For some reasons there is a sector called hospitality even if it´s nowadays more about doing business than real hospitality. I always have felt attracted by the bad reputation of the wild east region of Iran: called Sistan Baluchistan. Apparently it was a frontier land, full of cold-blooded smugglers, outlaws, land mines, human trafficants, barren, arid, poor, insecure, deeply traditional and inhospitable in terms of geographic as well human conditions. Once again I was wrong and this information was just another myth.
Is the only reason maybe its remoteness in comparisson to the rest of the country? Or maybe the manipulated media coverage and a bit of hidden racism of many Iranians towards this racially distinctive region that is the last Iranian stop before entering another mythical land, the geographically and ethnically similar Pakistani Baluchistan?
The very moment we crossed the province border, excited and exhausted, we decided to make a stop and spend some money in the ocal business. It was a humble road cafe, where the 10 years old family sun was running the business while his mum did the cooking. There were 2 other guests already eating and much to our admiration they were dressed in local dress. I could not help but ask if they were from the area and what was their job. And I was rewarded with the most surprising and honest answer I could ever wish for, an answer that could make a headline: I´m a human trafficant!!
Due to its geographic situation and its common borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, Baluchistan has been always famous for 2 things: traffic of drugs and traffic of afghan refugees. We had a brief round of the typically naive questions of people coming from the capital city and simple answers of the locals about their business and the whole process till we moved on towards Zahedan, the alleged capital of crime, fear, human traffic and smuggling. It was a majestically cloudy late fall afternoon when we reached the city. By then all the images I had about Zahedan were already proved wrong: Zahedan was not a horribly hot place, lost in the middle of a plain desert with all kind of human misery and dangerous faces. Zahedan was surrounded by the bicoloured mountains, set beautifully there with a comfortable size and full of boulevards, roundabouts, shops and a high ranking university. Zahedan as a city not only did surprise us but its inhabitants were the most pleasant part of this surprise package. They looked nice, in fact most of them were terribly good looking people, some dressed in their traditional Baluch dress and whenever we approached them to ask any thing they would blow our imagination with their friendly attitude; shaking hands, smiling, warm invitations, helpful directions,…. I was shocked finding honorable people instead of a wild bunch of smugglers and outlaws in this southernmost frontier town. Who shall I blame for all this wrong and perhaps purposely negative image? The media? Our snob capital city self conciseness? My own ignorance? The wide-spread intolerance between the human race?…?
We headed for our host place, Here was the last surprise of the day. Instead of being hosted by a traditional, narrow-minded Baluch guy we were delighted by a good looking, modern young Baluch, dressed tastefully in Baluch dress, with a big smile, warm eyes, specious house and a nice and warm welcome herbal tea. I was warned before about a typical Baluch phenomenon: the existence of a guest room specially for male visitors and since the beginning of the trip I was wondering whether I would be put up in one of then or I´ll be sent away to the kitchen where all the women are supposed to gather. Much to my relieve and because of the modern attitude of our host we had the whole guest room for ourselves, square meters of red carpeted living room that pushed me into doing a whole Pilates choreography on its red & soft floor.
Same afternoon we were taken to a garden, a typical gathering place of Zahedani people to meet other friends, all good looking young people, girls and boys with laughter, warm smiles and beautiful eyes, We made jokes, Some were getting married, some were studying and some didn´t have any job and didn´t know what to do. Unemployment once again seemed to be a major concern.
Next day we got on the bike and rode towards the Pakistani border. At Mirjaveh we found out that the border is close and nobody could tell us when it would open, whether tomorrow or even in 2 days?! There was a huge wall separating two lands, which were actually one: Iranian & Pakistani Baluchistan. That wall was built with huge investment in order to prevent the high rate of smuggling and much to the local people´s disapproval it was giving its results.
We decided to visit a village, at the foot hills of the mighty mountain of Taftan with 2 summits and with a hight of 4000 meters. Hardly we reached the village and on my travel buddy request, who has got a big heart for all poor people we stopped again at the local business to spend some money there, that we were welcomed by the men, who were killing their time there. Young, old, very young, and strong men with nothing else to do. There was no way to say no to their cheerful invitations to spend the night at their place & I was getting nervous again; will I be sent away to the kitchen or stay like an honored guest at the male guest room with my male travel buddy? First I was guided to the male guestroom, specious and covered with carpets. I was relieved. But after a short while and a few conversations among some of them the decree was that I should go to the family section. I obeyed. There I met a bunch of colorfully dressed women all full of smiles, shyness and curiosity. We exchanged our views and my bitter suspicion was unfortunately confirmed: Women don´t enjoy much rights, they get married quite early, some were already married at the age of 13 or even younger! Their husbands keep the right to marry again and most of them do make good use of it. They drop school as their parents have promised them to some other family members. Their life would start in the kitchen and end up there, cooking, hanging out with other women, looking after the kids and swing the Balcuh “Teke”, a tastefully embroidered piece of cloth, which covers the front part of the Baluch female dress. Some times it would take up to 3 month to make one Teke and it would cost a considerable amount of money to purchase one.
Later we were offered to get dressed as Baluch people, among happy laughters and giggles I put on a red dress and the precious brooch that is any Baluch bride´s weeding gift and were guided to my “man” waiting for me in the male section. There he was waiting me like a real Baluch. Every one was looking at us with an approving look and I felt immediately like being married and belonging to that village for an infinite time. I was feeling as shy as a newly-wed bride and that was my Baluch wedding. Back then I didn´t realize that!
I asked for permission to take pictures of the girls and I was told as long as I photograph only the girls and without any men it would be all right. We posed and take photos. A few minutes later, the 16 years old and highly religious youngest sun of the mother of family issued the royal decree to delete all my photos as according to god´s rules and Islam no portrait of female faces can be made! I tried my best to evade his insistent requests and used all different excuses not to delete the pictures. Here are a few pictures of the night I got married in Baluchistan!