Audrey Scott * – There seems to be an unspoken rule in this part of the world (and by this part of the world, I mean Central Asia, the Caucasus and the greater Middle East) that if you are a female traveler, local women – especially older women – will seek you out and make certain you are taken care of.
It just seems to happen. And so it did with our flight to Tehran.
We find our seats next to an older Iranian woman clutching her purse and wearing a dark headscarf (I begin to wonder, “Is mine too light?”). She gets up and waits for us to squeeze in, but she’s eager to engage the moment we’re settled in.
“Allemagne?” she asks. (Are you from Germany?)
Her eyes grow big, “America?”
I nod and smile, trying to feel out her reaction. She continues, “Oh, good. Very good. American people good. Iranian people good.”
Her maternal instincts take over. She looks at my uncovered head with concern, points to her headscarf and charades “Do you have one?”
I pull out my newly purchased headscarf from Istanbul. I begin to put it on and she shakes her head, “Iran, you need this. Not now.”
She gives me a big, warm smile; I can feel her relief that I’m properly geared up for her country.
We wake up at 2 AM for the descent into Tehran. I look over at my Iranian grandma. Two perfectly wrapped chocolates sit atop her tray table. You can tell she’s been waiting for us to wake up to give us this gift.
“You need to stay in Tehran more time. Then you come to my home,” she offers. I thank her profusely but explain that we are on a group tour and unable to adjust our itinerary. The real story is more complicated, probably in a way that we are both aware, but there’s no value in belaboring this.
“OK. Next time,” she smiles.
As I tie my headscarf with amateur hands, grandma nods in approval. “Iranian style,” she says.
I’ve got it right, apparently. Then I put on my long, butt-covering manteau-like sweater. Grandma flashes another smile of approval. “Yes. Better.”
There’s that mild anxiety of the unknown, again.
It becomes clear that her approval doesn’t originate from her desire to see me covered for religious purposes, but her wish for me to avoid any unnecessary scrutiny. I feel more comfortable with her blessing of my attire; she obviously knows lranian clothing norms better than I ever will.
I look about and notice that all the women around me have put on their headscarves and manteaux, too. I expect more black full-body chadors than I see, but our reading of the scene still suggests we are landing in a very different place.
As we exit, grandma pauses amidst the crowd of our fellow passengers to ensure I exit with her. She grasps for my hand to guide me into the correct immigration line for foreigners. Her responsibility complete, she waves, wishes us a good trip and ducks into her own immigration line.
Lesson: The world over, grandmas keep you close.
* Audrey Scott is an american traveler. She writes in Uncornered Market