Last summer I took a journey that will change my eyes forever, one of those experiences you have that when you come back, you feel like a completely different person. I had the opportunity to visit a destination that has thousands of years of art, culture, and tradition; what used to be the largest empire in the world. I have toured the sights of Europe and tropical beaches, but my trip to Iran cannot be compared to any experience I have ever had.
It began with my mother telling me that I was going to spend majority of my summer in Iran. I live in Virginia Beach, and I was planning to fill summer with water-related activities; in other words, Iran was the last place I wanted to be. The media illustrates Iran as a country with terrorists, deserts, filled with poverty, and anti-American. What I witnessed, was a completely different country.
The people of Iran treated me in a way that seemed like royalty. A guest in Iran is treated with the highest status and is given the best of everything, whether it is the sweetest piece of fruit or the best seat in the house.
Iran has the Persian soul of more than 3,000 years of history, and the Persian Empire was glorified as one of the most benevolent civilizations of ancient times. I took an art history class that changed my perception of Islamic architecture, and I realized how fascinating it truly was. My voyage launched in Shiraz where I went with my family to Persepolis, the ancient capital of Persia. The ruins that were left after Alexander the Great conquered and had burned it down, left me in a jaw dropping state of shock. I told myself to think that I am standing on the same piece of land that ancient rulers stood on, that what I was touching is history. I was lucky enough to find an English tour guide who explained the symbolic meaning of every detail engraved in the surviving friezes.
After my cultural visit to Persepolis, I took an adventure to the religious side. My mother took me to Mashad, one of the most religious cities in Iran. She wanted me to see what the tomb of Imam Reza was like in a hands-on experience. As we were visiting the shrine, I was required to wear a chador (black covering); I was in such astonishment of the domes of solid gold and indigo that my chador has slipped off my head (elderly women quickly resolved this and helped me fix it). Miles of Persian rugs carpeted the area, and we were asked to take our shoes off. Little children were washing their hands and faces before prayer, where I had seen what was unforgettable. Thousands of people had lined up together to pray in symmetrical lines while they bowed together in unison. When I went inside the shrine, it only got better. Millions of pieces of mirrors had been cut into intricate shapes, so that the walls glittered like diamonds around me.
The next time one is looking to take a memorable experience, do not be afraid to journey to Iran, where no matter what country you are from, you will be treated with a hospitality like no other. My perception of Iran has altered from the stereotypical misunderstanding of terrorism to one in awe of ancient mosques, beautiful shrines, and welcoming people. Iran offers a new perspective of culture more distinct than one can imagine. After my excursion, I have achieved a greater level of understanding and appreciation for my country.
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