by Josh Cahill
Today I wanna share a really inspiring story about my time in the Middle East. About the generosity of the Iranian people and how important trust can be.
It was a really nice morning in April, the sky was clear and sun was shining. Iran's capital was getting ready for the national elections and I was packing my backpack. It was one of those days where I thought, "Today I'm leaving my fate in God's hands." I had no money, no plan and I started hitchhiking with no real destination in mind. I then had a rough idea, to take a bus from Tehran to Tabriz and from there try to get a lift to Ankara somehow. Well as I said I had no idea what to expect and where I was gonna stay or sleep in the next days.
I said goodbye to my host Reza, the coach of the Iranian National Paintball team and I walked to the Metro station. As usual I was the center of attention and right then I felt like the only foreigner in one of the biggest cities in the world. I jumped on the train and I stood between the gate, separating the male from the female section. The half-covered women were waving to me and I remember feeling very uncomfortable. Wasn't that a sin here? Am I in danger now? What if someone sees and says that I broke the law and flirted with them? Well, I guess people just do what they always do regardless of religion or culture right?! I decided to smile back and then continued to stare at the floor.
I arrived at the bus station, hoping to find a bus to Tabriz, a few hours north of Tehran. The moment I walked in the station I began getting harrassed by many young Iranians trying to sell me a ticket. I simply said, "Tabriz" and one guy walked me to my bus. Someone took care of my backpack and I got on the bus. The scenario was always the same, everyone was staring at me. I kinda got used to it. Everyone offered the seat beside them, what a nice gesture.
I wasted half the day getting to the bus station and the bus ride was gonna take at least six hours. The guy sitting next to me was very keen to share his videos on his phone with me. It started off with some funny videos about random stuff and after a while he swapped to some adult movies. I don't mind watching porn, but with a hairy dude on a bus to Tabriz? Well, I then declined politely and he returned to his seat.
I saw a sign saying that it was only 70 km left to Tabriz. The sun was about to set and I still had no idea what I was going to do. The bus then exited the highway and approached the bus terminal, the final destination. I walked around and I tried to figure out if there were still any buses leaving for Turkey or at least close to the border, which wasn't the case. By the time I figured that out it was dark. Mhhhh, I was really keen to spend the night anywhere but the bus stop, so I bought a few cookies and water and ask for some cardboard from the vendor. I grabbed my markers in my backpack, and wrote a sign - "Turkey".
I had no idea what I was doing but I decided to walk along the highway in hope to get a lift to Turkey. Imagine how stupid that was, which car would stop in the middle of the highway, plus you could barely see me it was so dark. I had no Plan B but I was super optimistic that something would work out. After half an hour of walking a motorbike slowed down, and a guy without a helmet asked me something in Farsi. He didn't speak any English and I had no clue what he was saying. I tried to explain to him somehow that I want to go to Turkey. He seemed like a local so I don't think he was going anywhere close to where I wanted to go. Anyways, he motioned for me to get on the motorbike.
And so I did! There I was, sitting on a stranger's motorbike in the middle of the night. Why would I trust a total stranger who didn't understand a word I'd said? Well I had nothing to lose and If he wanted to kill me, well that was bad luck for me then. I felt the warm wind on my face as we drove on and I was actually getting excited about all of this. Maybe he knew someone that was driving to Turkey? We got to a street with a lot of Turkish trucks. All lined up and resting before heading back to their home country. That was the perfect spot to get a lift. I jumped off the bike and I wanted to say thank you to the guy, but he had already disappeared as he appeared earlier, just like that.
I checked the number plates of the trucks and they were all from Istanbul and Ankara. It seemed like my lucky day. But as I tried to find someone to give me a lift I realised very quickly that everyone was already asleep. I checked about 20 vehicles and no luck. It was a long street in the suburbs of Tabriz, and there was nothing but trucks and a little checkpoint with an Iranian soldier holding a Kalashnikov. He wasn't of any help and he seemed quite bored. Yeah... so I was lost again.
I saw a bunch of taxi drivers and I tried to negotiate a good rate but none of them were keen to go all that way. It was past midnight already and the day of travelling, walking and hitchhiking had taken its toll. I was feeling tired and annoyed. I walked a bit further down the road and sat down on the concrete. I took a deep breath and had a look around. I leaned back and watched the sky. It was a beautiful night and I started to enjoy myself. "What an adventure," I thought to myself. I simply love open ends with endless possibilities. No need to be sad or disappointed because these are the awesome moments I'd always wanted to experience. I love life and that's why I became a nomad, exactly for these kind of moments.
