I met Mohammad at a huge couchsurfing meeting in Berlin during the summer. He wanted to share his experiences from Iran with me and to fulfil his mission to show that Iranians are totally different than we think they are. They just want to live normal lives, have children and develop their country.
“My mission when living in Europe is to make people believe that we are humans the same way as they are. We’re not what people think we are, we are not Al-káida or Tálibán, we’re even not Arabs,” he says.
So we talked about Iran, travelling, meeting different cultures and creating your own picture of the world.
We’re now in Berlin and you came here to find out if Berlin is the city where you want to finish your studies and live for some time. Is there a special story behind that?
There is, and it’s connected to the situation in Iran these days. There is a really big exam when you finish high school and you want to go to university in Iran. If you pass the test you’re super lucky, if not, you have only one year to do the exam again, otherwise you have to go to military service. Only a few percent of students can actually pass it every year.
I did really well and I could choose any university I wanted thanks to that. We were nine friends who wanted to study together at the university we had chosen – it’s not a great university, but we liked it. But they were really careful about choosing people and somehow me and my friends weren’t accepted.
Well, we started on another university, but the very first university that accepts you is your destiny. You can’t say no and change it later. However it’s still much better than the military service. There you cannot choose whether you go to the dangerous borders or not. And it’s a place where they really can kill you. So I started as a theater director at another university but as you can see my great results in the exam didn’t help me at all…
What happened then? How did you get to Europe?
After these things I realised I wanted to start travelling. I had a chance to go to Switzerland so I accepted it. I saw there so many different people and I even got into a fight with a guy from Israel just because we had different opinions. Thanks to that I realised I am not in the centre of the universe and I am not always right. I decided to be more open minded and to listen to people.
Then I went to Berlin, I started to learn the language and to read books from other cultures. Just to see what is it going on in there, how other people see the life. I started to couchsurf and to discover all the “travel universe”.
I went to Prague for example and I was thinking about Václav Havel. We really respect this guy in Iran, not only as a politician. I expected Prague to be as touristic as Paris, but people there were so friendly! Even when they didn’t speak very well English, they still wanted to be nice and help, as in my country.
When you know the world just from your Facebook or the internet, you really can’t have a good picture. You have to travel there. It’s a bit harder to travel for us since we have to get visa to go anywhere, but the Schengen opportunity was really a great thing for me.
And now I’m going to Amsterdam to see what Netherland looks like. I imagine that everyone is orange and they are so much into football, you know. It’s fun to explore the truth! Media does not give you the right idea of all the places at all. You have to stay somewhere at least for one or two days to see how it really is.
For example when I came to Berlin I thought that it’s the rudest society in the world. But after two weeks I realised that it’s not true. I discovered how generous Berliners are! Best people I’ve ever met. And I can bet that if I went to Russia I would have a different experience than I expected again.
Why did you choose Berlin?
You have everything for everyone here. Everyone respects you if you respect them. There’s equality everywhere. You can be gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, really anyone, and you have your place to stay here. They respect you here and you can have your own beliefs. This is the city where I want to stay at least until I finish my Masters. Another great thing is that there are so many people from all over the world here so I can meet even more other cultures and create the real image of them.
Do you want to go back to Iran after finishing your studies?
I don’t know. At the moment I am sick of Iran. But sometimes I start to feel homesick but I’m going back in a few weeks so it’s not that bad. Well, we don’t have a chance to learn good English at school and sometimes it’s really hard to express yourself and your feelings. And also if you want to explain something in Persian, you use the longest way possible. English is totally the opposite.
Berlin is just a really small piece of the world. Have you ever thought of traveling more?
I am definitely not sure if I’m gonna stay here or not at the moment. Of course I would like to go to Cuba, South America, Israel and Palestine to see what it looks like. I would like to see Palestine not only because of the political problems. Well, the only thing in my life I want is to have a correct picture of every country and people there in my mind so media can’t lie to me. That’s how people make mistakes.
You mentioned couchsurfing earlier. Is there something special about couchsurfing for you?
First time when I came to Berlin I was so lonely here. Well, I knew one or two refugees from Iran here but I didn’t want to spend all my time with them. I wanted to discover something else. I was not interested to hear their stories, we can hear a lot of it in Iran. I went to these couchsurfing events here and it was perfect for me. I could meet someone from Lithuania and from Israel, Turkey, or States in the same time.
But people here don’t have correct idea of Iran or Iranians. My mission when living in Europe is to make people believe that we are humans the same way as they are. We’re not what people think we are, we are not Al-káida or Tálibán, we’re even not Arabs. Of course we have these people in Iran who steal money as everywhere – politicians, of course – but we try to spend the money to make our cities and lives better.
When you come to Iran you can see how our subway is huge and clean for example. I’m not saying we are great, but we try to be better. We try to be more open minded. And I believe the change can take only one generation. Because internet, media, social networks, YouTube etc. make people more international, more open minded. There is even a huge amount of couchsurfers in Iran today! Young generation in Iran thinks differently and don’t care about politicians’ views. But at the same time if you want to attack us and don’t respect us, we cannot respect you.
So what do you think about the situation in Iran?
Well, there are some countries saying that if you want to reach the top, you have to be with them, because they would destroy you if you would try to reach the top without them. I don’t think it’s a good way. If you try to be aggressive, it never works in Iran. We are patriots, we would better die standing than to live on our knees. But I think we’re really relaxed and social nation.
But we went through a lot of problems because of these six years of sanctions. In Iran, sanctions are always the first thing you will hear about. And I am sick of that, just hearing about the politicians and sanctions. That’s why I’m trying to see another countries, see other people, see how teenagers and young people deal with their lives, what are their problems and what they want to be.
It’s super crazy for me to see this 27 years old guy who doesn’t know what he will do and changes his field of study four times… We can’t do that. When you decide once, you have to go through it.
But there is no real difference between Iran and New York, Berlin or Prague. We listen to the same music, watch the same movies, we have parties and we are just normal young people. Just like you. We are all the same.
I just try to change other peoples’ ideas about us. I even went to Woodstock with a flag of ours and a t-shirt with the peace sign. People didn’t believe I came from Iran! And they told me I had changed the picture in their mind.
We also hate Arabs and Turks and have a lot of problems with them. Or at least the media try to create this picture of them. But I saw so many Arabs in Europe and it’s different here – now one of my best friends is from Turkey. You go through this international “village” and everyone is nice and respects you. And it’s the way I want to live…