Couchsurfing In Tehran, How Foreign Crashers Help Iranians Escape

Travel for Iranians is hard, which is why the young have found hosting foreigners is a way to explore the world vicariously. The latest twist to the private breaking of Iran’s myriad restrictions.

Article illustrative image Partner logoA birthday party in Tehran

TEHRAN — Looking around you see heavy doses of makeup and carefully coiffed hair, jeans and some mini skirts that really are too short. Western music is played almost exclusively on the high-tech sound system, and the pictures on the wall would almost certainly not meet the approval of the morality police. Home-brewed booze with a very high alcohol content — an anise schnapps — is being served liberally. Men and women socialize freely, and some flirt shamelessly.

All of this is nothing terribly exceptional for a party, except that it’s not happening in the West and is instead being hosted by two friends, Yara and Leyan*, in Tehran. Right in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where such things are not only forbidden but are demonized and punishable by law. And yet it’s happening. Privately. Even tourists can experience this secret Mideast world, via Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing is a social network that connects people from all over the world, allowing guests to find hosts willing to offer free places to sleep in private homes. It allows a much more intimate experience for travelers and hosts, crossing geographic and social boundaries that more conventional tourists would be less likely to experience.

The practice is legal in Iran, if not some of the activity that goes behind the privacy of four walls. The government isn’t enthusiastic about it, but it doesn’t forbid it. Which is why the Couchsurfing Internet page for Iran can be used without a filter.

Just how many Iranians participate isn’t clear. Contacts usually happen through Facebook. That social network is officially forbidden, but there are enough apps available to easily circumvent the ban. President Hassan Rouhani, in power since 2013, has tweeted that it’s clear the Iranian authorities are less radical than they were during the days of Rouhani’s predecessor, avowed hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A difficult travel destination

But Iran remains a difficult destination, a country with an extremely bad reputation because of its morality police and other watchdogs, not to mention its arbitrary justice system, its nuclear ambitions, its liberally applied death penalty and hostility toward Israel. Anybody who travels there should be absolutely clear that in so doing they are supporting the regime of themullahs.

But Couchsurfing nevertheless offers rich opportunities for discovering Iran and the daily life of Iranians. And it’s obviously an inexpensive way to travel. But those choosing this travel strategy should be prepared to improvise at all times. The first Facebook contact with Omidin Tehran comes to mind, in fact.

Omid enjoys guiding Western Couchsurfers through his hometown. But shortly before my arrival, Omid wrote via Facebook that he couldn’t make it, that something had come up. So he promised to send two girlfriends, who turn out to be Yara and Leyan, hostesses of the party described above, and where the first Couchsurfing night is reserved.

Both the women are wearing headscarves, as is compulsory, but not the way you would think Iranians would wear them. Their hair is visible, and the women wear the scarves more like a stylish accessory that casually covers the back of their heads. Not everyone approves of this, and the morality police frequently stop passersby and check their identity when they believe civilians aren’t dressed with the requisite modesty.

Yara is undaunted. „Iranian law does say that a woman must wear a headscarf when she leaves the house, so we wear them,“ she says. „But the law doesn’t say exactly how they must be worn. So we wear them the way we want.“

They also live the way they want at home. They host private parties to which Couchsurfers are cordially invited and that offer insight into what lies behind the country’s religious facade.

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Veröffentlicht am 31. Dezember 2014 in Couchsurfing, Iran und mit , , getaggt. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink. Kommentare deaktiviert für Couchsurfing In Tehran, How Foreign Crashers Help Iranians Escape.

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