359° – Workadays Life Of An Industrial Gypsy – You’ll Never Work Alone!
Erschienen 2012. Enthält eine Auswahl von 39 Kurzgeschichten aus den Bänden 2, 3 und 4, aus den beruflich bereisten Ländern China, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, Kolumbien, Dänemark, Türkei, Schweden, Finnland, England, Deutschland und der Antarktis. Darüber hinaus Geschichten aus den Kategorien Über den Wolken oder kurz davor und Querweltein unterwegs in fremden (Hotel-)Betten. Zudem enthält es Geschichten aus dem Iran, die bislang in keinem der deutschsprachigen Bände erschienen sind. Übersetzer des Buches ist Giancarlo Pugliese, der in Berlin lebt und arbeitet.
359° – Worker, Writer, World-traveller – You’ll Never Work Alone! (Indische Ausgabe)
Erschienen 2016. Die überarbeitete Neuauflage der 2012 erschienenen englischen Übersetzung wurde um das Länderkapitel Indien erweitert, bestehend aus vier Geschichten. Zwei davon, When Night Falls Upon India und Snake Charmers or Puppet Shows?, schrieb der Autor während seiner Fahrradweltreise durch Indien (2002). Die beiden anderen, Who’s got the Coconut? und Two Men Are Seen Seated, schrieb er während eines beruflichen Einsatzes 2015 bei Reliance Industries in Bharuch.
Das Indien-Kapitel wird eingeleitet durch die Geschichte India: A Life-Inspiring Experience. Darin beschreibt der Autor die ihn inspirierende Faszination Indiens. Die Idee zu einer englischen Ausgabe für den indischen Buchmarkt stammt vom Inder Mohit Mehra, den Thiemonds während eines Arbeitseinsatzes bei Wilmar International in Surabaya kennenlernte. Seine Frau, Swati Mehra, ist Editorin des Buches, das bei dem im südindischen Chennai ansässigen Verlag Notion Press publiziert wurde. Die Buchvorstellung fand am 4. November 2016 im Institute of Engineering in Nashik statt.
Das Cover der ersten englischen Ausgabe 359° – Workadays Life Of An Industrial Gypsy zeigt einen verkehrt herum gehaltenen Industrieschutzhelm. Auf dessen Stirnseite ist, ebenfalls falsch herum, das Logo des Anlagen– und Maschinenbauunternehmens Buss SMS Canzler GmbH abgebildet. Wie in der internationalen Industriebranche üblich, soll das Logo, vorne auf dem Schutzhelm, dessen Träger entsprechend seiner Firmenzugehörigkeit identifizieren. In dem korbähnlichen, auf den Kopfumfang einstellbaren Kunststoffhalter des Helmes ruht die Erde, ähnlich wie ein Frühstücksei im Eierbecher. Neben dem nördlichen Teil des afrikanischen Kontinents, Europa und der Arktis, ist auf der Erde eine Industrieanlage als eigenständiger Kontinent zu erkennen, bestehend aus Kolonnen, Kugelgasbehältern, Rohrleitungen und einer rauchenden Industriefackel, deren Emission, weißgrau-schwarze Smogwolken, die dadurch nicht zu sehende Hintergrundlandschaft, das Universum, verpesten. Es scheint, als würde der Betrachter einen Zukunftsblick in die Glaskugel eines Hellsehers werfen, wobei die Zukunft sich als eine wachsende, global ausbreitende Industriewelt offenbart.
Das dem Buchtitel Workadays Life Of An Industrial Gypsy (zu deutsch Alltagsleben eines Industriezigeuners) vorangestellte Winkelmaß 359° ist doppeldeutig. Einerseits bezüglich der alltäglichen Arbeit: dass kein von Menschenhand geschaffenes Werk jemals Vollkommenheit (den Vollwinkel) erreichen wird. Andererseits bezüglich der (berufs-)alltäglichen Reise: dass ein Menschenleben nicht ausreicht, um die ganze Welt zu sehen und zu erleben.
Der Untertitel, You’ll Never Work Alone! wurde, in leicht abgeänderter Form, dem Songtext You’ll Never Walk Alone entlehnt. Die grafische Komposition von Erdkugel, Industrieanlage und Industrieschutzhelm wurde vom Dürener Fotografenmeister Udo Keus gestaltet.
