The Azerbaijani Airlines jet rumbles out across the sparsely lit tarmac to meet its assigned runway at Khomeini International Airport, giving a gentle jostle to the passengers in their seats. The murmur of a few voices blend with the dull squeaks of the overhead bins. Screens suspended from the ceiling play safety videos – small children taking the place of adult flight attendants and pilots to explain such things as what to do should we unhappily find ourselves treading water in the Caspian Sea. A digital clock display in the lower right hand corner indicates 2:35 am. On time departure. Around us the seats are filled mostly by men, dressed in the typical black leather jackets and carefully maintained seven-day beards, some with caps. Businessmen, more than likely. Settling back into our seats, Heather and I again agree we had made the right decision. Coming into Iran by taking the train from Baku to Lankoran, and then hoofing it across the border at Astara, was an experience not to be missed. The pushing, crowding, herding of people, the lines, the waits, the questions from the Irainian border police (over tea in the police office) had been the kind of experience a thrill-seeking globetrotter loosely hopes to stumble into. And stumble into it we did, but to do that all over again was simply too much after 8 days of rocketing around northern Iran. What we wanted now was a chance to decompress – and decompress by first having a neat closure to a wildly successful sojourn. Speedily exiting Iran from Khomeini International in Teheran made lots of sense, saving us more than a day of travel had we gone back the way we came. Thus, our plans were altered accordingly midway through the trip.
At passport control the officer looked over our entry stamps.
“You entered at Astara from Baku?” Astara lay close to the Caspian, that border town we had walked through to cross into Iran – and some distance from Teheran.
“And you go to Baku?”
“From Baku, to Baku.”
“From Baku, to Baku,” he said, repeating my Persian. With a whump whump he stamped the passport.
“Thank you for coming.” And he smiled, handing up our two passports.
“Khoda hafez.” Walk with God.
The Azerbaijani Boeing 737 halts at the end of the runway and for a moment all motion ceases. Any talk in the cabin ceases with it. Anticipation moves through the plane silently. These slight pauses that planes make before going full throttle are always poignant for me. In the instant between sitting still on terra firma and being jammed forward into space, two experiences are neatly divided and neatly sensed – one experience is the rising knowledge that something that mattered is closing behind me with immediacy, a door with no door handle that I cannot stop as it swings shut. The other is the experience that is yet to be. A door is opening, staring me in the face, yet I cannot see past it.
Making new friends in the streets of Hamedan. Copyright James V. Michalec 2014
Travel is like that. Departures and arrivals mark the closing and opening of human chapters in a way few other human experiences can duplicate. A jet, a train, whatever the mode, the form of travel works to build up lines that connect, then severs the main cable in the end. To leave Iran at this moment is to feel the tug of another world being broken, left to dangle like a line come apart between two ships, unable to re-engage; further and further they fall away from themselves, grow distant, then disappear from sight.
The engine rpms begin to rise, slowly at first, then more quickly. The ultimate response of the engines is to howl. A hesitation on the brakes holds the mechanical beast in check, then it is set free. Khomeini Terminal sails past my window in a single jab of light. Gone. The tilt of the plane, the sense of coming loose from the ground, and just as suddenly Iran is below us, the shimmering tapestry of Teheran light spreading out raggedly in all directions. In a minute, it too vanishes, released into the dark ocean night.
Remembering the post cards in my jacket pocket, I reach inside and pull them out. Hamadan at sunset, a village street scene, the little Jewish synagogue in Hamadan that holds the ancient bones of Mordachai and Esther. All meaningful images, all addressed to friends in America with messages I have written in both Persian and English. Not knowing the protocol of mailings to the United States in these unfortunate times, chances of a delivery might be better from Baku. A few tiny lines of encouragement thrown to America out of Iran. Taking comfort in that thought, I close my eyes and fall away.
Standing between the remains of Mordachai and Ester, Hamadan. Copyright James V. Michalec, 2014.