50 shades of blue (EN)

English, Iran

‘Trien, where has your smile gone?’
After three days of Iran, my much promised land, I suddenly realised that since crossing the border in Noorduz I have laughed little or not at all.

Where I usually cheerfully wave to everybody, loudly shout the local ‘hello’ or smile, I have now remained silent. Silent from my mouth, silent in my heart.

Iran, my promised land, the land of unrivaled hospitality, overwhelming nature, ancient culture. Of majestic mosques and an abundance of fruit, nuts and dates that are so well-loved. That country was not what I had expected.

Since last September a fatwa was proclaimed forbidding cycling for women. Was that the cause? Was that the reason why I was ignored or watched disapprovingly? That fatwa was just intended for locals, not for tourists, right?

Or was it me? I didn’t know what attitude to adopt and I cycled on the road all tense. I felt caught, isolated, both by hijab and dress and through my ignorance of the Farsi. Not only the alphabet is different, the figures as well. No one en route spoke English but that actually may not be a problem.

I felt not at all welcome. Even if on the first day, the police alleged the opposite. Up to eight times I had to stop and show my passport, followed by the words ‘welcome in Iran’.

Seven days later, finally …

I smiled thanks to the nice encounter with my couchsurf host Nassim in Urmia. I was able to communicate. Merriment! She told me how much she hates the hijab (you too?) and how horrible she finds that woman in Iran are suppressed (for sure). She told about her resulting two-year depression and the hope of emigration (fingers crossed).

I smiled thanks to the reunion with Mohammad and Bahram in Isfahan and the fun days I’ve spent with them. From an ‘underground’ birthday party, visit to the family, falafel on the go to a visit to many cultural heritage sites. Iranian beauty and hospitality galore!

I smiled thanks to small encounters on the way, sometimes by a lonely sweet farmer, then an enthusiastic chappie on a bike or a man who invited me for a hot tea when I cycled through the snow.

I smiled less at the many asphalt roads, the traffic, the rushing trucks, the giant distances and my endless quest for unpaved terrain. Even Google Earth often couldn’t help me.

I smiled less through the daily, countless cars along the way that awaited me or followed. To ask me where I come from and where I am cycling to. Even though it was well intended.

I didn’t smile at pursuits of guys on motorcycles, riding next to you, starting to grope, turning around and repeating the same action, up to three times.

I didn’t smile at questions of being together on the photo and the sudden feel of a stranger’s hand on your breast.

I didn’t smile at all when I was followed by a tough guy on a motorcycle. Who pulled me off my bike, tried to throw me in a sandpit next to the road and tried to rape and strangle me.

No. I cried, I was empty, exhausted and felt enormously misunderstood. Because, ‘Well, in each country you do have bad people anyway’ it sounded. ‘Uh yes, but three incidents in four cycling days… Sorry, that, I never saw before.’ And ‘Iran has good people. What you say isn’t possible, you are lying, how dare you!’ and ‘Hey, rejoice, you are still alive nevertheless, look at the positive side!’.

Yes, of course, that I tried. I was super grateful that I could escape. That, when I was dragged by my ankles through the sand, I could loosen a foot and kick that guy in his balls, chest and chin and run away.

But it has been enough. I no longer dared to walk in the streets, the slightest moped sound gave me goose bumps and a faster heartbeat. I looked behind me constantly and checked if I haven’t been followed. Paranoia rules!

Hours I’ve spent in the police station.

Hours I was on the line with my sister Griet. What would I have done without her? A ‘thank you sweet sister’ does not cover how grateful I am!

Hours I’ve spent on the Facebook page of ‘Bicycle travelling women’ where I read that I, as solo cycling woman in Iran, wasn’t the only one with bad experiences.

Hours I tried to reminisce good memories of the country but my negative experiences, which followed one another too short after each other, unfortunately prevailed.

50 shades of blue.

Not only in all those dazzling mosques that Iran has to offer, but also on my skin. Bruising became purple, green, yellow. Yellow went away.
And so have I: I have gone away from Iran, my much promised land.
To Oman. To a new country, a new ‘climate’ with new people. And to something new. But that, I keep for next time.

My last try to have a good souvenir of Iran was by going to Qeshm island. Unfortunately also this attempt turned out into a big escape towards Oman #StarsValley #Iran

We are now 2 months on. I feel good, Oman does good. Correction: Oman does great!
It’s not its people, but the system, the so distorted system that makes some men as they are not supposed to be … So I want to warn all solo cycling women with Iran plans. Forewarned is forearmed, isn’t it?

Many thanks to Jan Schelstraete, who helped me out through this blogpost with his big red pencil.

45 thoughts on “50 shades of blue (EN)”

  1. Pingback: Podróż solo na rowerze przez Iran – doświadczenia kobiet (Solo woman cycling in Iran – is it a no-no?) | Ewcyna

  2. miacita says:

    Salom Trien!
    Was so nice to meet you the other day on the road, we were thinking of you a few times since that. So sad to read about what you had to go through though. Hopefully, something like that won’t ever repeat.
    And we hope, that you could leave Tajikistan in time with your visa and that you enjoy our favorite country, Kyrgyzstan. Even though the drivers are too crazy sometimes.
    We are now staying with Vero in Dushanbe, she is still here 🙂

    All the best,
    Jenny & Rene

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thank you so much for your kind reply Jenny and Rene! I left the country on day 44 😉 and now enjoying Kyrgyzstan. Hope your trip towards Europe is great too! 😘


  3. orko says:

    Quite biased and narrow view with the use of single facts to judge the whole country. Been there 8 times, got plenty female cyclists friends passed through the country, things are wider, and more complex. Iran is great.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi trien!
    Ik ken je niet, maar weet! Je bent niet alleen! 2 jaar geleden fietste ik door Iran alwaar herhaaldelijk deze incidenten! Gelukkig herinner ik mij nu vooral het mooie van Iran (ten Oosten van Teheran werd het beter; hoewel ook ik daar op het nippertje niet verkracht ben), maar herken me enorm in jouw pijn en teleurstelling. Dolgraag zou ik ooit terug willen naar Iran, maar nooit, nee absoluut nooit meer daar op de fiets…!
    Laat je niet ontmoedigen! Ik ben na Teheran nog 15000 km doorgefietst, nergens anders was het zó spannend, beangstigend en vernederend als Iran…
    Geniet maar gauw weer van alle mooie weggetjes, de fantastische zonsopkomsten en -ondergangen! Van alle verlaten weggetjes die je maar kan vinden want voor je het weet zit je weer thuis en heb je heimwee…! En deze ervaring… uiteindelijk zullen de mooie herinneringen overblijven!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hallo, dank je wel voor jouw reactie. Is erg lief!
      Inderdaad, ik ben jammer genoeg niet de enige, hoe pijnlijk ook. Alleen spijtig dat er daarover zo weinig gecommuniceerd wordt. Het is als het ware een taboe. Waardoor het blijft gebeuren en zeker als ik weet dat zo weinig meisjes naar de politie stappen. Onrecht moet aangeklaagd worden, sowieso. Anders kan er niks veranderen. Ik kijk vooruit naar mijn volgende 15.000 km. 20 April spring ik terug op de fiets. Hopelijk staan er voor jou ook veel nieuwe wegen op het menu. Geniet! Groetjes, Trien


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