on our train trip in Iran Our Fadak train host helping us finding our sits at the Mashhad train station

Understanding Iran: Lots of Myths and the cure for it


Why visit Iran? For the historical sites? Good place for a carefree vacation? I’d say a visit is a prerequisite to understanding Iran.

Let me tell you upfront: I don’t know much about Iran or the Middle East.

It’s not just because of chaos that seems to be endemic to this part of the world.

People here – they go about life differently.

Not worse or better. Just different. So different that it can really get under your skin.

I didn’t know this when I left Iran at 15. Now, 45 years later, after spending my entire adult life in the West, I am certain of it.

Want to understand Iran? Hire my handyman

Take for example, their attitude toward risk.

Right now, Saeideh and I are on our balcony in Mashhad having little heart attacks.

Why? Because before me is a handyman named Reza demonstrating in 3D the classic Iranian refusal to respect the physical probabilities of the universe.

I see this every day on the streets of Iran, in the way people drive, cross the street or pack boxes in the back of their trucks as if they’re building skyscrapers.

As if in the afternoon, gravity too takes a nap.

Fruit delivery truck mashhad iran street
Gravity asleep. Fruit delivery truck, Mashhad, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

Now Reza, drilling holes into my balcony’s awning, is showing us how to give the finger to gravity.

The 40-year-old is standing in rubber slippers on the edge of the balcony, just a couple of centimeters from slipping to certain death five stories below.

My hands were shaking when I took this pic:

Taking risks reza mashhad myths about iran
Saeideh begging Reza. Unnecessary risks in rubber slippers, in Mashhad, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh

“Reza, this is dangerous,” I tell him.

He ignores me.

“Stop it!” Saeideh yells.

More silence.

“Damn it!” I scream. “I don’t wanna have to pay blood money to your wife for the rest of my life.”

Maybe it’s the mention of money that finally gets his attention.

He laughs. “What’s the big deal?” 

Understanding Iran: it’s complicated and tiresome myths widespread

If I don’t understand the people standing before me, how can I claim to understand the politics or the history, or the culture of Iran?

I have a graduate degree in political science for which I wrote a thesis on Iran. 

If I don’t understand people standing before me, how can I claim to understand the politics or the history or the culture of Iran?

But now, 27 years later and living in Iran, I don’t even bother to watch the news.

Because I’m exhausted trying to make heads and tails out of what the heck is going on!

What Mike Kosta is saying here is exactly how I feel:

Clip from The Daily Show, a property of Comedy Central. Check out our YouTube channel.

People are often surprised when they find out I don’t have satellite TV, now pretty much a fixture even in Iran’s tiniest villages.

I don’t want TV because it gets painful listening to people spreading their ignorance. Some of those talking heads interviewed on BBC and CNN: my God! If people watching only knew how deep their heads are stuck up their butts.

  1. People, even the so-called experts, consistently evoke myths to make their arguments.
  2. The myths were born from the activities of a tiny minority and notorious personalities who have little in common with what most Iranians actually believe.

Being here is prerequisite to understanding Iran

But despite my ignorance, I’m willing to bet that I probably know more than you about Iran.

Because I am here and you’re not.

Turns out, despite the existence of such a thing as the Internet, being on location is still a pretty solid prerequisite to knowledge.

Understanding Iran is in meeting the people of Iran, not in the poly sci journals and The Economist subscriptions that I thought made me smart.

It’s possible to learn more in one heartfelt, honest conversation with an Iranian cabbie than attending a lifetime of Atlantic Council events.

I explain all this to make two points:

1 I need to write down what I see around me because what I see here is so different from what I thought I knew about Iran.

There is confirmation here that all Homo sapiens tend to be the same selfish, contradictory, fascinating, endearing assholes – regardless of their labels and location.

And, at the same time, what we think we know about the labels is usually terribly wrong. Most of what we know about foreign people and places are myth-laden impressions fed to us, not facts.

So I made this website. To write down what I see. Maybe try to explain too. But at least write it down, dude, I tell myself.

2 If you are curious about Iran, you need to visit Iran -because none of it matches the myths.


Ali and Saeideh plan their Iran roadtrips from their home in Mashhad. More about us here >>


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright © 2023 escapefromtehran.com