A peek at Iran from Mount Ararat
Editor’s note: Fred Gray is a journalist in Petoskey, Michigan. He wrote this column about his son Ryan Gray’s travels to Turkey and the Kurdistan region. Ryan is a history teacher at Vail Mountain School.He’s a world traveler, engaging educator, graceful skier, unstoppable hiker, powerful essayist and photographer, and for 10 months a year, a man absorbed in the affairs of the world, from high in the Rocky Mountains at the Vail Mountain School.
And best of all, he’s my son. In the past few years Ryan, now 32, has spent his summers in Southeast Asia, on the Indian subcontinent, and most recently in Turkey, where he hiked to the top of Mount Ararat, Noah’s reputed landfall after the Great Flood. “At 6 a.m.,” Ryan wrote about his encounter with Ararat, “the sun’s warming rays hit us on the glacier, and they felt sublime. We were at 16,600 feet with one more peak of ice to climb. I was energized again, feeling more oxygen than ever. With one more step, I had made it!” From the summit he crawled out on a rocky precipice and gazed at the plains that spread out before him several miles below. “For me the mountains and volcanoes below looked like anthills that had sprayed their black ashes on Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Turkey, four countries united by geography but divided by borders. “Like in Nepal, I just sat in peace, thinking about life and the direction it would take me,” he wrote, invoking an analogy from a previous trip.
Ryan persuaded his school to pay the airfare to summer destinations of his choosing, in return for lectures about his travels on his return. I was gifted with a copy of his 150-page journal that landed on my doorstep on Christmas Day. In it Ryan made me his companion, alternating thoughtful meanderings with witty asides, spiced with slightly naughty remarks about the women, and men, he met along the way. During his travels, Ryan stayed in the youth hostels of what must considered one of the world’s true melting pots, where he met Turks, Kurds, Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians, French, Italians, Germans, Koreans, Japanese, Serbs, Slovenians, Croats, a few Americans and others. There young people watched World Cup matches and expressed anti-U.S. views. Typical were the sentiments of a 24-year-old Kurdish “Ice Maiden,” a French teacher named Guzete: “Saddam Hussein is a very bad man for killing so many Kurds, but Bush is the same. He killed so many Iraqis with bombs. Saddam and Bush – the same.” Among the fantastic women he encountered was Neda, a 28-year-old med student born in Iran but living in San Francisco for 27 years.
“She had volunteered her medical knowledge in Africa, including Rwanda, Uganda and Cameroon. She was an outdoor enthusiast and a tri-athlete. What struck me most about Neda was her altruism and genuine smile. This girl had it all,” Ryan wrote. Ryan found himself to be a fair match at backgammon against aging Turks, mesmerized by whirling dervishes, and captivated by tightly woven kilim rugs, two of which he purchased and tossed in his 50-pound backpack to carry through the rest of the trip. Ry had an insatiable appetite for kebaps (meat), rice and an occasional sewt (milk) which he said tasted “like it was a few months expired. I felt at home.” Along the way he wandered through dozens of medieval castles and ruins from the Hellenistic period. He even found a dust-covered, leather-bound book titled “How Darwin Has Plagued Society,” which held that Darwin led to the disasters of the 20th century (communism, fascism, capitalism) by removing God from people’s lives. “The HUGE fallacy,” Ryan noted after poring though it, was that “the book failed to mention that religion too has resulted in war, social hierarchy, and mistreatment.” After 150 pages Ryan distilled the lessons he learned through his 50 days of travel through Turkey and Greece.
You might find a few of them worth reflecting on: “We are all essentially the same. Instead of focusing on our minor differences, we need to focus on how we are alike and build more amiable relationships with one another. “At the same time, diversity is a positive attribute that needs to be celebrated with open minds and not by firing guns. “We should require a year of social service for our young people that will help us rebuild our reputation as a nation of positive influence around the world. “We must learn that giving is more valuable than receiving. “We must judge people for who they are not by their government or stereotype.”
“We must listen carefully to those around us, whether they be Israeli solders, Kurdish shepherds, Iranian refugees or Turkish doctors. “And we must never take our basic freedoms for granted.” Ryan tells a moving story behind each lesson. They’re all convincing. Trust me.