Das Cover der englischen Übersetzung für den indischen Buchmarkt, 359° – Worker, Writer, Word-traveller zeigt auf der Vorderseite, ähnlich wie das Cover der ersten englischen und der chinesischen Übersetzung, den umgedrehten Industrieschutzhelm mit darin ruhender Erdkugel. Darüber spannt sich ein rot-orangefarbiger Bogen in kaleidoskopischem Muster. Auf diesem zeichnen sich weltbekannte Sehenswürdigkeiten ab. Von links nach rechts betrachtet: Pyramide des Kukulcán, Gateway of India, Freiheitsstatue, Elizabeth Tower, Pyramiden von Gizeh, Eiffelturm, Schiefer Turm von Pisa mit darüber schwebendem Heißluftballon, Taj Mahal, Shwedagon-Pagode, Kolosseum.
In der linken unteren Ecke der Covervorderseite befindet sich das Logo der fremdsprachigen Querweltein Unterwegs-Ausgabe. Auf dem Standfuß des Globus ist das Kreiswinkelmaß 359° zu lesen und auf der symbolisch um 1° keilförmig ausgesparten Erdkugel “Indian Edition”. Die Coverrückseite ist ebenfalls in rot-orangefarbigem Kaleidoskop-Muster gestaltet. Darauf, in weißer Schrift, die Buchinhaltsbeschreibung und Angaben zum Autor. Gestaltet wurde das Cover in Indien, vom Notion Press Verlag aus Chennai.
You,ll Never Work Alone!
Foreword Of NIPM National President
Foreword Of An HR Expert
Nothing But Problems
Above The Clouds In Seventh Heaven
- India: A Life-Inspiring Experience
- Who’s Got The Coconut
- Snake Charmers Or Puppet Shows?
- When Night Falls Upon India
- Two Men Are Seen Seated
- When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do!
- Mr. Smith And The Thing About Experience
- What Would The World Be Like Without Steel?
- Take Me Home, Country Roads
- Rien Ne Va Plus! – No More Bets, Please!
- Just As Marco Polo Once Did
- Claustrophobia – For Fear Of Losing Your Space
- The Well-Deserved (Breach Of The) Peace
- Let There Be Light
- Paper Doesn’t Blush
- The Return Of The Jedi Knights
- Overlapping Pictures
- A Thousand And One Nights
- A Look In The Mirror Of Paradise
- Blooming Red Poppy Seeds
- Endless Is The Fitter’s Power
- (Work) Life Isn’t A Walk In The Park!
- Between Pack Ice And Penguins
- Seaman‘s Yarn – Or, Sabotage In The Antarctic
- The Little Country That Could
- A Voyage At Sea, What Fun It Can Be
- Happy Holiday!
- To Err Is Human
- Aloha, Oulu!
- Man – The Creature Of Habit! Imagine
- Job Advertisement!
- That’s Enough Words For Now!
- The Stories Behind
359° Workadays Life of an Industrial Gypsy
ISBN 978-3-86963-367-1 Paperback, 323 Seiten, 18,00€
Zurzeit nicht lieferbar
359° – Worker, Writer, World-Traveller
ISBN 978-1-94612985-7 Paperback, 301 Seiten,
Who’s Got The Coconut…
If I remember correctly, I first came into contact with a coconut in a musical setting as a founding member of my scout group, singing along near our campsite far away from civilization somewhere in the German wilderness. During the evenings, we sat around the crackling campfire listening and staring into the flames and believing we could hear the monkeys racing through the forest. Following the proposal of our attentive Rovers, we had a mouth organ ready for the cubs and a red softback songbook, both for the drive and the time at camp, which was something of a kaleidoscope of folk songs and canons. There were socially critical songs that particularly youngsters love and Christian songs for bible study designed to show us wild cubs the right path to take in life. All led and accompanied by the mouth organ. Thanks to the mouth organ that those singing in tune didn’t fall apart after the first verse due to not being sure of the words. Sitting by the yellow-orange glow of the campfire, we sang the lyrics proposed by our leader of the pack, who began to sing with a forced vocal range:
“The monkeys are racing through the forest, Each one wanting to kill the other. The whole monkey tribe yells”
At which point, we cubs roared:
“Where’s the coconut, Where’s the coconut, Who stole the coconut? Where’s the coconut, Where’s the coconut, Who stole the coconut?”
The irresistible appeal of this song came from the fact that it was an expression of our adventurous and fantastical imagination: an angry horde of monkeys looking for a stolen coconut racing through the forest.
What’s more? This folk song provoked us. Our interpretation had less to do with singing in the convention sense and more like a bawling mob. This matched our frenzied mood, which escalated with each verse and fitted in perfectly with our fantasy of the jungle. We cubs also enjoyed certain titillation when singing, which came from the lyrics conflicting with the social niceties of the adult world – “each trying to kill the other.” We had a lot of fun alternating between singing and bawling.
