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Ahmad on my mind

November 20th, 2007

AhmadHomayouni.jpg

On October 15th I got an e-mail from a man I met during the summer of 1997 in Tehran, Iran. His note began: “Exactly 10 years ago this day, we both appeared at our rendezvous right on time for implementing your goal to break record going around the world ….”

Ahmad Homayouni is a businessman I had contacted regarding help with Iranian entry paperwork and to assist with speedy, safe transit from the Turkish to the Pakistani border. This was the trickiest link of my second assault on the around-the-world driving record, so a man on the ground was a key asset.

Cape Bretoner Ken Langley and I had already set the record for global circumnavigation by car in 1980 by piloting a Halifax-built Volvo station wagon around the planet in 74 days. That record stood for more than a decade but in the mid-1990s, for reasons that continue to perplex, the folks at Guinness Superlatives changed the rules on what criteria constituted this record.

The new rules actually made the task easier. Three drivers rather than one had to cover a driving distance reduced from 25,000 to 18,000 miles. And the big one – the clock stopped when the car and team crossed the oceans, making the attempt more like five continental mini-drives.

That meant we could even surface-freight the vehicle across oceans and start the clock three or four weeks later on another continent. In 1980, the clock started when we left Toronto’s CN Tower and stopped when we got back. The pressure never let up.

With all sponsorship out of the United Kingdom on the 1997 attempt, our start / finish point was Greenwich, England. Instead of a college crony who had spent years pulling the program together with me, I shared the diesel-powered Vauxhall Frontera with two Brits. Graham McGaw, a Scottish factory vehicle technician, knew the vehicle inside out. Former Welsh policeman, Colin Bryant was an outstanding driver although he and I had a very different approach to people; an issue that I suspected would surface along the way.

As I read Ahmad’s e-mail I could taste that drive, especially the run from Istanbul, Turkey to Chennai (Madras), India where the sights, smells and sounds scream ‘far away’. Turkey, Pakistan and India would definitely present challenges but Iran was my big concern throughout the planning stages.

Lisa and I had met Ahmad Homayouni a few months before the drive started when we flew into Tehran from Karachi, Pakistan on a regional reconnaissance mission. During two days of meetings, I grew to like Ahmad. His business acumen, humour and genuine interest in us and what we were up to cemented a friendship I have valued ever since.

Then it was just a few months later that I found myself barreling through the Atlas Mountains of eastern Turkey, closing in on the Iranian border post. Through sporadic communications, we had made arrangements to meet Ahmad at the border to assist with clearing us into his country. I hoped all was in order.

I was particularly looking forward to seeing Ahmad again, not only for his assistance, but to fracture the hush that had settled into the Frontera’s cockpit. Colin Bryant was not talking and the silence in the Frontera was deafening. Depressed, I recalled other long-distance events where adventure and comradeship trumped frustration and fatigue.

We pulled up to the desolate border post within minutes of our projection, just like we knew what we were doing. After an hour of maneuvering through Turkish border bureaucracy, then ‘the tunnel’ to the Iranian side, there he was. It’s hard to say who was the most excited, but Ahmad managed to speed up the process and within a couple of hours we were rolling toward the seething Iranian capital of Tehran.

Ahmad and an associate escorted us in his own vehicle for the entire 3,000-kilometre drive across Iran assisting with routing decisions and accommodations. He played interference with authorities and showed us some of the sights along the way, like the spectacular Mud Palace at Bam that has since been annihilated by an earthquake.

One night we stopped in Kerman, a few hundred kilometres from the Pakistani border. Ahmad invited us to dinner at his cousin’s, a radiologist who had practiced in Vancouver before returning to Iran to run the radiology department at the local hospital. My teammates preferred to hang out at the hotel, but I jumped at the opportunity and spent the best evening of the entire trip fêting and feasting with the gracious Iranians.

The next day Ahmad escorted us to Zahedan and then on to the Pakistani border where he assisted us through the Iranian side. As we crossed the line into Pakistan, I waved goodbye to our guardian angel. The tension in the Frontera had eased and my depression had slid into obscurity thanks to Ahmad. I wondered if I would ever see him again or be able to return what he had done for us in some small way.

Yet it doesn’t surprise me that ten years later, the person who went so far out of his way for three strangers, is the one to remind me about what I was doing 10 years ago this past October 15th.

For that, I thank you, Ahmad Homayouni.

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