The two Roghayehs - Unfinished Business - CycleBlaze

The two Roghayehs

I know two Roghayehs.  They are both Iranian, one a few years younger than the other and they live about 300 km apart in northwest Iran.  I was destined to meet Roghayeh H, because she is a scientist and spent some of her time as a Ph.D. student in my department at the Australian National University.  Cora and I got to know Roghayeh well because we taught her to ride a bicycle and lent her one for her stay.  She described this as a huge risk and a big undertaking.  What if I break my arm?  Anyway, she persevered and relished the freedom that a bicycle gave her in a country that granted her equality.  Now an academic, Roghayeh H describes herself as a thinking person and a thoughtful person.  She freely admits that she toes the line and is not one to rock the boat.

I am currently riding a bicycle east from England and a few days ago entered my eleventh country, Iran.  It was from Turkey that I sent an email to Roghayeh seeking her advice – what should I know about Iran?  On my third day in Iran, I was about 20 km from Sufiyan when I spotted a bus shelter and decided to brew a coffee, an uncommon drink in Iran.  It was a quiet location with not much around other than a white car parked 50 metres away.  Nevertheless, for a little peace I set up my stove behind the shelter and almost immediately a couple appeared on the railway lines that separated me from an orchard, where they too had been seeking a little peace.  The woman posed and the man photographed her.  She was clearly looking at me so I gave a subtle wave to which she responded with jubilant waving.  They came and introduced themselves as Roghayeh and her husband, Sohrab, from Tabriz.  Roghayeh wanted her photograph taken with me and as Sohrab raised his camera she leaned on the shoulder of this sweaty, dirty, aromatic Australian cyclist.  I then set up my camera for Sohrab to repeat the shot.  After a little talk, with a lot of sign language, Roghayeh rushed to the car and returned moments later with a book – her book, written in Farsi but with an English title on one of the covers.  Wrapped around a picture of a hangman’s noose from which dangled a wedding ring it read “Perhaps my mother don’t come”.  Roghayeh insisted on giving me a copy but I could not bear the frustration of wondering what hid in the script that raced across the pages from right to left and from what I think of as the back cover to the front.  There was also the question of finding a place for it in my heavily bloated panniers.  Thus, I declined but instead photographed the author with her book.

Eventually it was time for Roghayeh and Sohrab to leave.  I felt that I had known them for much longer than the hour or so that we spent chatting and laughing at the bus stop.  We all shook hands, hugged and patted each other on the back.  They drove off towards Tabriz.  I cycled in the same direction.

So what was Roghayeh H’s advice for me?  Her email said “I have just one recommendation regarding the different culture in Iran and I apologize beforehand to say that.  Here men and women do not shake hands and they do not hug.”  Every day Iran surprises.

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