My second coconut experience was audio-visual and provided by the Monty Python9 satire “The Holy Grail.” In 932, King Arthur roams through England in search of the Knights of the Round Table. After finding Lancelot and Co., according to God’s prompts, he seeks the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the budget for the feature film was rather tight so the King had to go on his quest without a horse. However, the directors showed their real inspirational talent and gave the impoverished King a squire named Patsy to trot alongside him during his ride. Beside carrying the royal baggage, the squire’s task was to beat two coconut halves together in time so that, closely following on the King’s heels, the latter could at least enjoy the acoustical experience of riding through his kingdom as a pioneer of the ‘Knights of the order of the coconut’.
I had my third remarkable coconut encounter 20 years after the story of the knights. It took place during my cycling trip in Vietnam, in the dreamy coconut trees’ forest on the Mui Ne Peninsula, not far from Phan Thiet on the South China coast. I’d never thought that such a paradisiacal atmosphere, at that time not marred by 5-star resorts, could also have its pitfalls; that is, until I heard a deep hollow thud right next to me. In a little more than a hair’s breadth, a coconut had fallen from heaven that could have determined my whole future itinerary. At best, I would have had to cycle with a headache following its impact or it could have landed me at the local hospital. In the worst case scenario, I could have ended up in a zinc coflin on my way back to Germany. Had the latter been the case, something positive could have come of it even though I was already far from home and away from the bosom of my family. At least, it would have happened in a paradisiacal place. You may think I’m exaggerating or even fantasising, which I admittedly didn’t do after the deep hollow thud in the Mui Ne coconut forest. At least not until my creative imagination faced the sober facts uncovered by my research.
Fact 1: In people’s minds, no other plant shapes their image of tropical coasts as much as the coconut tree. These tufted evergreen trees with pinnate leaves are called ‘the trees of heaven’ by locals because their fruit falls from right up above and descends in treacherous silence without warning.
Fact 2: The far from treacherous coconut doesn’t belong to the nut family at all, as its name might suggest. It’s a ‘solitary-seeded stone fruit’ which has nothing to do with it being lonely because it matures in groups. It’s rather an indication of the number of germinating seeds the coconut yields – just one. Less obvious is the term ‘stone fruit’, which is the reason why it’s dangerously rock hard.
Fact 3: Any coconut palm tree grows up to 25 metres high and not just those under which I perilously and recklessly walked in Mui Ne.
Fact 4: In the crown of a coconut palm hang matchstick-thin fruits in groups. With such great tree height, the fruits grow closest to the sun and become some of the largest fruit that the plant kingdom knows. Each has similar dimensions and weight to a human head when static but, in high wind they become extremely unstable. It is quite unlike a heavenly-transfigured vision and, based on my professional knowledge of classical mechanics, inevitably behaving according to nature’s ‘free fall’ law. This describes the motion of a vertically falling body (in my case, a coconut) under the exclusive influence of gravity.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was the first to concern himself with free fall to understand it and put in place his basic ideas and experiments. However, this student of Plato didn’t observe the movement of bodies through air but in water. The philosopher noted that a ‘heavy body’ descended due to its weight, whereas a ‘light body’ remained on the surface due to its lightness. Today, we refer to this as the physical phenomenon of ‘specific gravity’ – the ratio of the force of weight to the volume of a body. This observation brought Aristotle to the hasty conclusion that, using the same medium, heavier bodies sink to the bottom faster than those that are less heavy. This means that, in an empty room with no medium such as water or air, the rate of descent would be infinite. This Aristotelian theory was to survive a few hundred years until an Italian opened the case again and refuted it on the basis of his calculations. During the long period in between, many physicists, mathematicians and inventors scratched their heads trying to understand the exact process of the free fall of bodies in a gravitational field around the Earth. Driven by curiosity, what happens in those auspicious moments before a free-falling object strikes took priority over the consequences for the person concerned. Today’s industrial age ‘Safety First!’ was only of secondary importance.
The Flemish physicist Simon Stevin (1548-1620) was an experimental pioneer who carried out one of the first decisive experiments of modern science. He took two different heavy lead balls and, scrupulously taking care that no-one was down below, let them fall simultaneously from a height of 10 meters. He ran down to the anticipated place of impact and heard both balls land simultaneously within a fraction of a second. His findings were twofold. Firstly, he realised he could flit at lightning speed and secondly objects of different weights fall at almost the same speed.
