Lockdown in Iran: Meanwhile in Tehran

In the time of corona, Iran is one of the most heavily affected countries in the world.

Caravan is gone, you are asleep,
And the desert is ahead,
When are you leaving? Whom you ask the direction?
What are you going to do? What would be your destiny?

– Hafez

In the time of corona, Iran is one of the most heavily affected countries in the world. Life has not been easy, but it has not stopped and like everywhere else it has found its own new forms of self-expression. While the number of tourists, so vital to the Iranian economy and well-being, has dwindled, some foreigners have nonetheless chosen to stay in the country that they now call home, be it for its natural beauty, the language, music, history or whatever other reason they may have.

Here we would like to share a few life stories told by foreigners living in Iran’s major cities, starting from the bustling capital Tehran to less touristy Kerman. They hope that one day you can also come and explore the cities they love.

Meanwhile in Tehran

The sun is setting down over Milad Tower. I’m sitting on the rooftop of our apartment building, drinking herbal tea, and enjoying the sunset. The rooftop has become my only playground these days. Like people in many other countries all over the world, many Iranians chose self-isolation to prevent the spread of coronavirus. They buy groceries online, keep in touch with their family and friends through phone or online video calls and stay home.

Unfortunately for Iranians, the pandemic coincided with the New Year holidays (according to the long-standing tradition New Year, or Nowruz, is celebrated on the day of the spring equinox on March 20). But Iranians resisted and celebrated it at home, many of them cancelled traditional family visits, picnics, and other traditional New Year gatherings. In the nine years that I have been living in Iran, this is the first time I see Tehran so quiet and deserted.

Tehran has always reminded me of Moscow, my native city – full of people, full of opportunities and always alive. Here there is always something to do. The capital of Iran, Tehran offers many job opportunities, even for foreigners and I cannot remember a time that I would stay at home without a job. The more people you get to know, the more job offers you get.

Tehran is also the centre of all cultural events happening in the country. There are always different film screenings, festivals, exhibitions or fairs on. And if there were none, we would always meet with friends for a coffee in a nice, modern café or go together on a quest, or to the movies. And when I would get tired of the hustle and bustle of city life, there was always a way to escape for a few hours or a weekend. The unbeatable advantage of being surrounding by the mountains is the location of ski resorts within the reach from the city, although many Iranians simply prefer to go to the mountains for a hike or a picnic.

Many tourists prefer to stay in Tehran as little as possible, it seems too chaotic and busy for them. However, I have a completely different image of Tehran. Although it is the most modern city in Iran (both in terms of technology and lifestyle), it managed to preserve its connection to the past.

It is such a pleasure to take a stroll amid the maze of narrow alleys in the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, discover old little mosques where Iranian grannies discuss the latest local rumours and enjoy a traditional Iranian meal at a restaurant located in a historic Qajar mansion. Only in Tehran can you experience both modernity and tradition, enjoy the views on the city from Milad Tower and visit a 19th-century palace.

It was an easy decision for me to move to Iran – my husband grew up here and I had just finished studying Persian language at a university in Moscow. I thought I would do some fieldwork, continue my research about Iran, and improve my Persian. But when I moved here, I was so excited about all my discoveries about life in Iran that I started sharing them on social media. My stories have at a later stage turned into a blog I am still writing (strangerintehran.com).

And to tell you the truth, I do not regret coming because even after 9 years I have not lost any interest in Iran and I am sure I will never get bored. Life here is always full of surprises.