Thursday, April 3, 2008

No Man's Land -1985

Taftan, Pakistan appeared to be overrun by money changers. This was the last stop before we headed over to Iran. There was so much to do at the custom's house. The carnet had to be dealt with so the car was free to leave Pakistan and enter Iran. Sigh. Everything moving so slowly with us realizing the border would close soon and we wouldn't be allowed in Iran.

Once the last "i" was dotted, we were able to cram into the Morris Minor and trundle across to Iran. We made sure we were well covered, we had been forewarnedof the need to be completely covered-- just the eyes showing through the head scarf. I think a bit of my hair was peeking out from under the scarf and a guard gruffly informed me to 'cover.' We crossed into Iran only to find immigration and custom's offices were closed. The guards wanted us to go back to Pakistan and this is where things get fuzzy. I remember sleeping somewhere in the Iranian immigration/customs compound. A guard barked at us telling us to wake up. The next thing I can remember is being informed about one of the passports not having the proper stamps so we must return to Pakistan.

"We cannot go back...the car has already come out..."

"Go back"

"The visa is in the passport, I can see it..."

"Go Back!"

I think this is where I tried to reason with the official only to be told, "SHUT UP! WOMEN DO NOT SPEAK!" uh oh.

We piled back in the Morris Minor and drove back, except we couldn't enter Pakistan with the car as it had already 'left' Pakistan. So we parked in 'no man's land' next to the Custom's House. Only one of us needed to travel back to Quetta to sort out the passport situation, but the trip needed to be made by bus. The other two would remain behind protecting the car....but who would protect us? The Morris Minor, although a friendly little car, did not have much in the way of security. Its top was made of canvas and could be taken down.

Padma and myself stood and waved good bye to Stephen as he squished himself on the bus to Quetta. How lonely we felt when we saw the bus driving away. Stephen said he would be back in 2 days, we had no idea how wrong he was.

Men...men...men...there were men everywhere! We were the only two females in the world it seemed. No cold water, and the only water was from wells which seemed to be full of salt. All I wanted was a drink of fresh cold water which didn't taste like salt. Coke appeared to be the next best thing and Padma and I shared a coke a day. The coke was hot, but when you have no choice you just take what you can get. There wasn't any food in 'no man's land' but a young boy who apparently helped cook for the custom's officers snuck by the car and tossed in some chapatis for us. We were ever so grateful. We also had a gas stove which we used to make tea.

Two days went by and still no Stephen. Two days, three days came and went with no sign of our travel partner's return. Here we were, two 24 year old females, stuck in "No man's land" with men everywhere. We did alot of praying! There was no way to contact Stephen to find out if he was dead or alive. One thought which kept us going was we knew he loved his car so we figured he would die trying to come back for it. (see No Man's Land- Part II for the rest of this story)

The waiting was not done without certain entertaining episodes. Any stray foreigner entering or leaving Pakistan found us fascinating. We collected helpful travel information such as the departure time of the train, where to find buses to Quetta and how to change money. We became unofficial 'travel guides' for those who came through.

One man came across with his young daughter, he was not allowed to drive his car further. I think there was something wrong with his travel papers- or the car's travel papers. He was desperate to go through because his wife had gone on before him and was waiting for him. He invited us to join him and his daughter for a delicious dinner of sausage. He plied us with questions about the road to Quetta. After dinner he said, "If you hear something in the middle of the night just ignore it." It seemed an odd thing for him to say, but when you are stuck in "no man's land" everything is pretty odd. In the middle of the night we heard a swooshing sound; when we peeked out the window of the Morris there was the man pushing his vehicle as quietly as possible towards the road leading to Quetta. When he was far enough away, he jumped in and started up the engine. Away he went. The next morning all hell broke lose. We played dumb. We didn't lie, but we just didn't volunteer any information. The officers called us in for questioning, but we shrugged and said we had no idea where he was going- which was true.

I will never forget Michael. He was from the UK. He was backpacking overland and arrived from Iran. He discussed the train timetables and discovered he just missed one and needed to stay overnight. One of the officers invited him for dinner and even said he could spend the night in the barracks. This arrangement pleased him and off he went waving merrily to us. At around 10 pm, we heard a frantic knocking on the car window. Peering out we saw Michael knocking and saying "Help, let me in." All the while, he is glancing over his shoulder. We swung the door open and he literally leaped in the car. No sooner had we locked the door, when a rather rotund officer fell across the windshield of the Morris and drunkenly wails, "Miiicccheeeaaaallll....I love you....Miiiiccchhheeaaallll....I need you..."

The object of the officer's affection cowered between Padma and me saying, "Save me!" Michael briefly outlined what had transpired up at the officer's barracks. The food was delicious. As the night progressed everyone began leaving to go to bed. Michael was told he would stay with this particular officer who had somehow located alcohol and was getting drunker by the moment. Michael was oblivious to the officer's intentions until he began to get ready for bed. At that point, the officer made it crystal clear what he was wanting and poor Michael fled for his life. How he thought two young women could save him, I'll never know, but I supposed we were his only hope.

It was disconcerting to have the officer come up on all sides of the car and rant and rave. He even tried to push his hand down through the top of the car. When he tried that I was furious. How dare he come and violate our privacy. Maybe it was the lack of sleep which made me lose all sense of reason, or maybe it was my 'mother hen' instinct, whatever it was I leaped out of the car and yelled, "Stop this right now. You leave Michael alone and go away!" The officer towered over me but he crumpled at my words and apologetically backed away blubbering of his love for Michael.

When I crawled back into the car, I was trembling and of course the other two gave a couple of cheers and then we decided each of us would take a turn staying awake while the other two got some sleep. This system worked well until there was another knock on our window at 5 am. This time it was not the love struck officer, but Steven who had made it back from Quetta after 5 days. He was curious as to why a British chap was huddled up with us in the car....how had he been replaced after only five days of being away...we quickly assured him he was irreplaceable and then we told him the whole story. He had his own story to tell about his delay. His tale included long bus rides, Muslim holidays and government offices being closed. We were just happy he was back and we could continue on our journey.

7 comments:

  1. What a fascinating story! I'm going to have to go back and read 'em all! I would have been scared out of my mind in your situation.

    Do you, or did you, speak Farsi? Or were the guards functional in English?

    Keep writing these... they read like good adventure fiction, with the bonus of being true.

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  2. Hi and thank you for your kind comments on our blog, we´re very pleased to see you´ve added it to your links as well!! We will be reading yours with interest, and as time allows, will continue to update ours - we still have a few stories to tell! Until then, all the best!
    Lotta and Mike

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  3. Gosh..........fascinating. I cant even imagine a situation like this:-o.
    Glad steven made it back safely, without further hitches.

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  4. somewhere there i did'nt know whether to laugh or be scared :)...poor Michael ..:D at least he ate some good food. You guys are brave...I would have died if I had to stay there along. Do you have picture by any small chance? :D

    anjuli...you should seriously turn these travel tales into a novel...it will sell like hot cakes.
    I cannot wait to read more.

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  5. I wish I had a picture of Michael. I've often wondered what ever became of him. Stephen had the camera at this point and he was the official photographer on our trip. so we don't have any pics of this 5 day interlude.

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  6. Omigod scary!!! And funny, poor Michael.. wish you had a camera then.. was this a road trip or something?

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    1. Yes a road trip- ha ha- with lots and lots of adventures which didn't even make it into any of the posts. I often wonder what happened to Michael...wouldn't it be funny if one day he stumbles across this blog and thinks "Oh my word- that was me!!" ;)

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