above: last photo I snapped as a “free woman” (without police escort) in Zahedan, Iran
At 6AM Mr. Akbar & I flagged down a bus from Bam to Zahedan. Even though I was never alone in Bam (due to security reasons, see: kidnapped Japanese tourist story below), i was told by Mr. Akbar that the bus may be my best bet in getting to Zahedan “safely” (whatever that means). He said if i went by share taxi or regular taxi i had more risk of being stopped by drug smugglers, though they are normally not out much during the day (another point in my favor).
When i got on the bus i noticed that it was like stepping into another country- it was full of skinny men in baggy white salwar kameez’s; hints of Pakistan were everywhere. THere were also a few urban-Tehrani types- most noteably the girl infront of me who had 2 black-ish eyes- she was using tissue to clean the clogged blood coming out of her nostrils, she wore a large bandage over a metal strip holding her new nose job in place (the nose job is a bit of a a rite of passage to rich or aspringing modern Tehranis who also wear alot of make up/use alot of hair gel, etc-). This site reminded me that in fact, i am still in Iran, alrite!
Pakistani music playing, it made me want to continue on east to Pakistan and eventually to India where thinsg are more colorful & free, relatively speaking. It all seemed well & good and a bit like a trip down memory lane. I thought to myself, rather than being a scary trip through drug territory as folks described, it seemed like a nice relaxing journey. I looked out the window and watched the desert landscape turn from a lunar jagged reddish-brown to a flat tan color. At times there were decaying carcasses of cow or camel, the desert looking like it was slowly swallowing the body. As the wind blew in the window it felt like opening an over door full of intense wind- it made my eyes sore & i had to wear glasses for that reason alone.
Thinigs change when we started making many stops. Too many. For starters, a scrawny police officer came on with a few convicts who were handcuffed to one another. THey wore baggy salwar kameezes as an accessory to their handcuffs. Aside from the fact that they are scary convicts another downside of our new passengers was that they smelled really bad. The police escorted them to the back, everyone staring at them nonstop for at least a half an hour. I thought that was wierd, that the police use public transport here to transport prisoners. Especially since there is just one of his & more of them. Maybe he needs us? What was wierder was that a few kilometers further a new-looking pickup truck full of turbaned men- some wrapping their faces entirely – only eyes showing- stopped us and put an entire truckload of gasoline under the bus. They then shot off on some crude dirl track back into the mountains. We carried on with our new cargo- but the fumes of gasoline were so strong that many passengers started throwing up. Seeing everyone throw up made me want to throw up but i didn’t. I started to think to myself- what was Mr. Akbar thinking that the bus was safer?!!!! I need to call him. After about 30 kilometers and a dozen police checkpoints a bunch of bandit looking gentlemen again flew out of nowhere from the mountains in pickup trucks- different colored turbans, big billowy beards of white and jet black- and face coverings. THey stopped us, and i thought: Oh God, what now? hopefully, not wanting any hostages for playing their game with the government. We were lucky, they just wanted the gasoline we had picked up 30 K earlier. Good thing, the pungent gasoline fumes also went away. THey rode off again, into some crags in the mountains. Who knows who these people are, but they make me damn curious. I wish i could shrink myself down, and ride along to see just what life is like with all these desert pirates. As we rode further young boys covered head to toe in gasoline were walking home from “work” I imagined. I bet they do not make much, relatively speaking, from the trade. According to a friend in Kerman, what costs the equivalent of 10 cents (gasoline) here can be sold for 18 times that amount in Pakistan at least (not sure the price in Afghanistan, but i am sure it is less than the gov’t subsidized stuff here). What is most interesting is that the police were with us the whole time, and never seemed phased by this. THey say where we are, Baluchistan, is a lawless land so i guess they choose their battles focusing mroe on the much more lucrative opium-trade. It definitely appears to be more out in the open here, and less hidden than it was in Kurdistan near Iraq.
Moving on, no one was feeling very good with the convicts on our bus. Everyone on the bus was pretty petite but if it came down to it i think we could have taken them if they made a break for it or tried to hold anyone hostage. I imagined i was not the only one thinking this. In my mind, i was a bit more concerned about what to do once in the city since i knew i was suporsed to be with police escort- i decided my best bet was to befriend the folks who had the nose-jobbed friend/family member since that as what i was most familiar with. I approached them and thought they did not speak any English, with hand-motions they made it clear that i was to go with them & not any dodgy taxi drivers. Their male friend who called himself Alex picked us up & the only words of English anyone uttered to me were “Zahedan- Danger.” With hand motions they described that their friend once had a big nose & using a cutting motion they showed that now her nose is smaller. I tried to explain with handmotions that i find strong, or big- if you will- noses are much more attractive to me, but i do not think it worked. They dropped me off at my hotel & we took a family photo. Since that time i have not gone anywhere in Zahedan without the mandatory police escort for foreigners. More on that later….
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