The Al Jazeera and BBC’s reports on the protests and riots in Iran’s capital Tehran made Kacper think. He was concerned and impressed in the same time. He admired a fact that people have courage to stand up for their beliefs and rights, and obviously was very sad that such demonstrations were needed in a first place. Kacper strongly believes that any major political or social change has got the biggest chance of success, if it is the people themselves that initiate them. He saw many examples of it himself: the revolution that brought the communism down in Poland, the split of Czechoslovakia into two separate states of Czech and Slovak Republics, finding solutions to the ongoing conflict in Aceh – one of the Indonesia’s north-western province. In all of these places and situations, it is mainly the people that stood for the changes that they believed they needed in their existence. Sometimes their actions involved lots of sacrifice – including precious lives, sometimes things were slightly easier, but it is the people’s involvement and clear support of some ideas that led to results that they wished to see.
Of course, Kacper couldn’t predict whether Iran’s present protests would bring any difference right now, but he knew that something important did start, and sooner or later the people’s voices will need to be taken into account, regardless of how much internal, and external powers disliked it. Kacper also knew that many, if not most Iranians didn’t really like what was happening in their beloved country. Although people didn’t necessarily think of adapting, Western style of democracy, or ways of living, it was clear that many didn’t enjoy oppression, abuse of basic human rights, and lack of opportunities of expressing themselves freely.
Interestingly, as all these dramatic and somehow exciting things take place in Iran, Kacper happens to be in a neighbouring Pakistan – the country, whose society struggles with its presence; and is trying to re-invent itself too. It is also Pakistan, from where around 15 years ago, when Kacper was still a student, he and his friends entered Iran for a short visit that lasted just ten days; ten days that allowed him to fall in love with the country and its amazingly friendly people…
The bus that they travelled in obviously had a great deal of technical problems. Whenever the gears were being changed, a very worrying sound of cracking steel accompanied the action. They were just fifteen kilometres from Taftan, a small Beluchistani town on the border between Pakistan and Iran. There was nothing around them but rocks and sand. ‘Goodness me… come on, you can make it’ Kacper tried to encourage their vehicle. ‘Don’t break, until we reach Taftan, please!’ Mariukka did her best to reinforce Kacper’s plea. The whole group of friends travelling from India to Europe, of which Kacper was a part, was slightly stressed and worried. Their Pakistani visas were expiring the following day, and they needed to enter Iran latest the in the evening of that day, to avoid trouble with the Pakistani immigration system. After all, none of them wanted to experience doubtful pleasures of staying in Pakistan’s jails for being illegal immigrants!
Mariukka pointed her fingers at the sign on the road. It read ‘Taftan’. ‘We made it!’ thought Kacper. He had imagined the town would look somehow different. In fact, he was not sure whether Taftan could be referred to as a town in a first place. Along the paved road, there were some huts built out of mud. They accommodated small shops selling tea, snacks, and cigarettes. Except these shops, there was literally nothing else… As they drove on, they noticed some kind of a structure that looked like a gate. ‘This must be a border crossing’ Kacper decided in his mind. ‘We have made it… we will not overstay our Pakistani visas’ stated Richard – Kacper’s English friend. They stopped their bus right in front of a building that had a sign, which read ‘IMMIGRATION SERVICE OF THE ISLAMIC REPUCLIC OF PAKISTAN’, and turned the engine off.
‘You can not cross to Iran today’ informed the Pakistani officer. ‘The post is closed, and you can only cross tomorrow after nine in the morning… the post is open between nine in the morning, until five in the afternoon’ he added. ‘But sir, it is not five o’clock yet… we still have over one hour until five’ noticed Mariukka politely. ‘Our officers are busy now’ he pointed at three men drinking tea, obviously preparing for a nap. ‘Sir, will you allow us crossing tomorrow, our Pakistan visas will expire then’ asked worried Kacper. ‘Don’t worry about anything’ added the officer reassuringly. ‘You will sleep in Taftan tonight and leave for Iran then… just park your bus, over there, off the road, so you don’t block it’ he added. ‘Surely, we are not blocking traffic here…there are no cars around’ thought Kacper to himself, but said nothing. Instead, Richard started the engine, and tried to move the bus to the place, where he had been advised. Although, the engine seemed to work, the bus wouldn’t move. Richard pressed the accelerator, released the clutch… the bus just refused moving, even the slightest bit… ‘I think that we are in trouble…’ he whispered to Kacper and the rest of the group. He tried again, but the second attempts wasn’t more encouraging. The group decided to push their bus to the parking space. As they were ready to start their hard work, Richard decided to check the reverse gear…to their surprise, the bus moved! Well, it moved backward rather than forward, but it did move! As the space around them allowed it, Richard started manoeuvring the bus so he could reach the parking spot moving on the reverse gear. The whole exercise looked rather strange but amusing. Even the sleepy Pakistani officers seemed to have enjoyed the situation, and got up from their beds to help giving directions, so that Richard could successfully park his large vehicle… The Iranian officers, on the other side of the border also got interested, and they observed the whole situation from behind the gate cheering and commenting on their efforts.
‘Do you have any garage shops in here?’ asked Mariukka to the post guards. They all smiled… ‘Madam… here in Taftan… there is nothing except what you see around you’ they pointed at the stalls and shops. ‘There is a town on the other side of the border though, and they have got garages there’ he added. The Iranians overheard the conversation. ‘Do not worry, when you reach Iran, we will help’ one of them smiled encouragingly. ‘Gee… but how are we going to reach Iran… our bus can not drive forward…’ wondered Kacper. ‘Stop worrying man… we will enter Iran on the reverse gear’ declared Richard. ‘This is not happening…’ thought Kacper. ‘Richard, you are mad’ he stated and kept thinking of possible solutions.
