Max a Hostage
By Max & Clay Robinson
To me, a technical advisor to Iran, that cry was foreboding. Radical terrorists had been striking at Americans, and in some cases murdering. Where I worked, dissidents had made open threats to “kill an American engineer.”
Apprehensively I glanced upward. Against the horizon, war-painted, weapon-brandishing Luristanions shouted down at me. They beckoned me to come quickly.
I scanned the oak-wooded slopes for Masood, my Persian counterpart.- a biologist assigned to me by the Iranian government for training in conservation work. The Shah’s government was to be praised for its advancements in range management. But it had not taken in the immediate needs nor the temperament of the tribesmen, who for centuries had depended on the rangeland to grace their herds. Now by government edict all lands of the Keshvar- had been closed to grazing. In return the people had been promised work and food.
Through bureaucratic bungling, work had been curtailed, work had been curtailed. Without money or or their traditional home-grown wheat and rice from the fields, and milk and meat from their herds. The tribesmen had become desperate and fighting mad.
Earlier that morning Masood and I had left our Land Rover and native driver at an abandoned village. He was to remain there until we had finish our inspection. Masood now stood several hundred paces up the hill, nearer the tribesmen. Suddenly the tribesmen swooped down on him. It appeared unrealistic, almost as a staged performance in a western movie of an Indian attack. The tribesmen pounced upon Masood, knocking him to the ground, with their wooden canes and hard boney fists. They pummeled him severely. I grew fearful for his welfare. I quickened my pace, I felt an urgency to help my friend.
As I drew near some of the Lurs turned on me. Their voices rang with mob anger. Masood still on the ground, pleaded for the angry excited young men to be seated, cease their violence and talk. Some heeded his advice and dropped upon their heels to listen. Their more violent comrades rushed at me. Then the more mature, who had squatted to talk now shouted to them not to kill. The Lurs now commanded Masood and I to start walking cross-country to the road.
For provocation the young Lurs, prodded us with their thumbs and sticks. They made funny noises, as if they were urging donkeys along the trail. “Uh-huh, pa-r-root,” they’d call with each jab. Their tongues twilled to effect a strange sound taking to flight. Each prodding and utterance was followed by group laughter. Teasing me had become their game. They flipped pebbles and sticks at me. And occasionally some ruffian dashed in to grab my large Texas-style hat to sail it through the air. More considerate men would retrieve the hat for me. And some of the pranksters frequently made well placed kicks to the seat of my pants.
Fortunately the more mature among our captors became guardians. I would turn to see them wrestling, shoving, kicking and reprimanding the pranksters. To ease my tension, a few young men, including one with light blue eyes, came close and smiled. Each made a linking of his fingers and nodded to me; “Me-you –we brothers!” I returned their smiles and nodded in approval. As we strode along young lean men pointed to their mouths. They wanted me to know that was their only food for several days past.
After a mile or more, shuffling in the dust, we came to a high precipice. Thousands of feet below the Keshvar River flowed. It rushed over and around boulders in a deeply encased channel. Its turbulent waters slowed only by jutting rocks or fallen trees. We turned from the roadway and headed down a long zigzagging, narrow and hazardous trail, to their camp. Cautiously I placed my feet, a misplaced foot could catapult me hundreds of feet to death upon the jagged outcroppings. The trail in many placed had been laboriously hand cut into the steep, slick rocks.
In the distance, on the exposed sections of a roadway that also led into the valley, women and children in tribal dress, intently rolled huge boulders onto the road. Their plan was to form barriers against vehicles coming to recue us.
If there was any comfort for me that morning, it was when we reached the bottom of the cliff. We left the steep, hazardous trail and approached the government work camp. But the camp had been captured by the tribesmen. Normally government soldiers would be manning outposts and gates. Now no military men were seen. The camp was swarming with tribesmen, some two hundred of them. They chatted excitedly as they awaited the arrival of the hostages.
Many horses stood tied at random or grazing freely, on sparse grass shoots among the Persian Oaks. Their heads rose and their ears pointed to us at the gates of the camp were flung open. Masood and I were herded into the compound. A few older men with greying hair and beards, recognized me and steeped forward to extend greetings. Masood and I were not the only hostages. Among several Iranian engineers and technicians held captive was, Kamyab, a man who I was well acquainted. This gave me some comfort.
Courteously, was asked to be seated. Through interpreters the cathodahs related to me the plight of their people. Their men had been without employment. Their families needed twelve Taman’s a day on which to live—at that time about $1.58 in American money. Unless aid came soon, they pleaded their men, women and children would starve.
In their serious weather worn faces I saw human beings, who as their forefathers had known great hardship. Their parents and grandparents under the reign of Shah Riza Kahn Pahiavi were nomads, proud and independent. When the Shah Riza Kahn commenced his reformation programs these people refused to give up their old ways. They refused to be settled in small towns.
Listening to the broken-English of the interpreters, it was made clear that I was going to help persuade the Shah’s government to make a concession to these desperate tribesmen. They wanted immediate relief from their starvation. They would insist on measures that had long range implications, I along with the other prisoners, would be held until their demands were satisfied.
The discourse was long. The elder tribesmen presented their views and argued, much of their discussion was not interpreted to me. Under such circumstances I found tensions easing and my mind drifting. I thought about my wife, back in at Khurramabad, anxious by now. On captive, a native technician informed me that he had succeeded in sending out a message about our plight. The conference broke up and nothing had been accomplished except to bring my mind back to the present. Time dragged. We moved freely about the compound. Our captor knew we could not escape. Late in the day we observed a four-wheel-powered vehicle as it inched its way down the Dugway. Its gears whined as the driver shifted down to circumvent the barricades.
Much to my delight the vehicle carried Nashabree, a native technician who had worked with the native folk and with whom he enjoyed an exceptionally good rapport.
“Do you want to go home, he asked. “I am not anxious to go out there in that angry mob again,” I replied. “These people are my friends, “he added. “I have advised them to let you go so you may inform the head of Forestry division about their plight. It did not take much to convince me that I might do more good for the tribe if I were to leave with Nashabree. I climbed in the Land Rover alongside of Masood and Nashabree. The gates swung open. The vehicle rolled out into the crowd of young, impetuous belligerents. They surged close, shouting and making threatening gestures. I looked into dozens of fierce dark brown eyes. Many I feared wanted my blood.
The chieftain held back the milling crowd, but they could not stop the wild-ear piercing cries. One hot-blood, his fiery lack eyes focused upon me, made a throat cutting gesture. It amused me. I smiled at him and with my finger made a gesture of cutting my own throat. Then followed a big smile and a calm expression of humor. He was normal; quick to anger, just as quick to extend a feeling of brotherhood, even to an American.
The vehicle climbed the crude roadway, up the face of the steep mountain, bypassing the barriers. The women and children stopped work, curiously watching with black curious eyes. At last the insurgents could no longer be heard. In my final look they looked like a swarm of angry ants whose hill had been disturbed. Distance and trees blotted out my view. I was on my way to the city, to my wife and to safety.
I did not betray those people, those children of Allah. They had their reasons. Desperate hungry people are often violent. I pleaded their cause in my reports to higher authorities. Their needs were made known. The government provided assistance. A small sore spot-- One of many in Iran-- Soothed temporarily.