I left my hotel this morning with something unusual: A plan. I didn't make a list but I knew exactly what I wanted to visit and where to go in Tabriz. Not longer after I stepped outside, it all came to nothing ...
From inside a small yellow taxi, a man shouted at me in Farsi pointing to his wrist. Without understanding a word, I imagined he was asking me the time. I lifted both my arm sleeves and shrouded my shoulders. He realized I didn't have a watch, but insisted on my approach, calling me with his right hand. As I put my head inside the car window, he asks me "Tourist?" To which I answer "Ba le" (one of the few Farsi words I pronounce properly). Despite much of my struggle not to get inside the taxi, I was already being driven by it, door still open and right leg dragged on the road.
Genuinely goodhearted and extremely friendly, Mr. Akbar in Iran is a norm, not an exception.
His name was Akbar, a middle-aged charming Iranian whose energy was beyond understanding. He drove me around Tabriz at his own will, paying (against much of my effortless resistance) my entrance fees on museums and historical buildings (tourists pay almost 10 times more than Iranians). It was shortly past 10 AM when I entered his taxi as a complete stranger. By the time he brought me back to my hotel, it was 5 PM and he was calling me brother. Besides numbers and the word "Okay" he didn't speak any English. I, on the other side, can only articulate 4 or 5 sentences in Farsi... Throughout the 7 hours we where together this was the dialog we had:
Akbar: Tabriz, okaaaaay?
Ricardo: Tabriz, okay.
Akbar: Ah! Tabriz okay. Iran okaaaay?
Ricardo: Iran, okay.
Akbar: Ah! Iran okay. Portugal okaaaaaaay?
Ricardo: "Ba le", Portugal okay.
Akbar: Iran, Portugal (joining both index fingers), okaaaaaaaaay?
Ricardo: Ba le. Ba le. Iran, Portugal okay.
Akbar: In schā'a llāh (tapping my left leg).
Ricardo: Inschallah. Inschallah.
Akbar: Taxi, okaaaaaaayyyyyy?
Ricardo: Taxi, okay.
Akbar: Okayyyyyyyyyyyy! Iran ... (some Farsi) ... ?
Ricardo: Iran? Tabriz, Jolfa, Kaleybar, Ardabil, Astara, Rasht, Noshar, Teheran, Ghazvin, Kashan, Yazd, Isfahan, Shiraz...
Akbar: Ohhhhhhh! Iran: Tabriz okay, Jolfa okay, Kaleybar okay, Ardabil okay, Astara okay, Rasht okay, Noshar okay, Teheran okay, Ghazvin okay, Kashan okay, Yazd okay, Isfahan okay, Shiraz okay. Okaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy?
Ricardo: Ba le, ba le, okay.
Akbar: Ah! Portugal, In schā'a llāh, in schā'a llāh (tapping my left leg). Musee, okayyyyyy?
"Okaaaaaayyyyyyy..." although the verbal communication was dull and poor, Akbar didn't help himself in showing his affection for me in public. Whenever we stepped out of the taxi he would gently take my hand and we would walk along Tabriz's main attractions hand in hand - something between father and son and a proud western gay couple.
Both Kathleen and I have experienced some amazing hospitality in Iran, making our travel experience unforgettable and very different from what we expected...