Desert treasure

Fourth part in a series about my travels in Iran in 1973, read on Shahrohk Nikfar's weekly program “Persian Hour” on KYRS radio in Spokane, Washington. See parts .

At times while travelling it seems as if the most difficult part of the process is the actual travelling. The thought of the interminable plane ride across the Atlantic was almost enough to turn me against the entire experience. In talking to others, though, the act of moving from place to place was just a necessary event that led to the next attraction. I would hear things like, “Just think, this time next week, Bangkok”, and could imagine that once in Bangkok their thoughts would move on to whatever was next on their itinerary.

For someone of that persuasion, our way of travel would have been totally unimaginable. We did have certain destinations in mind, but when we would arrive and by which route we would find our way there was unknown. To the credit of the locals of whatever land we found ourselves in, they had names for us and the others passing through, we were travelers and they were tourists. Tourists came to take snap-shots, quick and many, buy a memento or two and move on to the next place. The traveler was beloved to God.

So how did we pass the days in the back of our truck rolling down the road? There were a lot more options than were available to the tourist on a new air-conditioned bus or packed into an airplane flying over it all. We had the choice of sitting or reclining in the shade of the canvas while getting comfortable with pillows and bedding. Or the far back was there to sit or stand in the wind and sun while watching the world go by. I can think of only a day or two in the entire trip that we had to huddle under the tarp or squeeze in the cab with Bernard do to bad weather. All the rest of our time was spent under cloudless skies without a care.

It was on one of those languid afternoons coming down from Gurgan on the Caspian Sea heading into Khurasan to Meshad, surrounded by the dry countryside and the hot road stretching before us, that we found ourselves dozing and dreaming, maybe not really living in the moment but looking ahead to the cool of the evening. The pace of the truck seemed steady and sure with any thoughts of past breakdowns far away. We were cruising, almost hovering across the heat of the desert road.

Just then we seemed to be gaining speed and looking through the rear window of the cab and out the windshield I could see that we were gaining on a large truck with a heavy load and Bernard was intent on overtaking it. As we began to pass I got up and walked to the back to get a better look at who this might be. Coming up alongside I could see the contents of the truck, watermelons.

Driving by the cab we all got up and waved, smiling and laughing to the driver and passenger, two men in what appeared to be their late twenties, very surprised to see a cargo like us, waving and laughing, as well. Taking our place in front of them we all came alive with mouths watering, craving watermelon. Surely a huge truck loaded with the succulent green fruit could at least give up one or two for the sake of these poor, hot, hungry travelers. We told Bernard to slow down so the watermelon truck could get closer, we didn't want to lose them.

As the approached it was easy to see that they were as interested in us as we were in them. Five guys and a couple of young women waving and laughing, must have appeared to be a dream. We could see them smiling and waving, we definitely had their attention. After a short time though, the others in my group sat back down and appeared to have given up on the idea of gorging themselves on the juicy red flesh piled high in the truck. Not I though. Grabbing the guitar, I walked to the back and in my best impromptu Elvis impersonation I began to gyrate and play, singing “Hound Dog” at the top of my lungs.

This proved to be too much for the Iranian guys and I could see the driver laughing so hard I wondered how he could drive. In just a minute they were motioning us to pull over. Someone beat on the roof of the cab telling Bernard to stop. When both trucks were off the road the two watermelon haulers got out and ran to our truck, curious to see what was with this lunatic cargo. It was pretty clear that they had never seen anything like this in their lives and weren't quite sure what to make of it all.

We got past the usual question and answer session quickly, their names were Jamshid and Reza and they were on their way to Amarghan. They seemed to have a deadline to meet and acted anxious to get back underway and they wanted to take me with them. Reading the looks on the faces of some of my group made me a little apprehensive but that passed in an instant. I was a guest in this country and these men were my hosts, how could I turn down their request. And besides, “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose”, and we still stood to gain some watermelon.

So out of the back and up into the front seat between Reza and Jamshid we took off, back on the road following the Mercedes. Our conversation was made up of mostly pantomime centering on the great friendship between the Iranian and American people. People OK, government nokay. I bad mouthed Nixon while they ran down the Shah but we agreed that our people would always be the best of friends. In between the main topic I always came back to complimenting them on the beauty of the contents of their truck. They seemed very proud of the load and went on about the juiciness and sweet flavor of the melons. I would have liked to agree with them but how could I without tasting one.

After driving for quite some time they pulled over and I was happy to see that up ahead Bernard had done the same. My two companions exited the cab and motioned me to do the same. They then folded the seat forward and brought out their rugs. It was time to pray. As they walked off the road a short distance into the desert and prepared to pray I went back to talk to my friends. They seemed to view me as being quite brave but half crazy to get in with those guys but I couldn't see what their concern was, after all this time together they shouldn't have been surprised.

With prayers finished I could see Jamshid and Reza walking back to their truck and I started back to thank them and say goodbye. When I reached the truck Reza was already in the back and was throwing down melons to Jamshid. He threw down three big ripe ones and motioned for everyone to come over and eat. Soon we were all together ready for a feast. NO one had a knife big enough to cut them so Reza threw them on the road and they split wide open exposing the ripe sweet flesh. We all sat down in the shade of their truck and ate with total abandon, laughing, almost giddy in our good luck. To be continued
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