Apr. 3, 2013
Gate Guard: What’ve you got in your backpack?
Me: Normal stuff.
GG: Smoke cigarettes?
GG: But all the guitar players do!
M: I smoke hookah.
GG: Go ahead.
He made the last remark while he was giggling. This was the first conversation I had with the gate guard while departing from Tehran to Ankara by train. I believe he was trying to lie-detect me. Having made sure I was not a “non-conformist” or a smuggler, he let me pass without being checked out.
A young Iranian girl, who was dressed like a European in hijab, was taking pictures from random places. Everyone seemed to be cool with that except a woman who hid her face behind her scarf by turning a little bit away. Surprisingly, a skinhead guy with a small piercing in his left ear started to complain that why she hadn’t asked for permission to take pictures. She was humble enough to show him all those pictures assuring there was nothing wrong. Feeling in vain, the skinhead stopped hitting on her. I mean what a jerk!
There was an announcement and every one got in the train. I had two travel-mates. They were interesting people. One of them was a student in Van and the other was looking for a job in Istanbul. The student’s name was Sina Yahoo. “Don’t they sometimes call you Google!?” I thought to myself. He was very talkative. I don’t like extremely talkative people. But I was lucky this time. He was an informative talkative person and his information was not based on his guts! I mean, you could see that he was a reader. The second guy, the job seeker whose name I had forgotten but later on it came up and it was Samad, was a reserved person. You could see the stress in his face. He was 46 years old and it was his first time going abroad. He spoke only Persian and Azeri (which is a variant version of Turkish, but not exactly the same). Even though he had a close friend waiting for him in Istanbul, he didn’t seem to be soothed easily.
Sina went on talking about everything. I agreed with him about most of stuff and whenever I disagreed, I mentioned it in a friendly way and he was logical enough to at least consider what I said. Nice person! In a way, I had inspired him to take up English language because I would communicate with some foreigners on the train.
Apr. 4 & 5, 2013
I woke up when the train host called out “the breakfast is ready”. After breakfast, the train stopped in Tabriz station and I stepped out to get some fresh air. I saw the Iranian girl still talking pictures. She was with another girl who seemed to be European. I approached them and engaged a conversation. The Iranian girl’s name was Kiana and it was her passion to travel and take pictures. The other girl’s name was Elisa and she was from Paris. So excited, I started to speak in French with her. She was quite a conversationalist. She talked to everyone about their lives and their motives of traveling. Well, I told her that I don’t hate my country of origin; however, I’ve spent enough time there and I need to experience something new.
The train stopped in Van and Sina left us promising to add me on Facebook. There we had to board a ferry to cross Lake Van and then again take the Turkish train (TCDD which I don’t know what it stands for) to Ankara. We boarded the ferry and there was a hall for passengers to sit on the seats. It was warm and quite. The upper deck was an open area. I took my guitar and went up there and started playing some tunes. People were being attracted. They were a little shy at first to come close, but gradually, about 20 people were watching me. It was my first public performance for strangers. I had done it a lot for friends and colleagues, but never for strangers. They praised me and one of them offered to play an Iranian song. I passed him the guitar.
There was an interesting guy who had promised himself not to talk for 40 days! Well, I guess it’s a kind of practice against your will and desire and in general let’s say lust. I really don’t know why he did that. He asked me (wrote on a piece of paper) if I could sing Hotel California by the Eagles. Well, I did and he liked it. It seemed to attract more people since it was a familiar tune to their ears. Then he asked me that he wanted to play the classical piece “Romance” on the guitar. I let him and he was so happy. He seemed to be very innocent since he didn’t want to speak. Who knows, maybe deep down he was a deadly criminal or a well respected firefighter. Whatever he was, he seemed innocent to me. It’s like when you go into a swimming pool and everyone’s naked. You can’t judge people when they are naked. As soon as you see them dressed in the locker’s room, you start judging them by their appearance. I just then realized that speaking is like wearing clothes. It can change people’s attitude about you. Because honestly speaking, I didn’t seem to like him very much at first, but the moment I learned he didn’t talk, I liked him! He was a sketcher and he offered to sketch my face for free. I liked the idea. Exchange of art. I play music for him, and he sketches my face. Well, don’t get the wrong idea that I consider myself and artist. I’m just saying, you show art to people, people start to like you! After finishing my sketch, he signed it and his name was Reza.
Kiana also talked to everyone. She believed that I was different from other people on the train. Everyone was escaping, looking for a more prosperous situation where they can flourish. I, on the other hand, was just exploring to experience something new. I believe she was a keen observer. Elisa traveled to meet a variety of people with different perspectives, personalities, characteristics and in general weltanshaungs. She wondered if she could get along with a person exactly with opposite views towards life. And she had done it before. Once she had been with a nun in a monastery for a while. She’s not religious but she tried to get along with the nun and the nun was surprised at the end that even though they follow two different views, they have the same values of humanity. And I conclude that humanistic values are the same everywhere, no matter what color, religion, ethnicity, or even society you have.