Next morning, the Pakistani officers knocked at the door of their bus. Kacper was already up, and was looking at the sunrise. The guys came with tea. ‘Please do invite all of your friends to come out and join us for breakfast’ he encouraged him. A few minutes later, they all sat on the mat, in front of the border post, and enjoyed tea, and ate chapatti with some spicy sauce. Kacper loved the hospitality of the officers. Perhaps, they were not very helpful, as professionals, but they certainly seemed extremely friendly.
‘Can we start our immigration procedures, so we can leave Pakistan?’ asked Kacper. ‘But you cannot travel. Your bus is broken’ noticed one of them. ‘We will be fine, we shall push the bus, or enter Iran on the reverse gear’ announced Richard. He sounded so confident that no one questioned it. ‘This is a good idea!’ exclaimed one of the officers. ‘In this way, you will not overstay your visas’ – he genuinely didn’t seem to want his guests to be in trouble.
As they were looking at passports of their strange visitors, the officers were asking about their countries and about their families. ‘Will you take me to Europe with you?’ asked one officer completely openly and seriously. ‘Sir, you know that this is not that easy…and that we cannot promise you that. I can promise however that I will return to your beautiful country one day’ added Kacper and smiled. ‘Yes, Pakistan is very beautiful’ he added. This made the officer quite pleased, and he stamped Kacper passport happily, without much fuss.
All girls put their scarves on. They entered the bus, which was already parked on the road… with its rear side towards the border gate and Iran, and front facing Pakistan. It looked like if they had just entered Pakistan, rather than were about to leave it…The gate opened, and they all waved to the smiling officers… they started moving backward… they were leaving Pakistan, and entering Iran – the country that seemed to all of them slightly scary and worrying. They were entering the land of Islamic Sharia Law; the land, where the foreigners are supposedly not liked…This was happening, in a slightly unusual fashion. They just could hope that the Iranian officials will not be very upset with them bringing a bus that is broken…
The officers on duty did their best to help Richard steer the bus, so he doesn’t drive into any building, or hole. As he succeeded to enter Iran safely, they all cheered and clapped. ‘You are now leaving Iran. We hope to see you again!’ read Kacper. ‘Yes, we are entering, not leaving… but it is a friendly looking sign’ he thought.
The Iranians offered their new visitors tea. The girls didn’t know how to behave really. Iran indeed earned its reputation to be very oppressive towards women – at least in eyes of an average Western citizen. They all felt a bit awkward. None of them thought of Iran to be particularly friendly and welcoming, and they didn’t know how to read the overwhelming friendliness of the guards. ‘Can our friends, I mean, our sisters come and join us for tea as well?’ asked Kacper. ‘But of course, why not?’ the officer looked rather surprised by the question. ‘You are all our dear guests, and we hope that you will all have a wonderful time in Iran’ he added with a smile.
Kacper passport was carefully examined by one of the officer. He looked at his Iranian visa, and then at its cover. ‘Which country?’ he asked. ‘Poland’ answered Kacper. ‘Ah…’ the officer added with a blunt face. ‘Which country again?’ he repeated. ‘Eh… Poland… Polonia, Polsza, Polen…’ he kept on saying in all languages he could think of. ‘Eh…’ nodded the man with a face showing confusion. He then disappeared with the passport. Kacper was slightly uneasy about it. ‘What was so unusual about Poland in Iran?’ he worried. The guard returned shortly. He brought a big wall map of the world! He unfolded it, and asked again. ‘Show where is your country?’ Kacper looked confused, but he pointed at Poland and said ‘This is where I am from.’ ‘Ahh… Bolanda’ he exclaimed rather happily. ‘Bolanda… Lech Walesa… very good!’ he kept on excited. Kacper smiled. ‘Yes, Walesa is our leader’ he added politely, trying to remember that Bolanda meant ‘Poland’ in Persian language.
They were all stamped in, and officially in Iran. They couldn’t go very far though, their bus was still broken. ‘This is Youssuf… he is a mechanic. We called him yesterday, in anticipation that you would be entering in a broken vehivle. He can help you fix your bus’ one of the officers introduced a friendly looking man. All of the travellers from the group were surprised and overwhelmed by how thoughtful and helpful the Iranian officials were. This didn’t fit with their perceptions of the scary Iranian regime. ‘This is a good omen’ thought Kacper. He started liking the country already!
Days later, when Kacper with his friends were leaving Iran for Turkey, they all appeared sad that they time in Iran had passed so fast. Their trip had exposed them to the country that seemed be one of the most hospitable and amazing places they had a chance to experience. In all places; villages and towns like Bam, Tehran or Esfahan, they were always welcomed with an amazing generosity and hospitality. People were curious of them, and eager to teach them about their amazing history; show the beautiful architecture of their towns and markets; landscapes; and finally proudly introduce them to their own families. What had struck Kacper was that everywhere they went; he would hear very open opinions of Iranians about how unhappy they were with the regime. Most people consistently kept on repeating that they want different Iran for their children… Iran that is more open and less oppressive. He head these opinions from poorer and richer citizens… To Kacper, it was clear. Although, there were people, who supported the regime, most were unhappy about it and wanted to see THE CHANGE!
‘Come on Iran!’ thought Kacper, when he watched, yet another report from Tehran. ‘I can’t do more… but my heart is with you – I hope that you can create a country that you believe is best for your children’ he whispered to himself, still thinking of his Iranian adventure that he enjoyed so much 15 years ago.
PS. Kacper is overworked and exhausted.