. I love listening to them speak in Farsi for the language sounds wonderfully poetic and just as well that the Persian culture is renowned for their poetry. Because of their genteel nature, Iranians despise poor behavior, as such, they speak gently and respectfully towards one another. Once again, that was apparent upon arriving in Esfahan.

Mustafa is a local guy from Shiraz, and I could sense that he wasn’t sure of the route to our hotel in the city centre because he stopped three times to ask for directions. Each time he stopped to ask for help, be it from a young or elderly person, they gladly gave information. No one was rude to him or looked away to avoid giving help. Even at the traffic lights – as the lights turned green, a truck driver continued to give directions to Mustafa for additional five seconds, and yet no one honked at us!

Bicycles for rent

My sister and I found it very surprising because it is uncommon in my home country Malaysia where people are afraid of strangers stopping to ask for directions. Many Malaysians are generally not familiar with street names, they rely on landmarks instead. Also, there have had been snatch theft incidents on the pretext of asking for directions. As a result, Malaysians are more wary than usual – they either walk away or brush off the stranger.

But not in Iran.

*****

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Kathleen is a travel writer and blogger from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She blogs at Kat Pegi Mana: Where Is Kat Going . Her friends often ask her, “Where is Kat Going”, whenever they meet for they see the wanderlust in her! Through her blog and writing, Kathleen aims to inspire people to appreciate and connect with various heritage and cultures around the world.

You may also want to read some of the earlier posts on the same theme.
Kindness on the Road
Surviving America
Good deed not dead!
Lost and found

If you have been helped by someone during your travels and want to share your story with the world, feel free to connect with me in comments section.

If you want to travel places with us, I suggest you to join us on my Facebook travel page.
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25 thoughts on “Kindness is Everywhere in Iran

    1. Hi Shreya, yeah unfortunately, Iran is situated in a “disturbed region” but life over there is generally peaceful. It’s just global politics that make the situation less than ideal to travel to. However, it is relatively easy to plan and make your travels there. Glad that you enjoyed the post, thanks! 🙂

  1. It’s great to hear such a positive travel story. It’s an important reminder that you can’t judge a place until you see for yourself. One of my friends just returned from a trip to Iran, where she completely relied on couch surfing and cannot stop raving about how kind strangers were to her. I would love to visit the historical sites and see Persian architecture up close some day.

  2. Iran is high on my list, hopefully, I can make it real in a near future. Heard so many good things about Iran and this post is another proof that Iranian people are among the nicest on earth.

  3. I am visiting Iran this winter, it should be cooler then! It’s good to hear how helpful the people are, especially Mustafa. I think Iran has the wrong reputation, I’m sure I’ll discover kindness there too.

    1. Hi James, oh winter will be a fantastic time to visit Iran! Not only is cooler but some areas closer to the mountains will be covered in snow, it will be beautiful 🙂 Have fun!

  4. Such a beautiful story. It is so endearing to know that Mustafa, who didn’t understand the language, went out of his way to make his guests taste fesenjan. Iran is really high on my list. I am gonna take her driver’s number whenever I plan to visit. Thanks for sharing. I love this series of yours. Keep sharing more.

    1. Hi Archana, I’m afraid I do not have Mustafa’s number 🙁 He was assigned to us by the travel agent. We booked our tour with Iran Traveling Centre, perhaps next time you can request for Mustafa from Shiraz 🙂

  5. This is exactly the kind of information that people need to read more and more. Because when we think of Iran the diplomatic tensions and the instability comes to mind. I am sure many visitors park their idea to visit here due to security reasons.

  6. Mustafa did go above and beyond in finding an English speaker to translate for you. That is awesome. And I agree … I think most of the western world would be surprised by the reception you got in Iran.

    1. Hi Cherri, yes, the Western world and in Asia as well because not many people expected that from Iran. My family and friends in Malaysia were very surprised by the reception that we got in Iran, and that our trip went exceptionally well 🙂

    1. My trip to Iran was in 2015, and at that time, we met a few Americans travelling in the country. We were told that Americans needed to join a tour group when travelling in Iran – independent travel is not allowed for Americans but OK for other nationalities. You may need to check the current travel advisory, or check with Iran Traveling Centre (our private tour was booked through them) for they are up to date with the latest visa regulations for Americans and provide all the necessary assistance with documentations, etc.

  7. Heartwarming. People are good everywhere. Funny how, in the age of map apps, asking for directions is becoming obsolete, yet remains a great way to get to know a place and its people.

    1. You’re right, with GPS and map apps, people are not relying on others to assist with directions. I remembered a time in Esfahan when we couldn’t find our way to a local restaurant though our hotel gave directions and wrote the address in Farsi on paper for us. We asked a group of youngsters, and once again, they went all out to help us 🙂

  8. It is almost always the people that make our travels the most special. The kindnesses they offer, the culture they teach us, the personal connections we have — that is what we remember and cherish the most!

  9. I’ve heard a lot about the amazing Iranian hospitality. And reading your story really makes my heart warm. Now I can’t wait to experience it myself. Hoping to visit Iran soon. Thanks for sharing the beautiful story 🙂

  10. I love how people are always willing to help, like despite not knowing the language he did his best to help. It’s amazing really, these are things that give us hope for humanity :Finding kindness while traveling.

  11. This is such a great post and concept to share stories of kindness around the world. In these times of where racism, islamaphobia, homophobia etc etc are becoming far too common place (especially from certain world leaders) I think it’s so important that us travellers share the stories of what is so good about the world. There are soooo many awesome stories like this one to share. THANKS!

  12. I’ve wanted to visit Iran for some time and just read recently that it is now possible for Canadians to do so (it didn’t use to be because of bad diplomatic relationships between the 2 countries). I’m so excited!

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