The women of Iran

I still intend to do one more foodie holiday post but I have been prompted to write this post because of the comments I have been receiving when I tell people I have been to Iran.  I have been asked time and time again, questions like “Was it safe?”,  “Were there police/soldiers/guards everywhere?”  I was chatting with my hairdresser the other day and I don’t think she believed me when I said I did not see one woman wearing a burkah – ie, the full face covering garment.

It got me wondering, why do people think this way about Iran?  There are a few reasons I can think of:

  • it is a theocracy and we have been brainwashed into thinking that any country that is not a democracy is, somehow, evil;
  • it is a Muslim country and we all know of the endemic prejudice Muslims currently face from the Western world; and
  • Iran was one of George Bush’s infamous axes of evil.

So why is Iran a baddie and not a goodie?  Now, I don’t pretend to understand all the politics involved but my superficial understanding is: because it has nuclear power (note: not nuclear weapons) and the US does not think it should.  But we don’t classify the following countries which, according to Wikipedia, have nuclear weapons as “evil”: USA, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan & North Korea (Oops, North Korea may be an exception). 🙂

For the record, Iran is a very safe country to visit and the women do not wear burkahs.

I did not see any women who covered their faces.  The law requires women to cover their legs and a piece of clothing, called a manteau, is required to be worn as an over-garment.  Hair is to be covered by a scarf.

Let’s have a wee look at how the Irani women interpret these rules…

About a quarter to one third of women wear a chador which is a full-body-length semicircle of fabric that is open down the front. This cloth is tossed over the woman’s head and she holds it closed in the front.  I did ponder whether all the women who wore a chador did so because they were particularly religious or whether, to some, it was a convenient way to follow the rules.  If you want to go out, you don’t need to worry what you are wearing.  You can just throw a chador on and you are ready to go.

Many Irani women (especially, the young) interpret the rules very broadly. They are like most other young women – they are interested in fashion and want to look pretty.  Our travel guide told us that more than 85% of young Irani women (and a decent number of young men) have had a nose job.  They wear their nose bandage with honour.   I saw quite a few young women with pixie noses that did not look quite right.

I adore this photo because it says so much. Clearly, the three girls are friends.  They are all wearing the same style of shoes (They must be fashionable).  Something seems to have caught their eye.  Because of what the girl on the right is about to do, I wonder whether it is a boy.

The girl on the left is playing a game a lot of young people play: how far back can I push my scarf without it falling off.  The girl on the right is much more conservatively dressed but check her out.

Look, it’s the scarf flutter.  You see this all over Iran, young women flapping their scarves.  I wonder whether it is a mating call, much like a western girl’s hair flick.  🙂

A young beauty posing for a photo and adjusting things.  Is a scarf flick next?   The yellow certainly says, “Look at me, look at me”.

I like this photo because of the look on the little boy’s face and that on his mum’s.  They are both pretty happy.  The lady doing the painting was also painting faces but I didn’t get a shot of that.  It is the same all over the world.

I assume these two were taking selfies, a very popular past-time in Iran.  The smart phone has well and truly arrived.

I am not sure whether this young woman is on Face Time or taking a selfie.  I just love her gear.  This is exactly what the young were doing everywhere.  They were being very, very cool but still dressing within the rules.

Another very stylish interpretation of the rules – she has everything covered, the trousers, the manteau and the scarf.  I was able to get this perfectly posed picture because she was posing for someone else.  She didn’t see me snap on the side.

Another lovely lady.  She doesn’t look like she is posing.  Maybe she was waiting for someone.

Now this lady was posing – someone else was, definitely, taking her photo.

One very elegant mum but I don’t know about those tassels.

I snapped this lady, very quickly.  I was lucky to get it.

You may wonder why there are so many photos of young women and not so many of older women.  It is because the older women didn’t seem to be so vain.  They weren’t spending their time posing for others so it was much harder to snap them without intruding.

I hope these photos have helped dispel any misconceptions you may have had about Irani women.

More foodie holiday shots – this time, Armenia

If I had to sum up Armenia in one word, I think it would be “miserable“.

