When I travel I always try to be respectful of the culture I am visiting and that includes what I wear. I also like to be comfortable in what I’m wearing. And I won’t lie. Wearing a scarf around my head because Iran’s religion dictates it, but more specifically because its government requires it, was an imposition.
My headscarf had to be in place every time I left the confines of my hotel room. Apart from quick readjustments to ensure an acceptable amount of fringe and neck were covered I could only remove it in the ladies’ bathroom. A few hotel courtyards were a pleasing exception.
For our first two weeks in Iran as we made our way down the central tourist corridor the late summer sun was scorching. This led my mother and I to search the bazaars for the lightest summer scarves available. Still, with no breeze on our neck, and long sleeves and pants, sightseeing was hot stuff. We retreated to our hotel at midday to cast off our additional layers.
As we moved north and cooler weather quickly arrived I started to wrap my scarf more tightly. In the holy city of Mashhad I took to the more pious style of circling the head a couple of times and tucking the end tightly under the chin. While this may have pleased the likes of Muhammad the cleric I was more interested in the cosy warmth created around my ears. The headscarf is a very effective beanie substitute.
Over time my comfort with the scarf increased. I would occasionally inadvertently leave the hotel room without it, but I’d feel naked and immediately return. One gripe that stayed with me was my inability to redo my hair. Hair clipped up at the back of the head was most effective for capturing wayward strands and providing something to check the scarf’s inclination to slip off. But this same hairstyle was most uncomfortable when trying to sleep on a bus. Undoing and redoing my hair under my scarf, without it exposing an immodest level of hair our skin, is a skill I never managed to master.
The bus trip to the Turkish border was a particularly hot and stuffy one, heightening my anticipation of the moment I could shed the scarf for good. I removed it with the Iranian emigration post still in sight. Running my hands through my locks and scratching my scalp felt like freedom in that moment.