Women in Iran

Upon finding out that I am 35 and without children, an Iranian woman exclaimed “Inshallah!!!” with great exasperation. She was about 20 years old when she had her first of two children, not as young as one would expect from a woman living in the Iranian desert, but ultimately, not very old. In Iran, as you might guess, a woman’s role is primarily as mother and homemaker. But there are some stereotypes that are not true, and of course, some that are.

Education & Unemployment:
In recent years, women have made up more than 60% of the population of university students in Iran. They are highly educated, a shocking revelation to many Westerners. Yes, it is true that women have been barred from some courses in an attempt by conservative clerics who are concerned about upsetting the status quo and messing with gender established norms. The biggest problem, however, from a Westerner’s perspective, is how high the unemployment rate is for women compared to men, despite the educational gaps. In a country so engrained to believe that women belong in the home, only about 13% of the workforce is female. That’s not to say that women aren’t financially important to their families and country.

Work:
Many Iranian women contribute financially to the household even without holding traditional employment. I met a group of women in the desert who had begun their own business selling handicrafts, a part of the proceeds would be going to help pay for repairs to the Qanats (the town’s only water source). Women also run family businesses from home or they work on the family farms and help run family restaurants. My guide who’s full time job in tourism kept her 100% outside of the home was a female and we met other female guides along the way. Additionally, Iran does not bar women from owning businesses and women even hold high level positions in banking and government.

Clothing & Fashion:
I met an Imam in Iran who said that the majority of Iranians want to wear Hijab. I don’t know how true the “majority” part of that statement is, but I do know that some do want to wear Hijab and some do not. How women dress does depend on where they live and what day it is. For example, in a more conservative city, most women wear burkhas, but in a more liberal city, women might only wear hijab and manteau (a long coat). On religious holidays, they might pull out the burkas just for good measure. During the last Presidency, women’s clothing was policed much more than it is today. Don’t let those burkas fool you, underneath is a woman who exudes sexuality. She’s probably wearing designer jeans imported illegally from Europe, and she has very likely had a nose job. More and more women are also seen wearing makeup as restrictions have eased and women are slowly retaking their independence.

Am I saying that women’s rights are perfect in Iran? Heck no. They’re not even perfect in the United States! What I am saying is that all of our assumptions about Iran are not accurate. I do hope that as Iran opens up, more Iranian women will stand up for their human rights and will have better opportunities in the workforce if they choose. But it’s also important that we not think of them as stuck in a pit of despair awaiting the West to come free them. Iranian women are intelligent and passionate, they will find a way to protest, even if it is just a bit of red lipstick.

 

 

Miss Me Miss Me, Now you Gotta Kiss Me

When I was a kid going to camp during the summer, I would ardently demand that my parents not eat spaghetti while I was gone. You see, spaghetti was my favorite meal, and what would I do if my parents ate it without me?! It is as if I thought I’d never get the chance to eat spaghetti again. As soon as I got home, I was so excited to get to eat it again.

(Note: Today, I hope my parents DID eat spaghetti without me, just to spite me.)

In College, when I came back from my year studying in Northern Ireland, I came back to not just one new class of Freshmen, but a class of Sophomores who I had not met. My friends had all had their own adventures together, and in a way, I was an outsider.

I am only two more sleeps until my trip to Iran, and I am fully aware of all of the things I’m going to miss while I am gone. In fact, I’ve been spending some time specifically considering all of these things. I will miss early Spring in Portland, one of the most beautiful and happy of all of the Pacific NW seasons. There will be events, dinner parties, birthdays, and work events, all of which will occur without me. (How dare they…).

Travel is a choice. The experiences that I will have are unique, and I’m so excited to be going. But, I’m also glad that I know there are things I will be missing here. It’ll make coming home so much easier, it sure did make the spaghetti taste all the better as a child.

Self Care on the Journey

I’m a pro when it comes to deliberately finding time for self-care…when I’m at home in my comfort zone. Bubble baths, a relatively strict social calendar (social one night means alone the next, etc.) and recognizing what my body needs is my norm.

While traveling, we are literally in a whole new world. The time zone is different, the food is different, our bed is strange, and we’re surrounded by people who often don’t speak our language. Our routines get thrown out the window. And, if you’re anything like me, you’re trying to do and see as much as humanly possible. It’s a recipe for exhaustion. Here are some tips for how to keep your sanity, and take care of yourself!

Pack a small treat for yourself

One of the people I met in the hostel in Istanbul had brought a small pack of Mint Milanos, which he kindly shared with a small group of us. It was not only fun to watch our new German and French friends taste this delightful cookie, but it was also a nice reminder of home. From now on, I’ll be packing some small comfort food. Sometimes a tea bag or a favorite chocolate bar is all you need to bring you home for just a moment.

Mini Mint Milanos!

Bet you didn’t know that Mini Mint Milanos Existed! NOM NOM NOM

Keep yourself organized

Living out of a suitcase, no matter how big or small, can be tricky. I always start out with great expectations to keep everything in its place, make sure I know exactly where everything is, and not make a mess of my room. I always fail. I get back to the hostel or the hotel room, usually exhausted, or focused on socializing, that everything gets tossed in. So once a week, while abroad, I make sure to tidy up. It takes about 10 minutes and saves me a lot of anxiety the rest of the week. This is also a good time to wash any clothes that are getting a little stinky, if necessary. Feeling clean is also important!

