Risky business – keeping safe in Iran

8 10 2010

‘We have a farm. Please, come and stay with us’ rumbles Makmood from the passenger seat of his crumbling, smog churning Paykan, ‘No argument!’  He is an old man, he has a bad back, he carries a stick, and his English is good. His wife is driving, she is wearing a short head scarf and light coloured manteau. She smiles.

It is dark.  We have been cycling all day through the desert, we had a puncture, we climbed a hill, and we haven’t found a decent camp site – the road is full of work teams – they sleep on the road at night.  We have noticed some watching us as we search for a pitch – their eyes hard to read.  We have been forced to cycle further and further to try and find a safe place to sleep. Finally we arrive at a small dusty town, we have heard that other cyclists have been able to camp by the police station, we ask the guards.  They say no.  That is when Makmood and Afareen reverse down the road to offer help.  Our options are limited. Trust is the best option we have.  They say that they live 7 km back up the hill. Liz looks like she might cry. Makmood decides we should leave our bikes with the police and go with them in their car. We do.

Assessing risk is a complicated business.  Who are these people whose car we are in? Where are they taking us as we allow ourselves to be driven off into the dark Iranian night? Can we trust the police to look after our bikes? Should we have camped? Why didn’t we? The truth is that there is no ‘safe’ option in these situations, there are only risk assessments. But we can hope and we can trust. It is easy to see how spirituality can be enhanced on these kinds of journeys… what fate to be ‘rescued’ at a moment of crisis, how biblical to ‘not be afraid’, how optimistic to believe in the ‘kindness of strangers’.  These things are easy to believe in when things go well. But what do they say about the times when things don’t? What we do is pull on safety indicators… he is old, she is dressed liberally (for an Iranian), the police know where we are, his English is good – it turns out he has lived in America for some years. She is driving. These are good indicators and are better providence than taking a risk on camping. Which we didn’t do.

As it turns out Makmood and Afareen owned an idyllic pomegranate and pistachio farm out in the rusty desert. They gave us their guest bungalow and invited us into their home to share stories and snippets of our lives.  They told us of Iran and the revolution, they told us about their qanat water supply system, they told us about the three year drought that devastated the crops, they told us about the clawing summers and the pinching winters. They told us they like to horse ride but that it is hard with Makmood’s bad back and the high cost of keeping stock. They told us about their concerns for their children and their hopes that they will be able to find jobs. And, as their little kitten was falling asleep on Catherine’s lap, and Catherine looked like she might follow it, they told us to go to bed. Which we did.   Safely.

According to the Tehran Times there have been 6 bomb blasts in the Pakistan city of Quetta this week alone.  The Pakistani authorities have closed one of the southern land borders.  Quetta is a key transit point for us in Pakistan. The British FO has been trying to support our trip, to keep it overland, but even with their support it may take up to 3 months to get a Pakistan visa. There was another blast in Karachi yesterday. Sometimes it can be hard to sniff out real risk from beneath the stench of our own fear and the waves of others – this time it isn’t. Pakistan is too great a risk. So. From here we head south to Bandar e Abbas to catch a boat to the UAE… from there… who knows how we will get to India!

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2 responses

9 10 2010
simone

i hope you’re gonna write a book about this, it is amazing.

stay safe

xxxxxxmoni

9 10 2010
Madeline

Scary reading!!! Then I realised all must have been ok as you were updating website!!!!!
Be safe and take care! Xxxxxx

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