February 11, 2005
Second installment of stories about my travels
in Iran in 1973, read on Shahrohk Nikfar's
radio program "Persian
Hour" in Spokane, Washington,
on February 5. See parts (1) (2) (3) (4).
The road stretched ahead to the
East as with the sun at our backs we headed into the country.
The landscape looked like it had been arranged by an endless succession
of earthquakes with huge boulders and jagged cliffs coming right
to the edge of the road. Occasionally we would catch a glimpse
of a mud-brick village, most easily distinguished by the green
of trees. Water flowed down the slopes through the dry land and
was directed to the village to make life possible.
was Maku, an Azeri town that along the road didn't appear to
consist of much, but whose bulk of rock-cliff rose abruptly and
to hang over and dominate all around. The houses ascending
up the cliff looked mysterious and intriguing to me, but Bernard
stopped only to fuel up and we were off once again.
take my eyes off this amazing town in the mountainside and
I watched it fade in the distance, I dreamed of what lay beyond.
In my mind the landscape just became more higher and wilder
until the boulders grew to the size of mountains, the roads disappeared
and gave way to camel tracks, populated by people who had
never heard of Nixon or the Beatles.
Before I had left America
someone had told me that it was 1972 all over the world,
was still looking for that unaffected place. This was my
dream, to find people, as yet unaffected by modern times. Their
their music, and their stories still in a world whose recent
memories included Genghiz, Timur, or maybe some more recent
But the wildness of Azerbaijan dissolved in the west and
the reminder if this world, the smooth road, carried
me into what lay ahead.
A night in the desert under the stars was passing peacefully
around the fire when we looked up to find ourselves surrounded
by some tribesmen who were evidently camped near enough to see
the glow of our flames. We were all a bit nervous for a while until
we realized that they meant us no harm and were just curious about
who could be out in such a barren place.
We had learned in Turkey
to drive until after dark before camping for the night, but this
time we must have stopped early and attracted unwanted attention.
So after our visitors disappeared into the night we put out
our fire, packed up and drove for awhile longer, went off the highway
and slept for the night. We would spend another day of unhurried
travel and another night out before approaching Tehran. I never
really knew why we were going to this huge modern city but
it was, we found ourselves there and decided that we would stay
Since the truck was open and all of our belongings inside, someone
always had to stay behind when the others took off. Even in the
hustle-bustle of the city this truck full of travelers attracted
a curious crowd. So, for whoever stayed , it was either a time
of no rest or an endless source of entertainment.
to take the first watch as the others went off to explore the
city. Just as I was feeling hungry and a little tired of answering
usual questions, a young boy came to the side of the truck and
asked to come aboard. I hauled him up and he looked around in
amazement at how these strange modern nomads lived. He asked me
about food and eating and I thought he might be hungry. I told
him that I had no food but when my friends returned there would
be something to eat. He got this sad puzzled look on his face
then rather quickly got down and ran off.
I lay back on the pillows
and began to doze in the warm shade when someone began to pound
on the side of the bed. I got up and looked over the side and
below was my young friend with a big plate of pilau with a
lamb chop and some warm naan to eat it with. He handed it up to
and climbed aboard once again with a broad grin and asking me
ate if it was good. It was very good and when I was finished
I thanked him as well as I could and asked him how much I owed
He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and took the empty
plate and disappeared into the crowded street.
I would see him
on my explorations down the street looking for a hammam,
some sort of public bath. He acted most excited to see me and
dragged me into the restaurant that my meal came from to show me
to what I assumed was his father. I was then forced, without
resistance on my part, to sit and have a sweet and some tea
while I explained with gestures and some universally understood
what my purpose was for being in Iran.
The proprietors biggest
concern seemed to be my lack of a wife and I'm sure he
solved that problem if he would have had the time. But
it was getting late so I excused myself and made it back to the
found the hot bath that I had been looking for but my hunger
and thirst had been taken care of and once again no money
It seemed like it still took quite
awhile for all the others to return to the truck and the sun had
set by the time all the
stories of the day were told and we were headed out of town. I
rode up front as navigator, while Bernard negotiated the insane
traffic. I had ridden with him coming out of Athens and all over
Istanbul through narrow streets and over rickety bridges and had
much faith in his skill as a driver. But having grown up driving
in France, all over Europe and this far into Asia had not prepared
him for the perils of Tehran traffic after dark. Traffic in the
form of small cars, big trucks, motorbikes and a few horsecarts
flew by in directions that seemed to have no bearing to the logical
flow of traffic.
We were doing pretty well when going through a
round-about we felt something hit our right side about mid-way
back. Going slowly, I hung out the door to see a small car that
seemed almost stuck part way under the bed. I yelled for Bernard
to stop and we got out to assess the damage. The car wasn't really
stuck and not badly damaged but happened to drive right into
us. The two occupants of the car were out as Bernard and I looked
car over. These Iranian guys were getting all worked up about
the slight damage and attracting quite a crowd while the traffic
by, a blur of lights steel and horns.
The yelling went on building
to what seemed like its crescendo only to build once again
as the crowd swelled. Bernard and I almost became what seemed to
spectators to this melee when at the same second we caught
eachothers eye, jumped back into the truck and drove off leaving
people in the street yelling and shaking their fists.
After that my job
changed from reading the map to intercepting cars on suspicious
trajectories moving toward the truck. We hadn't been driving
for another ten minutes when we heard and felt another crash into
side just as before. As we kept moving I opened the door and
stepped out onto the running board to have a look. I assessed the
and reported back to Bernard. Nobody hurt, car is still running,
better just keep going!
>>> See Parts (1) (2) (3) (4)
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