A no less curious experiment freak and contemporary of Stevin was Galileo Galilei (1564-1641), who performed similar drop tests. In his hometown of Pisa, he climbed to the Leaning Tower, which would have undoubtedly greeted him with more favourable conditions back then and is still a living legend, probably carved by the Tuscan tourist board in white Carrara marble. The fact remains that, in 1609, Galileo was able to describe the free fall in a mathematically correct manner for the first time. Twenty years earlier, the Italian was still of the same opinion as the Greek – that a lead ball falling from the tower would reach the bottom faster than a wooden ball. But in Galileo’s mathematical description, “Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche intorno a due nuove scienze”, which he wrote in 1638, he finally refused Aristotle’s theory.
Although the theoretical explanation of the practical experiments dates back many hundreds of years, today scholars on technical committees philosophise about who’s the forefather of the industrial safety helmet – Aristotle, who, although wrong, provided valuable baseline studies or Galileo, who provided the mathematical proof. Be that as it may, at the beginning of the 17th century, mankind was at a very advanced stage in their understanding of the problem of free fall but it took the invention of the barometer by Robert Boyle (1626-1691), the formulation of a unified law of gravity by Isaac Newton (1642-1726) and the theory of general relativity by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) for mankind to develop an all-encompassing profound knowledge. In the mid 20th century, free fall was cleared up and became understandable and predictable.
At the end of our short journey through classical mechanics, we can now travel swiftly back to the beginning of this story – to Vietnam and my third coconut experience. Since I don’t exactly understand the forces acting upon me, let alone the maths, I won’t take into consideration the simplicity of the effects of buoyancy, air friction, an increase in the force of gravity as it approaches the Earth and the consequences of the Earth’s rotation. Simply put, in early 2000, a coconut of about 4 kilos in weight, still ripening and hanging about 25 metres above my head from a feathery palm in the shade, decided that the autumn fruit harvest had come. Continuing to accelerate, the coconut raced silently towards ground reaching a top speed of 79.8 kilometres per hour and falling with the weight of a rhinoceros, upon which, after 2.2 seconds, it thudded heavily onto the ground next to me.
Each compassionate reader with a basic understanding of weight and speed will certainly be able to understand that I haven’t exaggerated here. As I mentioned earlier in my rather gawky choice of words, in little more than a hair’s breadth, a coconut could have determined the course of my Vietnamese bicycle trip because of this near-death experience and from which I know that a walk in a coconut forest is one of the most unpredictable and treacherous outdoor adventures. Dr. Peter Barss covered this grossly underestimated danger in 1984 in a scientific journal called ‘The Journal of Trauma’, where he published the findings of an examination of ‘Injuries due to a falling coconut’. Due to his work in 2001 in the US magazine ‘Annals of Improbable Research’, he was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine. This satirical prize for his performance caused ‘people to initially laugh and then to think’ since he stubbornly maintained that, every year, 150 people in the world die from falling coconuts.
At the other extreme, coconuts were believed to make people immortal. This was alleged by August Engelhardt (1875-1919), who was born in Nuernberg, Germany. A recluse and sect founder on the island of Kabakon in the Pacific, he was a proud coconut plantation owner and, during his short but pretty crazy life, believed that consuming coconut flesh made humans immortal and leading to a unification with God. Based on this, Engelhardt developed ‘Coconutism’, where worshipping the coconut was the centre of everything. Theoretically, he believed in the immortal coconut diet. To all intents and purposes, Engelhardt was only 44 years old and whether he departed this life as a result of a falling coconut as he wandered philosophising through his palm plantation or died from overdosing on coconut grass (a form of drug) isn’t known. Instead, I came across a list issued by the defence league ‘man and nature’ which has a ‘list of the most dangerous killers known to nature’. According to this, insects cause the most fatalities on humans and an encounter with a hippo is more dangerous than one with a great white shark. In seventh place for the most dangerous killers in nature, the coconut stalks its victims. Anyone who still thinks I’m exaggerating by giving the dangers of coconuts so much attention, whether they like it or not, the evidence remains in the coconut forest of Mui Ne. I dare those to find this heavenly place and discover who has the tougher nut – man or palm tree?
