This is Fareed Baloch’s year long journey on foot from Balochistan to Germany.
It was around three in the morning when the agents hurriedly woke us up. “Move, move, move it! Let’s go. Now is the time,” one said, as they shepherd us. We were exhausted after already failing an attempt to cross the Turkish-Iranian border near Maku, Azerbaijan province. Almost everyone in the group insisted to stay the night and leave the next. Somehow, I knew they would not listen. It was useless to waste any energy convincing them.
My wounds were fresh. I had been injured after two previous agents pushed me off a rocky hill following a heated argument over me being a burden on the group for not walking fast enough. One cannot blame them either. I was tired, really tired. And literally could not walk any further. Those Kurdish mountains kept getting tougher.
My shoes felt heavier than the doubled-up jacket I was wearing to beat the cold. Good thing is I took an extra pair of clothes before throwing away the luggage bag in the journey. It had all my stuff, some clothes, a charger, gloves, shaving cream, you name it. But who needed all that or a nail cutter at this point anyway.
The last time I had a proper meal was weeks ago. There was nothing to eat in life that I had not craved by now.
“I am a human and humans get tired,” I would respond in fatigue.
Finally, they had had enough of me and one of them kicked me while I was in an argument with the other. Down I fell below the hill, scraping my way through the pointy rocks before landing on an uneven surface.
The fall almost cost my life.
I managed to put up, gather myself and moved to hike the same hill for the second time. It felt harder now, probably the hardest part in the journey this far. Somehow, going up is always harder than falling down.
They agreed to send me back to the last resting point with an agent.
The agents divided us in two groups of 30 once we arrived near a mountain at the planned crossing point. It was raining over the cold snow. All of us had to wait till dawn. We then passed the river and continued to the top of the mountain. From the top, you could see a road dividing the borders; to the right was Iran and to the left was Turkey, the destined journey ahead. The agents left after directing us to leave only once the Turkish border control, known as Jandarma, were nowhere to be seen. “Our men will receive you once you cross the road,” they said.
We waited and waited.
I had no food no water.
Somewhere around afternoon, we began running towards crossing the road. There were children and women and mostly elderly people among the group. Some walking behind and some running ahead. I made sure I ran as fast as I could. A bunch of us almost crossed the road when we got caught again. All of us.
The Jandarmas were nice. They gave us water and escorted us back half way the crossing. On the way back downhill, you could see some houses below within a hand’s reach distance from each other. On the left was a mountain.
Jandarmas left after half a kilometer escorting us to the direction ahead where the Iranian border security were positioned. The walking families were too exhausted. They looked like they were happy to get arrested. At least it guaranteed food. They kept walking.
Someone back in the journey had warned me of getting caught by the Iranian border security. “They’ll hand you over to the Pakistanis, somewhere near Quetta, who knows,” he said.
I slowly parted my way to the left where the mountain was.
I crossed the river and looked back after reaching half way over the mountain. There were some three to four Land Cruisers surrounding the group below. I then heard a couple of them get off their jeeps and shout towards where I was: “Come down!”. I knew someone from the group must’ve told them that someone from the group had escaped towards the mountain.
They fired some shots while I looked down from a safe spot. I could see them but they could not see me. If I see them coming up I will come down, I agreed to myself.
The Iranian border security then took the entire group and left back to their positions.
I was above the mountain and it felt a pleasant evening now. Quiet and peaceful. My eyes shut the moment I rest my head to sleep.
Many hours later, I woke up to a navy-blue sky full of bright stars. For a moment, I totally forgot where I was. It was probably one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever witnessed in life.
What have I got myself into, I thought in regret looking up to the stars. What the hell is all this.
The fact that bullets were fired kind of had me asking myself if it was all even worth it. I wasn’t looking at things the same way anymore.
The idea then was to come down to the houses below after the dark hoping someone somewhere might just be kind enough to help me out. It took more than two hours to come down the long difficult mountain. I don’t know how did I make it to the top at the first place. Coming down felt harder than going up.
At first, the stray dogs received me with ridiculously deafening barks as I moved towards the houses. They were all over me. Then came a young husband followed by his wife near their doorstep; “Who is it?” asked the man.
“Musafir (traveler),” I replied, hoping they should understand.
“Come on in”, the man invited me in.
The couple looked in their early 20s and didn’t seem to be married for a long time. You could tell from the atmosphere, things looked new. The wife seemed more polite and humble than the husband.
The wife brought me a plate of paneer, a fat bread and a kettle of tea. I slurped the plate in a couple of breaths and went for the tea.
“What do you want to do now?” inquired the man.
“I’d like to go back,” I replied.
“OK. I’ll see if I could arrange a ride back in the morning. You should get some rest now,” the husband said.
Five minutes into the sleep, I felt a pointy revolution growing within my stomach. It woke me up and the ceiling was revolving above my head. I got outside and vomited a mixture of all the Paneer, the fat bread and the tea altogether.
And then went back to sleep.
The breakfast was ready in the morning. A beautiful plate of paneer, a fat bread and a kettle of tea. What else could one ask for? Things finally seemed to be falling in place. I felt better and the hospitality was of one could always remember.
My ride had arrived and it was time to leave. I pulled out some cash from the stack of worthless Iranian Tumon (Rial) I had and gave them to the wife for her humble generosity.
