We talked on the beach and I leveled with her; I had fallen in love with her country, and with her.
Amir, an Iranian friend of mine, explained it to me: “In Iran, you can find everything; parties, one-night stands, alcohol, LSD, everything is possible.” We spent an entire day looking for a mullah willing to marry a foreigner and a local Iranian girl, we were rejected multiple times but finally managed to find a bearded fellow willing to help us. When prompted, I repeated after the Mullah — both he and Esme laughed at my attempts at Farsi as I struggled through.
Smiling broadly, the Mullah shook my hand, welcomed me to Iran in scratchy English and stamped a small booklet with our photos pasted into it. We took to the road, keen to explore as much of Iran as possible, to peel back the layers of an often forgotten country and to hitch the entire length of Iran and back.
It had taken four days of hitchhiking to get to Tehran and I was still getting used to a country where I had yet to see another backpacker.
I had accepted that backpacking Iran was going to be a very different experience to traveling in any other country I had visited before.
I lingered, unsure what to do, aware of the many people around us and the police just across the street, before thinking ‘fuck it’ and pulling her into an alleyway for a cheeky kiss.
She had to leave, of course, and I had plans to check out Iranian Kurdistan.
I had yet to see anybody drinking or smoking and, so far, the only girls I had seen had been hidden deep within the endless black folds of heavy chadors. I messaged her with the best chat up line I could think of. We sat in a cafe, her blue hair peeking out from beneath her green hijab; a compulsory garment for all women in Iran.
I expected to have to keep my head down, and to abstain from sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. So I turned to Tinder, curious to see if any local girls would be online. Esme told me of her adventures backpacking in the Philippines, of her career as a vet, of her hopes that a softening of laws and attitudes is coming to Iran.
Back in her hometown, we encountered our first problem. “It’s a temporary marriage.” Concerned that this beautiful and mysterious woman was after my passport, I was at first reluctant. One night later, we tried to check into a guesthouse, coming up with a stupid story about how Esme was not Persian but was in fact Polish… The manager didn’t buy it and immediately tried to call the religious police.