Stupid Sharia Laws for Women
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5 days into Iran, and I'm hating the dress code for women. We are required to cover our heads, wear long pants, and a shirt that has long sleeves and covers the bottom. Despite having found light cotton / quick dry options to meet the requirements, I must still say it is utterly ridiculous. It is of course hot, hot, hot outside, and hte men are still wearing their shorts and light jerseys they wore in previous countries. It blows my mind that this is a LAW. The local women have it even worse, as they are probably held to tighter standards about covering the neck. In this conservative area that we are in, near the holy city of Mashhad, the local women wear concealing black drapes that cover their heads and flow behind them. From behind, the women look like eerie black ghosts, floating along the streets.
What I didn't quite realize about the dress code is that we (the female travelers) would have no legal relief from it. Since we are camping, pretty much all of our time is spent outside, where you are technically supposed to cover up. (Inside the tent is hot, so you don't really want to hang out there.) So far, most of our campsites have been in areas where locals also are milling about, making our "private" campsite area feel even more public. (Not to mention that wherever we are, we seem to attract curious locals. For the most part the locals stay on the perimeter, but in the past we've had kids wandering through our campsite, looking in our tents.) Nevertheless, in less busy campsites, we take off our sweaty head coverings / arm coverings for a bit of relief. So far the local guides who travel with us have said this is ok.
Things are supposed to get better as we move west. We've noticed how some of the women in the cities only cover the back half of their heads, in quiet protest of the stupid laws. I've heard that in Tehran, they barely comply with the laws? I am not sure what that will mean for us, but part of the difficulty is obtaining the right clothes to allow for most comfort. Until I'm able to wear my bike jersey and maybe just loose shorts over my bike shorts, I reckon it will be uncomfortable. (Ideally, maybe I'd have very light quick-dry white leggings to wear... but where to find these around here?)
The discomfort of all the extra clothing on the bike is not the only problem with these stupid laws though. It would be more tolerable if the men were subjected to an equally cumbersome dress code... But it is truly irksome and annoying to be singled out as a woman -- I've never personally experienced such blatant discrimination. (And i see how lucky I am for this.) I am not used to being personally regarded and sorted as a Female first, Human second. To me, it feels just as ridiculous as if I was told I couldn't have any water to drink for having blue eyes.
As a result of these stupid laws, I would suggest that anyone who was thinking that Iran might be a good tourist destination to nix that. I'd say no one should visit Iran until they grant women the basic right to dress comfortably on a hot summer day (among other things).
While Turkmenistan locals presented a scared, plastic front ( they were not friendly, and definitely didn't tell us what they thought), Iranians have been exceptionally friendly and real. People have come out of the woodward to offer help where we weren't even asking for it. Especially in the town of Quachan, where we camped in a nearby municipal park, nearly all the riders who rode into the town were greeted by locals. In my case, several of us were picnicking in the green area of a traffic roundabout, when a local approached us and asked if we needed help with anything. He ended up fetching us hot tea and toffees from his nearby shop (for free), and giving us information about the town. Later, the man tending a local Internet cafe refused payment for our time online, saying we were guests. (He also later asked another rider if I was married, because if not he would marry me. Great!)
Passing drivers have offered candies (taking candy from strangers!), and lean out their car windows to say "Welcome to Iran!" Other riders have been invited to dinner (and more) by random people they've met (angry middle class family, single women). I'm hoping to still meet some random folks who will give me the first-hand lowdown of life here.
Since entering Iran, we've ridden some fairly nice, over-signed roads through dry mountains, farmlands, and towns. We've spent a lot of time on a highly trafficked road that leads to Mashhad, where one of 11 holy imams lives. There has been no shortage of crowded passenger cars with bags and carpets tied to the roof pass us, making the pilgrimage to the holy city. Likewise, there are a ton of pop-up tents for sale in the towns, and we see a lot of pilgrims camped in local parks and mosques.
Yesterday we passed through one of the few wooded areas in Iran - Golestan National Park. It was somewhat surprising to move from a very parched, brown land, through a few valleys, and suddenly be in cool, broad leaf forests. I wish we could have spent a bit more time there. Instead we are spending a precious rest day in the Going Bad town of Gonbad. There is nothing here. The city is at a lower elevation, so it's even hotter than before. The hotel we are in has no wifi. So this very much seems like a day for reading (and catching up on the blog!)
Over the next 5 days, we'll climb over a few mountain ranges on our way to Tehran, where we'll have a couple days of rest.
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