Yesterday, I had the absolute fortune to become friends with a stranger. What happened was that two weeks ago, as my credit card had the gall to die on me while I was paying for lunch followed by the ATM eating it. As such, a kindly Iranian man lent me money (500 rubles = $7.72) and yesterday I paid him back. However, fortune and fate has a strange way of introducing you to incredible people, people whom you’d normally never, ever cross paths with. After I paid him back, we sat around in his travel agency office for an hour and a half talking. During those 90 minutes, I’ve never felt a connection as strong or as warm as I did then!
One thing that struck me was that Behruz was very well spoken and thoughtful. He told me that he’s traveled a bit, and it was very evident just by our conversation that his overall world view has been molded by this. As such, the goal of his travel agency is to connect Iranians with Russia, and vice versa. From the very beginning, he said that Iran still remains a place of stereotypes in that people either don’t know much about the country, or they think the prevailing mentality of people there is staunchly anti-Western. However, that’s not the case. He told me that, similar to Russians these days, most people absolutely cannot get enough of Western culture. The knee jerk reaction that the majority have, however, when they hear “Iran” tends to go in a vastly different direction than the previous sentence. Therefore his agency aims to promote a more accurate picture of the respective countries through the medium of travel. It’s also not just the West who are unaware of what lies outside their hallowed borders. Talking from his firsthand experience, Bahruz reported that Iranians essentially are unaware of what Russia has to offer, other than the notion of vodka and devastatingly cold winters. To further dispel stereotypes, he told me that he has written several hundred blog posts about the two countries in both Russian and Farsi; he aims to write at least one per day! I highly doubt if anybody is working harder to serve as a bridge between cultures!
Thus, this leads me to the main thought of this post. Travel, as the saying goes, is the one thing you buy that makes you richer. Both Behruz and I agreed that the act of travel is the way to change the world. How is that? I may be preaching to the choir here, but when you experience other countries, your own personal views change. You are able to see people you may have only read about. You see see how the other half lives. Preconceptions and stereotypes are shattered. And when you come back home, you’re able to better appreciate things you take for granted. Or even, you come away with a changed perspective. Last summer, I spent a fantastic week in Bosnia, and I saw and experienced things that I never would have gotten the chance to see. As I chronicled here, I was fortunate enough to experience what a mosque was like, and it was especially fascinating to hear the call to prayer. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a way to attend services, but I got an all too brief, yet fascinating, look inside Islam. Had I not traveled, I highly doubt that experience would have manifested itself in my life. In a way, travel is a new Silk Road. The original one helped expand cultural interaction between cultures/societies that hitherto hadn’t been connected. Nowadays, we can fly, take the train, or travel by boat to destinations that weren’t always accessible. While we both agreed that sometimes, travel can adversely affect countries (i.e. downplaying their proud history and heritage in order to shift to more touristic ventures), overall the opportunity to open barriers is worth it. As an increasing number of people venture beyond their own borders, I do believe that the world will become a better place, especially with the advent of an increasingly rising amount of budget airlines. So, what are you waiting for? There are many worlds out there, just waiting for you to fall in love with!
You can find Behruz’s site, in Russian, at goiran.ru.