When she heard about a 6-month scholarship to study in Iran, Hoai Anh applied ‘just for fun.’ But then it became very serious.
So serious that she’s still there, in love, and enjoying life.
Iranian summers are never easy, with temperatures going up to 50 degrees Celsius (122F), but Do Lenh Hoai Anh, one of few Vietnamese women, if not the only one in the northwestern province of Qazvin, leaves the house without a qualm, covered in 3 layers of outfit, from top to toe.
“Many local women want to explode due to the strict rules of dressing here, but I just love this culture and I wrap my outer garments around myself more carefully than many of them,” she said.
This was an unimaginable situation five years ago.
After finishing her bachelor’s degree in international relations in Ho Chi Minh City, Hoai Anh accidentally learnt about a 6-month scholarship program in Iran. Applying “just for fun,” she planned to return to Vietnam and pursue a career in education.
But, as the Yiddish proverb goes, “Man plans, god laughs.”
“The mysterious land and an Iranian man held me back”, Anh said. The man is Amir Hossein, the 30-year-old director of a travel company in Qazvin.
Hoai Anh and her husband Amir Hossein. Photo coutersy of Hoai Anh.
Hoai Anh still remembers the difficulties she faced when she started a new life in the Iran’s northwestern city (in the eponymous province). She confined herself completely to the university, since her Iranian was not good.
In spite of following all the dress rules, she was questioned by security guards as well as policemen. It turned out that her clothes were not thick enough. Eventually, Anh had to throw all of the clothes she bought in Vietnam away.
In such conditions, Anh was the only Vietnamese to stay. Her two friends left for home right after the 6-month course. With no admission letter from the university, no place to stay and having little money, she ate bread the whole week.
“I did not dare to go out, I was lonely and scared so I cried”, she remembered.
Once the admission letter arrived, and she knew more about the local language and local people, Anh started exploring the land of a “One Thousand and One Nights”.
In November 2016, on a hiking trip with some friends, she met Amir Hossein, a helpful and friendly tour guide.
“I wanted to know more about her at first sight. I wondered how she could live 1.5 years in Iran on her own,” Hossein said.
Commonly, Iranian men do not ask for contacts of other women. But Amir could not help asking for Anh’s number after the trip. He talked to her and helped her learn Iranian. After 6 months, with the excuse that Anh’s place was on his way to work, Amir often drove her to school and introduced her to people as his girlfriend.
However, he had not said those three magic words.
Anh was confused, she was not sure about his affection for her. One day, she tested it by inviting a male friend to join her for a trekking trip. Amir duly went green with envy. He kept texting and complaining during the entire trip.
The next day, he told her, “Be my girlfriend. Seeing you going with another guy makes me miserable.”
Anh later found out that Amir had been hesitant because he was afraid of an “easy come, easy go” relationship.
A pre-marital relationship is taboo in traditional Muslim societies, so Anh was always scared. “When we were together, we always kept a distance, there were no hugs and kisses”, she said. Furthermore, they could not sit next to each other in coffee shops, cinemas or cars.
“The most intimate moment was when he drove me to the university and parked in front of the dormitory for a couple of minutes, or when I tried to sneak into his room without his parents’ knowing. I like those moments, they were adventurous and helped maintain the connection between us,” Anh said.
She also remembers being frustrated sometimes because she could not show her affection freely. Amir understood it and tried to make his “stubborn” girlfriend feel better by treating her with great courtesy and care.
Amir’s affection also helped Anh to break her own taboos. She was always turned off when men mentioned starting a business, being influenced by her family to think the worthwhile thing to do was to work in the education or medical sectors.
“You are qualified to reach your goal, but you need more motivation. That is me,” said Amir, encouraging her to start a business.
He brought his country’s specialties to Vietnam and showed his sweetheart how to attract customers and connect with Iranian enterprises.
“Being in a (U.S.) sanctioned country makes it difficult for Iran to join business activities. Sometimes Anh wanted to give up, but we overcame all of those challenges,” Amir said.
After 2 years, Anh established an agency distributing Iranian products in Ho Chi Minh City. She bought a house and a car and will have a master’s degree in English-Persian translation in the near future.
“I have achievements to show my parents, thanks to Amir,” she said.
Hoai Anh and Amir Hossein officially received their marriage license on September 3, 2019. Photo coutersy of Amir Hossein.
In the summer of 2018, Amir introduced his girlfriend to his family, after 1.5 years of dating in secret. They tied the knot last September, and Hoai Anh officially had her Iranian name and marriage license.
The husband’s family could not be happier.
“Thank you for becoming my daughter-in-law,” Amir’s mother told Anh. The Vietnamese woman could not hold back her tears as the family celebrated the wedding with one party after another.
“Public gathering and activities are not encouraged here, so these parties are how we entertain ourselves. To Iranians, family comes first,” Amir said.
Hoai Anh knows there will be more challenges in the future, but is confident of overcoming them, as a Vietnamese and an Iranian.