Back to List of Posts > Rob Ennals > Travel > The Big Trip

Yazd: Talking to the locals

by - August 28 2010

It is fairly common for the more modern Iranian women to approach me and strike up a conversation, but the more conservative, chador clad girls are rather more mysterious, since their religious customs generally prevent them talking to men who they are not related to. The sole exception occurred yesterday. 

Like many Iranian cities, Yazd has few non-fast-food restaurants and most of the places that do exist are carefully hidden, typically unsigned, and hidden in the basement or back-room of another building. If you want to find a good restaurant you need to know someone who is in the know. I was not in the know, and so I found myself sitting in a dirty burger bar trying to eat a burger that contained more mayonnaise than meat. While I was sitting there I was approached by a chador-clad conservative girl. She told me that she had never met a foreigner before and she was interested in practicing her English with me. She was accompanied by a friend who was sending rather mixed messages by wearing a leopardskin headscarf underneath her black tent-like chador.

It didn't take long before we started talking about religion. I asked her what she thought of the chador, given that women in the bigger cities despise it and don't wear it. She didn't seem to have really thought about why she wore the chador. The only reason she was able to give why she wore it or why it was a good thing was "it is our religion". She didn't seem to believe me when I told her that most women in Tehran don't wear the chador. Interestingly, this ignorance seems to be mutual. I had previously talked to some Tehrani girls who were quite convinced that no young women anywhere in the country wore the chador any more - only old people.

Another interaction that comes up a lot is that people tend to get quite confused when I say I have no religion, or that most people in Europe are not religious. The idea that one might not believe in god seems very alien to religious conservatives. The conservative girl said she thought she could not live without god.

As completely separate observation, it is notable that the choice of products in Iran seems much smaller then in other countries. In particular, 90% of cars are one of three models: Peugeot 405 GLX (all seemingly the same model year), a "Saba" car that seems to be a rebadged Kia Pride (most of them white), and an old car that looks suspiciously like a Lada.

The photos for this post were taken from the top of a tower in Yazd and from the roof of a small bazar.