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Vol. LXII, No. 1
 
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
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Biking to Promote Peace, Love & Conservation, Iranian Couple Extends ‘Green Belt’ in Princeton

Matthew Hersh

When Jafar Edrisi and Nasim Yousefi, both mountaineers, first met at the summit of a mountain near Tehran, it was not only a monumental personal triumph for the pair, but also the beginning of their shared devotion for environmentalism.

Now, nine years later and married, the two have embarked on a 12,500-mile trek, bicycling for peace and the environment, leaving their tread marks in New Jersey last week, as well as extending their so-called greenline, by way of planting a tree at every stop.

“Jafar was my coach in rock climbing and mountaineering, and every week we would go as far out into nature as we could, just for the experience of it,” Ms. Yousefi said. Computer programmers by day, the couple have taken their quest to the global level, hoping to gain attention along the way.

They started by simply exploring Iran: “Iran is a very vast country and everywhere you go, you see different people,” Ms. Yousefi said, adding that she and her husband had been particularly troubled by the areas still suffering effects of the Iran-Iraq War.

Those journeys into other parts of their native country were, to be sure, tiny in comparison to their more ambitious global efforts. Ms. Yousefi, equipped with a vast journal of personal thoughts and observations, recalls April 29, 2007, as the day their real travels began. The two went through Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and, after flying, with bikes in tow, to Toronto, are now making their way down the eastern seaboard. “Heading south,” Ms. Yousefi quips, because winter is setting in. “It was getting cold! We had to leave,” she said.

The two are traveling on an estimated $10 to $18 a day, and are finding accommodations in virtually every town they ride through. Tree planting and peace, however, are not happy coincidences, the couple said.

“We believe that the two are connected, because in the absence of peace, the environment suffers as well, and of course we’re worried about global warming,” Ms. Yousefi said.

The couple did a 2,000-kilometer “warm-up” ride in Iran, “just to prepare us,” and then embarked on this global excursion — their first trip outside their country. “It’s been pretty interesting,” Ms. Yousefi said, “but we love this — people like peace and we’re seeing that more and more cultures share things in common.”

Ms. Yousefi, 29, fluent in English, also serves as something of a translator for her husband, though he speaks several languages. “While we love seeing all these different cultures, we really want people to pay attention to the important aspects of peace, especially when there is war in some parts of the world.

“When we plant trees in the places we visit, we get to meet the mayors and we can convey our message,” said Mr. Edrisi, who is 30. The two have also given guest lectures at schools and universities discussing the relationship between Iran and the Middle East, as well as that between Iran and the global community. The two also emphasized the travel component of their trip. “When you go other countries, you see the sites, but you also get to know the people,” Mr. Edrisi said. “This is very important because so often, people who haven’t traveled make assumptions about foreigners.”

Mr. Edrisi circumvented his translator to make his point in English: “Three days ago, we were at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we saw things from cultures everywhere — we took pictures and put them on our Web site for people all over to see.” The couple’s site, www.rmc4peace.com, reads like a global On the Road, replete with pictures and blog entries.

There is even documentation of the couple’s Princeton stop, where they planted a small evergreen tree at the Borough’s Monument Park, prior to addressing a crowd assembled for a Coalition for Peace Action potluck dinner two weeks ago.

“We wanted people to learn about Iran from residents of Iran,” said the executive director of the Coalition, the Rev. Robert Moore, who added that another aim was to reduce potential bias toward the Middle East.

They still have East Asia to tour, but upon returning to Iran, Mr. Edrisi and Ms. Yousefi hope to establish a non-governmental organization promoting their cause and possibly put a book together documenting their travels. Their only request for those they have visited? “You don’t have to ride your bike,” Ms. Yousefi said, smiling, “but people should come visit us in Iran!”

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