Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A look back on Couchsurfing Iran

My favorite picture from my trip: a young woman who ran an Internet cafe
It's been almost four years since I visited Iran. In that time, much has changed politically. In 2009-2010, the Green Movement made international headlines as a mass movement of protesters challenged the legitimacy of the election. In 2011 the 'Day of Rage' protest kicked off an ongoing series of protests. Discussions of dealing with a potentially nuclear armed Ahmadinejad regime continue in the US and Europe.

At the time of writing, the US 2012 presidential election hangs in the balance. During the 3rd debate, which focused on foreign policy, President Obama discussed harsh economic sanctions as his primary means of 'crippling' Iran. They appear to be working. According to the Daily Beast, hyperinflation--being driven by the sanctions--is making the average Iranian "twice as poor every 40 days."
Friends of Arshiya, goofing before the camera on campus in Esfahan

The standard logic of such an economic sanction is that it will increase pressure on the regime to expressly give up any notion of acquiring nuclear arms capacity, or that the suffering it causes will drive average citizens to rise up and topple the regime. But under a totalitarian, iron-fisted regime such as the current one, how likely is this tactic to be successful? As the same Daily Beast article points out, it sure didn't work in Iraq, where 12 years of humanitarian misery did not prevent an eventual costly and disastrous war.

I got this guy to hold Ohmee while he crouched in a giant vessel (Kashan)

Meanwhile, I think about those being hurt most by these sanctions. Not the regime's leaders themselves, but the country's 75 million citizens, some of whom I had the chance to stay with and get to know during my travels. I think of Ahmad, the man I sat next to on the plane and who invited me to his house for a dinner feast in which he specially invited an English-speaking friend, just so I'd have someone to chat with. Of Taymaz, the easygoing drummer I wandered through the streets of Tehran with. Of Arshiya, the hyper-articulate college student who I shadowed around his campus in Esfahan, who told me he wakes up each morning thanking God that nuclear holocaust has not occurred. And of Babak, the freedom fighter in Mashad. And the dozens of other folks who helped out a foreign backpacker and made my time in their home country so meaningful and memorable.

A metalworker in central Esfahan

A family in Esfahan picnicking--a popular weekend pastime

Here in America, we hear about Iran in the news with the same geo-political narrative of danger and evil. But these narratives lack context. They fail to give voice to the way that our foreign policy has such dramatic negative impact upon the lives of good, hard-working people who want nothing more than to live lives similar to our own, who oppose the regime and risk serious harm if (and when) they challenge it. I hope that readers who stumble across this blog may have their perspective on Iran and its people broadened, if only by learning a little about some of its regular citizens.
At a park in Tehran with Shadi, a young woman who drove in from way out of town to take me around