“Thank you, you’ve been a kind sister to me,” I said.
The ride left with a refreshing feeling and the hope to return to the past where none of this had ever happened.
Some 10 to 15 minutes into the ride, I felt a little strange after noticing the body language of my both fellow passengers and the driver. There was something odd about them. It must be my mind playing tricks on me, I thought. But then came a phone call and things started to get obvious.
The car took a speedy turn drifting into the dirt road towards the mountains.
“Where are we going Agha?” I asked innocently.
“Speak one more fucking word and we will kill and throw you like a fucking dog. Get it?” the man on my left said looking into my eyes as if he was about to eat me alive.
I could not believe what was happening.
The car stopped and the man kicked me off to the ground. They attacked me at once. This was probably the most that I had ever been beaten up in life. They kicked me on the stomach, my back, punched the face and smashed my head against the ground while I crawled myself away every second that I could seize.
I grabbed a stone and aimed at one but stopped right away.
All of them now had their guns pointed to my head.
Until that moment, I didn’t knew they were armed.
“Throw away the stone,” said the one closer to me. I flipped the stone bounce a few feet to the left and sighed an empty breath.
“But why are you beating me?” I roared in anger. “What have I done to you?”
They kept with their business discussing what must be the plan.
Somewhere within the words I heard one of them say “Pakistani”, and it triggered an angry vein in my nerves and I shouted. “Pakistani? What Pakistani? I am a Baloch. A Baloch. You are Kurds and I am a Baloch. What Pakistani? Who Pakistani?”
I ran out of all my Persian.
They looked at me for a few seconds and then continued discussing again. One of them walked off and called someone on the phone. He then hung up and came to me: “How can you prove what you are saying,” he asked.
I luckily still had my phone on me and there was a screenshot of my supposedly Iranian ID in it. I showed it to him and continued mumbling in anger.
He went for a second phone call and came back. “Take out whatever you have,” he said.
I emptied my pockets of all the cash. They already had my phone.
They attacked me again. This time they seemed angrier than before. Two of them then grabbed and threw me in the trunk of the car as if I were some luggage bag and they were in a rush.
We were back on the dirt road. I could see light coming through the holes from inside the trunk. It was dark and the speeding car kept bouncing me like a ball. The car then stopped and I heard the doors opening again. The two pulled and flung me off near the road.
The car drifted leaving me behind, tangled, on the ground. I looked until they disappeared.
The sky was now clear and beautiful.
I stood up, gathered myself and looked around to pick a direction. At this moment, I had this kind of happy feeling inside me. Something that I actually missed for so long: the feeling of happiness.
That was a near miss, I smirked and then exclaimed in pain. I was hurt everywhere; eye swollen, nose bleeding, teeth broken, blood dripping from my head through the hair and then the beard.
But none of this took away the happy feeling. At least there were no guns around.
I walked for a good three hours before reaching any signs of life. The first house I reached, had an open door and a pair of slippers outside. I peeked through the door and an old man was there.
“Who is it?” the man asked in shock.
“Musafir,” I replied, knowing he would understand.
The man saw me injured and invited me inside. He served me with a plate of paneer, a fat bread and a kettle of tea.
I looked at the food and then looked at him. Oddly enough, and I don’t know why, I didn’t feel like eating.
The old man was kind enough to connect me to one of the local agents. The plan was to go back to where I came from.
For the next several days, I lived at the new agent’s place nursing my own injuries. It was a resting point where the agent would bring groups of people and then guide them cross through the border at nights.
My daily routine would be to wake up in the morning and wait till the agent brought food; a potato and an egg twice a day. I would boil and eat them slowly. There was enough tea for me to last for many days.
One morning, I woke up with the sound of a woman herding the cattle. I looked outside and saw this very old woman standing near the door.
She was old, somewhat in her 80s maybe. She lit a cigarette and offered me one after seeing me looking at her. It was my first cigarette in weeks and it felt like heaven.
We became friends by communicating with hand gestures.
Over the days, she would bring me food sometimes and give me company smoking. We never talked but I could tell she felt pity for me.
On the nineteenth day, came a group of people mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among them was this young unaccompanied teenager, he seemed to be in high spirits and was the most active in the group.
The teenager asked me about my injuries and I told him all that had happened and that I was waiting to return back. “Oh never mind,” he said, “these things happen,” he smiled.
He looked like he had no worries in life.
“When I left Afghanistan, we were kidnaped by a group of thieves in Iran. They hung us upside down for many days! They beat us so much I thought I were going to die. They called our families back home for money or else they would kill us. But my family is very poor. My brother has some money but he didn’t care,” he continued.
“Eventually they were convinced our families were too poor to pay them. They felt pity and let us go. But then the Iranian police caught us. Boy, they beat us like there was no tomorrow. We were then handed over to the Pakistanis in Quetta. They beat us more before sending us back to Afghanistan,” he said.
“But I didn’t go home. I had left not to return. And here I am now,” he looked at me.
I remained stunned and intrigued.
“You see, hardships are part of the journey. If you pursue a goal, go for it. Don’t give up,” the boy said.
Nothing had ever moved me so much. His words were so powerful. If it weren’t for him, it would’ve been a different story now.