After my experience in Vietnam, 15 years passed before I had my fourth and, so far, final remarkable coconut experience. I was again far from the safety of my home, where there are no palms to pose a daily threat to life and limb. In a strange way, this was the culmination of all my previous coconut experiences, as if the three previous ones were preparation for the school-leaving exam to come. I’d like to reveal that this exam was a damned hard nut to crack because, ultimately similarly to the Vietnam experience, it came at a premium. But unlike in Mui Ne, where the coconut fell from the sky, this coconut had to be found. The large-scale search operation didn’t take place in a youth camp, nor on television and certainly not in paradise. It took place in real working life for a customer in India, Reliance Industries, at their industrial site in Dahej. From my cycling trip, I knew that coconut palms grow in India but it was a new experience to find out they also grew at our customers’ premises. Instead of creating a paradisiacal atmosphere, the sight scared the life out of me. Considering that, I can’t put into words how happy I was when the customer announced that, as part of their safety policy, the entire plant had to wear hard hats and I was given a shiny white visitor’s helmet with a chin strap and gold-coloured Reliance logo on the side. I had to sign to confirm I’d received it and understood its compulsory use. This duty of care inspired me so much that, at the end of the safety talk, I embraced the safety boss in sincere gratitude.
After a few routine working days, the launch preparations were over. The thin film evaporator was now heated to operating temperature and hung vertically in its steel casing at the industrial plant. There it was in all its fine steel splendour with the Buss-SMS-Canzler company nameplate competing with the sun for prominence. The countdown began. Thanks to the team placed on the customer’s site by me, there were mechanics, electricians, a young project engineer, plant operators, process engineers and a general project manager. He had a name only e-e-easily pronounceable under the influence of alcohol – Shashank Shelat., I met and grew to appreciate this man, in his mid-50s, with profound knowledge and inner peace of mind who followed his religion and even practised it in his professional life – to do as much good as possible to escape the ever-rotating wheel of reincarnation.
Dahej, Gujarat, India, July 2015
“359° – Worker, Writer, World-Traveller”
Snake Charmers Or Puppet Shows?
In India, my first journey through this country was linked to a dream to meet a real snake charmer, just like the one that had lived in my imagination since childhood, based on legends, stories, photographs and dreams. I could hardly wait to set eyes upon a real Indian who’d trained a living snake. One fine day when travelling, I really did meet one and very special he was too.
Strolling through Fatehpur Sikri, a tourist attraction near Agra and the former capital of the Mughal Empire, I sat down near the Royal Palace in the shadow of a wall to catch my breath. Amidst the everyday Indian sounds, I could hear what sounded like a flute and upon searching for the source I discovered an old man on the other side of the street. He was sitting cross-legged on a spread out carpet and had a mystical aura as if he’d risen from the Vedas. Over the years, his body and clothing had merged into one, giving him an authentic look. His orange turban stood out in bright contrast to the beige backdrop of the street scene; just like his whitish-grey full beard against the deep brown skin of his face and accentuated, crayoned eyes. Under a brown waistcoat, he wore a yellow robe that covered his crossed legs like a tablecloth. A chain made from wooden balls about the size of marbles hung around his neck, reaching down to his stomach. He held an elongated instrument with a mouthpiece, resembling a flute and had covered some of its holes with his fingers, playing the Pungi with thick, puffed-out cheeks, coaxing the typically nasal, sharp sound from this traditional single-reed instrument.
His actions were attracting a group of what looked like western tourists. In the meantime, the snake charmer had lifted the lid on a rattan basket placed just in front of his legs and set it aside. In hopeful excitement, I was sure that my Indian dream cherished since childhood was about to come true and in just a few moments a cobra would spiral upwards from inside the basket. It would dance gracefully to the flute, its neck spread, just as in the picture I had of a genuine Indian snake charmer in my mind’s eye. However, the mysticism in my imagination was clouded by the reality I’d learned during my travels through India, that snakes are deaf by nature. This means they don’t react to music and yet they can curiously “dance” because the snake dozing inside the dark basket is dazzled and stimulated by daylight when the lid is lifted. In a state of anger, it homes in on the first moving object – the dancing tip of the flute – which the drowsy snake views as a potential opponent. It assumes a defensive stance, poised to bite, or so the theory goes. Now back to events in Fatehpur Sikri.
Meanwhile, the tourist group had noticed the attention-seeking snake charmer and had stopped a few steps away. They had their cameras at the ready, poised in curious anticipation of what the Indian had to show them. To my amazement and that of the tourists, no snake emerged from the basket. Instead, the old man reached deep inside with his bare hand! He was clearly not worried in the slightest about being bitten by the snake that was probably inside. I tensely held my breath. Those crucial moments were like being at the circus when a drum roll propels the thrill of the moment towards a climax. The moment of uncertainty passed and the old man finally pulled his arm out of the basket again, miraculously unscathed. Awareness slowly dawned. In true snake-charmer style, he still held the Pungi with his other hand, playing it with puffed out cheeks – but what was he holding? Between the fingers of the hand he’d just pulled from the basket was a snake, grasped by the neck – and this is true, I saw it with my own eyes! – gracefully dancing to the sound of the flute. Its head was swaying to and fro to the music. It was stunning, magically surprising and absurd at the same time.
