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Iranian cyclists pedal for peace and plant trees around the world

When neighbors around Polly Judd Park in Spokane met neighbors from Iran on May 10 for a pancake breakfast and to plant a peace tree, several said they would reciprocate the visit of two eco-tourists and adventure cyclists, Nasim Yousefi, 29, and Jafar Edrisi, 30, of Tehran. 

Tom, Pam and Zak Deutschman who started Pancakes in the Park, neighbor John Snyder and Shahrokh Nikfar, a native of Iran who lives in Spokane, plan to visit Tehran in September, serve a pancake breakfast and plant a peace tree.

“The world is our neighbor.  We are all human beings,” said Shahrokh, host of “The Persian Hour” on KYRS Thin Air Radio.

In April, 2007, he had seen a BBC report about Nasim’s and Jafar’s plan to spend two years on a “Cycling around the World for Peace and Environmental Conservation” tour.

Jafar and Nasim
Jafar Edrisi and Nasim Yousefi cycle to Polly Judd Park in Spokane where they planted a tree in May.

That was shortly before the computer engineers left Tehran.

Shahrokh was among 300 people who emailed them in two days, offering hospitality and allaying their concerns about where they would stay.

When they arrived in Spokane May 9, they had visited 10 countries in Europe and North America.  Shahrokh arranged for several local groups to invite them as a way to assure they would have visas to travel in the United States.

The hospitality that greeted them in Spokane was similar to their experiences in other communities.

The Deutschmans started Pancakes in the Park when they moved to Spokane six years ago.  They serve pancakes at the park every two weeks as a way to meet their neighbors.  They will spread the tradition this summer in other Spokane parks—knocking on doors to invite people to meet their neighbors.

Nasim and Jafar are neighbors from a bit farther away.

 “I hope the tree will bear the fruit of happiness, understanding and peace,” Nasim said before shoveling dirt on the roots of the new tree in Polly Judd Park on West 14th Ave.

They named the Kentucky coffee tree, “Pancake,” in honor of the pancake breakfast.

Spokane’s “tree lady” Nancy McKarrow was also there to make the tree part of the Susie forest—70 trees honoring her daughter, Susie Stephens, a bicyclist who died in 2002.

Jafar and Nasim, who met nine years ago mountain climbing, spent weekends in nature and taking people on eco-tours to see the natural wonders of Iran as well as monuments of the ancient civilization.

Three years ago, they decided to tour the world by bicycle as an ecological way to travel and a way to meet people and learn about their lives and cultures.

“We also wanted to give a message from Iran about peace and conservation,” said Nasim.

“In Iran, we know of countries from international news, but often do not see their goodness. Some Iranians visiting other countries have been received poorly,” she said. 

“We wanted to do something to show that Iranians are peace-loving and want to be friends with people.  We also wanted to introduce the country as it is.”

They give a slide presentation at each stop.  Their website gives background on them, Iran and their trip.

“People around the world have many questions about our people, our country and our culture.  Speaking face-to-face, we offer answers,” said Nasim.

She and Jafar, who are of Muslim background, live in a neighborhood that is mostly Christians from Armenia.

“We are not very religious, but know our religion is about helping the poor, wanting peace and bringing kindness to each other,” she said.

“My mother often told me when I was growing up that if a neighbor is hungry, you should help,” she said.  “At certain times of the year, Iranians make food to give to their neighbors and those who are less fortunate.  Charity is also part of our religion on a continuous basis, as well as these occasions.

“We believe everyone’s God is the same God, so we respect beliefs of other religions,” Nasim said.

While most places have welcomed them, a few people told them to say they are Persians, not Iranians, to avoid negative responses.  They insist on saying they are Iranians to restore a good image of their homeland.

Only a few people in some countries told them to go away, but not in the United States.

“People here are helpful and kind,” she said.  “It’s not good to prejudge other nations and people.  We need to go and see other nations, to touch the lives of people, to experience their hospitality and to come home good ambassadors.

“People are the same all over the world.  We need the same things to be happy,” she said.

The couple had some Hollywood-based notions about cowboys in the United States, but had seen no cowboys in their cycling travels. 

They have been impressed by the restaurants with cuisine from so many cultures and nations.

After cycling from Boston to Florida they came to Spokane by bus.  Then they went to Seattle to travel down the coast to California.  Then they go to Asia.

Just as their preconceptions have been dispelled, Nasim and Jafar seek to dispel the preconceptions about Iran and weapons by showing photos of the mountains and ancient civilization.

They invite people to visit Iran and experience their hospitality.  Several have accepted the invitation and have gone to Iran, where they have been hosted by the cyclists’ family and friends.

Nasim and Jafar have completed one year of their two-year commitment to travel 20,000 kilometers by public transportation or bicycle.

They have joined people in peace vigils, attended churches and temples, and participated in interfaith events.

In addition to hospitality from individuals, peace groups and churches, they fund their travels by selling photos and calligraphy.

For information, visit www.RMC4Peace.com.

June 2008 © The Fig Tree - by Mary Stamp

Published by The Fig Tree, 1323 S. Perry St., Spokane, WA 99202
509-535-4112 / 509-535-1813

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