And then there was Tehran last month. I’m ashamed to say that I had been so busy that I was very poorly prepared for this trip. I completely relied on my travel companion Mark Meinema, who speaks Farsi and knows his way around. The whole adventure started with Mark anyway. He had traveled to Iran a few times and had been invited to a TEDx Event in Kish. He told me that people in Iran are very curious, open-minded and interested in development. But all the different networks are hardly connected. Techies talk to each other, but not to artists or scientists. We decided to start working towards a Permanent Beta Meetup in Tehran to bridge brains, tech and culture and here we were.
When we arrived at our destination I was amazed by the contradictions. Women wearing headscarves, huge modern skyscrapers everywhere, terrible traffic, an overload of neon advertising, supermarkets like the ones I’m used to, but no cash machines and no creditcards accepted. Money had to be changed in cash: 1 euro for 33.500 rial. Felt like Scrooge McDuck.
For us Dutchies, another thing to get used to was the size of the city and the time it takes you to get from one meeting to the next. Luckily the terrible traffic situation, including the headache-fueling smog, will be yesterday's problem with electric and self-driving cars. For now the Tehran metro was the best way to go and it gave us the chance to speak to a few beautiful locals.
There was one thing I couldn't get used to and I would strongly recommend the Iranian people to get rid of the custom rather sooner than later: Tarof. A range of social behaviours mostly between strangers. It takes way too much time to have to offer and decline an invitation three times, before you can move forward.
Finnova (a sort of Iranian startup) managed to host the event at the University of Tehran in a very professional manner: banners and posters everywhere and over 60 participants. We started of with a video prophecy, followed by the national anthem. After that ceremonial bit Mark introduced the speakers for the day in fluent Farsi: amongst others Kim, myself and an Iranian photographer named Ali Kaveh. He called to follow @everydayiran on Instagram, to get a better balanced view of everyday life in Iran, as opposed to international press photo's.
Iranians are a tough crowd. Hardly any questions or other interaction, but it was clear bureaucracy is an important topic in Iran. There's definitely a need for a platform where people can meet and inspire each other, so Kim's very first talk on the practicalities of the Permanent Beta movement was also received very well. It wouldn't surprise me if we would get to know Iran quite a bit better over the next couple of months.