August 15, 2013
It was January 5th 2006 and coming up to mid-afternoon as we crossed the border from Iran into Pakistan. Nobody stopped us which concerned Ebs and myself a bit. I parked our Nissan Terrano next to a ramshackle of a building and approached a man that looked like a border official. The man was shoe-less and lay on a low bunk bed out in the yard of the building. He looked at me with complete disinterest, but felt the need to wave me over.
I spoke to him in Urdu and extended my salutation in Arabic, "Assalam Alaikum".
"Walaikum salaam," was his reply.
I asked him about the border crossing and what we needed to do to get our passports and paperwork stamped. Without even getting out of his bunk he made a statement that brought our world crashing around us.
"You're at the local border crossing, the international crossing is 400 miles north near Zahedan,"
Ebs and I looked at each other and cursed under our breaths as a small gathering of locals began to take interest in us. We were tired, hungry, running low on fuel and were looking forward to calling it a day on the driving. We had been up since daybreak and had been driving for the last eight hours. We looked at each other and went back to the vehicle to look at our set of maps. We decided we would head back to Iranshahr and then try to get to Khash before midnight.
We got back into the vehicle and I turned it around to head back into Iran. With heavy hearts, depression creeping in and only a Jerry can of diesel left, a somber mood settled in the vehicle. I slowly navigated back over the potholed dirt road looking at the ominous mountains to the north through which we had to retrace our steps.
We headed off in silence feeling devastated by this monumental screw-up in piss-poor-planning. All we had to do was check with our friend Mehran who we had stayed with in the Iranian capital.
We drove back through the mountains and into Iranshahr before continuing onto Khash. It was late evening when we arrived into Khash. The town was alive with people coming out of the mosques having said their prayers and going about their business of shopping and socializing.
By now we had less than a quarter tank of fuel, our Jerry can was empty and we were mightily hungry. I drove to the center of town to look for a hotel and for some fuel.
We found a couple of policemen at a busy intersection of what seemed like the town's main square directing traffic. We pulled up beside one of the policemen and I asked him in English for a hotel, however he did not understand a word. He turned to his colleague who did not even look at us but carried on with his traffic duty.
Disheartened we were looking at the possibility of sleeping overnight in our vehicle. As I pulled away I noticed a Toyota Landcruiser behind us with three young men in it. They looked as if they were watching and following us. I raised my suspicion with Ebs and asked him to keep an eye out if they followed.
Whilst looking in the rear-view mirror I drove off to find a shop where we could buy some food. Driving around I eventually found a bakery. I parked outside and walked into the shop, but noticed the Toyota slowly pulling up behind us. I ushered to Ebs to stay in the vehicle and stay alert. As I came out of the bakery, three men were approaching our Nissan. I hurriedly got into the driver's seat and told Ebs what was going on.
One of the men approached Ebs' window and asked for it to be wound down.
"Hello, my names is Shahriah, we heard you talking to the policeman asking for hotel and diesel?"
I explained what our predicament was and where we had come from. Ebs further stated that if there was no hotel we wanted to buy some diesel and be on our way as we had lost a day's driving.
"Well, why don't you come to my father's place we will get you diesel and food. If you want to stay the night you can sleep at our house," He offered.
He went on to explain that the other men was a brother and a cousin. They got back into their car and asked us to follow.
"What do we do mate?" I asked Ebs.
"Not sure," Ebs replied.
With no other option I decided we would follow the men. The men drove out of town and into the dark night of the Iranian countryside. The road was potholed and unpaved so the going was rough. Eventually we arrived at what seemed like a compound with a six feet high wall and barbed wire along the top. The gate opened and we drove our vehicles in and parked up, my Nissan behind the Toyota.
I gave the keys to Shahriah who asked a man inside the compound something I took to be to fill our vehicle and Jerry can with diesel. We then followed our host into the three-storey concrete house. Inside we took of our shoes in the hallway and turned right into a large carpeted room with pillows placed along the walls. Along one wall sat an elderly man with several other men seated around him talking. Upon seeing us they stopped and looked up.
Shahriah introduced us in Farsi, we greeted him in Arabic as was customary in the Muslim world. He then ushered us to seat, which we did leaning into the huge pillows and resting our travel weary bodies. Shahriah went off to get some food and when he returned he told us of why he approached us.
He had seen us enter town and followed us for a while. He then went home to seek advice from his father as to what he should do. His father scolded him and told him to go back out immediately and bring us into their house for food, shelter and safety.
"Khash is a town where many murders happen and there's a lot of guns coming from and going into Pakistan,".
Ebs and I looked at each other and gulped. He explained how the Baluchistan province was split into three between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Baluchistanis do not consider themselves to be part of any of the three nations, therefore they cross borders at will and fight for the Baluchistani cause no matter which country it is in.
We spent the next couple of hours being fed and watered. Shahriah was the only one who could speak English, the others apart from Farsi spoke Urdu so I conversed with them, whilst Ebs chatted with our host.
Even though we were offered to sleep overnight we kindly declined as we wanted to press on and get to Zahedan in order to cross the border the next day. Our hosts pleaded us to stay as the drive and countryside was dangerous. We insisted on leaving and after having said farewell to Shahriah's father and companions, we were escorted to the border of the town. We had a full tank of diesel plus our Jerry can was full, we were also given some dried fruits and bread to take as well as some water bottles.
We approached the border of the town which was manned and said our farewells to our generous and kind hosts.
"Do not stop for anyone or anything, just drive. If anyone hails you or flashes their torch ignore them and Inshallah you will get to Zahedan safely," Shahriah offered.
We hugged each other, and got into the car. I put the vehicle into gear and drove away into the dark night whilst waving goodbye.
Driving away I thought about the magnanimity of Shahriah and his family. He was like a guardian angel who came out of nowhere and saved us from a fate not worth contemplating about. Their generosity knew no bounds and they opened their hearts and home to us. Kindness and beneficence was extended to us without any expectation of payment or favor. I will never forget their help and the solace they provided. I hope one day I can return this to another human being in need.
(A story from my second book; to be published in 2014)