Storia di Reza, Teheran, Iran
COUNTRY OF PROVENANCE
My Tips – Tehran
Always on the move, crowded and busy, Tehran is a young and emblematic city of Iranian “everyday life”. My Tips – Tehran
Recommended books – Iran
Kader Abdolah (The house of the mosque) for intimate Islam, and Marsha Mehran (Margaret Tatcher beauty institute) for nostalgia and poetry. Some of the recommended books – Iran
Reza - aka PEACE GULF - the prison and the coronavirus - Teheran
then charged with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” among other charges and interrogated blindfold, in solitary confinement, for security reasons.
This is how his profile opens on the well-known traveler platform, Couchsurfing.
I had heard about Reza during my first trip to Iran in 2018. People are very hospitable in Iran and this country is one of the essential destinations for travel lovers. The millenary culture, the echoes of a great empire, then the Islamic Revolution, the American regulations and all the anti-Iranian propaganda that is heard in the West … Iran is a country full of contradictions, a theocracy incomprehensible from the outside, but it is also a country rich in history, culture, architecture and fantastic people. Here’s what Reza did, he was hospitable, in line with the natural tendency of her people, but he didn’t do it secretly.
My curiosity for Iran stems from the fact that, on the one hand, the media want to show it to us as a monolith dressed in black, on the other there are the testimonies of the travelers and the Iranians living in the West, that just make you wanting to go. While in Iran, I met a people who live in a thousand restrictions, often in a state of depression, almost hopeless for the future. However, the very same people open to you the door of their home and smile, put fruits and sweets on the table, prepare tea, make you sit on beautiful carpets and feel at home. Iran is an “intimate” country, given that public life is so difficult.
Trying to simplify the complexity of Iranian society is an illusion and is not the purpose of these lines, but while most Iranians see the only hope in leaving the country, there is someone who is convinced to stay no matter what, that he will continue to make his voice heard despite the difficulties, that Iranian hospitality should not go down due to intimidation and politics. This is Reza, more commonly known by the name of “Peace Gulf”.
“Peace Gulf” because Reza has the dream that the Persian Gulf – as the Iranians call it – or the Arabian Gulf – as for the Arabs – becomes a gulf of peace, a bridge between these two worlds. Reza feels like a citizen of the world, a humanist, a feminist, a pacifist. In 2011 the Kayyam Night project started. Initially it was a weekly meeting, then it merged into the Kayyam House, a hospitality place for those travelers who were to cross Iran, but also for the Iranians themselves. A place of peace, full of colors, people, celebrations.
Reza’s philosophy is:
1- Do not have more than you need. Give more than is expected.
2- Be hospitable in a way that always allows you to be!
3- Na Eslaam, Na Iran, Jaanam Fadaaye Ensaan! (Not for Iran, nor for Islam, I will die for humans!).
Prison and Coronavirus
Reza and I never got to know each other in person, but we are in contact via Instagram. At the end of my first trip, I told him that his fame preceded him – more Iranians had told me about him – and that I would have liked to meet him on the next trip. A few days later I received a video, I didn’t understand what it was because it was in Farsi. I asked him for explanations, but I never received an answer. A week ago, I got a message from his account.
– I was in prison.
In August 2016, after being arrested and charged, he was released on bail on September 7th. I did not understand, however, that in 2017 he had been put on trial and sentenced to one year of prison. That sentence was later confirmed by the appeal court, which led him to Evin prison, the one where political prisoner are locked up.
– Did you get out of prison? I asked him.
– Yes, because of Coronavirus, in a month I have to come back.
The Iranian government is emptying prisons to try to limit the number of infections and release “less dangerous” prisoners. So, Reza is free again and replies to my message on Instagram.
Did Peace Gulf break the law?
In Iran there is no law prohibiting the hosting of foreigners, however the pressure is strong. Reza’s resistance to these pressures and the protest against the order to stop hosting foreigners earned him the 2016 charge for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and for “managing and conducting Couchsurfing in Iran“, which later turned into sentencing in 2017 and prison in 2019. Now, this accusation is absurd. Those who know Couchsurfing know that it is a platform, as Instagram could be, but based on the concept of “hospitality”, therefore it connects locals and travelers.
The Couchsurfing headquarters is in San Francisco and the company is managed by 25 people who work mainly remotely. Reza does not work for Couchsurfing; he is just a member! It would be like saying that if I am on Instagram and I have my profile, I work for Instagram: it is an inconsistent accusation! And yet, that’s how it went.
Now, however, with the Coronavirus emergency, prisons must empty.
– What did you do while you were in prison?
– I translated a book, I read a lot, and I made many new friends.
Reza is positive, he finds beauty even in such a situation. From 2017 he had to close his Kayyam House, also under the pressure of his family that feared for him. This did not help to avoid the sentence. What he missed most while in prison are his friends.
Perhaps, even for Reza, the only solution to be free again, after having expiated the sentence, is to leave that country that he loves so much and that makes him so desperate. The story remains of a Great human being, who tries them all, risking firsthand for what is an ideal of hospitality and openness, so rooted in the Iranian culture.