Teaching the first CSM course in Iran – and getting lost in the mountains

In April Reza and I traveled to Teheran to teach the first CSM course in Iran. It was my first time in Iran, we had a great time! We had 30 participants in the class and they were absolutely amazing! They spent at least 30 minutes after class discussing, taking pictures, and joking around.



One of the course participants was blind – that was very interesting. I use a lot of visual slides, so I had to remember to describe what I was showing. We did a programming exercise (elephant carpaccio, thanks Alistair), and I was a bit worried about how that would work out for the blind participant. He did fine though, he typed code just like everyone else and had earphones that told him what his cursor was looking at. Really cool!

Many people had warned me that Iran was dangerous for foreigners (“Beware, Iran hates the US and they might think you look American!”), that people in the class wouldn’t understand English, that they just came to see a foreigner speak, that there would be no women, that nobody would understand Scrum because of the culture, bla bla bla.

On the contrary, I saw nothing but friendly faces, and everyone I met was very happy to meet a foreigner. The course participants were surprisingly good at English, full of thoughtful questions, and yes there were women in the class as well.

I like travelling to places that people have a lot of prejudices about, because most of the prejudices usually turn out to be false 🙂

This was my first time in Iran, and I was there for less than a week, so there’s obviously a lot that I don’t know. But all in all I was pleasantly surprised about most things.

Reza & I also did something stupid – we got lost in the mountains! On the Sunday before the course we decided to get out of town and explore the mountains surrounding Teheran. The cable car we were planning to take was closed so we hiked up instead. Once we got to the first station we enjoyed the view and tried (but failed) to bribe the station guy to take us back down. And we didn’t want to hike down the same way (boring). So we decided to try a different route. There was a big map posted, and on it we could see that there was another trail down, leading to Darband (an area with really nice restaurants). So we decided to give it a shot. In fact, we could almost see Darband from where we were standing.

As we walked, however, the trail became less and less clear. Either we had accidentally gone off the trail, or the trail just faded away. We could see the rooftops of Darband though and it didn’t look to far away, and we figured we could turn back at any point, so let’s go on a bit further. As we hiked, the slopes gradually became steeper and steeper, and finally we realized that we weren’t actually hiking any more – we were climbing. And we didn’t have any kind of equipment for rock climbing. And even if we did, we probably wouldn’t know how to use it. And it was going to get dark soon. And wait, was that the sound of thunder? And did we just feel rain drops? And the rocks we’re climbing on, aren’t they a bit unstable, with pieces breaking off all the time, and pebbles rolling out from under our feet? And aren’t these rocks gonna get awefully slippery in the rain? We better hold on to the bushes instead. But uh… what is that rattling sound coming out of the bushes? Snakes?

It happened slowly, step by step, so we didn’t realize until too late that we were actually in trouble.

After a couple of hours of scrambling around on the mountain we realized that we had no idea how to get to Darband, and that we should focus on just getting off this mountain now. We realized that if we don’t get off this mountain soon we’ll have to spend the night up here, and probably miss the course tomorrow.

The only clear landmark we could see was a road – and a road must be a good thing right? I mean, roads lead to places, right? So we aimed for the road. To our dismay, the climbing got more and more difficult so towards the last bit we had to literally inch forward. I would climb ahead about 20-30 meters while Reza waited, then I would hide behind a rock while Reza caught up, and so on. This was to avoid being hit by the small rock avalanches that we kept triggering.

Anyway after a pretty scary climb we were finally on the road. Yipee! A road! Civilization! We’re Done!

Unfortunately it turned out that our Definition of Done was no good. We were nowhere near done. Because when we followed the road to the right, we ended up at a military base that wasn’t marked on the map. Furthermore, we were inside the base somehow – because the barbed wire on top of the fence was facing outwards!

That scared us alot! We had heard stories about what happens to lost tourists that wander into military bases in the mountains. So we quickly turned around and walked the other way. The road quickly ended at a new cliff. So we had no choice but to continue climbing down – and we were already exhausted and our water was running out. And now it was raining and the rocks were really slippery. We had to move reeeeaaaally slow.

About an hour later we finally got down from the last cliff and found a hole in the fence so that we could sneak out of the restricted area. After that we ended up in Darband – the place we were aiming for in the first place! Whew, what a relief! We were wet, dirty, bruised, and exhausted, and our clothes were all torn up. But we were uninjured, and really happy to be off the mountain!

Lesson learned: Never take an unplanned path in the mountains without a guide or proper equipment.

9 responses on “Teaching the first CSM course in Iran – and getting lost in the mountains

  1. That mountain trip looks like a real adventure! It had all ingredients: A small team of close friends, facing bodily injury, or years in prison, just because of a stupid mistake! Yay! 🙂

  2. That’s what’s interesting about travelling. Memories seem to be formed only when things go wrong. When everything goes just as planned there’s no fun story to tell…

  3. Holy cow this is awesome! This is exactly what I desire to do in asia and the pac rim. Grow agile awareness where they need it!
    Good luck man!

  4. I used to go to those mountains twice a week for 5 years and experienced a lot of trails, and even got lost a lot of times, but never ended up in a military base :>

    Anyway… I never had the chance to tell you this before: I enjoyed the course very much and it changed the way I feel about Scrum (in a good way of course). I’ve been working on finding a way to combine Scrum and PRINCE2 for the construction project management! Complicated, but amazing 🙂

  5. Nice story !! :))
    if u got caught in military base maybe we could have you here forever!
    and we could have a lot of CSM courses. =))
    poor me missed your course! and you got off the mountain. 😀

  6. Nice and amazing story!
    After many years I see your post and it is my pleasure to say I was one of the women that participate in your course.
    I learn many things and now I work as a scrum master in our team.
    Thank you after 10 years.

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