I don’t want to be unfair or to offend any Armenians out there but …

To be fair, Armenia has had a shit history, to say the least.  The people have been massacred.  They have lost territory to Turkey and, on the face of it, are sitting ducks.  It is a poor nation which would have suffered financially when the Soviets left.  Yes, they got their culture and religion back but … at what cost?  There are half-finished Soviet hotels left to rot and towns that used to have 20,000 people now have little more than 1,000.  Everywhere, buildings are deserted, left to decay. The landscape is further tarnished with horrid Soviet concrete blocks of flats that the government doesn’t have the money to renovate. Public squares and public gardens in regional towns have been overtaken by weeds and ornamental ponds are covered in slime.  In rural areas, there was barely a young person to be seen.

OK, this is only one side of the story.  Armenians are very religious people. They are rightly proud of their faith and traditions. Yerevan, the capital, did have a positive vibe.  Public buildings were well maintained and there were young people out and about.

The first of many “churches on a hill” – Tatev Monastery

So what does Armenia have going for it?

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I am home

Hello, everyone.  I am back from my holiday.  People have asked me whether I had a good time.  I don’t know the answer to that question.  I am certainly glad I went but it was hard work in more ways than one.

My favourite country out of the four I visited was Iran.  Azerbaijan was also a pleasant surprise but we were only there are few days so it is hard to make a call on such a short stay.

The main thing Iran has going for it is its people.  They are so friendly and welcoming.  People in the streets come up to you and welcome you to their country.  I heard a thousand times, “Welcome to Iran”, “You are welcome,” and “What country are you from?”  Mothers would thrust their young forward to speak to us in English, then burst with pride when we could understand them.  As we walked past, a group of elderly men, sitting on benches in a park, burst into song for our benefit.  Everyone was cheery and appeared optimistic for the future.

Here I am (on the right) with my friend, Sandra, looking very modest.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience.  There were only two negatives – no alcohol and having to wear modest clothing and a head scarf.  The lack of alcohol made meals a very quick affair.  There was no dawdling over a lovely shiraz in Shiraz.  We even tried to get a non-alcoholic version just so we could say “we had a shiraz in Shiraz” but it appears they don’t even make non- alcoholic wine.

And, if you thought about the reason women have to wear a head scarf, you would get grumpy so it was best not to think about it.


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Soap and other things …..

Hello, everyone.  I had been holding off doing another soapy post until I made one more batch.  It is one that I have been looking forward to making for ages.  But, alas, I have run out of time to make any more soap before we head back to Perth and I go on my big holiday.  For those who don’t know, I am off to Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia with my friend, Sandra.  Maus didn’t want to come so she is staying home to do all the Spring tasks on the block.  That is my plan, anyway.

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The easiest pumpkin soup recipe ever and … my pressure canner to the rescue

Everyone has their favourite pumpkin soup recipe.  My favourite is one I have posted before – Pumpkin, cashew and coriander soup.  It is a beauty (check it out here) but it does take a bit of effort.  And there are plenty of times when effort does not figure.  For those times, I have been dreaming of a recipe my mum used to make.  I had it hand written in my recipe book but somehow I lost it.  I did ask my sisters but to no avail.   I remembered the ingredients – chicken stock, pumpkin, tomatoes and onion but I couldn’t remember the proportions.

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I have been making soap, again …

I have been making soap again and am having a ball.  Now we are settled into Bridgetown on a more permanent basis, I have been trying to build up my supply of soap ready for Christmas.  Soap needs four weeks to cure and I am going away for the whole of September, therefore, I don’t have that much time to build up supplies.

Soaping is a wonderful hobby because there is so much to learn and I love learning new things.  My long term plan is to get a range of soaps that I can make consistently.  I am still at the very beginning of this stage but there are already some soaps I think will form part of this range. Continue reading

Never fail sponge

Don’t you just hate “Never Fail” recipes!  They conjure up one image in my mind, “failure!!!”  It took me three attempts to get a decent soufflé from a “Never fail soufflé” recipe.

So I should have been nervous when I received an email from my niece, Fleur, entitled “Never fail sponge”.  I had asked her for the recipe she used for her son’s first birthday cake.  It was Maus’ birthday yesterday and I thought it would be nice if I made her a birthday cake. Continue reading