I am a people watcher. It's fascinating. Watching mannerisms and how humans interact with other humans and the rest of the world can tell so much about a character. A great place to people watch is at the airport and on planes. It took about 27 hours to travel to Iran, providing a lot of opportunity to watch, absorb, process, and dissect what's around me.
In my 20th hour, I experienced something for the first time that many Iranians who travel face on a regular basis. There's only a select few airlines that will service to Iran, so options are limited and you take what you can get. I remember flying with Lufthansa when I was younger and having a connection in Frankfurt -- what I don't remember is being secluded to a separate wing of the airport that was solely created for those traveling to Iran. I also don't remember the bullet proof glass where we individually went in to show our passports, or a security guard standing there with a rifle after going through the second round of security. I was waiting for my boots to be examined and approved when I looked up and saw him standing there. If he was placed to evoke fear, it worked.
They had everyone traveling to Iran in that wing completely closed off to the rest of the airport by what looked like bullet proof glass with one standard airport gift shop that had a lot of perfume and cologne (insert Persian joke here), one cafe, and some bathrooms, If you left because you wanted to get food or something other than that cafe, then you would have to go through all of that security again. I don't think I'll ever travel through Frankfurt again if I'm going to Iran.*
The line to get on the plan was massive. We were standing without any progress of the line for about 15 minutes when an elderly man in front of me turned to his wife and said, "We're Iranian. We're used to waiting."
He looks at me and smiles warmly. His eyes are kind, but holds a lot of grief. "Isn't that right?," he says to me.
I inferred that was a reference to the current state of the country.
I smile back and nod my head. His name was Mohsen, and his wife was Sheila. We begin chatting and the couple were so thrilled to learn that I still have such a strong connection to Iran despite having been born in the US. They were returning to Iran from a visit to their son in Montreal. I told them I was coming to visit my grandmother and extended family. "Mashallah!" Sheila said as she rubbed my arm.
Mohsen is studying my face as I'm speaking with his wife. "I've noticed that (your generation of) Iranian-Americans are much kinder than the ones here," he said.
The wife nodding her head and added, "It's because the kids here (in Iran) grew up with a lot of economic and social challenges."
Slowly, the line begins to move and we are nearing the front where we scan our tickets. The couple wished me a wonderful trip, and made sure my family was meeting me at the airport upon arrival since I was traveling alone. They graciously invited me to come visit if I'm ever in their city of Karaj, and we exchanged contact information. It was beautiful experiencing their kindness and authenticity despite the heavy weight of the current state of Iran on their shoulders.
*Thoughts about security: I respect the process and can acknowledge the serious amount of responsibility placed upon those guards to ensure the safety of the public - kudos for taking your job seriously, and doing a thorough job. I get it. I understand it's necessary to be thorough and it's for the safety of all who travel. I rarely complain about going through extra security because I'm middle eastern -- however, something about this instance felt slightly degrading. There was an off putting energy in the air and maybe it's too hard to picture if you've never experienced it -- I never had. Maybe I was feeling weird because I was pulled aside to be felt up 3 times in public while I'm just trying to visit grandma.