Journey to Iran -- Peace Pigramage Report
Day one of the People's Peace Delegation to Iran's 12-day, 3,000 kilometer journey through the Islamic Republic of Iran saw this band of five land safely, if exhausted, in Tehran on the morning of July 20, 2007. Met by the tour guide who escorted them to their hotel to clean up and then headed them over to the University of Tehran for the Friday Prayer service, which are a big thing in Iran. They don't spend money on big mosques, but find public spaces to hold these large gatherings. Some 10,000 attended the prayers at the University. The group was allowed in as "journalists" which meant they were taken to a second story balcony that overlooked the proceedings – the woman in the delegation was taken to a separate section for women where she was warmly received, treated like a sister. She wore a black veil as required. The delegation was free to photograph the services, but asked for security reasons, not to photograph a section where government officials were seated.
All were given earphones that provided instant translation of what was said. Two Imams, spiritual leaders, gave sermons – one on anger as an attribute given by God to help defend family and religion, but that can get out of hand and be self-defeating; and the other was a presentation on the political situation between the U.S. And Iranian governments.
After the services were completed they were taken back to the hotel to sleep off some of their jet lag and later that evening went out for their evening meal. Joined by their guide and one other person, $30 paid for a delicious lamb stew dinner for 7, including the tip. The delegation was then off to the airport for the 1.5 hour flight to Shiraz, a city in central Iran – the southernmost point of the delegation's tour.
Anyone who noticed that they were foreign, and from the U.S., was very friendly. The delegation talked to people as they moved around the city and they sensed no animosity to the people of the U.S. and no sense that the U.S. government would actually attack their country. One delegation member said that he felt like he was walking around in Queens NY – people look like they are from everywhere, they dress in every way you can think of – from punk rock youth to traditional black chadoor-clad matron; you can buy kabob on the street, see young people on cell phones, people rushing from place to place. Tehran is a vibrant, active, major metropolitan city. (report by Phil Wilayto)
REPORT 07/21/07: In a country that is two-thirds desert a garden is considered paradise and as the delegation walks through the gates of one such paradise, in the southern city of Shiraz, the children on a school trip engulf us attempting the handful of English words they know.
"Hello" they yell with a child's innocents.
"Hello" we all would say back.
Quickly they respond with a "where are you from?
"America" we say with a smile.
"Oh, oh I love Amreekyee!"
This conversation will continue with each of the several children getting to practice their English while we get to attempt a political discussion that is normally met with confused looks of a person lacking the English or a response of "I do not think much about politics." Phil jokes that this could be the national greeting. Expressing the affection that is given to us here may be impossible to explain in a text or even by the spoken word without one seeing it for themselves.
This interaction is a reprieve for the members of the delegation who spent morning walking through the ruins of Persoplis hearing twenty-five undred years of history while the sun bakes us in 110-degree weather. Our day was full and after a few days of travel that, took us from Washington to London and finally landing in Tehran we were lagging but enthusiastic. The enthusiasm was carried from the Friday prayers at Tehran University strait through our late night flight and arrival in Shiraz where our day of listening to history would begin.
Amin, our guild is even struck by the heat several times saying, "Wow, it is hot," though forgoing the "chief" that he seems to enjoy calling us. The evening heat is much more manageable without the sun as we go to some mosques and then to dinner where we get to meet some family members of Rostam, our Iranian college back home. The conversation is pleasant and their English is far better than any of our Farsi.
Many in the delegation are surprised to hear how little the Iranians even consider war between our two countries and this is confirmed with our dinner conversation. One of the young women, Marziyee says, "they don't even think of it at all" when talking about her classmates at Shiraz University. She goes on to say that the difference between Iran and the United States is that "here we do not believe it if it is on the news where in America you do."
Our trip will continue for many more days but if the reception is this warm then the heat of the days may be its only rival. We will hit the road today heading north back toward Tehran. (report by Geoff Millard)