Suddenly a young guy joined me, and offered me something like a yoghurt drink, which tasted like off milk. He looked like a young student, well groomed and I would say he was a nice guy. Unfortunately he didn't speak English and our conversation was more based on signals and gestures rather than words. He said he was waiting for a bus close to the Turkish border. Or was that really what he was saying? He offered for me to join him and stay at his place. I said "Sure, why not". By then it was 2am in the morning and then suddenly an old green Mercedes bus arrived.
We jumped on the bus and I fell asleep right away. An hour later I woke up in a little town called Maku. According to my new friend, we were very close to the Turkish border. He invited me to stay at his house and I gladly accepted. His house was very simple and he said he lived with his parents. We stayed the night in an empty room. There was only a carpet and two massive cushions, one of which became my more than welcome bed. I dropped my backpack in the corner and fell asleep once again.
After a few hours of sleep I woke up. The sun was shining through the window and onto my face. I stepped out the door into the front garden, and I couldn't believe what I saw in front of me. The 5000m high Ararat Mountain was right there at the horizon. It was one of the most magnificent views I've ever woken up to, and one of the most amazing gifts from Mother Nature. The mountain was located in Turkey so I knew that the border couldn't have been that far. I went back inside, pleasantly surprised.
My host, his name was Behzad by the way, walked in with a tray. On it was some pita bread, eggs and butter. A little bit of cheese and a cup of tea. Even though we weren't able to communicate properly, it seemed like we'd already become partners in crime. It was such a nice gesture and I would have never had the chance to experience such hospitality if I didn't trust him and stay at his place. Life can be awesome and this moment was truly a memorable experience.
I asked for a bathroom and he pointed to the little shelter in the garden. It was literally a hose and hole in the ground. Well, that would do. I was about to pack my backpack when a guy in a car just in front of the door honked like there was no tomorrow. Behzad and I walked out and it was one of his friends. He looked like an IT student with big glasses and long curly hair. He told me to get into the car and then we were off.
Once again, I left my life in his hands. I wasn't afraid or anything, all I felt was contentment and satisfaction. Yes, I was high on life! I felt blessed to be there and to be able to experience such an adventure. Somewhere lost in Iran but I was surrounded by the most warm-hearted and generous people. It doesn't take much to make me happy and this moment was something special. I hadn't come across a Westerner in weeks and I kinda loved it.
The streets became busier and I saw more and more cars with Turkish number plates. I assumed they were taking me to the border. I was right. His friend dropped Behzad and I off at a little village just next to the checkpoint between Iran and Turkey. The scenery was stunning. Mount Ararat was just a few kilometers away and its snow covered peaks was surrounded by clouds.
It was time to say goodbye. Even though we weren't able to communicate properly, Behzad and I became friends. He helped me and took care of me. I was very grateful for his help. I reached for my wallet and I wanted to give him the small amount of Rial I had left. He declined even though I insisted for him accept my gift. I tried very hard but he had no intention of taking any money. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I think he was happy just to be able to help and believed in the same philosopy as I do, and as I always say 'your life will become better, by making others' lives better'.
I walked off to the border. My passport got stamped and I entered Turkey. I was surrounded by nothing, it was just me, Mount Ararat and a lot of trucks passing by. So I stood there, 1,200km to go to Ankara. While I waited for a lift I thought of how amazing my experience with Behzad was and how helpful he was. Behzad knew from the very first second he met me that he was going to help me. He never had any doubt about it. This was truly inspiring and many of my experiences in Iran were like this. A country that is unfortunately poorly judged and disregarded by a lot of people.
What have I learnt? I don't think that I've ever experienced such generosity or hospitality while I was travelled in America, or even in Europe or other parts of the world. It showed me how quickly we judge and how we can blindly just believe in everything the media tells us. But my view about Iran changed. Sometimes I even think that we are worse than terrorists by making others believe what we want them to believe. The Iranian people were kind to me and they went the extra mile to make my life better. Thank you for the experience and I can proudly say that Iran is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.