It was shortly after the Gates of Syunik when Guido started talking to me. ‘I believe I saw it in Albania. A kind of cheesy quote, Ziggy. You must have seen them earlier, empty words you find on low quality wooden boards. Live, laugh, love – Home is where the heart is. Cheap rubbish like that. For some reason, I don’t know why, this one stuck. Maybe because it wasn’t that bad after all. It was something like: “That you may break the patterns that no longer work for you”. I am thinking about those words right now.
‘Why, you might ask. Well, I can’t longer enjoy the world we are cycling through. And it’s not the world that causes my discontent. Look around, a marvelous plateau we are crossing: low hanging clouds, a massive mountain lake, happy farmers. It’s southern Armenia in all its glory. Yet, it does nothing for me. I did some thinking and I believe the strong head winds are blowing away the pleasure of being on the road. I believe my weak legs, feeling like they are filled with sawdust, are drilling the joy of exploring and experiencing the world deep into the ground.’
Yeah, it was quite windy that day. I must give him that. ‘Normally, Ziggy, I wouldn’t think of quitting but today… This quote dances in front of my eyes for at least the last twenty kilometers. That you may break the patterns that no longer work for you. Why wouldn’t I hitch a lift from one of those trucks that keep on blazing by? Cheating a few kilometers, not good, I know. But what if the joy returns? I have nothing to prove, to no one. I think I am going to break a pattern, stop the suffering.’
For the record, I am paraphrasing. These weren’t his actual words of course. I don’t always listen that well to him but the following is undeniably true: within half a minute after making the decision to ask for a lift to the first truck driver going in the right direction to carry us, a truck driver stopped, swung his cargo doors open and asked if we could use a ride. The truck driver’s name: Sina.
Sina and Guido drank cay, made a comfortable bed consisting of car tires for me in the empty rear part of the truck, lifted me in and made sure nothing could break or get damaged. Half an hour later we bumped with four times our normal speed over the bad Armenian roads. According to Guido, Sina was one of a kind. I don’t know about that, but what I know for sure: he was our first encounter with the unlimited Iranian hospitality. Here’s what Guido learned from him:
- There are truck drivers in this world who can ride an unlit, steep mountain pass on a horrible road in the middle of the night while watching and sharing naughty videos and playing DJ at the same time, all this without driving off a cliff. There were two moments where Guido held his breath (not because of the naughty videos) and I flew up and down in the back, but that was it.
- Apparently they listen to Dutch music in Iran. Yeah, we both were surprised when we heard the Anbu Gang from the city Guido was born in (Venlo), blasting out of the truck’s speaker system. Please, don’t ask me how I was able to recognize the song.
- There is a Persian phenomenon called taarof. There are many forms in which it appears but regarding Sina and us, it’s good to read the following: ‘In the rules of hospitality, taarof requires a host to offer anything a guest might want, and a guest is equally obliged to refuse it. This ritual may repeat itself several times (usually three times) before the host and guest finally determine whether the host’s offer and the guest’s refusal are genuine, or simply a show of politeness. If one is invited to any house for food, then one will be expected to eat seconds and thirds. However, taarof demands that one cannot go ahead and help oneself to more food after the first helping is finished. Good manners dictate that one must first pretend to be full, and tell the host how excellent the food was, and that it would be impossible to eat any more. The host is then expected to say one should not do taarof (“taa’rof nakon” – similar to “don’t be polite!”) for which the appropriate response would be to say “no” two or three times and then pretend to cave in to the host’s insistence and pile on the food. Done any other way, one can come across as either starving or simply a bit uncouth’ (source: Wikipedia, 2022).
- Now, Sina dropped us that day in the pitchblack night on the Meghri pass. ‘May we meet again,’ is what we said to him. Eventually this would happen when we saw Sina two days later just outside Julfa at a highway restaurant, this time driving his car. He invited us to Tabriz a day or so later where we met up. Beforehand, Guido was warned about taarof so when Sina started paying for the food, the drinks and everything else, he declined three times. Still Sina paid. Thinking he was smart, Guido hid money in a thank-you note with a printed picture and in Sina’s car when they were scavenging the city for a late night snack, only to find out the next morning when Sina was back on the road again, the extreme hospitable truck driver had secretly paid for the hotel where we were staying. Guido is getting better at taarof and declining but still no fair game for Iranians.