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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Permission Granted - The Team's Going To Iran!
March 11, 2000

"Hey guys, does anyone know what they're gonna write about for the next deadline?" Brian asked. It was too early, and my head was still buried under the pillow. But I couldn't ignore the question. It rung in my ears, like the 4:00am call to prayer, and wouldn't let me go back to sleep. I honestly had no clue what to write about because I hadn't gone to any new sites. Have I just been on vacation, you ask, or maybe hanging out in Istanbul like I have no work to do? Well yes and no.

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Jeff, Abeja and Monica prepare for Iran
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Jeff and Abeja busily try to cover our tracks by removing any sign that we visited Israel from our brochure. No one who's been there is allowed into Iran... ACCESS DENIED! Instead of being able to freely move around and cover Turkey like we usually would, (we've been here for a week) it has been an agonizing waiting game -- making multiple trips to the Iranian Embassy pleading our case and hoping that they would grant us permission to enter the country. We even had to make changes to the Odyssey brochure, since any sign that we had already visited Israel would mean our applications would be instantly rejected. Iran will have nothing to do with Israel, who they see as a country that is not only highly subsidized by US dollars, but also a Jewish nation that stepped in and took Muslim holy lands.

It was over four months ago that this planning process began. We were crossing through Spain and Greece heading into Egypt, our final destination in the Africa Stage. The Middle East Stage was raring to go and only two months away. With Iran being three countries into the Middle East, it would seem that we had plenty of time. Wrong. It is now down to the wire, and still no Iranian visas for the Odyssey World Trek Team. In addition, three of the four travelers I talked to who were trying to get Iranian visas have been denied. (That didn't help us feel better.) Not to mention, the Turkey stage comes to its conclusion in less than a week. What do we do?

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On our way to take visa pics and make our appeal at the Iranian Embassy
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The scarves are not a fashion statement. Fully covered and veiled, the women of the Odyssey World Trek are off to address the consulate and to take pictures for their visas. Dress code is strictly enforced. Our saving grace, or so we hoped, was that we are not individual travelers. We are the Odyssey World Trek, an organized group, which is generally more likely to receive approval than individual travelers. The Iranian government also requires that Americans enter Iran on a regulated tour. The tour company acts as a sponsor or a guide during our stay so that the government knows where we are and what we're doing at all times. We will have a 24-hour chaperone, I mean tour guide, helping us pave our way through a country for the first time in the history of the trek. It's usually up to us to blindly wander through a new place and find our way. But that's just the beginning of what is going to make Iran a unique experience for us all.

Vocabulary

shrouded - concealed by a garment
façade - a superficial appearance or illusion

In the mean time we wait. I decided to visit a project in the earthquake areas called Masalevi. While I was there, my friend Ercu picked up a newspaper and mentioned that elections had just concluded in Iran and that the reform party gained a majority in parliament. "Wow," I thought to myself, "We're on our way there, and at such a pivotal time. New leadership is underway and energy is rising high. What an awesome opportunity! We'll get to explore firsthand what that means for the country." Then the sting... still no visas. We finally decided to turn to our stateside team for help. They informed us that there had been word from our Iranian contacts and that the big elections had been part of the delay. The good news was that there had been progress, and we were almost there. We continued to busy ourselves in Istanbul. As the man of the team, Brian made regular appearances at the embassy on our behalf, but all to no avail. Time was ticking down and there was nothing to do but wait. Finally it came, an email from the stateside team entitled, "IRANIAN VISA PERMISSION GRANTED"

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Jazzy veiled - no pics please!
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I stared at the screen and smiled to myself. My reaction was surprising. After all that we'd been through, I thought I'd be jumping for joy and totally excited. But now that it was actually happening, the reality set in. We would have to be fully shrouded in chadors and head coverings at all times. Women must legally observe this dress code or risk the penalty of the law. Iran is a country synonymous with the word 'highjack'. Iranian forces were responsible for the deaths of 242 US. Marines in a truck bombing in Beirut. It's been a downhill battle ever since the first Iranian crisis in 1979 when 52 US Embassy workers were held hostage for 444 days. The hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was touted, by Iranians, as the capture of U.S. "spies." Americans, however, hardly took kind to their tactics. The event destroyed President Carter, and any future reconciliation with the U.S.

Animosity is easily a two-way street. To Iran, the United States is more commonly referred to as the "Great Satan," a spiritually void and corrupt nation. But I hope that this is exactly what we will be able to surpass. Who are the people behind the mask of their government's façade? American culture goes deeper than our leadership, be it good or bad. Doesn't the world deserve to know and experience who we are as a people? The U.S. is a superpower with a reputation to be reckoned with. So while America has no problems letting the world know who we are, Iran does. Therefore it's lost under the guise of an evil and bad place that should be left untouched so as not to contaminate the rest of the world. Personally, I remember a time when America dispelled the same stereotypes about Blacks in America. We were not even considered citizens, and treated like less than human. What do we know about Iranians outside of their calamities with the U.S.? I hope you join us as we lift the veil to find out for ourselves.

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Genesis with his international Barbie collection!
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This is the last time you'll see public displays of affection or women uncovered for a while. But that just means a new and different adventure awaits. Not only do most travelers who have been to Iran want to go back, they say the hospitality of the Iranian people is like no other. Everywhere you go in Iran you are "mehmun" or a guest. Visitors have talked about taxi drivers not accepting the fare or local bystanders in a line paying for a tourist's purchases. Not to mention the great history Iran boasts. We will be visiting the Kuh Dasht cave paintings which are 42,000 years old. We'll learn about the Muslim culture in Iran and visit the Motahhari Mosque and Madrassa, correctly known as the Masjed-e Sepahsalar, Tehran's largest and most important mosque, built in 1878-90. We will explore the transition from Christianity to Islam that took place over the years. And no dispatch on Christianity would be complete without visiting the most remarkable Christian monument in Iran, the Ghara Kelisa -- the Church of St. Thaddaeus. The great conquests that followed are forever remembered, especially in the murky medieval dungeons of Alexander the Great's prison or the Towers of Silence where the dead were left for vultures.

Need I say more? I think not! So you stay tuned for the coolest and most up-to-date information about Iran coming your way. We'll see you there!

Jasmine

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...jasminehamlett@bigfoot.com
 

Abeja - Rockin' the Yalova Stadium, Anatolian Style
Abeja - The Odyssey World Trek For Service and Education is Making a Difference!
Brian - Would You Like Some More Cookies? Brian Gets Stuffed in Yalova
Jasmine - Masalevi: Where Fairytales Come True"

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