Arriving one hour early at the dark and empty platform at Haydrapasar, one other person was heading the same way. In black jeans, white sneakers, a navy jacket with yellow trim, short white hair around a small bald patch, lop-sided backpack this older, balding man looked…Australian. So I sort of avoided him. This response of avoidance is one that is triggered by the knowledge that to talk to Australians is often to miss the opportunity to talk to someone else. There is never anything personal in it, and I know that Australians as individuals are just as worthy of attention is anyone else, it’s just…to easy.
About 36 hours into the trip, the train stopped for a few hours on the western side of the singletrack through the mountains. So I met Lindsay, and we stood in the mountain sunshine, backs to the army base and armed guards behind barbed-wire, and share stories and opinions. As it turns out, Lindsay is very interesting Australian: Jehovah’s Witness, who has been working and volunteering with his civil engineering skills around the world for nearly the last two decades. Most recently he has helped build ‘posts’ for his ‘brothers’ in countries such as Tanzania, Romania and the Congo. This trip to Iran was a month-long holiday.
We got on well, topics to start with ranging from short-termism in politics, corruption in the Congo, the imminent day of judgement before the earth will be made perfect, and our identity as Australians. He had some good wisdom about travelling, specifically the finer points of dealing with bribery, corruption or the more everyday tips and small payments to grease the wheels. He also drank, and had quite a lot of booze with him for the trip, which surprised me. The fact that he also had a copy of Paul Theroux’s book on the Great Railway Bazaar did not surprise me, and gave us another layer of shared context.
We continued to talk, and I asked him to explain a bit more about the core beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His explanation focused quite heavily on the imminent day of judgement (my words) and the warning signs that those wanting to be saved should heed. It was just before being shunted on to the ferry to Van that I made explicit the tension I was feeling between wanting to know more, but also recognising I have my own convictions. I said I wanted to avoid talking about what the differences were and rather focus on what we agreed on, or that was compatible, and perhaps in some way avoid the sorts of conversations that create bad feelings, or that start wars.
I think that was the last time we had a decent chat, but we said hello and goodbye several more times. He left the train in Tabriz, but we saw each other again in the lobby of the hotel in Tehran. Who knows…we might run into each other again on the well-worn road from Istanbul to Esfahan to Yazd. If not, I wish him all the best because his intent and integrity of actions seem good. Even though I suspect I may disagree with some details of what he does, and what/how he teaches, the only position I can take is of respect and admiration until I am doing something similarly selfless and committed.