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Kitsilano Beach - September 23, 9:20am

I noticed him when he said hello to a little boy on a tricycle. He was on the short side of average, graying hair and weathered skin. Olive or tan - certainly darker than me. A blue button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled. Cargo shorts and sandals. Trying to be young?

I was sitting two benches down, watching the shoreline, trying to get my bare feet into the sun where they would warm up. I was there to think and listen. I told God that I would really like to hear from Him instead of Him listening to me prattle on again.

I had arrived just before 9am, and while the occasional jogger came by, I was pretty much alone. But soon other benches had occupants. Dog walkers strolled slowly by. Many of them carried Starbucks cups. A couple of women and their personal yoga instructors set up on the sand.

He called out hello to the little boy, and I had three near-simultaneous thoughts: His accent - is he South American? Is he a friendly sort of man, I wonder, or a creepy one? And where is that little boy's parent!??

The dad wasn't far behind him, and as he spoke with the man in the blue shirt, it was clear that they had met before. That's a relief, I thought, they must both be beach regulars.

When he appeared in my peripheral vision a few minutes later, I realized that I hadn't resolved whether he was a friendly-sort or creepy-sort of man. But I looked up anyway, and he smiled.

"Hello. Do you come to the beach often?"

This did not look promising.

"No. Not usually. But it's such a beautiful morning, and I had some time..."

So we began to talk. Guardedly, but I was intrigued by his accent, which I couldn't quite place. And while I rarely say hello to strangers, I do enjoy it when an unexpected conversation unfolds.

I mentioned that I had moved to Vancouver a few years previously, and he asked where I was from. This set me up to return the question, which I was more than happy to do.

"What about you - where are you from?"

"Well, I have been here fifteen years. Before that, I was in Ontario for four years. Before that, I lived in Sweden for six years. And before that, I lived on a mountain for seven years."

While unusual, this didn't place his accent. But I was decidedly intrigued.

"A mountain? Did you live there alone, or were you with others?" I thought this might narrow the possibilities down a bit more - although there are many mountains in South America, it is not the only place in the world one could live on a mountain.

"I was with others," he replied, "on a mountain between Iran and Iraq."

Suddenly, this became a very fascinating conversation, a stranger with ties to one of the most remote and currently compelling places on earth. So I asked more questions.

Mo, I learned, was Iranian by birth. He was studying art when revolution occurred in 1979. He had begun to teach drawing. But his generation, he said, was a generation of revolutionaries. So he abandoned art and became a fugitive for his political involvements.

"I was a radio broadcaster," he said, "mostly on labour and women...when the (new Islamic) government wanted to control us, they bombed us." He almost laughs at this. "But we were free. Eventually, I knew I had to leave...I could not stay on the mountain any longer. I missed asphalt. On the mountain, when it rains, you cannot walk anywhere. I had not seen a street light for seven years. I missed this," he taps his toe on the pavement.

He did not tell me how he arrived in Sweden. Only that he left to pursue studies and work in Canada. Some lucky breaks and hard work landed him in Vancouver, and now he teaches art - nude figure drawing - for a local college. Teaching is more of a hobby. His real passion is politics. He hopes for another revolution in Iran. He comes to the beach every day, sometimes twice a day. Rain or shine. We discussed the beauty of the world when seen in the rain, and how joyful Vancouver is when the sun comes out in February. There is nothing like it. He spoke of his great love for the waterfront and said several times, "I am free."

I had so many questions to ask, but I was deeply aware of the different worlds we inhabit - even within the same city. I wanted to know more, but I was still a bit afraid. I wondered, What would be the point of going deeper?

After I declined his offer of a cigarette, he stood a respectable distance away to smoke. We continued to talk. Thoughtfully, with pleasant pauses. As he flicked off ash, he asked me the time. I glanced at my watch and realized I needed to go. I said goodbye, told him that next time I came down I would look for him, and thanked him for sharing a bit of his story with me.

"Anytime," he smiled as he stretched his arm across the back of the bench.


paulman said…

Jill said…
I enjoyed reading that.
Also, have you seen the movie Persepolis? It's an animated film that is, in part, about the Islamic Revolution.
Hamid said…
I can't believe you ended up talking to this guy. I wish there were no revolutions. He sounds Kurdish; Most Iranians are politically motivated. My best guess is he was part of the PJAK or KDP...they fought on the mountains sometime around early 80s.
Beth said…
hamid, i think he said that he's kurdish. as for the specific group...i don't know. and why do you wish there were no revolutions?
afro-chick said…
i imagined this entire conversation, setting in my head. i SWEAR i can smell the water...

you're a couple of steps ahead of me. i usually start talking & then wonder if the person is creepy or not.

do you think God talked to you through this man?

i'd like for there to be another revolution in Iran.
Hamid said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hamid said…
Before the 1979 revolution, many good people lost their lives, then after the revolution the bad (torturers) and the good who were in power were all executed. Then the good people who did the revolution but did not come to power were rounded up, tortured and killed. Those who came to power made a "river of blood" to flow everywhere, for many years. For the next revolution, there said to be more people to die. Mass executions, no age discrimination, renovated torture rooms. yea, that's revolution.

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