So my overland journey to Thailand has been interrupted when a small boy runs out in front of the Land Rover I am driving. Sleep comes but now it is Sunday morning, and I am due in court. After a breakfast of hot tea and a chapati, my friends turn up at the police station and we all drive off to the local magistrate. I am led to the defendant’s part and eight locals have turned up to translate and assist me. Before my own case starts, there is the bus driver to deal with making me wonder where all the passengers slept that night, and he is in the dock first. When the verdict of a heavy fine is delivered, he shouts and waves his arms about, giving me filthy looks.
Now it’s my turn. This was plainly an accident and thank Heaven I had been driving slowly. The eldest member of the boy’s family has made a statement to the police accusing me of injuring the lad. Under Muslim law (sic) I can only be released after: a statement from a doctor confirming that the boy is OK plus paying some compensation to the family. All this has to be done in 24 hours otherwise I will officially be under arrest – currently, I am just in police custody. Seems unfair at the time, but there it is. My local helpers tell me that relations between the UK and Iran are good and they wish to keep things that way and all is very friendly. The lad is in hospital in Teheran.
Back to the police station for me and back to Teheran for my three companions. Inside the police station, I can wander about but with no passport, no money and no Farsi, I have no intention of escaping and becoming a fugitive. But with no news and not being able to talk to anyone, my spirits sometimes sink. While all the policemen have smart new uniforms, one person whom everyone defers to, is an unshaven man in a grubby old brown overcoat. Instinct suggests that he is from SAVAK the Shah’s secret service.
Nothing much happens. The police are busy doing what police do but a couple of small things really lift my spirits. First is in the loo of all places which are of the squat down type. The white ceramic pans are British, so The Potteries have been doing their bit for the Balance of Payments. Observing the police chief one time, the lining of the tail flap of his jacket opens showing that his uniform is made from: “Genuine West of England Cloth” Thank Heaven for our exporters!
Next morning, I am up early and observe the flag-breaking ceremony very similar to when I was in the Boy Scouts. The Iranian flag is rolled up, the lanyard wrapped around it with part of it tucked in. Carefully, it is hoisted to the top of the flagpole while the policemen affirm their oath of allegiance to the Shahanshah (King of Kings.) Although deceased, the Shah has his own page on Facebook. On the mention his name, the lanyard is pulled opening the flag to the smart sideways stamp of the shiny black boots and a smart salute.
No news. Monday 12 noon I am back in court with my helpers meaning that I am now officially under arrest but in a small gesture to diplomacy, I can stay in the spare room with its barred windows avoiding staying in the cells with the local villains. Afternoon comes and a telegram in Farsi arrives from the British Embassy asking for information about George Emsen? In front of me, the police chief reads it again, adding a stroke and the missing consonant restoring my name to Emsden. Seems the police chief speaks a little English and he gives the telegram to a colleague asking him to send an acknowledgement.
Worst of being stuck in custody is not knowing if the lad is alive or not? What will happen to me if the boy dies? Evening, it is dark and the crowded Land Rover turns up with my friends, the boy and his family. At least I am not a murderer but now negotiations begin for my release. How much do we have to pay? We are all crowded into one room with me in one corner, the SAVAK guy in another and the old boy who made the statement in another. He is illiterate, so both his original statement and my release were written for him. All he has to do is put his index-finger print in four places on the document. Negotiations are at screaming level much of the time, and the boy’s mother is pleading with the old man but he just sits there shaking his head. Eventually and with a bit of encouragement, his index-finger prints are on the document where they are countersigned in green ink. The compensation is paid to the family plus the money spent feeding me, which came from the pockets of the policemen concerned. Now I can be released, but as I have been under arrest since noon that day, my mug shot and fingerprints have to be taken – do I have a criminal record at Interpol, I wonder? In the meantime, the police throw a sort of party and it is very late when we can leave, drive out of town and camp for the night. Eight a.m. next morning, we are buzzed by two Northrop fighters of the Imperial Iranian Air Force and the planes are low enough for me to see the laughing faces of the pilots in the cockpits.
And what happened to the lad? Still think of him sometimes where reminders come from odd places. In the 2010 film The Green Zone set in Iraq, the lead character Miller, played by Matt Damon (born 1970) has a local helper who has a limp and can’t run fast. Miller asks him the reason “My leg is in Iran” he replies referring to the Iran/Iraq war. If the boy was 4 years old in 1970, might he have fought for his country? Did he survive? Was he injured? Wherever you are Mohammed, be well.
Any readers with interesting overland experiences to share?