A brilliant performance, just like an Augsburger-Puppenkiste10 puppet show. The only difference being that the snake’s head and body, unlike the half-dragon Nepomuk, weren’t suspended from strings. The puppet wasn’t being controlled by an actor using a wooden cross driven by gravity and the laws of the pendulum. No, here in India’s Fatehpur Sikri, the snake was being controlled directly by the improvised talent and dexterity of an old Indian man. I was both inspired and grateful! This extraordinary snake charmer had not only fulfilled my childhood dreams and fantasies but had far exceeded them.
Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, India, November 2002
“359° – Worker, Writer, World-Traveller”
A Thousand And One Nights
“We like to buy industry and the most modern weaponry. We do not, however, desire to import Western belief.”
Thirty years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini spoke these words. The tree, religious leader and revolutionary founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran himself set the course for my business trip to his homeland. When it comes to Western technology, when it is about products of the electronic entertainment industry, about jet fighters, desalination plants, BMWs, oil refineries, or about two butane vaporisers by Buss-SMS-Canzler, even Islamic fundamentalists are ultra modern. But only then! From their perspective, technological progress doesn’t give you peace of mind. You can only find peace of mind in Islam and in mosques. That is why I, a Christian and technician, can’t find peace of mind there. At least I’m allowed to work there, but not to think. Neither left nor right, much less laterally. For me, who likes to muse about anything and everything after having finished the work for the day, this was the biggest challenge during this trip.
The second biggest challenge consisted of being impartial when immersing myself in this new country, being free from all prejudices. Just go there, have a look around, listen to what the people have to say and then form my own opinion. As a consumer of Western media, it’s unlikely that I will succeed. My brain is programmed in Eurocentric code. Just hearing the word “Iran” sets alarm bells ringing for me. My thoughts race automatically, crossing the axis of evil. They are inevitably confronted with the outposts of tyranny, running through a theocratic state where radical fundamentalists and suicide bombers are instructed in Islamic schools. Where the Hezbollah, the political party of God, marches with raised fists and slogans of hatred, and calls for protests against “Satan America” and burns US flags. Where Al-Qaeda calls for holy war. Where the “Zionist construct” of Israel has to disappear from the map and each infidel of this world should be converted to Islam; where the ultraconservative head of state, Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad, provocatively accumulates uranium and, together with his supreme court judges, takes care to put his people in their place by banning extramarital sex, drugs, rock and roll, and even a single drop of alcohol.
In short, for me, a Western believer in Christianity, the journey to Iran was highly dangerous. And, at the same time, deadly boring. Many of the things that mean great fun for us dissidents are strictly forbidden there. However, because I am an SMS service technician and because Khomeini has a technocratic attitude, there were two solid reasons for me to travel there: the two butane evaporators my boss had sold to Iran.
Before the ink on the contract was even dry, I could already picture myself on TV since I was the one supposed to set up and implement the evaporators. To be precise, I could picture myself in a video message. Jan Hofer, the Tagesschau32 anchorman, would announce, “German field service technician abducted in northern Iran!”
Despite the poor quality of the image, I could recognise myself immediately by the SMS company logo sewn into the breast pocket of my blue work jacket. I saw myself sitting with a hunched back, cross-legged, on the naked concrete floor of a cave-like dwelling, blindfolded, unshaved, an emaciated expression on my face and hands cuffed behind my back. The front page of the current Jumhori-yi Islami, Tehran’s daily paper, was lying in my lap as evidence. Next to me sat a masked man. Only the area around the eyes, reminiscent of a slim embrasure of an invulnerable fortress, was unobstructed. An automatic weapon leaned against the wall. As if the turban wearer was preparing a sacrificial lamb for the feast Shabe Jalda, he raised his palms towards the sky and spoke in singsong the holy words of Islam – “Allahu Akbar” – God is almighty. Then, he demanded ransom: a seven-figure dollar amount and the immediate release of six Islamic fundamentalist Mujahideens. In addition, he asked for the entire technological documentation including detailed drawings of the butane vaporisers. In times of skilled worker shortage, the value of a German service technician is extremely high. A sort of breakup ended the video message. Everything had been said. It was time for action now…
My attitude towards Iran, hammered into my head by Western media, had stiffened. And if it wasn’t for the heart of a technological fanatic beating in Khomeini’s chest, there wouldn’t even be two reasons left for me to go there. But my naïve gift from above, being capable of talking myself into being happy in critical situations, helped me once again this time. As if I was carrying a ticket for Thailand in my pockets, I packed my suitcase in high spirits, went to Düsseldorf airport agog with curiosity and took a seat on a plane of Turkish Airlines. As per the contract between my boss and our customer, my travel destination was expected to be Tehran: Iran’s capital in 2011. I never got there, though. At least not for the time being because, in my head, I was flying back! Not from Istanbul, where the aircraft had stopped over, but from Constantinople. Straight to the Iran of ancient times! To the Persian Empire, to the biggest and oldest empire the world has ever known! When the Chinese Qin Shinhuang thought that it was about time to create an empire in his native country in 221BC, the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus II was already running at full (cultural) speed for 300 years. After the Chinese had founded their empire, another 2,092 years pass by before the Prussian King, William I, proclaimed our German Empire. Admittedly, it had its downfall only 47 years later. Back to Constantinople airport.
