Zahra Khimji and Bwog editor Maryam Parhizkar write about a very long cycling trip with a very noble mission.
While in the United States people are constantly striving for ways to save the environment and stop global warming, Iranians too are striving for ways to promote peace environmental awareness. Somayeh Yousefi and Jafar Edrisi, an athletic couple who first met on a mountain peak near Tehran in 1998, are just such people — this year, the Iranian cyclists began their journey to promote peace and environmental conservation, one country at a time.
Professor Dennis Dalton, well-known in the last few months for taking part in the recent hunger strike, introduced the event. “This word, peace — that matters most to me,” Professor Dalton said, while physically pointing to the word on the large banner hung on the table in front of the room. Dalton warmly welcomed the cyclists, stating that although we must work to resolve conflict that we had gotten into with Iran, “violence spreads like a cancer . . . we are plagued with that cancer now, and we must cure it.”
Yousefi and Edrisi then proceeded to explain their mission, which involves cycling around the world and creating a “green line” of newly planted trees along the way to promote peace and environmental awareness. “No one will be living in a peaceful world without the environment,” Yousefi, the English speaker of the two, said. Yousefi and Edrisi have been tracking every step of their trip and blogging whenever they have the chance. Starting from Iran, they have cycled through major parts of Europe such as Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and have crossed the Atlantic ocean (by flight, of course!). As of today, the couple has planted a total of 14 trees, with 2 in New York State.
According to senior Shirin Soufiyan, one of the organizers of the event, Somayeh and Jafar’s were invited by an individual group of Iranian students on campus, who had heard about the cyclists’ journey through a news article. The students were able to reserve space for the event thanks to the Sephardic Club at Hillel.
“They sold their car, everything, and decided one day to go on this trip to promote peace,’ Maryam Fereydoun, another organizer said. The couple has often stayed economical by cooking their own food pitching their tent in public areas to rest. However, since gaining attention from the media, they’ve received hundreds of emails from people all over the globe, inviting them to be their guests. “We have a lot [of invitations], ” Yousefi said, “and now we have to choose to go to their houses!”
Yousefi and Edrisi noted that the process of organization for them was tedious in that they have had to ask for visas and special permission to travel from country to country and cross borders legally. There have been other problems, inevitably — in the first week of being in New York the couple had suffered flat tires and gotten lost, but have always managed to find help along the way.”The place that gave us the easiest time with our visas was the US,” Yousoufi said. “In fact, we were touched by the hospitality of the people that we first met.”
Yousoufi went on to describe the couple’s interaction with an American woman that had housed them on their first night in the United States, whilst showing a slideshow of their travels and the different lands they have crossed. After they had finished speaking, the pair took questions from the crowd, including concerns about environmental activist groups in Iran. The couple made note that after the Gulf War with Iraq, Iran had lost many of its animals and natural attractions; recently government groups there have been working to rehabilitate natural habitats, and the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization has begun teaching courses on Iran’s environment to proactive citizens.
While images of Tehran floated across the screen, one woman in the audience expressed her concerns about the couples’ invitation to visit their country. “What do you feel about the present [political] situation as Iranians? . . . How is it to live in Iran? Why should I go there?” she asked.
The couple answered the question to the best of their abilities. “It is not [a dangerous place], we cannot make decisions for 17 million people… in Iran I am just like this,” Yousefi said, making reference to her colorful headscarf and sleeve-covered arms. “I am a normal citizen, but I don’t know about politicians.”
“It is very natural to fear the unknown,” Edrisi, translated by a student, said, “but once immersed in the culture you learn to appreciate very different perspectives. Go to the right people and the right places; there are places there of course, like anywhere, that are unfit for foreigners.’
By the end of the discussion, the couple invited the audience to sign their “Cycling the World for Peace” banner, filled with positive inscriptions from those they have met. In polite Iranian gesture, they invited the entire audience to stand behind them with the banner in front for photographs. In good nature and smiles, everyone took part.
Yousefi and Edrisi hope to complete their journey within the next two years, with a coast-to-coast tour of the US in coming months. You can find out more and track this couple as they continue to tour the USA, by going to www.rmc4peace.com.