|By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, August 29, 2003 - 10:55 am: Edit Post|
RPCV Jennifer Seaver returns to Iran
RPCV Jennifer Seaver returns to Iran
FORMER PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS RETURN TO IRAN
"Weren't you afraid?"
That is the most common question Doug Schermer gets when people learn he has returned from a two-week trip to Iran.
"Not at all," said Schermer. "I felt comfortable and safe in Iran. The Iranian people were very friendly and welcoming," he added.
Schermer, a retired Iowa school superintendent served in the Peace Corps in Iran in 66-67. He was a member of a 22-person group organized by the National Peace Corps Association and the Friendship Force International that toured Iran in October.
"Our goal was to help build bridges for future communication between the United States and Iran," said Schermer. Since most of the returned volunteers were able to speak Farsi, they were able to visit with the Iranians they met. They heard a strong desire for better relations with the United States.
Traveling by air and bus, the group toured modern Tehran, historic Shiraz, ancient Yazd, and beautiful Esfahan. Along the way it was possible for some to revisit where they served. Bruce Nelson, one of the trip leaders, gave a personal view of Yazd, an ancient city with a large Zoroastrian population. Alan Turpin, an architect, was able to see the building he had designed and built while serving in Esfahan. Jennifer B-C Seaver and Peg von Briesen succeeded in reestablishing contact with a woman who had befriended them 35 years earlier in Rasht.
"Iran is a land of contradictions," said Schermer. Expressways, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and smog stand in stark contrast to ancient ruins, archaeological sites, and beautiful mosques. "It is a modern country with a rich history dating back over 2,500 years during which they have maintained their identity and pride in being Persian," he said.
At Persepolis, the ancient palace of Cyrus the Great, Darius, and Xerxes, the group saw the impressive ruins and learned they were destroyed by Alexander the "Macedonian." He was not "great," explained their guide with a smile.
Most of the former volunteers had been teachers so education was high on their agenda. Although it was not possible to visit schools on this trip, Peter Russell, another group leader, helped arrange visits with Iranian educators trying to bring computer technology to schools. While waiting for their flight to Shiraz, the group met with Sussan Tahmasebi at the Tehran airport to learn about the work of the Science and Arts Foundation, which helps bring the Internet to Iranian schools. Later in the trip, they met with Dr. Yahya Tabesh, Director of the Computing Center at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. Point your browser to http://www.science-arts.org/ or http://www.saf.ir/ to learn more about their work.
Education is a high priority in Iran, where the majority of the people are under 30. Not only is there a high literacy rate (76%) but education for women is valued as evidenced by the many female college students in Iran and their prominence in all professions.
With regards to the Islamic rules for female attire, the group found that foreign women were also expected to cover their bodies and hair. "Dear Guests: Hejab - Islamic Veil - is a magnificent reflection of the Iranian Muslim women so we appreciate your respect to our own Islamic civilization and culture," said the sign at a hotel.
Although the women in the group complied with this request, most found it frustrating to wear a scarf at all times, especially when eating. Many Iranian women, especially the younger ones, wore a "manteau," a lightweight mid-calf length coat. Even that was uncomfortable when walking in the heat of the day. One advantage, though, is not having to worry about fixing hair or wearing an expensive wardrobe. Despite the official rules, it appeared that the young women were pushing the system as far as possible with colors and shorter manteaus.
Schermer has no hesitation in recommending a trip to Iran for men or women. "I had often told my wife I wanted to take her with me to visit Iran," said Schermer. "I was thankful we could participate in this trip," he added. She enjoyed seeing the cities and countryside, visiting the historic and archeological sites, learning about the architecture of mosques, eating the delicious food, and meeting the friendly people.
Of course there was shopping. "The bazaar in Esfahan is 3 miles long. She has 2.8 more miles to see so we need to go back," he joked.
For more information about this trip, including pictures, go to www. friends-of-iran.org.