Noilly Prattle: Persian Odyssey: Part III – A Sense of Space

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Persian Odyssey: Part III – A Sense of Space

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness...” So wrote the 19th Century Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. He was describing how in any relationship people need the space to be who they are without one dominating and manipulating the other. Well and good. But have you ever thought about your own personal space. Where are the boundaries of the space we occupy on this planet? It can be almost non-existent as in sex; it can include largely ignored physical contact in a crowded subway car; a few inches or feet as in a friendly conversation. But when you are alone in the desert where you are vulnerable in the extreme, how close is too close for comfort?

I had an opportunity to discover my own personal boundaries and those of strangers encountered in the wilderness soon after I started out on my desert odyssey. I had stopped for the day and was camping on a mountainside overlooking a village off in the distance below me. Here is a photograph I took at sunset shortly before the incident. 

It was around dusk. I had set up my tent and finished my evening meal and it was beginning to get dark. I was relaxing with a cigarette and a cup of coffee and enjoying the view when I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye on the slope below me. Being alone and feeling vulnerable I kept a close eye on the motion until it coalesced into a recognizable configuration. It was a small group of people climbing up directly in my direction. Remember that the Islamic Revolution was already underway and foreign interests were being targeted and I was obviously a foreigner and alone. I did carry a knife for protection, but it would have been useless against a group if their intentions were unfriendly. It was already too late to strike camp and take off.

I didn't know if they knew I was there or actually had some purpose in coming up the hillside at that hour of the evening. It was getting fairly dark and it was possible that they hadn't seen me. I decided the most sensible thing to do was to make my presence known while they were still far enough away not to be overly startled. They, including some goats, were still coming directly towards me. When they were at a certain distance I stood up and said: “Good evening” in Farsi, the Iranian language. It seemed as if two magnets of the same polarity had suddenly pushed against each other. To my relief, they acted surprised and answered politely and began to veer off the straight line towards me and moved in an arc at a safe distance and continued nonthreateningly on their way. To feel secure I needed to know why they were there and asked them where they were going. They said that they were going to another village, that I wasn't yet aware existed, on the other side of the mountain . Somewhat relieved I said: “Salaam Alaikum,” (Peace be unto you) and they continued on their way. It took me a while to fall asleep though. I kept listening for returning footsteps from the village on the other side of the mountain.

But no, peace was still unto me in the morning. I ate some breakfast, had a smoke, broke camp and continued on to Hamadan where I would visit the family of one of my students.


To be continued....


Anonymous said...

look at that little skinny brown haired boy….sitting in the middle of the desert! - Ronnie

Noilly Prattle said...

Ha-ha. That "boy" was close to 40 at the time. Well preserved, eh?