From where I stand Saeed Alizadeh, a lecturer, author and tour guide in Tehran.
'Ten years ago I fell in love with Iran'
I was born in 1959 in Tehran, and I've lived here all my life except for six years when I lived in England, as a student. Before I became a guide I would say I lived in Tehran. But since I became a guide, I tell people that I live in Iran. Iran is my passion. I graduated from university in London in 1979. I'm a software programmer by trade, and I've taught English for 20 years. Ten years ago I put an end to my IT career and I fell in love with Iran. I've been doing tours ever since.
The first tour company I worked for - Pasargad Tours - wanted someone who could speak English. I did two 21-day itineraries going to all the four corners of Iran with them. I was lucky enough to do that twice in a row with two different guide-lecturers - and they've been my best friends ever since. Since 2001 I have worked for Martin Randall Travel as a guide and a lecturer. There is no such thing as an average day on a tour. But I guess a normal day would begin with a wake-up call, then breakfast and then we get on the coach. Iran is a very large country and cities are very far apart and sometimes we drive for seven or eight hours a day just to get to the next city. The journeys are fantastic. The landscape, the deserts, the mountains, the terrain are all beautiful. People love the coach rides as much as they like sightseeing inside cities.
Iran is a great classic civilisation and it has acted as the cultural and spiritual bridge between the East and the West. The image of Iran as projected in the western media is one of fundamentalists. Iran is ruled by the clergy, but Iran is not a menace to world security. Today modern Iran is a country which is booming and developing. We have a very young and educated population, and it's an exciting time to be in Iran. I hate to think of Iran as a Middle Eastern country. Geographically or geo-politically maybe it is. But culturally it isn't.
My favourite spot in the whole of Iran is the tomb of the renowned Persian poet Hafez in Shiraz. He is the preeminent master of lyrical poetry in Iran and he has a special place in every Iranian's heart. The best thing about this job is sharing happy moments with my fellow travellers. It's a chance to show the real image of Iran and to deliver a message of peace and friendship to our visitors. They learn so much about this vast and varied country and the rich cultural heritage it has to offer.
I only speak English and some Persian, so the people I'm travelling with are mainly from the US and the UK. There are about 20 to 30 people in the groups at one time. I like to compare being a tour leader to a being a swan on the lake. From the outside it looks very glamourous, and the swan is moving on the water. But under the surface there are two feet paddling away. That's a tour guide. You show a serene, calm side, but there are times when there is tremendous pressure and stress. Then it's your turn to turn what seems like an inevitable defeat into a victory. That is very rewarding.
On one occasion we were at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae having a picnic, and one of the ladies in the group was stung by a wasp. She fainted and couldn't breathe. She was allergic to wasp stings. There was a doctor with us and he said: "Saeed, she's going to die in two hours if we don't provide the correct medication." We were two hours away from Shiraz. We got on the coach and started heading towards Shiraz. I thought she was not going to make it. I telephoned the hospital in Shiraz and asked them to send an ambulance to meet us half way with the medicine we needed. But before we got there we got to a little oasis with a small pharmacy - no bigger than four square metres - with a very dim light. And I went in and said, 'Do you have this medicine?' And he said "Yes, how many do you want?" I got back on the bus and showed it to the doctor and he screamed and said: "A miracle has happened!" She regained consciousness and recovered.
I love every member of the human race and I get along fine with everyone regardless of their age or nationality. You're constantly broadening your vision when you travel. To be a guide you have to be a perpetual student. For example, in my most recent trip to Shiraz I learned how to pilot a plane. It was just me and the pilot in a small ultra light plane. A plane like that is just like a small car.
I was out of Iran during the 1979 revolution. I got back a year later. From student life in London it was drastic change to the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war. I served two years in the war. I have found my vocation now. It is exactly what I love and I intend to do it for as along as I can.