In the meantime, I and 240 other passengers had – abracadabra – boarded the magic carpet of Iran Air. I had seated myself in my reserved spot in business class when I heard a familiar voice singing from the cockpit.
“I can show you the world shining, shimmering, splendid.”
The enormous thrust of two Rolls Royce Persian rug engines© squeezed me into my seat – while the image of a fairy-tale orient formed in my head. I felt like a child who prefers living in dreams rather than in everyday life. I was on my way to the realm of legends, in search of life’s secret magic spell: on my way to the roots of Alif Leila Wa Leila – the colourful, secretive stories, barely exhaustible in their depth, from A Thousand And One Nights. And Aladdin is the pilot! It is well known that feelings of elation that you talk yourself into tend to be short-lived, just like those in a wonderful dream without a happy ending. When you fall for no reason and fall… and fall… and one second before hitting the ground, you are startled and wake up with a jerk drooling from the corners of your mouth.
While I was still flailing my arms and legs in shock, I realised that I was in a cabin of a plane, a place well-known to me and a place where I had always felt safe. So far, at least.
The screen in front of me indicated five minutes to landing. I read ‘Tehran’ next to the little star representing the destination on the map of the flight status. All of a sudden the alarm bells were ringing in my head. “Iran’s capital!” I spoke under my breath, “the centre of the rogue nation!” thereby tagging my destination with a term used by the US administration under George W. Bush. The next question I pondered was obvious.
“What’s on board an Iran Air plane?” The answer was logical. “Rogues!” – Sleepers based in Europe on their way home for the holidays.
I was terrified. I got the feeling that one of these holy warriors, who wants to secure a spot for himself in paradise had entrenched himself in my mind; he was ready to fire the explosive belt tied around his waist in the name of Allah. To get an overview of my abnormal situation, I carefully peeked over my backrest. Like a sniper, I conspicuously looked around from row to row and – Oh dear! I didn’t want to believe my eyes. When my eyes met the iron curtain separating business from economy class, an impulse made me jump from behind my firewall. Curiosity got the better hold of me. I rushed to the back, scanned the passengers with the alertness of an FBI agent in action, one by one until I got to the last row at the rear of the plane. On the way back to my seat, I reconsidered my situation and concluded, “Damn, if I had just not shaved after my bike tour!”
I was the only one on board who (a) was not wearing a turban and (b) didn’t have a full grown beard. Even the female flight attendants had scrubby beards and bushy eyebrows pointing aslant to the bridge of their noses. I was surrounded by nothing but the gloomy characters you usually get to see only on title pages of newspapers after bomb attacks. Hook-nosed guys you wouldn’t want to encounter on the streets even on a bright sunny day, let alone be with on the same plane. I couldn’t help suspecting that our lovely Mrs. Haustein had, once again, only looked for the cheapest tickets when booking my flight. And, she wouldn’t have paid attention to the fine print – ‘Home leave’ in Iran. An offer you shouldn’t oversleep!
This coded order – a programme to return all Iranian sleepers from Europe – was the logical explanation as to why I was the only one on board who was (a) clean-shaven and (b) wearing a baseball cap. And that’s why I was (c) watched furtively and suspiciously by 480 sinister eyes. This was no figment of my imagination. I could sense their evil stares. Feeling ill, I shut my eyes tight. I talked myself into believing that the stale thoughts of a Westerner were playing a mean trick on me. “Think positive!” I drummed into my head. “Try to see the good in humans and everything will be fine!” It wasn’t such an easy task, considering that I was on the plane with 240 rogues.