Stay inside for a day

Sometimes, the greatest give you can give yourself is a break. Put your feet up, read a book, drink tea, and well, do as little as possible. It’s okay to take a day off and not see things. If you don’t see everything, which is impossible anyways, you’ll be fine. It’s okay to even miss the “must see” places! On my very last day in Turkey, I was utterly exhausted and sick of getting harassed by the salesmen. I couldn’t imagine the idea of trying to find my way around the winding streets to see another (probably fabulous) mural or piece of history. So instead, I stayed in the hostel, almost the entire day. I read a book and slept. It was glorious. Do I regret not going to tour more? Not even a little bit.

Connect with your roots

Even though you may be thousands of miles away, we are fortunate to live in a time of technology, when it’s easy to reach out to the people who know you and love you the most. I have a friend who was recently traveling in India for a couple of weeks and found herself overwhelmed, exhausted, and homesick. She posted on Facebook that she needed some love, support, and permission for self care even though she felt like she *should* be out exploring. Her friends came to her rescue and encouraged, reminded her that she’s not the first person to have this feeling, and gave her the permission she needed to rest.

No matter if you are gone for one week or 5, remembering to take care of yourself will go a long way in helping you enjoy your journey.

Solo Travel for the Lonely

When I was 20, I was fortunate to be able to study abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland for my Junior year of College. There, I lived in a flat style dorm, sharing the kitchen and living space with 9 others. Unfortunately, my relationship with my flat mates was tenuous at best (save the times I made apple pie, then I was their best friend).

One day, I couldn’t handle their snark anymore and decided to journey on my own for the weekend. So I took the train down to a little town on the coast of Ireland, arriving just around 5pm. I imagined a hike followed by a lovely meal out where I would visit with locals and be invited to their home for tea and crumpets.

It didn’t work out that way.

My hike was cut short due to darkness, the one cafe was closing in about 20 minutes, and there was nobody around to boot.

All was not lost. I thought, I will go back to the hotel, enjoy my book and some television and perhaps catch up on my emails to home.

The hotel had no tv and no internet access. So there I was, 7:00 at night, just me and my book that I was suddenly not interested in. I panicked. I was alone. Literally. There was nobody but me and the thoughts that I could conjure. And boy was I good at conjuring thoughts.

That’s the problem with loneliness. When we are alone, we often become our own worst enemy. I ended up panicking, checking out of the hotel, and catching the last train back to Belfast.  The trip was a shambles. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and disappointed in myself. My perception of myself as an independent world traveler was destroyed. I couldn’t even handle one night on my own.

Over ten years later, I was reminded of this failed journey when a friend recommended this blog post to me: “How and Why to Travel Alone.”

As I planned my solo trip to Turkey a couple of years ago, I dreamed of an experience like this bloggers, but I also feared a repeat of my Irish jaunt. Being alone is a skill that some people just have to learn and practice to be good at.

I wish I could say I knew how to learn to be alone. My personal journey of learning to enjoy it came out of necessity – moving to new cities and having no friends, roommates moving away, being dumped, etc. Slowly, I figured out that my own company was pretty great. So great, in fact, that when people asked me if they could come with me to Turkey, I flat out said no. It’s just like the blogger above said, I wanted all the WTF time I could have.

The best thing, I met other travelers, was never lonely, and still got my own WTF time. So find your bliss, and do it…alone.

 

Beyond Being

When I think back on my trip to Turkey, now well over a year and half ago, I don’t necessarily remember all of the little details that I noticed in the architecture. I don’t remember the taste of the hot tea and how it cooled me despite the warm temperature outside. But what I do acutely remember is how alive I felt. Because I was actually noticing those little details, I was 100% in the moment, taking in every smell and sound. My eyes were wide open.

Last night, I took a bread baking class at Portland’s Culinary Workshop (a place I can heartily recommend). I was paired for the class with a gentleman who was probably in his 50’s, an Engineer at Hewlett-Packard who made a great conversation partner in between bread risings. Well traveled himself, we discussed his work trips to Asia, particularly Taiwan which he loved, and of course, we talked about my own travels and my desire for more. We also talked about career paths and in the end I kind of felt like I was talking to somebody who was a mentor, he was so intent on listening to me, and I thank him for that kindness.

Toward the end of the night, he said to me, “have you ever considered a job that involved traveling? You light up when you talk about your journeys.”

Hearing those words, “you light up when you talk about your journeys,” brought back a flood of memories of how alive I felt in Turkey. I was momentarily heartbroken to think that I’m not living every day lit up like that. It’s my best self, the person who I want to be. The person who is aware and in love with everything that surrounds them. I want more than to just Be for my life.

I’m going to try to start noticing things more. To slow down and actually SEE where I am currently. It seems a shame to only be “alive” in far aways lands when I live in such a beautiful place now.

“Maybe, she thought as she fastened her cloak, there was some middle ground to be had, a resting place between passion and practicality.”

-from “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker