RPCV Pam (Eliason) Haglund reports from Iran: Americans welcome here
Gracious. Welcoming. Well-educated. Outgoing. Not your typical description for what some people consider a culture of terrorists. That’s because, Pam (Eliason) Haglund insists, Iran’s populace is not a culture of terrorists. Haglund has made it her mission to get out the word about the engaging folks she met this summer, the people who live on the fuse of the political world’s dynamite keg. “I think we’re all world citizens,” Haglund said from her director’s office at Literacy Volunteers of Flathead County, “and there’s opportunities for peace if we get to know each other. I try to live my life that way.”
The people were so gracious and friendly,” Haglund said of Iranians who approached them in the public square to strike up conversations with the Americans, offered their home addresses with invitations to visit if ever the tourists were in their towns, and were anxious to have their photographs taken with the foreigners. “They always came up to ask what we thought of Iranians, what we thought of Iran,” she said. “They approached us a lot. They wanted to know who we were.” In a group made up largely of liberal-minded people with Democrat leanings, Haglund said, the tourists often disagree with President Bush’s policies toward Iran. But she said most often she and her fellow travelers responded by saying simply that they don’t always agree with their political leaders, leaving the door open for the Iranians to share their thoughts. Exchanges were respectful and lively, with 20- to 30-year-olds most likely to initiate them.
At a religious school, backpacks hang outside the door, decorated with Sponge Bob Square Pants, Mickey Mouse and other Western icons. Obituaries are posted at open-air markets, bearing photographs only of the men. Statues throughout the cities pay tribute to their revered poets. A domed ice house provides space for ice harvested in the winter in the mountains to be packed in straw for use throughout the summer. And everywhere are fountains and pools and channels of water flowing from the mountains. Haglund photographed a wind tower that catches the wind and channels it downward across a standing pool, providing a super-sized swamp cooler for the entire building and surrounding court. “They love water,” Haglund said of the desert people who appreciate the natural world’s gifts and deprivations.
She plans to keep telling her stories of Iran and its people to everyone who will listen. “It gets such bad press. Iranians are seen as the axis of evil, and that just is not my experience,” she said, convinced that personal stories can go a long way toward overcoming negative images. “I don’t think the people should suffer from the stereotype of evil, from the actions of a few bad apples. Of all the places I have traveled, these are my favorite people. “They would find out who we were, they’d act a bit surprised, then I bet 90 percent of them would say ‘Welcome to my country.’” Read more.
Read more about Peace Corps Iran.