My Unexpected Sojourn Home
A Story Through Photographs By Negar Iravani
At the beginning of 2016, I felt like I was stuck in a shell with nowhere to go. I would go to work, come home, and repeat that all over again everyday. Major anxiety and depression were plaguing me. One day mid-May, I randomly decided to check flight prices to Iran and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw tickets were only $600. Since I looked up flights, I was in daydreams about returning... Dreaming about finding myself again.
About a week passed. With trembling hands and sweating palms I found the courage to walk to my manager’s office to ask for a month off. Was I scared to travel across the world by myself to make new adventures, meet new people and to see family that I hadn’t seen in 14 years? HECK YES! I needed to do something that could open my eyes to new opportunities and see the world in a different perspective. This trip was going to be the trip that would change me and my life. It was going to help me see the light again and appreciate life. I was dreaming about new adventures and excitements in my life that I was missing. I wanted to pack up and go then and there.
I had major anxiety the night before my trip. I almost didn’t want to go. So much that I didn’t pack until a few hours before my flight. I honestly didn’t know what I was putting myself through but I knew that I was going to make this one month the best month of the year for me.
When I landed, I felt the same exact feelings I felt when my family and I decided to leave Iran for a better life in America. I was going to miss my family while I was gone. I was already missing my mom during my flight to Iran and I knew I was going to miss my family in Iran when I returned home. I was going to hug them goodbye one more time exactly one month from the day I arrived. I just couldn’t fathom those feelings. I quickly tried to escape the future by thinking about all the things I was going to do during my stay but the feelings of saying goodbye again to my family in Iran went away quicker than I wanted them to once I saw my uncle and my sweet cousin. Tears fell down as I ran to hug them.
The next day I was jet-lagged but that didn’t stop me from exploring. Every day there was valuable to me. As I walked the streets of Tehran, Iran’s capital, with my cousin I finally felt free. I love my freedom as a woman in America, but for the past few years I have felt like an outsider. I felt like I didn’t have much in common with the people. I felt free walking down the street because it was the feeling I had been missing. “Free” as in I didn’t feel like an outsider; I felt like I belonged. What stood out to me right away were the people: Hard-working individuals working day and night and yet they still managed to smile and be kind. Generosity was everywhere. Through every street, every town, every taxicab, every shopping mall. It was a breath of fresh air to witness such jubilation.
There were a few things on my list that I for sure had to do, like dipping my toes in the Caspian Sea. Fun fact: A lot of people don’t realize this but Russia and Iran share the Caspian Sea. The biggest lake in the entire world, so big that they call it a sea. When I told my cousin that I really wanted to go to the beach she laughed at me because she was confused as to why I would want to go to the beach when California has some of the most beautiful beaches around. They are so used to the Caspian Sea that they don’t even realize what a huge deal it is to witness it!
The beach is typically 4 hours away from Tehran not including traffic. You have to drive on Chaloos Road, which is a really dangerous and narrow two-way road on a cliff, with nothing surrounding it except mountains. I could touch the car going the opposite direction if I stuck my hand out the window. It’s known for the amount of deaths that happen due to car crashes. It also started to rain so we were stuck in traffic. While we were patiently waiting for cars to move a cow appeared out of nowhere, so I had to take a picture.
As beautiful Iran is I have to say one important issue their government doesn’t care about is animal cruelty. I also saw donkeys, cats and dogs on the side of the roads/streets. I wanted to save every single one of them. I tried to feed as many of them as I could.
We spent our time at a friend’s villa at Caspian Sea for about 5 days. I thought the beach would be segregated, but that’s only the case if you want to get down in your bathing suit. There was a hookah lounge right in the middle of the beach with benches facing the ocean. We took our shoes off, as that’s the tradition. As I sat and watched my guy friends take their shirts off, wishing it was me, to play beach volleyball. I thought, “why do men have all the power in this country?” the one thing that I absolutely hate.
