When Jafar Edrisi and Nasim Yousefi embarked on a two-year bicycle tour of the world last spring, the couple from Tehran had no idea exactly where their travels would take them.
The duo – who had never even been outside of Iran until this trip – didn’t know which roads were safe to ride, where they could find food and supplies or even where they would sleep at night.
Their goal was simply to venture into the world to promote peace and environmental conservation by riding their bikes, making new friends, sharing their culture and planting trees as a symbol of goodwill.
One year after selling almost all their possessions and pedaling away from Tehran, Edrisi and Yousefi are now in Spokane.
The couple will spend about a week here meeting students and people from local organizations. This morning, they’ll be joined by cyclists, peace activists and many others as they plant trees at Spokane’s Polly Judd Park.
“We want people to be kind to each other and to be kind to the Earth,” said Yousefi during a phone interview earlier this week from Los Angeles, where they took a brief break from riding. “We wish to inspire the youth of today and generations to come by spreading the message of peace and planting trees. … At the end of our trip, we want to have a greenbelt around the world.”
The couple wanted to go to Spokane because of all the support they’ve received from people in town.
Before leaving Iran, Edrisi and Yousefi’s efforts were documented by BBC International, which aired their story throughout the world. Hundreds of people contacted them via e-mail, inviting them to stay at their homes and offering help throughout their journey.
One of the well-wishers was Shahrokh Nikfar, a Spokane resident who was touched by their desire to learn more about other cultures and to spread goodwill throughout the world.
“It was very inspiring to see these two individuals become agents of change by promoting awareness and understanding,” said Nikfar, who works at Northwest Fair Housing Alliance.
Nikfar, a native of Iran who moved to the United States as a teen in 1978, invited them to visit Spokane. He also helped them with their visa application to the United States.
While traveling through Europe, Edrisi and Yousefi obtained permission to come to America thanks to letters of invitation from three Spokane-based organizations – the Center for Justice, the Lands Council and KYRS Thin Air Community Radio. Six days after those letters were sent, the state Department approved their visas, according to Yousefi.
Since then, the couple has established a relationship with Nikfar and others in Spokane. As a result of this friendship, Nikfar and five people from Spokane will travel to Tehran this fall to plant peace trees. They’ll also share their tradition of serving pancakes – which they do every other week at Spokane’s Polly Judd Park – with people in Iran’s capital city.
As part of today’s tree planting ceremony, Edrisi and Yousfi also will serve pancakes.
“I want them to know that Spokane is a friendly and beautiful place,” said Nikfar, who hosts “The Persian Hour” on KYRS.
Since they left Tehran on April 29, 2007, Edrisi and Yousefi have ridden across 10 countries in two continents. Last year, they traveled through Turkey, Greece, France and other countries in Europe. From the Netherlands, they flew to Toronto, Canada, before pedaling down to Florida. Now, after taking a bus to Spokane from Los Angeles, they plan to ride all the way down the west coast of the United States.
Throughout their journey, the married couple have been interviewed by CNN and other media. They’ve also planted 33 peace trees along the way.
Edrisi and Yousefi, ages 30 and 29, are computer engineers in Tehran. They’re also expert rock climbers and mountaineers who have led eco-tours in their own country.
Because of their shared passion for adventure and their concern for the environment, the two decided to hit the road to meet new people and promote their cause.
Bikes were the best choice, they said, because they don’t pollute the environment. And because they move slowly – especially as they each carry about 50 pounds of gear – touring the world on bikes gave them the perfect opportunity to absorb their surroundings and meet people.
To finance their trip, Edrisi and Yousefi sold their car, furniture and other possessions. To make ends meet while they’re on the road, Edrisi has sold photographs and calligraphy work. They’ve also been sponsored by peace organizations, churches and other groups.
Most of the time, they rely on the help and hospitality of the hundreds of people who have contacted them since their story aired on BBC.
“We love American people and American culture,” said Yousefi, describing the support they’ve received since arriving in the United States. “People have been so welcoming – it’s unbelievable.”
In addition to learning more about the traditions in other countries, the trip has given them an opportunity to share their own culture, especially at a time when there is so much misunderstanding and fear of Iran.
In many of the communities where they’ve stayed, Edrisi and Yousefi have shown slideshows of their country and educated others about Iran’s ancient civilization, geography, people and culture. They also show what daily life is like – from the food they eat to the music they listen to, emphasizing to their audiences that Iranians are really no different from those who live elsewhere in the world.
“We are all the same,” said Yousefi, who often surprises people who mistakenly think that all Iranian women have to completely cover themselves with a chador. “When we know about other people, we are no longer afraid and the future becomes better for all of us.”
Several people in town have volunteered to take the couple sightseeing and canoeing on the Spokane River during their brief stay in Spokane. Many others have extended dinner invitations to make them feel welcome.
Starting next week, they will cycle from Spokane to Seattle, then down the coast from San Diego. From there, they will fly to Asia, where they plan to ride their bicycles through Korea, China, Japan, Nepal, India and Pakistan before returning home.
By the time they make it back to Iran a year from now, they expect to log well over 12,000 miles on their bikes.
They want to share their experience with others in Iran by visiting classrooms in Tehran and other cities and also by writing a book in both Farsi and English.
So far, their journey has filled them with hope, said Yousefi. “We have learned to trust people,” she said. “They help us and so we want to help others. … What comes around goes around and people all over the world want peace.”
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