- John Brodey
Thanks to the 10,000 Degrees high school support program, I have been mentoring a young man we’ll call Rafael since he was a junior. Now he finds himself on track to transfer to a UC next year; the first in his family to do so. Still, it is not an easy path and one might tend to set their sights lower. To my surprise, he had saved up money and told me he was going to Europe over Christmas. For someone who had never visited a foreign country that wasn’t Mexico, this was huge. But off he went with his high school sweetheart to visit London, Paris and Rome. He came back a different person, excited, full of ideas and possibility that only comes from a life changing experience.
I mention this because while many of us have travelled extensively, we have become less adventurous. I had heard that Fred Ptucha, a member of Veterans for Peace, was going to speak at our VOM Rotary breakfast about his recent trip to Iran and I was intrigued. Another club within the VFP is Climbing for Peace which focuses on using mountain climbing to interact and connect with a local populace in a way that governments cannot. The climbing itself was secondary to the experience of getting to know a place and its people. Not so easily done as the State Department has an advisory against travelling to Iran because of “the very high risk of arbitrary arrest or detention”. As if that isn’t discouraging enough, it’s still not an easy place to get to even after the group received an official invitation from Iranian Mountaineering Federation. But visas were finally issued and the adventure began. The successful summiting of the highest peak in the Mideast, Mt. Damavand (18,416 Ft.) by the group of eight was dramatic but not the highlight. That would be the week-long tour of five classic Iranian cities.
As one of the three oldest civilizations there is much to see and do during their informal mission of citizen diplomacy. They conversed with over a hundred Iranians while touring a wealth of cultural and historic sites. Everyday people made it clear they loved Americans. They were able to understand that governments don’t always reflect conscience of its’ people. The parade of snapshots showed a happy people excited by the chance to discover for themselves how connected we are despite propaganda to the contrary. The group was amazed by much and mentioned feeling safer there than in parts of Oakland. Unlike Saudi Arabia, they were also pleasantly surprised to see women
enjoying parity with men on every level. Women comprise half of all college students. They are lawyers, doctors, teachers. There were few burqas in sight. All the trappings of first world countries were in evidence throughout the journey, including some gorgeous food. I’ve now been bitten by the bug and while I may not get to Iran, I have a feeling Rafael will.