Iran, and Broken Mirrors
Mirrors reflect reality. Yet when they’re flawed, even the slightest imperfection can alter that reality. Shatter the mirror, and reality is fragmented, broken.
When it comes to Iran MIR’s long-time staffer, Joanna Millick, (pictured above) sees broken mirrors.
“Our preconceived notions about Iran are like broken mirrors,” she says, reflecting on her recent journey to Iran leading MIR travelers through that country’s ancient and modern wonders.
“Iran is nothing like how the media portray it: it is intellectually challenging, stimulating on all levels,” she adds.
Joanna first traveled to Iran in 2006 on a private tour with a guide. A Polish-born U.S. citizen, she’s long been interested in Polish-Iranian as well as U.S.-Iranian relations. Before Joanna first visited Iran in 2006, she read a prominent U.S. newspaper’s article that said all Western music was banned, which meant visitors would no longer hear such popular American songs as “Hotel California.” Yet when Joanna arrived in Tehran she found dozens of music stores filled with CDs from London and Moscow, and the latest hits blasting everywhere. Young people were playing not just American music but disco, international music – even soundtracks from Polish movies!
“So music was the first shocking element when I was there in 2006,” Joanna remembers. “All those preconceived notions of what I read or saw on TV– like that Western music ban – were entirely different in person, actually the other side of the spectrum!”
A Welcoming Spirit
Once, 10-year-old boys followed the MIR group through a local bazaar, escorting them. The young boys followed them in to a teahouse, paying the entrance fee out of their own pockets. Perhaps they wanted free food or candy, as is so typical in many countries? No, the Iranian boys wanted to make sure the foreigners reached their destination without a hitch, a long-time cultural tradition of hospitality. And in a twist, the boys weren’t there to take anything, but to give the MIR group their candy!
“It was such a sweet gesture of kindness,” Joanna smiles.
A Chance Welcome
What Joanna remembers best about Iran is a chance welcome, first in 2006. On the way to the town of Masuleh, she and her private guide stopped in a village along the route and just randomly knocked on a door. Joanna wanted to peek inside an Iranian home. Graciously, the family ushered them in and proudly showed them their home, welcoming them with food and tea – even reading Joanna’s future in the tea leaves (all good!).
“All of this was by chance,” Joanna says. “ We met this wonderful family, all so random. It was great! But we didn’t stay in touch – they don’t have email because they don’t have computers.”
Yet seven years later with her MIR group in tow, Joanna recognized that same house on their way from the mountain town, and impulsively told the bus driver to stop. The MIR group of 17 hopped out.
“The woman ran out and kissed me like I was long-lost family!” Joanna laughs. “They were so kind and hospitable. That’s the kind of welcome you get in Iran, everywhere. When our MIR tour ended, people said this unscripted moment was the highlight of the tour.”
“I Can See Clearly Now”
It’s the real thing, this warm Iranian hospitality played out in everyday moments like these.
“Yes, there is stunning architecture and history in Iran, but what’s most amazing is the hospitality, perhaps because all those preconceived notions make you think you’ll see things so differently,” Joanne says. “ I’ve traveled to many countries, and the welcome you receive in Iran is clearly unparalleled.”
Yes, mirrors reflect reality; broken mirrors do not. Yet the best clarity comes not in reflections, but in face-to-face encounters. In the flesh.