After six weeks my visa came to an end and I was forced to leave Iran.
Back in her hometown, we encountered our first problem. “It’s a temporary marriage.” Concerned that this beautiful and mysterious woman was after my passport, I was at first reluctant. One night later, we tried to check into a guesthouse, coming up with a stupid story about how Esme was not Persian but was in fact Polish… The manager didn’t buy it and immediately tried to call the religious police.
Being anywhere together, particularly after dark, could get us into a shit-ton of trouble. It is illegal for an unmarried couple in Iran to stay in a room together which meant, given the large quantities of police on the streets, we were kind of screwed.
It had taken four days of hitchhiking to get to Tehran and I was still getting used to a country where I had yet to see another backpacker.
I had accepted that backpacking Iran was going to be a very different experience to traveling in any other country I had visited before.
Most of the time foreigners can get around this by simply saying they are married, but because Esme was Persian, and therefore a Muslim, the rules were much stricter.
We left the guesthouse in a rush, unsure of where we would stay as the cold swirled around us and snow began to fall.
“It’s only a temporary marriage anyway,” she shrugged, smiling.
Temporary marriages, or Sigheh, are used by lots of Iranian couples for lots of different purposes; a marriage can last from an hour to a decade and a dowry, traditionally, has to be paid.
We talked on the beach and I leveled with her; I had fallen in love with her country, and with her.
A couple of months later I saw her again: she flew out to join me for a backpacking adventure in India and we raced a multicolored rickshaw 2500km across the country.
We parted ways, unsure if we would see each other again.