I hesitantly opened one eye. Then the other. I looked to the left, saw the empty window seat and the oval plane window, but I couldn’t recognise anything positive about it apart from the fact that it was hermetically sealed. My eyes wandered to the right, to the plane’s centre row of seats. Two bearded guys, wearing grim looks on their faces and turbans, sat there. (My alarm bells automatically went off again). Two rogues! Mujahideens – scrupulous religious warriors wearing explosive belts underneath their robes. Goddamn! “Think positive,” I chastised myself and ordered my eyes to slide over the turbans to the opposite row of window seats. Only the aisle seat of the two was taken. To my surprise, it wasn’t occupied by a villain, but a villainess. One of the sorts you’d like to encounter in the street during sunlight or at nightfall. In all the confusion due to my perception being poisoned by Western media, the woman, in her mid-to-late-twenties, hadn’t caught my eye yet. To get a better view of her, I slid forward to the edge of my seat and turned my head to the right. This resulted in attracting the attention of all the beards in the centre aisle.
“I didn’t mean you!” I wanted to yell at the guards of the theocratic Islamic state. I bit my lip, however, and employed a trick I had previously learned from some of their fellow countrymen. Instead of reacting to their menacing stares, I averted my eyes by turning my head slightly to the left, conveying the impression that I wasn’t interested in them but in the oval plane window next to me. Instead of doing that, I turned my eyeballs as much as possible to the right, to the utmost corner of my eyes until she came back in sight. The bearded guys couldn’t notice it from their restricted point of view. Unlike them, she didn’t have a turban. And no headscarf, either. She was wearing her hair loose! She was reading while her maroon, naturally curly hair, slightly longer than shoulder-length, fell sideways on her face. My gaze was entangled in a dense shroud of hair. I sensed how the corner of my eyes was starting to burn from peering. “If a tower clock were to strike now,” I heard my grandmother admonishing me in an attentive tone. “My eyeballs, dear grandmother, would remain in the corners and thereby improve my sight immensely.”
Then she (the villainess, not my grandmother) turned the page of her book and mechanically tucked a strand of hair up that had fallen into her face. She tucked it behind her ear. She did it the way women wearing long hair unconsciously do countless times each day. Now that she had raised the veil, I could see her face. Thank Allah, she didn’t have a beard! Neither did she have a typically Persian hooked nose. Her facial features were softly brownish, like ebony. She smiled, apparently amused by a passage in her book.
Several sentences later her smile widened to a truly refreshing laugh with two pure white rows of teeth showing. Congratulations to the author of the book who must have cleverly instigated the punch line, stalling and all of a sudden releasing it, eventually manifesting the beauty of his reader as a whole. Then her laugh ebbed away, becoming a smile once again. She put the open book in her lap, raised her head and looked around the plane’s cabin, brooding over the accomplished passage. That was when her eyes met mine. Her eyes were slightly almond-shaped, expressive, innocent, and unfathomable – two pitch-black eyes surrounded by incandescent white, so big, so beautiful and so clear, just like two marbles, with eyelashes so thick and long that even without mascara they make the dream of erotic eye batting come true. I named her Jasmine and – abracadabra – the world around me transformed once again.
“I will show you the world…
I could hear Aladdin singing from the cockpit again
„ … shining, shimmering, splendid.”
Since Aladdin too, besides his lead role as an actor, is (just) a man, I assumed that his singing wasn’t directed at me but at Jasmine. Just like in the fairy-tale when the pretty princess secretly mingles with the people, immersing herself in the bazaar district where she encounters Aladdin, the monkey Abu, and the travelling salesman who sells original Babylonian Tupperware, which makes farting noises when you open it. I sensed a pang of jealousy triggered by the figment of my imagination that this cartoon character in bloomers could snatch Jasmine from under my nose.
From my seat, I looked over to her. She was just putting her bookmark between two pages of the book. “It’s now or never!” I told myself and began to sing as well but louder than Aladdin.
“I can open your eyes. Take you wonder by wonder”
Jasmine closed her book, entirely unimpressed and without even the faintest of reactions to my singing. I gave everything. And this time even louder…
“A whole new world. A new fantastic point of view”
…but to no avail.
Engrossed in thoughts and occupied in her own world, she put the book into the handbag on the seat next to her. She zipped it up and unfastened her seatbelt, slid to the edge of her seat, arching her chest and putting her head lightly back and ran the fingers of both hands through her more than shoulder-length hair. I didn’t give up!
“No one to tell us ‘no’ Or where to go. Or say we’re only dreaming”
She got up. And my voice failed me.
Tehran, Iran, July 2011
“359° – Worker, Writer, World-Traveller”