Everyone knows never to get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slight less well known is this: never deny the offer of a beer from an Iranian when friendship is on the line!
Iran, more than any other country these days, fills the headlines as America’s number one threat. We are Americans and that should mean that Iran is our enemy. This is the country whose most recent news headline have revolved around such punishments as stoning and lashing. As we travel through the Soviet states our parents grew up with, it is easy to think of Iran as today’s threatening menace. Many of us don’t know what goes on inside, and are left wondering….and worrying.
Taking a day trip out from the Armenian capital of Yerevan we were on a bus heading to some ruins when another tourist asked us first if we spoke English and then confirmed we were all going to the same place. She, an Iranian English professor, was on holiday with another female friend who was an architect. Neither lady wore a headscarf. A man made up the trio, he was a dentist but didn’t speak much English.
The first of the sites we went to, the Garni temple, was a bit underwhelming and probably wasn’t worth the trip out from the city for us. It consisted of a single Hellenic temple and a few scattered ruins of the old baths. We toured site together, and then shared a taxi from the Garni Temple to the Geghard Monastery further up the road. (Much nicer than the Garni temple, best Monastery yet) As we were sitting and waiting for our final bus back to town, a cup was suddenly placed into my hand by the dentist. Next I knew, it was filled with beer. We had hardly said two words to one another, his English not being too much better than my Farsi, but it was a hot day and he aimed to quench my thirst and his own…not something he was permitted to do within his own country. I asked how to say thank you in Farsi and was disappointed to find out that the Iranians, like the Armenians, simply use the French ‘merci’ because it is easier. They saw my disappointment and proudly shared that the word ‘Bazaar’ is of Persian origin. As we sat on that bus riding back to town, passing a beer around the back and sharing some chips and popcorn, one thing was absolutely clear: These three people were no more capable of terrorism than me.
It was the start of this encounter though that I will remember the best. As we walked together down the street, we found ourselves exchanging the usual pleasantries. They said they were from Iran and upon hearing that I’m sure our eyes were as wide as theirs were when we answered with our home country. We told them how much we had wanted to visit Iran but that the visa process was simply too difficult and costly for us and that those few people we’ve known who have actually gone there had only good things to say…especially about the people. They blushed and thanked us for the kind words and said that everyone really is all the same and wants the same things. We agreed and we all expressed hope and expectations that the current divisions between our countries would not be long lasting. After a mere two minutes of conversation, they offered to personally sponsor a visa for us if we thought it would be helpful. (Don’t worry mom, we denied…but only because it wouldn’t have helped )
With the rest of our time in Yerevan we visited the National History Museum as well as the Museum and Monument to the Armenian Genocide. With the help/force/urging/etc of the best Couchsurfing hosts in Yerevan we ate gobs of traditional food and loved every minute of it.
IF YOU GO: There are several day trips around Yerevan. We took public transportation to Garni Temple and from there shared a taxi to Gerhard Monastery. Guidebook times were way off, Yerevan to Garni took nearly an hour on the bus not 25 minutes. Taxi’s in Yerevan were relatively inexpensive, but the entire center is easily covered on foot. Don’t miss Botero’s fat soldier in the park between the Opera and Cascade. The season hadn’t opened yet for the symphony or opera while we were there, but tickets are extremely inexpensive and I would recommend checking them out if you’re interested in a night of culture.