SYNOPSIS: I was in transit to Hamadan most of the day, met a lot of women, continued to struggle with my scarf and got blessed by a rabbi.  Praises to Mousavir at the Firouzeh hotel in Teheran.  The unexpected continues as the trip reaches its mid-point.

If it had not been for Mousavir, I would have schlepped my luggage to the metro, gone to the terminal and boarded an ordinary, crowded overland bus today.  But Mousavir is on top of tourists’ needs and prides himself of finding everything you wish and of not having to say “no”.  Not ever, if possible.  Lonely Planet was right on the mark by recommending this hotel because of Mousavir’s one man show.

Firouzeh is a 40 year old unremarkable, no star hotel in a loud Southern neighborhood.  It has nothing but its low price going for it.  But Mousavir turns it into something more valuable than any four star hotel by his willingness to help and by going above and beyond caring about his guest’s welfare.  That is particularly true for the foreigners he is dealing with.  For one, he speaks English.  That seems to be rare in Iran.  And he has learned what we foreigners ask for, so he has built connections, educated himself, and equipped himself with the necessary tools ranging from tea bags, to tooth paste to spare SIM cards.  He will act as your travel agent making endless phone calls on your behalf, or as your bank should you need money and the banks are closed.  There seems to be nothing he is not willing to do and nothing he is not able to provide.  Thanks, Mousavir!

Put this in perspective:  My travel agent Mozaffar – a very kind man with whom I met yesterday to discuss travel plans – pointed to the map, told me where the bus terminal is, and called to find out that there is a bus every hour going to Hamadan.  This was good.  When I told Mousavir that I was leaving per bus to Hamadan, he arranged for a taxi, found out that there is a special VIP bus stateion, made a reservation, confirmed the reservation, called me in the taxi to make sure we were on our way (he was not yet at work!) and since we were running late due to heavy traffic, he called the bus company from home instructing them to wait for me!  Wow!  I have never had service like that.

Another perspective:  The three star hotel I ended up in Hamadan is twice the price, the staff speaks broken English, I have no toilet paper, no Internet, and a squatter toilet to deal with!  At “Mousavir’s “ hotel, I had wireless in my little room!  It isn’t the size of the room or the people who carry my luggage or make my bed, or the stars that are attached to a hotel for a big lobby, but somebody like Mousavir who makes all the difference.  I wish there were more like him!

The bus was extraordinarily spacious.  Instead of 40 some seats it had 26.  You could fold your seat down to almost sleeping position.  First class.  The 5 ½ hours to Hamadan went by fast.  If anyone of you readers actually looked at my original travel itinerary which I posted on the blog before leaving, you would be lost at this point.  I am too.  But because Nicola from London, my travel partner from Pakistan, decided to join me at the last minute had to reconfigure.  I tried to figure out how to hit the three main cities she wants to see during her two weeks stay and still get to the sites I had planned on.  So, roughly speaking: I am heading SW now to meet her in the middle of the country, where we will see an ancient Ziggurat and the main attractions of Esfahan and Shiraz together.  From there I will continue further SE and finally all the way up to the NW on my own again.

What I noticed over the last three days in Iran is that the guys finally leave me alone.  They stare, but the verbal advances have all but stopped.  Instead, it’s the girls and the young women who smile at me and if they dare, say “hello” and then giggle to see if I respond.  During a restroom break on our trip, I was surrounded by five women within a few minutes who were talking to me.  Thankfully, the two young ones, Mona and Mah’sa, spoke English, Mah’sa nearly perfectly.  She is an 18 year old English teacher (on the side) whose parents have made her learn English since she was 8.   She is studying electricity and physics at the university in Hamadan.

Hamadan is my kind of town.  Small, walkable and comprehensible in its layout.  I started to get a feel for the town and went to the only site that was still open in the late afternoon:  The Esther and Mordechai Shrine.  It goes way back to biblical times but if all the reported history is correct is questionable.  For example, the ancient goddess Ishtar and the god Marduk may have had a shrine there before its adaptation by Esther and Mordechai.  But it does not matter.  Hamadan used to be the largest Jewish community in Iran.  This shrine was one of the major pilgrimage spots for Jews of the entire country.  Today, Rabbi Rajad told me, there are 15 Jews left in town from ten different families.  I wanted to ask him a lot more questions, but his English was limited and my French or Farsi non-existant.

Next to the tomb of Esther is a small underground synagogue.  It is actively used for weekly services and Jewish holidays for locals and visitors.  Rabbi Rajad showed me around.  There is the bima – the central place for the Torah, the balcony for the women, the main worship hall.  All about as big as a large living room.  The ark was covered but he told me that there were three old Torah’s in there.  When I asked to see them, I expected to be turned down.  But Rabbi Rajad opened the ark and asked if I wanted to be blessed.  He put one hand on one of the Torahs and the other on my head and in Hebrew, he blessed me, my mother (yes mother, by name!), and my trip.  Blessed by a rabbi in Iran!  That is about the last thing I would have expected.  It was very touching.

I had an awfully bland dinner at the hotel and went to bed early.  I caught a cold, too …

I gave up on one bit of freedom – even at the hotel I wore my headscarf.  This hotel has a different feel – lobby, strangers walking around.  And, after I had my hair under a scarf all day – it was windy and I constantly had to pull it back up and make sure that it did not blow off of me – my hair looked so awful, flat, and messed up, that I hardly wanted to show it in public!  That is a byproduct I had not thought of.  It takes care of somebody telling you to cover.  I am already doing it voluntarily.  🙂

Good night.