While I smoked my hookah the wind blew my hijab right off my head but at that moment I didn’t care. I felt blessed to be surrounded by such beauty. I was gazing off, thinking, when my eye caught a glimpse of an elderly man. He too was gazing off, I followed the direction of his eyes. He was watching his daughter, wife and granddaughter play in the water. I immediately grabbed my phone and captured the moment.
I ended up having a conversation with him about his beautiful family. I told him that he had a beautiful family. He told me that his daughter and her family were visiting from out of town and that he had missed them dearly. I do not know his full story, but what I saw was a man that has lived life with sorrow, hardship but most of all laugher. His smile lines showed me that he was and is happy. I thanked him for letting me capture such a pure moment. That day was perfect.
I hadn’t experienced that much freedom and joy in a long while. I fell in love and opened up more than I have with anyone. At a time I had given up on love, he showed me otherwise with his gentleness and warmth. Although our relationship did not continue after my trip I’ll forever be thankful to him because he helped in so many ways that he’s even unaware of. I believe in love again and I have hope again. I left a piece of my heart at the Caspian Sea.
The next day, I decided to walk the streets and take the metro everywhere. I wanted to see my childhood home and I was curious as to how the metros looked in Iran. It wasn’t what I expected at all. You could either ride with men or if you, as a woman, wanted more freedom to let your hair out you could ride the “Women Only” section. Walking around in the summer heat all day with your hijab can get a little hot so we decided to ride the women only section. It was nice to let my hair out. The whole metro had air conditioning and it was super clean and modern.
When I walked the streets to go see my childhood home I tried to take in every single moment. Memories of when I was around 8 years old filled my head and I definitely tried to hold back tears. When I arrived to the house, it looked exactly the same. In that moment I wanted to travel back in time and relive those moments one more time.
Iran is changing and becoming modern and westernized. Most houses and buildings that are 10+ years old are being replaced by new buildings. So when we walked through my old stomping grounds I felt like I was 8 again because everything remained the same. I wanted to ride my bike to my neighbors house. I wanted to go talk to my crush. I wanted to look through my window from the second floor and watch the boys play soccer while thinking about joining them later. I wanted to see my dad again driving his blue car down the street. I wanted to relive those memories one more time.
At this point I was up for anything so when I visited my cousin and his wife in Ahwaz I didn’t expect them to agree to my crazy idea of driving back 15 hours in the summer heat to Tehran. Let me just say the pictures do not show how much we were suffering in that dry heat.
We were driving through these beautiful mountains and I made my cousin pull over in the middle of nowhere because I wanted a dope picture. I immediately had an image in my head that I wanted him to capture. So, I pulled my headscarf over my face so only my eyes were showing. The picture came out better than I had expected:
We took a few more pictures throughout our drive. Here are a few:
I also had the chance to visit Kashan. At Kashan I went to the Fin Garden: “Fin Garden (Persian: باغ فین Bagh-e Fin) located in Kashan, Iran, is a historical Persian garden. It contains Kashan's Fin Bath, where Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor, was murdered by an assassin sent by King Nasereddin Shah in 1852. Completed in 1590, the Fin Garden is the oldest existing garden in Iran.”
This garden was absolutely massive and breathtaking. I got the chance to see around the garden where most of the houses were made of mud. People don't live in those houses anymore. I also saw a beautiful horse! Through our drive around town I saw a working man sitting all by himself gazing out. I could tell that he was in it all alone and he had a rough day.
Overall, my trip was way more than I expected. I’ll forever cherish the experiences I made and the people I met. Each one has a story that I keep close to my heart. I saw family and friends that I hadn’t seen for over a decade. I fell in love with a man who showed me that people like him still exist in this world. I made memories that will probably make me cry happy tears every time I think about them. 2016 was a year full of ups and downs for me but ending it with this trip was the best thing I could ask for for my sanity.
Here are some more photos:
Engage: Which photos were your favorite? Where is your heart pulling you to travel to? What about Negar's story inspired you? Share in the comments below!
Negar is a makeup artist living in the Bay Area. She is currently the Senior Makeup Artist at her local Sephora and in the District. Her passion is to help women with self-confidence when they sit on her make-up chair. Find her on Instagram @niravani.