The other day here in Tunis, where I live much of the year, I attended an event that brought out many families from the Tunis international community of business and diplomatic expats.
Having traveled quite a bit in Iran and knowing many Iranians, I spotted someone who clearly looked Iranian and took advantage of the festive atmosphere to ask the question of a total stranger…”are you from Iran?” My hunch was correct and he responded in perfect English, expressing interest in my familiarity with Iran. When I told him that I not only have studied Persian culture for years, but have traveled and led tours to Iran, there was even greater surprise.
My house in Tunis happens to be a short walk from where the event was taking place, so I walked home and shortly thereafter, returned with some of the TunisUSA brochures about our tours to Iran and brought them to him. The brochures include numerous photos, as well as quotes from Americans on how warm and welcoming they found Iran and its people. He was clearly pleased!
He noted that he has a brother living in the United States and after chatting a bit more about how cultural travel and engagement brings out the reality of the fact that Americans are quite beloved in Iran, he added that it is true, Iranians love Americans. It is unfortunately, only the people who represent our two governments where there is a lack of communication and trust…he added!
This conversation may have been simply one more of the frequent interactions I have with people from Iran, though in this case, as it turns out, I was speaking with an Iranian diplomat!!!
Travel is one of the best forms of diplomacy. The Stanford University Alumni Association has a trip to Iran this month, with over twenty participants and a wait list! Better understanding and improved relations only come from dialogue! Both sides of political debates must continue to work at dialogues, as there are often more possibilities than we know when we make the effort to dig a bit deeper and know one another better!